You’re 10 years old walking home from school, just minding your own business.
Suddenly, your thoughts of hitting the couch and playing on your Atari are abruptly interrupted by a distant angry growl, which seems to be rumbling the ground. You can feel it through your feet, and for a quick second you find yourself second guessing whether an earthquake is about to hit. You frantically look around you, confused and anxious. And suddenly, a mystical creature comes screaming around the corner.
It’s got four wheels and big side pipes, but it’s unlike anything you had ever seen before. ‘What is that?!’ you ponder to yourself, whilst stuck in a mesmerizing gaze. Its sleek, topless shape roars by you like a bat out of hell, and just like that it’s gone with the wind.
Memorable impressions like that come unannounced and are few and far between, but that’s the underlying psychological aspect of them that make them special in the first place. These are the memories we somehow end up reflecting on when thinking of our past.
It’s quite interesting when you really think about it. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who can remember everything from their youth, just impressionable moments – including myself. Which leads me to question if any of those distant memories are the reason I am who I’ve become today. Was my childhood obsession with Hot Wheels and Lego the reason why I love cars so much now? I like to think so, but who really knows…
For certain people though, the memories are as clear as yesterday – Ted Taormina being the primary individual in mind here. See, anytime someone asks Ted why he built a 1965 427 Cobra over the vast variety of other platforms he could’ve chosen from, he vividly describes that exact story, and it’s genuinely one that hits you right in the heart.
It’s the classic ‘I fell in love with it the moment I laid my eyes on it,’ anecdote, but the key aspect of the narrative is that Ted didn’t just stop with a dream. He lived it, and then some.
Ted grew up in traditional Italian household where risotto and bottarga found its way to the dinner table quite frequently. Meals were accompanied by a side of yelling across the table, and hints of car talk here and there as well. Like delicious traditional cuisine, Italians typically have a real sense of passion when it comes to things they like, especially cars.
As time flew by, Ted’s interest in fast machines grew. “By the age of 18, I knew more about Italian V12s than I did about lawn mower engines,” he says.
Ted’s work place at the time, Milano Imports, served as his natural stomping ground and versed him in the world of Italian supercars. Most of his expertise resides with carbureted V12s found in priceless vintage race cars, but by the age of 22, Ted was out with the big leagues going really, really fast.
Ted was working alongside icons like Jim Feuling and Albert Burtoni, breaking endless world speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats, some even nearing 400mph (643km/h). Ted recollects that one of his favorites was the Al Burtoni Lamborghini Countach, which ran 201.7mph (324.6km/h), making it the fastest of its model in the world.
It was quite a youth to live, but that’s not to say it deterred Ted from living out his childhood dream of owning a Shelby Cobra. If anything, the speed associated with these record-holding supercars became the premise behind the build in this story, dubbed The Italian Job.
The Italian Job
For over 20 years, the values of Cobras continuously increased as the cars became harder and harder to find for sale. Collectors from all over the world wanted their piece of the American muscle pie, which in turn made it increasingly difficult for Ted to own one for himself. Luckily by 2001, a few coach-building companies provided factory-identical-bodied Cobras for the public at a fraction of the cost of original cars. This opened up the door for hot rodders around the world to take on building one-off specced cars, Ted being included in that bunch. Over the course of the next few years, he ended up building over 60 Cobras, and still maintains the majority of those cars at his shop in California’s Bay Area.
On a warm summer day in 2016, someone randomly called the shop and asked Ted if the rumors about the ‘world’s fastest Cobra’ were true. By this point in time, Ted’s reputation in the Cobra community was well grounded, but the rumors weren’t true. Yet…
Intrigued by the thought of it, Ted asked the seed-planting inquirer what the record was. The gentlemen explained that it was 198mph (318km/h), as set more than 50 years ago.
Immediately, Ted knew he could beat the record. He gathered his team and naturally the ethos of the build became rooted in topping the speed record, with style of course.
Ted and his team took to the drawing boards and began drafting plans for their biggest constraint: aerodynamics. Ted explains, “The build was very much similar to other Cobra builds, but the aero was a whole other challenge. To put things into perspective, the stock-body Cobra has a drag coefficient more than double that of a modern supercar. This makes hitting 200mph impossible on paper.”
So how does one overcome an obstacle comparable to climbing Mt. Everest?
Ted and his team came up with the only logical engineering in mind, which was making the car as sleek as possible, whilst finding the right balance of downforce – enough to keep the car from flying into the air, but not enough to prevent it from achieving the 200mph goal.
The end result turned out to be one of the best-looking cars to ever hit the Bonneville Salt Flats. It wears a gorgeous pearl white paint job with Italian flag-themed racing stripes and lipstick red diamond stitched interior.
They’re all custom characteristics found in most standard one-off builds, but the differentiator here became the speed parts: Custom made canards, an aluminum panel that covered the entire underbody of the car, and of course a custom-designed (and patent pending) rear wing, which is actually part of the rear diffuser. The bottom side of the diffuser splits turbulence, while the top side acts as a wing, pushing down on the car.
In October of 2016, Ted and his team took the completed Cobra to an air strip in the Mojave Desert for their first attempts at breaking 200mph. But Murphy’s Law had other plans in store for them. Crosswinds, headwinds, fuel starvation and numerous other little factors resulted in Ted’s defeat after 25 grueling attempts. So the team packed up the bags and headed right back to the drawing boards.
Soon, after some changes were made to the aero and fueling system, the team set out for a second attempt, but again saw defeat, reaching 192mph.
After returning home again and taking a six-month break, Ted and his team decided they would take one last leap at setting a new record. The Cobra received a panel to cover the passenger-side seat, along with a few other minor changes and some fine tuning before setting out to the desert.
Mother Nature was finally in Ted’s favor, with low temps and minimal winds on the early desert morning. With the car prepped and ready to go, Ted told his team, “If there’s ever a day we are going to have a chance, it’s going to be today.” Words that lived to be true.
A couple of passes at 9:00am resulted in consecutive 197mph (317km/h) trap speeds. Before Ted could pull out any more of his hair, his team made a few more fine tuning adjustments, and a final pass took way. At precisely 11:22:20am on the 8th of April 2017, the trap speed slip came back at 201.1mph (323.6km/h).
A victory in the books for The Italian Job.
It’s Not Over
For most, setting a land speed record and immortalizing your name would be enough to call it quits. After all, Ted is now seen as an icon in the industry, and I think his legacy will continue to live on. But it’s not enough.
Sure, breaking and holding the record till this day might sound like a big deal, but as we all know, records are meant to be broken, so it’s only a matter of time before the next person comes and tries to take his thrown. But what if the next person is Ted himself?
I think you all might understand what I’m getting at here… The only hint I’ll leave until that story comes is its name: The Cobrarri.