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

Part 16: How Sweet It Is!

They say patience is a virtue. But with that shiny, green toy almost ready to go, I found myself wishing that patience was a commodity -- I wanted to buy an extra bushel or two.

Jimmy at Phaze II was up to his eyeballs in fender-bender repairs and called to reschedule the appointment for final buffing and undercoating. He wanted one full day with the car to work his magic and insisted that I drop it off early in the morning and pick it up late in the afternoon. Jimmy didn't want to risk a scratch or ding that could result from an overnight stay. We agreed that Thursday, May 30, would be the day.

I explained the plan to Deb and asked if she would pick me up at Phaze II and give me a ride to the office after I dropped off the Cobra. Of course, she would have to shuttle me back to Jimmy's later that afternoon too. "No problem," Debbie replied, "Just be careful that you don't singe your suit on those sidepipes!"

Finally, Thursday arrived. I was up at 5:30 a.m. as usual, and after the morning shower-and-shave ritual, I checked e-mail as I sipped coffee and watched the morning news on TV. By 7:00, I was ready to go - tie neatly tied and briefcase in hand. I grabbed the Cobra keys and quickly reconfirmed plans with Deb before heading for the barn.

Once outside, I remember thinking about how quiet and peaceful early mornings are in this neighborhood. The sun was shining, birds were singing, and the scent of early summer was in the clean morning air. The barn is only about 150 feet away from the house, so I didn't have time to write a poem, sonnet, or anything like that.

I entered the barn through the side entrance and raised the first overhead door. Full-strength sunlight streamed in and made the Cobra look more magnificent than ever. My briefcase fit nicely in the trunk. And I reminded myself of the sidepipe heat hazard as I climbed into the driver's seat.

A quick twist of the key brought the 427 to life, and it settled to a fast idle as I checked the gauges to confirm the presence of appropriate oil pressure and battery voltage. Everything looked good. I slipped the top-loader into first gear and eased the beast out of the barn. Outside, I took it out of gear, applied the parking brake, and went back to the barn to close and lock the doors. Thanks to the big engine, an aggressive cam grind, and low-restriction exhaust system, the morning was no longer quiet and peaceful.

Back in the car, I headed down the driveway and out onto the public roads for the short ride to Phaze II. Along the way, the neighborhood children were gathered in small herds, waiting for the school bus to arrive. You should have seen the looks on their faces as I drove by with sidepipes bellowing at 7:15 a.m.!

The route from my house to Jimmy's shop starts with about a mile of rural-residential road (speed limit is 20 mph) and ends with a few miles of heavily traveled 2-lane state road (speed limit 40 mph). By the time I reached the state road, coolant temperature was about 160 degrees, oil pressure was about 80 psi, and the oil temperature gauge was just starting to move.

Pulling out into traffic on the state road was a cinch with all that horsepower under the hood. All the way to Jimmy's I had to really discipline myself to restrain my right hoof and keep the revs down. I knew that proper break-in was essential to long engine life, so it was important to accumulate some "easy miles" before playing with power.

There were a couple of intersections with stop signs on the way, and I was pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to stop the car with the the non-power-assisted brakes. I guess I had expected that higher pedal pressure would be required without the power assist, but the ERA braking system worked great. Very reassuring in a car with this kind of power and speed potential.

All along the way, other drivers gawked, grinned, and gave me the "thumbs up" sign. It was obvious that this car attracts lots of attention.

I pulled into the Phaze II parking lot at about 7:30 and was greeted by Jimmy and Ed before I could back into a slot and turn off the engine. You can't sneak up on anyone in this car; they heard me long before I arrived.

After exchanging good-morning greetings, I set the parking brake, turned off the ignition, and opened the door. Remember those hot sidepipes? Well, I didn't. And I swung my legs out of the cockpit, I managed to brush the back of my ankle against the stainless-steel sidepipe. Fortunately, contact was brief, and I escaped without injury. However, the heat melted a big hole in my right sock and left a crisp, dark blotch of molten-sock plastic affixed to the sidepipe. Jimmy just shook his head. "You gotta learn to be more careful, Dan."

I handed the keys to Jimmy, knowing that he would treat the car with kid gloves while it was in his care. Just then, Deb pulled into the lot, ready for the ride to the office. I told Jimmy and Ed that I would return before 6:00 p.m. to retrieve the car in final, ready-to-cruise condition.

