MOTOR racing fans will no doubt be aware of the plight of seven-time Formula One World Champion Michael Schumacher. Having suffered a serious head injury while skiing in December 2013, he was in a medically induced coma for six months, and today continues to receive medical treatment at his home. Details of his current condition are scarce, so his prognosis is still uncertain. Several years before his accident though, Schumacher commissioned Aussie George Vidovic of Python Cars to build him a Shelby Cobra replica. Here’s Steve Nally’s yarn from 2008, relating to George’s experience building a 1300kg, 550rwhp Cobra for a racing legend.
Python Cars founder George Vidovic was busy at work when a short man with a French accent walked in and asked to look around. Tyre-kickers are always dropping in to ogle his 427 Shelby Cobra replicas, so George said: “Sure,” and kept working.
The little bloke nosed around for a while before introducing himself as Ferrari F1 team boss Jean Todt. He wanted George to build the best Cobra in the world for his friend, Michael Schumacher.
Jean has a genuine 427 Cobra. He’s seen many replicas and was impressed with George’s high-tech version. Later he sent Ferrari engineers to verify his gut reaction and the car earned two thumbs-up.
That was 2006; 18 months later, George was waiting for instructions from Schumacher’s minions on whether to send the car to Germany or Switzerland.
But far from being a championship experience, George says he’d never do it again because of the stress of dealing with Schuey’s employees on the other side of the world. That said, when he recalls the morning Todt and co lobbed, he can’t help but smile.
“Two Maseratis rolled up and parked in a no-standing zone,” he begins. “Six guys in Ferrari jackets came in and asked to look around. I didn’t take much notice as it was the AGP weekend.
“They stayed for an hour, then Todt gave me a business card. He said: ‘How much for your fastest and best Cobra?’ I said: ‘$3 million,’ and he laughed. He asked me to send him a price and spec sheet and said he was going to buy one for Michael, which ended up being bullshit – Michael paid for it.”
After three months of Schuey’s people asking if he could have this and that, George got pissed off and gave them an ultimatum: buy a car or don’t. That didn’t go down well, and he thought his no-nonsense approach might have blown the deal, but two weeks later he was sitting in a restaurant when Michael’s accountant called, asking where to send the deposit!
But building the car was never easy. Whenever he’d contact Schumacher’s people about custom features, they’d say ‘your choice’. In fact Schuey left it all up to George except for colour and interior trim.
“It’s been bigger than Ben Hur and gone six-to-eight months over schedule,” George says. “In all the time I was building his car, I never communicated once with Michael; it was always his PA, management or legal people and it was very frustrating. When we finished the car, we sent him photos and he didn’t like the wheels. When I told them it would cost an extra $20,000 to re-tool they pulled their heads in.”
And so to the car. It runs a turn-key supercharged 4.6-litre Mustang V8 from Canada that’s loaded with good gear like Manley rods, ARP bolts, forged pistons and other goodies, and makes 550rwhp.
With so much grunt in such a short wheelbase, you’d need to be Michael Schumacher to stop the thing swapping ends under power, and George says it’s scary: “It’ll break traction at 80km/h in fourth gear. I reckon it’d be quicker to 100km/h than our race cars if it had the same grip.”
Python fabricated the custom sidepipes with integrated mufflers, and George says that the car’s drive-by dBs would be illegal here and in Europe, but he guesses the seven-time world champ would probably get off with a warning.
The engine has been beautifully dressed in chrome and zinc-plating, and behind it is a tough Tremec five-speeder filled with billet cogs to take the blown Mustang muscle. The rest of the drivetrain is heavy duty, with 31-spline axles and output shaft. The diff is a Python creation and houses a Detroit Locker Truetrac crown wheel and pinion.
The chassis and suspension were both designed by George and fabricated in tubular mild steel then powdercoated. Stopping the 1300kg weapon are fat Wilwood anchors direct from NASCAR Central in South Carolina. Python made the floor-hinged race-style pedal box, while the seating position was custom-tailored for Michael’s height.
The only direct request from Schuey related to the cabin and body colour. The interior and seats are swathed in 11 metres of blue Alcantara, supplied by Ferrari, and all instrumentation and controls are period-style, like the wooden Motalita steering wheel and classic gauges.
George can laugh now, but he reckons the whole experience has aged him.
“I don’t know if I’d want to go through it again with another F1 person,” he says, “but if I did, I would tackle it a lot differently. I would want to meet them and spend at least two hours explaining how things work; we’re not in F1 la-la land here.”
Oh, and don’t tell Schumacher, but George says he’s building two new Cobras that will be even better finished and go harder than this one!