Thursday, March 1, 2007

From Muscle cars





2000 Cobra R

Insane and possibly illegal

The Cobra R came 30 years after the muscle car wars, and was worth the wait

By George Mattar & David Traver Adolphus

Photography by David Traver Adolphus

Did we feel a little stupid putting on a Schrath five-point harness to drive around on the street? Yes. Was it a good idea, even with seriously bolstered deep Recaro buckets? Umm…yeah. We’re as willing to stuff a car and our careers into a nearby ditch as the next guys, but we do try not to, and in the R, truly tragic things are only a careless ankle away.

Because we wanted the car nice and clean for photography, we had Steve perform some asphalt antics before we went for a drive. We should have known about the car’s character by then, as we originally met him at a track day on a road course. But come on—look at the thing. Going wicked fast around diminishing radius curves is just so Corvette. We needed smoke.

He tried to oblige us, he really did. We had a beautiful, big square of deserted concrete, and we told Steve, drop the hammer, kick out the back end and give us a power slide, we’ll shoot as your T/As make the world a warmer place.

Well, we were already accustomed to the sweet hell from the dual sides off the brick buildings in the back alley where we were set up, so the wail when he right-footed it didn’t catch us by surprise. The car did. He wound it up, let out the clutch and was just dead gone. Oh, you could hear the tires spin a little, not a shrieking dragstrip burnout, but a dry, nasty hiss. There was an electric red blur, and then we assume Scotty stepped in, because Steve had beamed to the other side of the lot. Try it again, we said. You’re not on the track, we told him. You don’t need an efficient start, just let ‘em break loose. We had him try from the other direction, slightly downhill to take a little weight of the rear end. He revved it up again, and the thing sat there, quivering, angry. He let it go.

When the wind died down, he was once again sitting at the other end. The car looked smug. This was not going to work, so we had him take it up to about 35 mph, and try to unsettle it with a quick left-right-left and some power oversteer. It went left, right, and left, accelerating all the way. This was not the Mustang we knew, not from the Fox-body era, not from the big-block days. This was something new.

In time, we refined his technique to something akin to drifting, finding that if you snapped it sideways on takeoff, you could dial in whatever angle you need, and hold it there. At least until the tires got fully warmed up…at which point we slithered in, strapped in, turned on and headed out.

It’s tempting to think of this as the spiritual successor to a 1960s Cobra. The stripper interior, a car dedicated entirely to the drivetrain, it all evokes something like the first lightweight CobraJets. But there’s so much modern car evolution inherent in the platform that the comparison isn’t fair. If you were deaf, you could drive the Cobra R around town every day. There’s no clearance to speak of, and the suspension travel has to be measured with calipers, but it’s so sophisticated you can actually drive over stuff without gritting your teeth. Steve’s roll cage stiffens an already taut car to an absurd degree. It’s like driving around in a bar of steel. A bump poings through the wheels, into the cabin, up into your head and out the roof. Strap in tightly enough and you feel like a structural member.

The cabin is deep, and black, but everything’s easy to reach. We didn’t notice the clutch being stiff while driving, but 45 minutes later, there were some left leg quivers. The Getrag six-speed is beautiful, the engine revvy and heel-and-toe a lead pipe cinch. We drove.

You know all about what isn’t in this car, the carpet, the A/C, the radio, the sound deadening. The A/C wouldn’t fit, and there was really no point to the rest of it. You could pour asphalt into the cabin until you smothered in it, and there would still be no secrets from underhood.

You really can tool around town if you have to, but at the comfortable low end of the band, between 2,100 and 2,400 rpm, there’s an incredible, cabin filling resonance. We could tolerate it for a while, but only because it sounded so wonderful. In fact, at any speed this is one of the top-two best sounding cars we’ve ever been in (the other contender is a big-block Monte Carlo with a two-and-a-half-inch stainless dual exhaust, HMM# 35). Lugging it, it’s a rumble that shivers the neighbor’s windows, and starts an involuntary twitch deep inside. When you start hitting the power at about 3,500, oh, the evil thoughts you start to think, and you leave a trail of broken hearts on the roadside. Full power hits just under 4,500, and you’d better pay attention, because while it was fun and games before, you are entering a territory here that will take you down hard if play games.

Heading toward the open road, we slink through town, and pass the local fuzz in a patrol car. He makes like an owl and swivels his head the moment we come in sight. As far as we can tell, he’s still pinned there now. You could tell, he just knew we must have been breaking the law somehow. It’s an excuse waiting to happen. We got thumbs up from rice rockets, codgers in Buicks, chicks in escorts. We saw a teen in a slammed VW Jetta slack-jawed, clearly mouthing to his girlfriend the words “Cobra R.” Yeah, we’re bad.

Finally, at the bottom of a long rise, we can we punch it and let it go. No turbo to spool up, no torque converter to suck up the twist. Nothing else legal or standing up is this much fun. There’s no question of getting traction, and no worries about breaking anything. There’s just your stomach flattening and cheeks rippling, banging off shifts like you mean it and a fresh shot of power deep in every gear. At 5,000 in fourth we’re heading for jail and let it back off, popping and burbling. We can’t stand it, do it again, again, again. Steve laughs his knowing laugh beside us, and when we ask him how he resists, just shrugs. The noises make it as good coming down as going up, and we find ourselves some curves.

Part of us is still out there, the part that learned something that day. We’ve driven the 400-plus horsepower legends of the 1960s, and not a single one of them was as uncompromising as the Cobra R. It never once blinked when looking it’s mission in the eye, it never once stumbled in power, handling or braking. It was a perfectly executed, full-on race car which, while in tribute to those that have gone before, sacrifices nothing. It is one of the greatest cars ever built in America.

1 comment:

Lehho said...

That article does as fine a job as any at projecting awe for the reader, who feels it as if he were there. I'm left to wonder which words were George's and which were yours. Did you drive that beast? Zowie.