Jeremy Clarkson once said that the only thing worse than a fake Rolex is a real one. I know what he means, but normally there's an element of snobbery surrounding anything that purports to be the real thing but isn't. And no car in history has been replicated more than AC's fearsome Cobra. Fake snakes are everywhere and it must cause owners of genuine Cobras a certain amount of discomfort when anyone asks, as they surely will at some point: "Is it a real one, mate?"
Cobra replicas are very often shoddily built with ill-fitting panels and engines that really shouldn't be put into such an iconically shaped body. But now and again you come across one that is so exquisite that you forget that it's a replica. And Tom Abram is the proud owner of one such car. It's stunning in every respect.
The 39-year-old South African expat lives in Dubai, where his family of five has been based for the past 14 years. He's a pilot and simulator instructor with Emirates and both planes and cars have been in his blood since the word go; his father was an airline pilot as well as an incurable car fanatic. "I grew up surrounded by cars," recalls Abram. "Dad was always buying something old and working on it; there were spare parts everywhere because he'd spend his spare time rebuilding old Jags, TR3s and the like. The upshot of this is that I quickly got used to tinkering with cars and learnt how to work on engines and other mechanical bits and pieces."
With such an interest in things four-wheeled, it was only a matter of time before he took on a full restoration job himself. Only Abram went for something a little different. "I've always admired the Cobra but the only way I could own one was to build it myself or buy one already built," he says.
"I didn't want to go down the usual kit car route either, with having to buy a donor car. That would have taken up too much space and I didn't want to have to strip an old car to find that components needed reconditioning or replacing."
So many projects like this would fail to get off the ground if it wasn't for the internet, and Abram's, by his own admission, would have been no different. He scoured various websites and eventually settled on a kit supplied by Factory Five Racing in Massachusetts, USA, which sells everything to build a totally authentic Cobra without the need for a donor car - all the components are brand new. He specified Ford Mustang suspension for it and the job began in earnest in early 2009.
"It was more expensive doing it this way," he says, "but with such a high-performance car I wanted total peace of mind." He agrees that his background in aviation had some influence here. "When flying a passenger jet, there are no grey areas. Something's either right or it's not and, with the Cobra, everything had to be right."
No build like this can be completed without enlisting help from family or friends, and Abram had both at his disposal. "My good friend and neighbour Bruce helped me a tremendous amount," he adds, "and my son Matthew was always on-hand to help with passing tools and holding things at the right moment."
The build took nine months, so it really is Abram's baby in every respect and the amount of work that has gone into it is mind-blowing. "I had a Ford 351 Windsor engine shipped over from the States for it, the chassis was powder-coated, everything was the best it could possibly be. I didn't skimp on anything, especially when it came to the fit and finish of the body panels."
Cinema-goers may soon get to see Abram's car in Mission Impossible 4. Much of the filming was done in Dubai and the director wanted a scene filled with the flashiest cars known to humanity, so Abram was only too glad to help out. "Tom Cruise was pretty taken with it, even though we were surrounded by Veyrons, Ferraris and Lambos," says Abram. And that's the beauty of a Cobra replica when, like this one, it's been properly built. There's nothing quite like it.