A muscle car for fanatics

It's not a kit - or a copy - of a Shelby Daytona, but it thrills like one, says Martin Buckley

For £88,000 you can now buy a 200mph car that's as evocative as the Ford GT, but in many ways truer to the cars it pays homage to.

The fact that the Superformance LeMans will do 208mph in the right conditions doesn't convey the visceral excitement of driving it - nothing you can buy off the showroom floor goes quite as excitingly as this car. Yet it is far from being a hot-rod; it is beautifully made, practical and, when you want it to be, really quite civilised.

The Superformance, built in South Africa and sold in the UK by well known purveyor and enthusiast of AC Cobras, Rod Leach, is not a kit, a copy or even a recreation but lets say a "celebration" of the six Shelby Daytona Coupes that took the first FIA World Championship for an American manufacturer in 1964.

These flowing, muscular Kamm-tailed coupes were Shelby's response to the inescapable fact that the standard Cobra had house-brick aerodynamics, although the former chicken farmer was far from convinced that the cars, designed by a young man called Pete Brock, would ever work.

It was only when the prototype was found to be pulling 186mph on the back straight as the Californian Riverside circuit and lapping 2 seconds quicker that he gave the Coupes the go-ahead.

Although in no way a kit car, the Superformance does come out of the replica tradition, being a product of Hi-Tech Automotive, the biggest manufacturers of Cobra replicas in the world, and the people who build the Noble. Hi-Tech boss Jimmy Price loved the Daytona but couldn't afford a real one so in the late Nineties decided to build his own interpretation - but a proper one, a skilful blend of spirit of its Sixties inspiration combined with the latest construction techniques.

He enlisted the help of the man who designed the original car, Peter Brock. Brock reinterpreted his 1964 design the way he would have liked it to be had its development continued. The project assumed even more credibility when one of Shelby's suspension experts, Bob Negstadt, was enlisted although he sadly passed away before the car was finished.

Nigel Hulme, historic racer and Cobra aficionado, imports the Superformance into the UK and organises getting the cars through SVA testing and the installation of the 6.6 litre, 510bhp Ford V8 engine (developed by Roush) and six-speed Tremec gearbox. That's the only bit Hi-Tech don't do themselves.

Get inside and, even if you didn't know what a 1965 Daytona Coupe was supposed to look like, you would sense the authenticity of this car's workmanlike leather cloth dash, its circular dials and the switchgear that looks like its come straight out of a Sixties military jet. There's carpet on the floor, the seats are leather and there is even air conditioning, so, unlike the original, it is far from austere. There's useful storage behind the seats so the car is capable of long trips if need be.

The Superformance is nothing like as intimidating to drive as it looks. It has power steering, a surprisingly light clutch and the crooked gear lever finds its slots effortlessly. About the only criticism you could level at its usability is poor visibility to the rear. Huge torque and massively high gearing (100mph is only 2500rpm in top) mean you could potter about without ruffling too many feathers and still go quickly.

When you want to go really quickly the Superformance - with 400bhp at the rear wheels - takes you into another dimension. It is a mercilessly potent thing with relentlessness to its acceleration - accompanied by a furious sound - that seems to re-arrange your internal organs. Just as you think it has nothing left to give another gear is selected and another lunge of acceleration is unleashed but your nerve usually give out long before you've exploited what the Superformance has in a straight line. Although the chassis and suspension are true to the basic principles of the original, the Superformance is vastly stiffer in torsion and the result is a car that not only feels fabulously nimble and accomplished on the road, but also rides incredibly well. The huge brakes, though not anti-lock equipped (in fact the car has no management systems) are appropriately epic in their stopping power.

Hydratrack limited slip differential sorts out any tendency towards fishtailing should you wish to burn some rubber and generally the car - though not for the novice driver - is hugely safe and flattering.

Rod Leach and Nigel Hulme have modest ambitions for the Superformance, hoping to shift three or four a year to discerning collectors. Even at £88,000, I reckon the Superformance is a bargain with nothing close to it for undiluted driver appeal.

Contact: Rod Leach 01992 500007