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

Part 5: Things to Do While Waiting

Maybe it was simply impatience. Maybe it was human instinct. But one of the first things Deb and I did while waiting for ERA to complete the kit was to prepare a suitable "nest" for our new Cobra replica.

Our barn was already equipped with most of the things we would need to breathe life into the new vehicle, including a large air compressor, bead-blast cabinet, gas and electric welding equipment, engine hoist, transmission jack, and hydraulic lift. To make room to work on the new car, we moved bunches of vintage Thunderbird, GTO, and Mustang parts into the barn's loft. With a little consolidation of the other cars in there, we ended up with one full bay of the barn cleared. This gave us an area that measured about 12 by 32 feet.


Knowing that we would be working on the car during the dark winter months, we doubled the overhead lighting capacity in the Cobra nest by adding four high-output fluorescent fixtures to the ceiling. We also redirected one of the heating ducts so it would flood the Cobra bay with warmth when the cold weather came. After a quick sweep of the floor, our Cobra nest was ready.

The summer of 1995 came and went too quickly as all New England summers do. Deb's 1957 Thunderbird and my 1966 GTO spent most of the season with us roaming the secondary roads of the region -- tops down, of course. We participated in several regional car shows with both cars, made lots of new friends, and earned our fair share of ribbons and trophies.

Of course, if a Cobra -- real or replica -- happened to be at a car show we attended, we would check out every detail, take photos, and strike up a conversation with the owner. And I think we learned something new every time this happened. For example, did you known that the original Shelby Cobras had a small hose running from the top, right corner of the radiator to the top of the cooling-system expansion tank? Its purpose was to bleed trapped air out of the cooling system. It made a lot of sense, but I had never seen such a set-up on any other car.

As our fascination with Cobras continued, we noticed that most of them were painted red, blue, or black with white or gold stripes. Occasionally, we'd see a white car with blue stripes. Could it be that authentic Cobra colors were limited to these four color schemes?

At home, we got out our copy of Rinsey Mills' excellent book, "Original AC, Ace, & Cobra: The Restorer's Guide to AC, Bristol, and Ford Engined Cars." Way in the back, on page 92, Mr. Mills listed the "427 Cobra Colour Schemes" as red, blue, green, black, gray, silver, white, and vineyard green. Deb and I looked at each other. Green? We'd never seen a green Cobra at the shows or in any of the books we had collected. I remember thinking that it might be nice to have something a little different -- as long as the color was authentic.

As long as we were starting to talk about paint, we decided it was time to visit a local auto body and paint shop called "Phaze II." Owned and operated by Jimmy B., Phaze II had done all the body, prep, and paint work on Deb's Dusk Rose Thunderbird, so we were familiar with this shop's capabilities and quality of workmanship. As we revealed our Cobra project to Jimmy, you could see the enthusiasm in his eyes.

In addition to the typical fender-bender work Phaze II routinely handles, Jimmy always has a "project" car in process for one of his "special" customers. The walls of his small office at the shop were plastered with photos of his accomplishments over the years. Corvettes, GTOs, Mustangs, Camaros, and even a John Deere farm tractor served as Jimmy's pin-ups and showcased the work of the small shop. When we asked if he would be interested in helping with the Cobra kit, Jimmy didn't hesitate to offer his services.

We asked Jimmy if he was comfortable working on a fiberglass body that was fresh out of the mold. He pointed to the pictures of the beautiful Corvettes tacked to his office walls and talked about how many hours of preparation went into each before a single drop of paint was sprayed. Jimmy was confident in his ability to work with fiberglass and suggested that we should allow plenty of time for prep work. Hoping to save a few dollars, I pointed to the ERA assembly manual I had brought along. It said, "the mold seam lines are basically the only areas needing any body finishing work and can be taken care of with a light skim coat of body filler."

Jimmy just smiled. His years of experience told him that things might be a little more complicated than that. Especially if we wanted the doors, hood (bonnet?), and trunk lid to align precisely and close solidly. No argument there. And what about the cost for this prep and paint service at Jimmy's establishment? Again, Jimmy smiled. He explained that he would take on the project, but would have to charge for labor by the hour. With so many unknowns ahead, it was the only way to be fair to both parties. We shook hands in agreement and thanked Jimmy for his time.
As summer progressed, the image of a green Cobra with chrome and stainless trim glistening in the sun became clearer and clearer. Deb and I sought out and sent for every Cobra accessory and part catalog we could find. Some were full-color artistic masterpieces; others were ugly xerographic copies of crude, hand-drawn sketches with prices hand-written in the margins. None of the catalogs seemed to provide enough information about fit and finish, warranties, how to order, or who to call if there was ever a problem with a product. At least the pricing was consistent among all the catalogs -- high!

Somewhat disappointed, somewhat frustrated, we got out our ERA price list to compare ERA's prices with those in the catalogs. Surprisingly, we found that ERA was very competitive with the mail-order parts companies. The decision was easy: order all the "extras" from ERA. That way, we knew everything would fit correctly, and if there were ever a problem, Peter was just a phone call away.

The next day, we faxed the following parts and accessories order to ERA:
Emergency brake handle
Emergency brake cable
Front sway bar
Rear sway bar
Integral hood scoop
Heater and defroster kit
Windshield wiper kit
Windshield wiper arms and blades
Seat belts and harness kit
Top-loader transmission
Shifter linkage and handle
Drive shaft
Front nudge bar
Rear nudge bar
Primary exhaust pipes (headers)
Stainless steel side pipes
Oil cooler kit
Front, back, side emblems

$ 200.

If you're counting, the total for this parts and accessories order was $6,080. Added to the $28,950 commitment made when we ordered the basic rolling chassis kit (see Part 4 of this story), the total amount committed to the project came to $35,030. And this didn't include Jimmy's fee for prep and paint or the cost of a proper engine for motivation.

The summer fun continued with top-down cruises through all six New England states, a variety of car shows, and an occasional old-parts flea market and swap meet. As days grew shorter and nights became longer, I knew it wouldn't be long before Deb and I would make our next trip to ERA with empty trailer in tow.

Next week: Hello, Dan? Come get your Cobra