A couple of years ago I wrote an article attempting to explain why my dislike of kit cars didn't prevent me from adding a Cobra replica to the Great Escape Cars hire fleet.
And, broadly, I stand by that. Because I can't afford a real Cobra to hire out, a copy is the obvious and reasonable solution. Except that the Cobra we got would have pushed The Pope towards the bottle. So we've ditched it and got a better one. Much better.
At Great Escape we persevere. Mixing old cars with special occasions occasionally brings the worst out in the former (and...well, it's not my place to comment is it?), so we have a culture of working hard to fix problems. And fix them again. With the Cobra even we grew a little tired of fixing, refixing, refixing the refix and, well, on and on. A few cars over the years have nearly broken me - mostly they have Aston badges - but the Cobra came closest.
The car's fundamental problem is that it was badly built. Any second, third and beyond kit car owners know that the car is only ever as good as the person who built it. In particular the quality and harmony of the components. With a factory car you get a manual. You know what is what. With a kit car you are less sure. So when something goes wrong there isn't an obvious answer waiting in a book.
The Cobra, which we didn't buy but leased in, appeared to have been assembled using the floor sweepings from the local scrap yard. Once we fixed one problem something else would go wrong. Then the original problem would resurface. And so it went on, like painting the Forth Road Bridge only harder.
This is a fairly familiar lot for a classic car owner. Unlike most classic car enthusiasts we don't have the option to close the garage door and wait until inspiration or enthusiasm returns. We've invariably got a queue of punters waiting to use the car for their prom, birthday, anniversary or wedding. I'll level with you, it's stressful.
It's particularly stressful hiring out a recalcitrant Cobra because the Cobra is so popular. With E Types and Morris Minors the appeal is fairly obvious: they're familiar, evoke memories. The Cobra isn't quite in the same category: not many were made and even fewer were sold in the UK. And yet the Cobra is An icon, its place in motoring history as assured as an E Type or DB5. Real ones command astronomical prices.
The Cobra legend owes quite a lot to its name and appropriately vicious performance. In the 60s there wasn't a whole lot of finesse to going faster: you got lighter or got more power, which respectively simply meant chucking out any spare seats and fitting a bigger engine. Despite this, Carroll Shelby made a name for himself doing the latter. The Cobra was one of his regular attempts in the 60s to make sports cars faster. In the AC Ace he had a great base, a stylish car built in small numbers and therefore it was relatively easy to negotiate and fit a bigger motor.
The 289 and 427 Cobras had the name and the pace to go down in history. Roadtesting the prototype on the unrestricted M1 gifted us a 70mph national speed limit. Despite iffy handling race track success sealed the car's place in history. It may not be the last word in handling, it might be simpler than a simple thing but in a straight line the Cobra was uncatcheable. And, of course, they called it Cobra. Vole just wouldn't have worked.
Eventually we reached breaking point, albeit after a whole lot of competition-standard swearing. We probably should have bailed out months earlier but we don't give up easily.
It wasn't an option not to have a Cobra so when it came to replacing it we at least had the benefit of hindsight. We knew what we wanted to avoid. Our criteria was fairly rigorous: it had to be a well known and respected kit, it had to be a well built kit, preferrably by an engineer, the components should have been refurbished before installation and it must have been used, albeit sparingly. That, pretty much, is a good checklist for anyone considering buying a kit car.
We also wanted a decent V8 and looks that were purposeful rather than garish (so no side exit exhausts).
The car we've bought ticks all of those boxes. It's an AK427, one of the best respected kits out there, and it was built by an experienced kit car builder who knew the value of getting everything refurbished before using it.
We're expecting some teething trouble, after years of buying hire cars we'd be frankly insane to think otherwise, but even if it's only a little bit as bad as the old car it'll be Heaven sent.
The new car is available to hire immediately. If you've already booked with us then you'll get the chance to drive it instead of the old car - it's got a 5.7 litre V8 in case you wondered. The front and rear suspension are Jaguar XJ, it has a Getrag five speed box and power steering. All finished in Nightfire Red metallic with cream interior. In short, it's lovely.
You can hire this car from £199 for 24 hrs or £349 for 48 hrs for a limited time only. Then we're reluctantly putting the price up.
Find out more at www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.