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

Part 13: The Home Stretch

The corrugated-cardboard boxes that were once filled to the brim with Cobra replica parts and mysterious doodads now contained a sparse assortment of nuts and bolts and a few lonely odds and ends. At this point, Deb and I could have ignored the instructions in the ERA assembly manual and simply started bolting the leftovers onto the car. But we had gone by the book from the start, so we decided to continue working that way until we reached the very last page.

To complete the doors, we bolted-on the latch mechanisms, then followed the ERA instructions to align each door so it would open smoothly and close with a satisfying "thunk." The doors were among the things that impressed us with ERA's quality of design and construction. The doors have a steel frame that supports the fiberglass inner and outer shells. This steel framework supports the hinge and latch mechanisms, so the fiberglass shells remain stress-free. I suppose the steel inside the doors also provides an added measure of protection in the event of a side-impact collision, although ERA's literature does not mention this.

Back in Part 7 of this story, I talked about the 22 self-tapping "Lift-a-Dot Body Posts" that ERA provided with the kit and how we decided to replace those with the type that have #8 machine-screw threads to avoid cracking the gel coat on the body. This change worked out very well. To thread the 22 pre-drilled holes, I chucked a #8 tap in a small battery-powered, variable-speed drill and carefully ran the tap into each hole. Then I reversed the drill and backed the tap out.
It took about 20 minutes to thread all 22 holes. We used a gentle blast of compressed air to purge the chips from the holes and blow them away from the car. After that, Deb chose a 5/16-inch nut driver to carefully install and snug each of the posts, making sure that each had a small, fiber washer to separate the metal base of the post from the glossy surface of the car. The result was perfect. No distortion to the fiberglass, and the gel coat and paint remained unblemished.

A couple of under-the-car chores were next on the list of things to do. To protect the beautifully painted frame from the floor jack, I slit a piece of heater hose and popped it onto the floor jack's steel saddle. I did the same to the top surfaces of the jack stands we were using.

Installing a large, in-line fuel filter between the outlet of the under-car fuel line was the first thing I wanted to do, so I positioned the jack under the frame -- just ahead of the right, rear wheel -- and started pumping the handle. I watched as the rear tire left the floor, then happened to glance at the front tire. It was also off the floor an equal distance! I guess that proved ERA's claim of minimal flex and chassis twist between the front and rear suspension.

With Deb handing me the parts and tools I needed, it didn't take long to blow-out the fuel line with compressed air, install the fuel filter, and clamp it to the frame near the fuel tank. Resting comfortably on the creeper under the car, I marveled at the magic ERA had performed on the Jaguar-based rear suspension system. It was a work of art, with red springs, bright yellow shock absorbers, and gold brake calipers contrasting with a gloss-black background.

Next, we raised the front of the car on jack stands, and I slid underneath to tackle the clutch linkage. The clutch is actuated by hydraulics; installation of the slave cylinder, adjusting rod, and hydraulic line took about half an hour. With Deb watching the fluid level in the reservoir under the hood and working the clutch pedal inside the car, we were able to purge trapped air from the system in a few minutes. The mechanism worked very smoothly, and we followed the instructions in the ERA assembly manual to dial-in the final adjustment.

Back on top, we connected the fuel line from the tank to input side of the fuel pump, then used a piece of 1/4-inch steel tubing to neatly fabricate the fuel line from the pump to the big Holley carburetor. Mumbling the old adage, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," I also added a small, in-line fuel filter between the pump and the carb to catch any dirt that may have been trapped in the under-car fuel line.

As Deb and I talked about how well everything was going that day, we flipped the page in the ERA assembly manual and encountered the instructions for installing the side-pipe exhaust system. This appeared to be a semi-major project, and it was getting late, so we decided it would be best to wait until the next morning to start the installation. We put away the tools, tidied the nest, and turned down the heat.
After dinner that evening, Deb and I visited the automotive sound department of a large electronics store in the area. Our requirements were straightforward: we needed a compact radio (with cassette player) that would fit in the Cobra's glove compartment; two small, high-quality speakers that would fit into the kick panels ahead of each door; and enough audio power to overcome the roar of the low-restriction side pipes. There wasn't room in the Cobra to install a separate amplifier, so we chose a compact Sanyo radio-cassette unit that boasted 25 watts of audio power per channel. We also bought a pair of 4-inch JBL speakers; they sounded pretty good in the store's demo rack

The next morning, we were out in the barn and at it again by 7:00 a.m., ready to install the side-pipe exhaust system. This system included eight individual primary pipes (one for each cylinder) and two stainless-steel side-pipe units (one for each side of the car) that combined the functions of exhaust collector, muffler, and tailpipe.

Each of the primary pipes was unique and had been specially bent and formed to fit within the cramped quarters under the hood. As I tried to make sense of these, Deb installed the Cobra emblems on the front and rear of the car, then added a Ford 427 emblem to the side of each front fender. While examining the pipes, I discovered that each was stamped with a number from 1 to 8. Of course, I assumed these numbers corresponded to the cylinder numbers of the engine.

I started installing the primary pipes on the passenger's side of the car, where cylinders 1 through 4 were located. But no matter how I arranged the pieces, I could not get them to converge where they would eventually connect with the side-pipe unit. Somewhat frustrated, I moved to the driver's side to work on cylinders 5 through 8; not a single pipe fit as it should on that side either!

Could it be that ERA had supplied the wrong pipes? Was it possible that ERA expected me to heat and re-bend all these pipes to make them fit? Perhaps someone numbered the pipes wrong?

Bingo. I swapped sides and installed pipes 1, 2, 3, and 4 on cylinders 5, 6, 7, and 8, then installed pipes 5, 6, 7, and 8 on cylinders 1, 2, 3 , and 4. This time, they fit perfectly and ended in a bundle of four pipes on each side of the car, just as they should. Yup, someone had numbered the pipes wrong. Don't you just love it when something like that happens?

I made sure that the bolts that held the primary-pipe flanges to the cylinder heads were left rather loose, so I had some "wiggle room" available while connecting the side-pipe units to the primary pipes. Using two jack stands to support the weight of the left side pipe, Deb and I patiently worked to slide each of the four primary pipes into the four stainless steel pipes on the side pipe.
The challenge was that all four primary pipes had to be mated to the side pipe simultaneously. This was the most difficult part of the installation. Once the primary pipes were completely seated, it was fairly easy to level and align the side pipe and attach the support bracket (using stainless steel wire in my MIG welder). With the side pipe in position, interlocking tabs were welded to the primary pipes and the side-pipe units. These tabs served to keep the pipes mated and locked together.

Satisfied that the driver's side installation looked good, we moved to the passenger's side of the car and repeated the procedure. It took about an hour to complete the right side pipe; the results were spectacular. The shiny, polished stainless-steel side pipes really "made" the car. It was well worth the time and effort we had invested.
Before we decided to call it a day, we installed the seat belts and seats; inside and outside rear-view mirrors; and then topped off the bare transmission tunnel with the peculiar, Cobra-style, backwards-bent shift lever, dust boot, and chrome trim ring.

Finally, all the boxes were empty; the kit had become a car. As we put away the tools, Deb and I couldn't stop staring at our new Cobra. It was even better than we had imagined more than a year earlier.

Next week: Firing it up for the first time