50 years ago, the Shelby Cobra made its debut at the New York Auto Show, spawning a rich legacy of American motorsport success, and rampant kit car clones.
Part One of this piece can be found here.
Were it not for an act of God, the fecklessness of General Motors’ executives and the difference between a self-promoting Texan and a Californian willing to walk away from it all, the many Cobras you see, real and ersatz, would be joined by another predator, Bill Thomas’ Cheetah.
Developed with backdoor assistance from Chevrolet, the Cheetah was the Chevy powered answer to the “Powered by Ford” Cobra. A racing Cheetah was given one of the first Gen IV big block 396 Chevy “rat” motors made. Based around Corvette drivetrain and suspension components, and a not very robust tube frame, the Cheetah was covered in a body that is unforgettable.
Though the Cheetah only competed in a small number of SCCA races, winning 11 events while simultaneously developing a reputation for extreme speed but treacherous handling (caused by the flimsy chassis), its drop dead gorgeous body styling made it instantly memorable. The fact that the Cheetah came out in the mid 1960s, when scale models and slot car racing were hugely popular with teen baby boomers, didn’t hurt the car’s popularity.
TVR has never been a well-known brand in the United States, where its closest brush with fame was a cameo by a TVR Tuscan in the excrescent JohnTravolta vehicle Swordfish. In the UK, however, the TVR name is as rich in legend as Lotus or Morgan, speaking to a proud history of wild, hairy, fiberglass muscle cars with bizarre styling and even more bizarre handling characteristics. And like most blue-collar, British, backyard shed-based sportscar makers, TVR has not had an easy time of it lately. Having spent ruinous amounts developing an in-house V8 and a derivative straight-six engine under Peter Wheeler’s leadership in the 90s, the company fell on hard times and was bought in 2004 by 24 year-old Russian oligarchlet Alexander Smolensky. Despite promising to keep TVR British, Smolensky broke up the firm, kept the IP and brand rights, and reportedly moved production to Turin. Now, suddenly, Smolensky says he’s bringing TVR back, promising an appearance by an all-new Chevy LS-powered TVR at this summer’s Goodwood Festival of Speed. And yet TVR fans aren’t exactly falling all over themselves with glee… now why would that be?