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

Part 4: Ordering the Kit

Know what happens after you make a major decision? You start second-guessing yourself. What am I getting into here? Is this the best way to "invest" $37K? Do we really know how to build a car? What if we can't complete the project?

Two carsThat avalanche of self-doubt lasted about two minutes. Just a quick look at the full-color photos that ERA included with their info package was enough to banish all fear. Yup, the light was still green.

One by one, Deb and I went through the dog-eared pages of ERA product information. It was time to get down to the details. For example, we knew we wanted to build a big-block Cobra, but ERA offered two basic styles. The street version had subtle fender flares with round tail lights and reflectors; it came with a street dashboard, complete with glove box. The competition version had more aggressive flares with rectangular tail lights, competition instrument layout and jackpads instead of bumpers. Of course, ERA was willing to configure either model to suit our preferences. That's what building your own car is all about!

As we reviewed all the components and options offered by ERA, Deb and I decided that we would order the basic kit, plus only those items that were essential to complete a rolling chassis; e.g., steering and braking systems. We reasoned that many accessories, like stainless-steel sidepipes and the oil cooler, could be purchased elsewhere for less money. And we'd have fun tracking down all these doodads while ERA was building the kit.

On Tuesday, April 18, I called Peter at ERA and told him that we were very interested in working with his company. I had a list of questions a mile long, and Peter patiently answered each one. Together, we decided that our new Cobra would be based on the version with the aggressive flares (they are so awesome), but equipped with street tail lights and dashboard. This configuration would be an accurate reproduction of the famous 427SC Cobra (I found out that SC stands for street/competition).

As we talked, both Peter and I referenced the ERA price list and configured a "roller" as follows:
Standard Cobra kit
Painted chassis
Rebuilt Jag rear end
Adjustable shocks
Bond body to chassis
Pin-drive wheel system
Mount and balance tires
Front shocks and springs
New rack and pinion
Front dust shields
Front brake calipers
ERA steering column
Cobra steering wheel
Cobra center cap
Brake reservoir
Roll bar
Install roll bar

$ 17,900.

There. That was everything needed to build a car that could roll, steer, and stop.

In case you're wondering, the total of everything at this point was $28,950. Of course, these were "list" prices. Certainly, there must be room for negotiation.

I recall mentioning this to Peter. He politely explained that ERA's prices were already set as low as possible. After all, the kit-car industry -- especially the crowded Cobra segment -- was extremely competitive. Any discount would affect the company's thin profit margin, so ERA never deviates from its list prices. Period. End of discussion. Case closed.

However ... Peter did offer to install all the components on the car at no charge. With the lilt of phony reluctance in my voice, I agreed to accept Peter's proposal, and our discussion turned to delivery dates. Peter looked at his master schedule and suggested that it would take about five months after receipt of order for ERA to complete the basic kit, then another six weeks to assemble the roller. That meant we could have it before Thanksgiving Day, work on it all winter, and have it ready to drive on May 1, 1996 as planned.

I asked Peter what he needed from me if we wanted him to get started and also asked about the financial aspects of the deal. He said that he would convert our telephone conversation to a written quotation and would fax it to me that day. If I would confirm the details in writing, and send a $4,000 deposit to ERA, he would schedule our kit to be built. Then, when ERA actually started building the car and assigned a chassis number, another $4,000 payment would be due. The balance owed after these deposits were subtracted from the cost of the kit was to be paid upon delivery of the completed roller.

Simple enough. I thanked Peter for his time, promised to call again soon, and waited for his fax to arrive. Within an hour, I had it in hand.

That evening, Debbie and I reviewed everything one more time. The money. The schedule. And the specifics of Peter's quotation. It all looked good. The only flaw we could find is that I should have asked Peter to install a chrome-plated roll bar rather than a painted one. Chrome was only $150 more and it would look so much better. Let's do it!

The next day, I called Peter to give him the good news and requested that he add the chrome roll bar to the order. A couple of days later, we made it official. Here's a copy of the letter we sent:

Dear Peter:

Debbie and I enjoyed meeting you, Brian, and the rest of your team when we visited ERA last Monday, April 17. We were impressed with the quality of your products and your no-pressure approach to doing business. As a result, this letter serves to order an E.R.A. Cobra 427 SC configured as a "rolling chassis" with body mounted per our discussion and the quotation you prepared.

The only change we want to request at this point is the addition of chrome-plating the roll bar. You indicated this would cost $150, so we have adjusted your quotation total to include this amount; the total is now $29,100. (Recall that we spoke briefly about this change by phone on Wednesday, April 19.)

Our check in the amount of $4,000 is enclosed as a deposit. We understand that an additional $4,000 is due when you start building our car; the balance owed ($21,100) will be paid by cashier's check when we pick up the car at your factory in New Britain, Connecticut.

Based on our discussion, we also understand that the basic kit for this car will be completed by September 30, 1995 and that the "rolling chassis" car with body mounted will be ready for pickup by November 15. We can accommodate an earlier date of completion, but would like to take delivery of the car by mid-November -- before next winter's cold and snow arrive.

We look forward to working with you and your organization on this exciting project.

Respectfully ...

The deal was done. True, we had to wait six and a half months for the car to arrive, but in the meantime, there was still plenty to do. Many decisions would have to be made. What color should it be painted? Should we paint it ourselves or send it out? Where would we locate the side-pipe exhaust system and all the other accessories we'd need? The list of questions seemed endless.

Next Week: Things To Do While Waiting