You know, I’m not really a fan of the AC Cobra in any of its forms. I know that talk like that is enough to see me permanently ejected from The Man Club without any chance of readmission, but it’s just not my cup of tea. Many people other than Mr Shelby have cooked up the light chassis- big engine recipe, with equally tasty results, and though the Cobra represents pretty much the embodiment of four wheeled fury, it’s a bit of a one dimensional character. That said, by God, do I ever respect its significance. So many of the outrageous, brutal projectiles we all know and love, both production and concept, have their nucleus, their genesis, in the Cobra. And there’s no better reason than that to have one in your Diecast collection.
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When I pulled this down from my attic at the weekend I found the sales receipt still in its box, and the memories came flooding back. I bought it in April ’97 in a model shop in Plymouth while on an Easter Break holiday. It would have been one of the first models I ever bought that wasn’t a Bburago or a Maisto. At that point the Yat Ming Diecasting company was only starting to make inroads into the European market, but must have done something right as their models are found all over the place these days. Just as the world is full of kit-car companies offering full-scale AC Cobra replicas, and the quality and likeness to the original can vary dramatically, the same is true of 1:18 models. The Diecast discussion forums are busy with discussion into whether anybody has actually got the Cobra’s shape right. By common consent Yat Ming are regarded as having done a pretty good job. So much so, in fact, that the same mould was later used by Kyosho for their own release. Overall the external fit and finish is pretty reasonable. The paint, while a little on the thick side, is at least evenly applied and the mould is of a high standard, with little excess metal anywhere, no casting lines and no signs of sinkage in the metal. Too much scrutiny doesn’t do the model any favours, though. The rear lights and front indicator lamps are made from a chrome material with the correct colour painted over the top, the “knock-on” centre locks on the Halibrand-style wheels are simply painted on. Also, though the “427” and “Cobra” badging is nice to have, it’s not been applied very subtly. If measured to scale they would be over an inch thick. However, Yat Ming did at least take the effort to produce branded tyres, in this case Dunlop Blue Streak. It’s when you look under the bonnet that you get confirmation that we’re looking at a twenty year old model here. There are a few accents; a blue-painted cylinder block and, randomly, distributor cap lurk below, but the rocker covers and air cleaners are formed from the very cheesiest plasti-chrome you’re ever likely to find. It’s a shame, but at least the layout is right and the dimensions are pretty good. This would make a decent starting point for one of those “hyper-detail” type folks who add their own wiring, ancillaries and, in some barmy instances, perform “tuning” modifications. When I first unboxed this back in ’97 I remember being incredibly impressed by the fact that there was carpet in the footwells. It seemed ironic that of all the models I had ever bought the Chinese model of a Shelby Cobra should be the first with carpets. I really liked the label on the fire extinguisher, too. Nineteen years later the cockpit reveals itself to be what it really is, which is to say a bit on the crude side compared to the likes of today’s high end models, but that’s pretty much what you’d expect, really. In fact there’s more than enough attention to detail for this model to display quite well. The door dog-legs are a little unfortunate, but forgiveable. eBay is strewn with examples of this model, sometimes with the crazy pricing that we’re used to these days. Even by today’s standards the humble Yat Ming (sold variously as Road Tough and Road Signature) is well worth having, but only if you can get it for a steal. Pro Tip- don’t be fooled into paying Kyosho money when the Yat Ming is, as far as I can tell, the same model. (All images copyright Chris Haining /Hooniverse 2016)