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Pointing Up the Differences, and Similarities, Between Two Fantastic Cars

"I can take you any time . . ."

"Oh yeah, try me".

Corvette vs. Cobra Circa 1964 - Two different cars playing in the same market - or not?

by Auto History Preservation Society Staff -
reprint with permission only

Looking back on the various tests of Corvettes and Cobras from back in the day, one thing stands out – they really were different cars for a different type of driver, built by totally different types of manufacturers for really a different purpose.

Of course, the press and even the public wanted them to be competitors, because what stirs the pot better than a Ford vs. Chevrolet rivalry?  And obviously, early on, Chevrolet wanted to discredit the new interloper with a haughty "pfah", while Carroll Shelby wanted to respond with an "Oh yeah".

But we really need to look at the whys and wherefores of both cars before we get into a heated discussion of which one was better, because to some degree, they were both best at what they were intended to do.

The Corvette

First, let’s look objectively at the genesis of the Corvette. Born when most sports cars that were affordable were rather crude, the Corvette was little different in design from the cars who might have been its competitors, the Nash Healy, MGs and Triumphs, for example. Most were underpowered and those that had a decent HP to weight ratio, like Jaguars and Ferraris, cost thousands of dollars more.

While even the early ‘Vettes handled well for their time, their weight worked against them, something that was only cured then the V8 arrived.  Even so, it really wasn’t until the early 60s that the Vette could be called a real sports car, and even then it was far more a gran turismo, built for fast touring – being only competitive on the race track with significant adds and mods (which could be easily done, but cost big bucks).

Then you had the further disadvantage that most of the running gear had to be off-the-shelf parts or certainly adapted for assembly-line installation. And, the car needed to be capable of being sold in sufficient numbers to justify production, and last, it had to be capable of being serviced at your local Chevrolet dealer.

Given those limitations, it is a tribute to Zora Duntov, his engineering team and GM management that the car was such a great success. Think, the car had to be docile enough that John Q. Public could buy it, that it could be used as a daily driver, and that someone could modify it in their home garage to go racing. That it made all those criteria and yet could kick some major league butt in all three categories is actually astounding.

The Cobra -

The Cobra, on the other hand, was conceived with just the opposite in mind. Carroll Shelby wanted to take on Ferraris and Maseratis on the race track and win. The fact that it could be streetable enough to allow Joe to drive it daily on his way to work was just a side-bar benefit. Of course, selecting a US V8 as delivered in Hi-Po Mustangs allowed Carroll to meet the daily driver criteria. And if the car was a little fussy, well too bad.

Second, to ensure that the Cobra could be driven by someone who just wanted a "sporty car" and not a racer, Shelby offered the car with an unmodified Hi-Po 289 V8, but if you were serious, you received a tweaked 289 with either 2-4 barrels or a set of 4 Webbers, and a lot of head work and more.

Let’s face it, Carroll didn’t give a hoot if the car was uncomfortable on the street – he wanted it to kick the prancing horse and others on the track.  In that vein, whereas the Corvette could be a comfortable cruiser, the Cobra was going to shake rattle and roll you to your destination.

Two So Very Different Cars -

So the comparison cited in Car Life is not quite apples to apples even discounting the different purpose for both cars. The Cobra was not close to a "competition" version, and the Corvette should have more likely been a 345 HP car (even as the Magazine admitted). We really had a comparison of Golden Delicious to Macintosh – but  just like apples – they sure tasted good!

That said, the two tests tell us one thing – by 1964 the US built the best production and hand-built sports cars dollar for dollar than anyone – anywhere in the world. And both would cream those best from the entire world on the street – and hold their own on the track.

Considering how few years we’d been at it compared to Europe’s best, it showed that when Americans put their mind to something – "fugetaboutit". Both makers should be proud and both should say to all the other sports cars of the time: "Oh yeah - try some of this, bad boy".

Scroll down for more pictures!


For the time, Corvette's styling was outrageous - It is still a
handsome car today

The "fastback" rear of the 1963-67 Corvette
Coupe is dramatic and striking.

The coupes were known to be rather
warm in the high HP versions,
but for the day, this was a luxurious
and functional cockpit.

The top of the line "Fuelie" made serious
HP from 327 cu. in. It could be "fussy"
at slow speed, more due to the
cam than to the FI unit.

Check out that performance on those skinny tires and drum brakes. WOW!


The Cobra was a traditional sports car in design and execution, since it was
cloned from an AC Ace. Regardless, it s handsome to this day.

The rear view says "wish you could be
driving me", and if you are behind
the wheel of one you WILL
have a smile on.

Talk about tradition, this style of interior would have been found in everything
from a MG to a Ferrari.

The 289 tested in the Car Life article
was a stock 271 HP Mustang motor,
right down to the Autolite 4-barrel,
not your high performance piece.

OK, it doesn't weigh very much, but it's got a stock motor and skinny tires and it's THAT FAST? Yowza! This is 1964, remember.