Hand-Crafted Bodies Make the 427 Roadster Way More Appealing
AC Cobras were the hot setup in 1965, but we've come a long way since. Carroll Shelby launched the Series 1 in 1999 -- the first car he ever built from a clean sheet of paper. It was a supercar for the modern era, able to cope with modern safety and emissions regulations. But they missed the styling that made the AC Cobra such an icon. Now you can purchase a Series 1 mechanicals with a hand-built, aluminum body.
The car is called the FII Roadsters and Motor Sports 427 Roadster, and it's the brainchild of Bob Wingard, a former Senior Systems Engineer with NASA. Wingard always wanted a Shelby Cobra, but at 6-foot-9 inches tall, there was no way he could ever wedge himself behind the wheel. At auction, he bought a Shelby American Series 1, which ended up being what he called his "family car."
PHOTOS: Full Galleries of the AC Cobra
Only 250 Series 1s were ever sold as complete cars, so you can imagine the trouble you'd have finding parts. On a quest to find some himself, Wingard went to the defunct Las Vegas factory where Shelby was building the roadster.
Venture Corporation had purchased Shelby American at some point during production. In 2004, Venture Corporation went bankrupt, and Carroll Shelby– never one to miss an opportunity to get something for next to nothing– purchased Shelby American's assets for pennies on the dollar.
PHOTOS: Full Galleries of the Shelby American Series 1
Shelby produced a handful of complete cars, but because safety requirements had become so stringent, it made more sense to sell the Series 1s as "component cars" in 2005.
By 2009, the company was in liquidation again, and Bob Wingard stepped in. The factory had essentially been abandoned for six years, with tools and parts everywhere. He bought about 100 complete chassis, and stuffed nine tractor trailers with all the Shelby Series 1 tooling.
In 2011, he began selling a Cobra-esque car with Series 1 mechanicals to people like him: tall guys with a lot of money. Trouble was, he was utilizing fiberglass bodies, and for an upscale buyer, that doesn't add up to success.
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On a trip to New Hampshire, one of Wingard's associates was watching a local news magazine show -- NH Chronicle -- and stumbled on a company in the small town of Bethlehem, NH, called Panel Craft. This company was building exquisite, hand-formed aluminum bodies for some of the most exclusive cars in the world.
Bob Stafford owns Panel Craft and has been building concours-winning bodies for years in his small facility. He delivers better-than-factory bodies for vintage Porsches, Ferraris, Cobras, and Aston-Martins.
Panel Craft also made its reputation building a body for a one-of-eight Scarab, as well as the amazing New Hampshire-based MkII JoMar race car from 1956.
Each of Stafford’s craftsmen has roughly 20 to 30 years of working in hand-crafted car restoration. Wingard just happened to be looking for someone to oversee body production, and Joe Stafford filled the bill perfectly.
Stafford and his team spent months painstakingly building fixtures and jigs to construct a mock-up of the vehicle’s superstructure to determine if it would function as planned.
Once the final design was nailed, Stafford's team started on the actual aluminum pieces which would eventually support the exterior alloy body work.
The result is a customized aluminum body that sits atop the hand-built Series 1 aluminum chassis. You're left with the stiffness approaching that of a Formula 1 race car, but with a body reminiscent of a 1960s roadster.
The combined result is a roadster capable of speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour, with the air conditioner blowing ice cubes.
At SEMA this past October, FII debuted the 427 Roadster with the Panel Craft body. It received high praise for its craftsmanship and innovation. Stafford was at the show and said when people saw the car and learned about its design, “the wow factor was off the charts.”
“It has unlimited potential,” said Stafford. “It does anything that someone looking for super car wants it to do, but for less cost.”