Solstice: Cobra Redux?

Bob Elton
by Bob Elton

Anyone remember the AC Ace? It was a nicely balanced British sports car with a space-frame chassis, four-wheel independent suspension, aluminum body panels, a high-revving straight six powerplant and perfect weight distribution. Car magazines of the day raved about the machine's ideal blend of performance and handling. And yet the delightful little Ace has disappeared into that special memory space reserved for die-hard Anglophile automobilists. Blame the snake.

When GM started cleaning Ford's clock in the early '60's, a Blue Oval man named Carroll Shelby went and stuffed a big old V8 under the hood of the AC Ace and re-badged it a Cobra. The resulting sports car brought fame and fortune to both man and machine, on track and off. Forty-years later, Shelby is still trading on the reputation generated by his modified two-seater. Forty years later, companies are still fabricating Cobra replicas in their thousands. Forty years later, the Cobra is still burnishing Ford's image. Needless to say, nobody worships the well-balanced little sports car that gave birth to a legend.

Fast forward some 40 years and check out the new Pontiac Solstice roadster. Like the original Ace, or the current Mazda MX5 (nee Miata), the Solstice is a small, attractive, well-balanced sports car. The consensus among the buff books is that the four-cylinder Solstice can compete on most levels with the equally-cylindered MX5– which is quite an achievement for a box-fresh challenger. But it's not good enough. The Solstice needs a V8.

Peppy as it is, the Pontiac Solstice can still be shut down by an old guy in a Lincoln. And the old guy won't even have to know how to shift gears. While some enthusiasts will undoubtedly guard and revere the Solstice as a perfectly-balanced purists' pleasure, when it comes to weekend automobiles, the majority of the great American motoring community prefers muscle. Always has. Always will.

A Solstice V8 is perfectly doable. GM produces the world's best, most powerful and compact range of V8 engines. Their pushrod design ensures that the powerplant would fit into the Solstice's petite nose. Equally important, in aluminum-block form, GM's small-block V8 weighs less than a hundred pounds more than the Solstice's four. Because of the smoother power delivery from the V8, very little extra stress would be placed on the Solstice's driveline. If any components couldn't handle the extra power, GM could source the appropriate parts from a Corvette, light truck or SUV.

With a simple engine transplant, the Solstice would be transformed from a capable plaything to a legendary road rocket. Instead of a 2860lbs. roadster with 177hp, the Solstice V8 would be a 3000lbs. roadster with 400hp. That's enough horsepower per pound to place the Solstice smack dab in the middle of supercar territory. Leave off the AC (so to speak) and power windows, and the power-to-weight ratio would be even more stunning. As a 'club sport' model, the Solstice could go head to head with Porsche in SCCA racing. Has anyone imagined a Pontiac that could compete with a Porsche? Ever?

The media buzz generated by a V8 Solstice would be tremendous. The buff books would go crazy. The comparison tests would write themselves. If the exterior changes were kept to a minimum, the sales of the four-cylinder Solstices would be benefit. A V8 Solstice would also provide a proper halo for GM in general, at a fraction of the Ford GT's cost. And that old geezer in the Lincoln could no longer be certain he could out-drag the Solstice next to him at the light.

It's worth noting that Ford, inheritor of the Cobra mystique, almost made the Miata into a latter day Shelby Cobra several times. In the mid to late '90s, several product developers were inspired by the Miata's aftermarket installations to investigate the possibities of shoe-horning a V8 into the Japanese roadster. There are credible rumors of a secret prototype. But Ford management discontinued the 5.0-liter V8 in favor of the underperforming, overweight 4.6-liter V8, and demoted some of the managers who persisted in pursuing the project.

Ford missed their chance to make a modern Cobra. Will GM seize their chance? Not according to GM's car czar, Bob Lutz: "No question, somebody, somewhere will fit a small-block V-8 in here, but we won't be doing it. This car was designed to have a four-cylinder engine.' Our spies report that a turbo-charged Solstice GXP is on its way, which will certainly be significantly hotter than the feeble EcoTec 4 version, but… The GXP won't even be in the same league as the charismatic Ford Cobra. Anyone who's heard the burble, snarl and pop of a V8 Cobra, watched it roar into the distance, and smelled the burned rubber will tell you: there ain't nothing like the real thing.

Bob Elton
Bob Elton

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 1 comment
  • Carzzi Carzzi on Jul 31, 2006

    Uh, ok, first an Audi A3 pic in an M5 review; now an Azera pic in the Solstice review? Seems to be a glitch in the link referral.

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  • Michael Gallagher I agree to a certain extent but I go back to the car SUV transition. People began to buy SUVs because they were supposedly safer because of their larger size when pitted against a regular car. As more SUVs crowded the road that safety advantage began to dwindle as it became more likely to hit an equally sized SUV. Now there is no safety advantage at all.
  • Probert The new EV9 is even bigger - a true monument of a personal transportation device. Not my thing, but credit where credit is due - impressive. The interior is bigger than my house and much nicer with 2 rows of lounge seats and 3rd for the plebes. 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, around 300miles of range, and an e-mpg of 80 (90 for the 2wd). What a world.
  • Ajla "Like showroom" is a lame description but he seems negotiable on the price and at least from what the two pictures show I've dealt with worse. But, I'm not interested in something with the Devil's configuration.
  • Tassos Jong-iL I really like the C-Class, it reminds me of some trips to Russia to visit Dear Friend VladdyPoo.