At the office, the day dragged. Typically, I'm not a clock watcher, but I couldn't keep from glancing at my watch every few minutes to see if it was time to go get the Cobra. At the stroke of five, Deb appeared at my office door. "Ready to go pick up the Cobra?", she queried. I powered-down my PC, closed my briefcase, and we were out of there in a flash.

Rush-hour traffic slowed our progress during the ride back to Jimmy's shop, but we arrived well before the six o'clock deadline. As we pulled into the parking lot, I could see a small crowd gathered around the Cobra. Jimmy had the hood raised and apparently was giving a guided tour of the engine compartment to a few friends and customers. Behind him, the sun was just beginning to set. The angle of the light made the just-buffed Vineyard Green paint shine as if it was a mile deep.

I thanked Deb for the ride, and we agreed that I would meet her at home in a few minutes. Jimmy had just completed his dissertation on the merits of the Ford 427 side-oiler engine, and as I approached the car, he greeted me with an enthusiastic, "So, wha'd'ya think, Dan? Awesome, huh?"
Yes, it was. Jimmy and his Phaze II team had outdone themselves. Fortunately, I had a small 35mm camera in my briefcase, so I took a quick snapshot to commemorate their accomplishment. I told Jimmy I'd give him a framed 8 x 10 of the photo to hang in his office if it came out well.

Jimmy reached into his pocket and handed the keys to me as I thanked him again for his help in making the Cobra project a success. I put my briefcase in the trunk and carefully climbed into the car, keenly aware of the sidepipe that had ruined one of my socks earlier that day. The small blotch of molten sock was still there. Jimmy saw me looking and shrugged. "We tried to scrape it off, but it's really stuck on there. Maybe the heat will burn it off after a while. Just leave it alone and see what happens," Jimmy advised.

I closed the door, fastened my seat belt, and started the engine. It settled quickly to a lumpy idle as I released the parking brake and found first gear. A check of the gauges showed that all was normal, and I jabbed the dash-mounted horn button a couple times to signal goodbye to Jimmy and his crew. I eased out the clutch pedal and drove slowly through the parking lot toward the exit onto the two-lane state highway. Traffic was still heavy, but with all that horsepower under the hood, it was easy to find a slot large enough to slip into the flow.

On the way home, it occurred to me that I was still running on the five gallons of gasoline Deb and I had poured into the tank just before firing it up for the first time. The gas gauge showed the tank to be about 1/4 full, but I had never checked the accuracy of the gauge. As a result, I decided to stop for gas at the local self-serve Mobil station.

The huge polished cast-aluminum flip-top gas tank cap is located on top of the right-rear haunch of the car, so I pulled in on the left side of one of the four sets of pumps. Upon exiting the car, I instinctively stepped out of harm's way, this time clearing the hot sidepipe by at least six inches. I swiped my credit card through the reader on the pump and punched the blue Super+ button to select the 93-octane go-juice.

As I popped-open the tank cap and inserted the fuel nozzle, a few of the local teenagers came out of the station's small variety store for a closer look at the Cobra. The questions were fast and furious: "Is it real?" "How fast does it go?" "Are you gonna check the oil?" "Where did you get it?" "How much does one of these cost?" "What's under the hood?" "Is it brand new?" "Are those real knock-offs on the wheels?" "What kinda gas mileage do you get?" "Why is the shifter installed backwards?"

One by one, I answered questions as I pumped about 13 gallons of gasoline to top-off the 16-gallon tank. I grabbed my receipt from the pump and told the group of admirers to look for the Cobra at local cruise nights and car shows throughout the summer. Back in the car, I turned the key and blipped the throttle just enough to let the sidepipes say "later" to the grinning group of admirers as I left the station.

On the way home, I savored the the way the car responded to every input of throttle, steering, and brakes. Though I was determined to baby the engine through its break-in period, I could already tell that this car could be a handful if driven hard.

I arrived home without incident, parked the Cobra in the barn, and went into the house to tell Deb about our new car's magnetic personality. During dinner, we made plans for the upcoming weekend and decided that it was time to take the Cobra to its first cruise night.

After clearing the table, we compiled a calendar of car shows, swap meets, cruise nights, and other car-related events to attend with the Cobra that summer. We also planned several summer road trips to allow the car to stretch its legs. Finally, after months of planning and building, we were going to have some real fun!

Next Week: What Went Wrong?