Birth of a New Machine - Building a Cobra Kit Car
Copyright 1996, Daniel J. Sommers

Part 9: Details, Details, Details

You never realize how many parts a car contains until you start to build one yourself. You see, when you maintain, repair, or even restore a car, you tend to focus on one component or system at a time. I found that it's a different story when you're in car-building mode. It requires a more holistic approach, because you're dealing with each and every component and system of which the entire car is made.

Plus, I learned that we take lots of things for granted when working on cars. Let me explain what I mean. For example, most cars come with dipsticks, water-pump pulleys, and ignition coil brackets. Components like these rarely need attention and seldom fail. As a result, we don't give them much thought. But, because these parts were not included with my Cobra kit, they commanded plenty of attention; like, where do I buy these obscure things?

The first thing Deb and I did was make a list of all the parts we needed. Here's what it looked like:

- Oil filler tube and cap
- Dipstick and dipstick tube
- PCV system
- Ignition coil and mounting bracket
- Ballast resistor
- Spark plug wires and guides
- Alternator and adjusting strap
- Voltage regulator
- Water-pump pulley
- Crankshaft pulley
- Alternator/water-pump drive belt
- Air filter
- Fuel line and filter(s)
- Choke cable
- Thermostat
- Motor mounts
- Transmission mount
- Clutch throw-out lever and bearing
- Cooling system expansion tank
- Radiator hoses and clamps
- Battery and cables
- Starter motor
- Starter solenoid

Throughout the parts-hunting process, Deb and I reminded ourselves that we were building a replica of a 1966 Cobra and wanted it to be as authentic as possible. Our experience in restoring and showing other cars had taught us that "the devil is in the details." That philosophy guided our search.

Some of the items were easy to locate. For example, the starter motor and the alternator were rebuilt units found at a well-stocked auto parts store in New Hampshire. I simply asked the guy behind the parts counter if he had a starter and alternator to fit a mid-sixties big-block Ford Galaxie, and voila!

It was a little more difficult finding motor mounts and radiator hoses. Fortunately, the ERA assembly manual specified Republic part numbers for the motor mounts and Gates numbers for the radiator hoses. Unfortunately, there wasn't an auto parts store in New England that stocked those numbers, and many stores didn't even list them in their catalogs.

If you work on old cars, you get accustomed to this. Most of the newfangled computers in auto parts stores list parts for cars built within the last 15 years or so. Try asking for parts for a thirty-year-old car, and those computers are worthless. That's why we like Frank. Frank is one of the parts guys at World Auto Parts -- a good-sized store located about five or six miles from here. Frank is probably old enough to retire at this point. As such, he remembers a lot about cars and parts from his forty-or-so years behind the counter and really seems to have fun playing "Find that Part" for older vehicles.

It was Frank who was able to cross-reference the Republic and Gates parts numbers to those of other manufacturers and locate the correct motor mounts and radiator hoses in a dusty warehouse somewhere far away. Frank was also helpful in suggesting that we use zero-gauge battery cables in the Cobra to make sure we'd be able to move plenty of current from the battery to the big-block's starter motor. Frank explained that thick, black, zero-gauge cables were used on some six-volt cars back in the early 1950s and would look and work just fine in a high-performance car like the Cobra.
For the battery itself, Debbie and I decided to purchase a reproduction of the Autolite "sta-ful" battery used in all Ford family cars from 1964-1/2 through 1972. We had good luck with the repro battery we bought for Deb's '57 Thunderbird a couple of years ago, so we ordered the Cobra battery from the same source, The Antique Auto Battery Manufacturing Company of Hudson, Ohio. It's amazing how much authenticity you can create just by having the correct battery and cables in a car's engine compartment.
To get the correct 8-1/2" Stelling & Helling air cleaner with washable foam element that was original equipment on 427 Cobras, we turned to Tony D. Branda Performance Shelby and Mustang Parts in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Their well-organized catalog also listed the correct oil filler cap, a choke cable for an early high-performance Mustang (as close as I could find to authentic), reproduction 1966 voltage regulator, and the correct Autolite ignition wires and guides for mid-sixties big block Fords.
The Tony D. Branda catalog also listed a chrome dipstick and dipstick tube to fit a Ford 428 cubic-inch engine. Assuming that the 427 and 428 engines were identical externally, I also ordered this item.

At a mail-order company called Cobra Restorers, Ltd. of Kennesaw, Georgia, I found the correct FE-type oil-filler tube (it press-fits into the intake manifold), a rear-breather cover (necessary for the PCV system), and big-block style cooling system expansion tank. This expansion tank is the same as the one found on stock mid-sixties Ford Galaxies and Fairlanes -- and 427 Cobras. Cobra Restorers, Ltd. has done a great job of building brand-new tanks, and they're available as either complete units ($299.95) or as a kit that you (or your local radiator shop) can assemble ($225.00).

When it came time to track down the really obscure parts, Hemmings came to the rescue. In the Ford Parts for Sale section, a company called Perogie Enterprises of Hightstown, New Jersey advertises regularly. They claim to have all sorts of big-block Ford engine and transmission parts on hand, so I called them to ask about the alternator adjusting strap; single-groove water-pump pulley; single-groove crankshaft pulley; clutch fork and throw-out bearing; and ignition coil bracket we needed.

They had everything in stock! A quick mumble of my MasterCard number and a ship-to address was all it took to have these hard-to-find parts on their way. I won't go into the specifics of the prices here, but considering that these were correct, 30-year-old parts, I thought the cost was quite reasonable.

Other odds and ends we needed like heater hose, thermostat, and fuel filters were off-the-shelf items from Frank's store. To hold various things together, we purchased an assortment of grade-eight bolts at a local hardware store . In many cases, I'm sure we could have used less-expensive and more ready-available grade-five hardware, but it just wasn't worth saving a few cents and taking the chance of having critical fastener fail.

With all parts gathered and arranged neatly on shelves out in the barn, we couldn't wait to get the car back from Jimmy at Phaze II Auto Body and start twisting wrenches.

Next week: The Real fun Begins