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Ford Shelby Cobra Concept 2004

At the time Carrol Shelby began his Cobra project in 1962, England's AC Cars had a beautiful little open-top car that needed an engine. Ford had one of the best family of V8 engines. Shelby saw the possibilities and brought the two together. The rest is history.

Ford had presented a Ford GT Concept in 2002 that was a modern revival of the famous Ford GT40. For the 2004 NAIAS Detroit Motor Show, Ford prepared another concept somewhat recalling the Cobra 427. Similitude is the only element. The Ford Shelby Cobra Concept features a utilitarian body tightly wrapped around a race-bred engine and chassis. Every surface and line has its roots in the car's uncompromised performance. " We let the powertrain, the space frame and the suspension dictate the architecture for the body," said Richard Hutting, chief designer. "The result was a very authentic, modern and desirable shape that does justice to the original Shelby Cobra, but does not share a single dimension or proportion with it."

For the next chapter in the Cobra legend, the modern Ford team had to select a corresponding engine. They found it in a satellite Ford engineering operation devoted to developing new powertrain technologies away from the narrower demands of product development. In an atmosphere that is part think-tank and part speed shop, the Advanced Powertrain team develops technologies that frequently have as many applications on the race track as in consumer vehicles. For approximately two years they had been working on an all aluminium V 10 targeted at ultimate, naturally aspirated performance. When they bolted this beast into a Mustang chassis for evaluation, it only took one drive to confirm its potential.

The Ford Shelby Cobra concept engine has 10 cylinders and is bored and stroked for a 6,4 liter displacement, or about 390 cubic inches. It produces 605 hp at 6.750 rpm and 501 foot-pounds (680 Nm) of torque at 5.500 rpm. The rear-mounted six-speed transaxle is identical to the high performance unit in the Ford GT, with an integral limited-slip differential to drive the rear wheels.

One of the challenge s of fitting a 10 cylinder engine into a compact roadster is leaving room for the driver's legs and feet. With a conventional transmission mated to the back of the engine, the tradeoff between hood length and passenger room often makes for a cramped footwell and dramatically offset pedals. The engineers found that mounting the transmission at the rear of the car, connected to the front-mounted engine with a torque tube, let them use a very narrow tunnel between the seats. Compared to a conventional driveshaft, which is typically mounted behind the transmission, a torque tube style driveshaft spins considerably faster because it is running at engine speed. The inner shaft taps crankshaft torque viaa small diameter clutch mounted at the rear of the engine.

The structure is designed so that it was possible to use as much as possible components already prepared for the Ford GT. The team worked long hours with John Coletti, head of Ford's Special Vehicle Team, to maximize the commonality. Fresh from completing the all-new Ford GT in just 15 months, Coletti understood what it took to build fast cars faster than ever. The bulk of the rear structure is made from slightly modified Ford GT components, including the massive, trellis-like cast aluminium suspension nodes, the rear rails and bumper beam, a major cross- member and the brackets used to mount the transmission.

The center portion of the space frame also has high degree of GT commonality - major aluminium extrusions are based heavily on existing pieces. At the front of the roadster, the team incorporated the extruded main rails, steering rack cross-member, crash management sections and the bumper beam.

The concept does without side mirrors in favor of a trio of video cameras. The images of each camera are stitched together on a liquid crystal display to form a perfect 180 degree panorama of the rear vision.

Proving that a minimalist roadster also can be comfortable, the 605 hp Ford Shelby concept offers none of the traditional electric amenities, yet boasts more front seat legroom than a Ford Crown Victoria sedan. The cockpit is trimmed in aluminium, with electric blue splashed on the seat trim and steering column. A full width aluminium instrument panel spans the cockpit in one unbroken swath. Instruments include a 220 mph speedometer, 10.000 rpm tachometer and critical temperature and pressure readouts." What is missing? There is no audio system at all," said Hutting. " The tuned exhaust makes its own music."

Text Paul Damiens - Photos Ford Motor Co.

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