Cross-Country Cobra (continued)
The next day we drove all the way across Tennessee on Highway 64, with a scenic detour into Lynchburg, home of Jack Daniel’s, for a late lunch. It would have been nice to buy some Jack Daniel’s in Lynchburg, like bringing holy water home from Lourdes, but the whole county around the distillery is dry. To take the Lourdes analogy one step further, this is like forbidding Catholicism in the vicinity of the Vatican. Apparently it makes sense to someone.
Nightfall found us in Ducktown, Tennessee, near the North Carolina border. Ducktown was also dry, despite its name, so we drove across the county line in a noble quest for the coveted but elusive King Cobra Malt Liquor. We found some at last in a liquor store and bought hamburgers at a Sonic drive-in, then feasted in my motel room and toasted Carroll Shelby with our plastic cups full of Cobra.
The last day was maybe the best of the trip. Top down across the Blue Ridge, sun shining and the forests greener than green. When you have a Cobra, North Carolina is a good place to come home to. It has some of the most stunningly beautiful roads in the U.S.
As we reverberated along under the canopy of green, Tom said, “I’ve wanted to do this all my life, to take a trip like this in a Cobra. But it was like a carrot on a stick that I could never reach. When they were $5000, I was in high school and didn’t have $100. When Cobras went for $20,000, I could afford about $900 for a sports car. Ownership was something I never really thought I’d achieve.”
I nodded. “There was about one month in my life,” I said, “when I could have stretched my finances to the limit and bought one. It was when I got home from Vietnam in 1970 and had all my accu mulated combat pay. Cobras were relatively cheap, and I actually considered looking for one. But I decided to visit Europe, get married and finish college instead, so I bought a clapped-out $600 Volkswagen.”
As we drove along, I pondered that chain of events and realized I’d probably do it all over again, exactly the same way. A coveted car should never stunt your life, but should make it more rich and interesting. Tom had bought his Cobra at precisely the right time, when the pressure was off and there was nothing to tarnish the moment.
Tom had promised his son, Brian, that he would be home in time for his Tuesday night Little League game at 6 p.m. After nine days on the road, we pulled into the ballpark at 30 seconds after 6.
Tom shut off the engine and we sat in the car for a moment with the sound of the wind and the car resonating in our ears. We’d traveled 3161 miles (indicated) with only a few minutes of rain, and a couple of snow flurries near Pikes Peak. We’d never put the top up, nor even taken it out of the trunk to look at it. Perfect weather all the way across the U.S. Some kind of miracle.
A good thing, too, because the next night Tom and his wife, Pat, threw a party at their home and invited a bunch of sports-car friends over. We had a 427 Cobra, another 289 Cobra, an MGB-GT and a Bugeye Sprite in the driveway. Just for fun, we decided to put up the top, which had probably been folded and stored in the trunk for 20 years. When we tried to stretch it onto the frame, the seams fell apart from rotten thread.
A little while later it started to rain.
Timing, in cars and in weather and life, is everything. I felt that somewhere in his lifetime of hard work, hope and the love of charismatic machines, Tom had won either the karma or grace to give us a perfect trip.