Road and Track

Cobra suitcase

And so it is; the 289 moves this 2170-lb. car away from a stop effortlessly, accelerates hard through the gears, providing a gratifying full body press into the seat leather and hits a satisfying rush of snarling speed at the top end. It flat gets up and moves, and use of the accelerator pedal makes you smile so much, you get a headache from grinning.

One of the nicest aspects of the engine is its tractability. You can almost idle through a town in 4th gear, but out on the highway it makes quick, effective passes around slower traffic with almost lazy indifference in the same gear. Uphill, downhill, it doesn’t care.

Strangely, what the Cobra reminds me of most, in both its exhaust note at cruising speed and its solid, no-nonsense feel, is my friend Tony Buechler’s P-51D Mustang fighter plane. Both are clean, uncluttered designs of surprising simplicity and great effectiveness, and both possess a quality of effortless performance with deep, untapped reserves. The P-51, of course, was an excellent American airframe with a great British engine, and the Cobra did it the other way around. Maybe we should combine our efforts more often.

We stopped for the night at Groveland, a historic 49er gold-mining town in the heart of Mark Twain and Bret Harte country, just north of Yosemite. We got a couple of rooms at the beautifully restored old Groveland Hotel, where the manager said our rooms would cost $127 each, “but that includes breakfast.”

I was tempted to say, “I can’t eat that much,” but held my piece. We were in big-time tourist country, after all. We had beers and buffalo burgers next door at the Iron Door Saloon, “the oldest saloon in California.” We asked the bartender if he had any Cobra Malt Liquor, but he didn’t. At the bar, a hard-drinking fellow in a cowboy hat told me his life’s story at such length my brain suddenly became full and I had to leave.

Back at the room, my bed had two huge teddy bears on it, but since we have a good friend who collects teddy bears, I won’t say anything more about that.

In the morning, we had hoped to motor over the Sierra Nevada through Yosemite’s Tioga Pass, but the road was still closed with spring snow, so we had to backtrack and take Highway 108 through Sonora Pass (9628 ft.), a beautiful drive nevertheless. Perfect Cobra country. We drove with the top down and collars up in the cool morning mountain air.

At a gas stop, two guys skidded up in an old pickup truck and the driver hung out the door and said, “I gotta know: Is that a real one?”

“Yes,” Tom said, “a ’65.”

“Wow!” They leapt out and expounded with considerable expertise on the glories of Carroll Shelby, the Ford Total Performance era and the fine points of the K-Code 289 engine. We would find over and over again on the trip that people either seemed to know everything about Cobras or nothing at all.

We would also be asked at least a hundred times if this was “a real one.” The huge number of Cobra replicas out there has made people wary of expending their carefully cultivated stores of enthusiasm. Originality makes them beam with approval.

After cruising past the strange mineral formations of Mono Lake, we dropped down to Highway 6 to cross Nevada’s basin and range country. Driving into a short rain shower, we got drenched, but the desert air dried us out in minutes. The car hammered across the desert with a soothing, easy rhythm, and we found 70 mph to be the ideal cruising speed. Up around 75 or 80, a slight imbalance in the front wheels caused a little steering-wheel shimmy and made things less serene.

We noticed the speedometer seemed somewhat pessimistic, so we timed ourselves between mile markers and discovered a 10-percent speedometer error. An indicated 70 mph was actually about 77, and so on. The engine was not terribly hectic at higher speeds (70 mph equals 3475 rpm, according to our old road test), but a 5th speed would have calmed things down nicely, and the torquey 289 could easily have pulled a lower numeric axle ratio than the 3.77 it uses. Still, if the Cobra is geared a little short, it’s always ready to go, and rockets to 100 mph with a brief prod of the pedal.

Pages 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , Next , 6 , 7