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

Part 6: Hello, Dan? Come Get Your Car

It was a routine mid-November Tuesday. I arrived home from the office that evening around 7:00 p.m. and checked the answering machine as I fumbled with a stack of junk mail. The little red LED was flashing, so I pushed the "Play Messages" button and heard, "Hello, Dan? Come get your Cobra. This is Peter at ERA. Your car is ready, so gimme a call and let me know when you wanna come get it. Talk to you soon, 'K? Bye."

The next morning, I called Peter. He explained that our new Cobra replica rolling chassis (ERA vehicle number 452) and all its accessories were ready to be picked up at Peter's Connecticut facility. Right on schedule, as promised some six months earlier. No missing parts, no backorders, and no excuses. It was exactly what I wanted to hear.

If that week were not already filled with appointments and commitments, I would have hooked up the trailer and been on my way to ERA that instant. But being a somewhat responsible person, I asked Peter if it would be okay to wait until Saturday morning for the trip to New Britain. He said that would be fine, and he promised to have some help on hand to assist with loading the rolling chassis on our trailer.

For the next three days, I felt like a kid before Christmas; I couldn't wait for the weekend. One important item that Debbie took care of was calling our insurance agent to make sure we had adequate coverage while transporting the Cobra kit. This query really opened a can of worms. Were we moving a motor vehicle or just a bunch of parts? At what point do the parts become a motor vehicle? Insurance people need to know these things, of course.

To make a long story short, our agent finally found an insurance company that would issue a policy with some kind of special binder or endorsement. It covered our butts in case anything went wrong during transit and would continue to provide coverage up to the time we were able to register and insure the replica as a bona fide motor vehicle.

Finally, Saturday arrived. It was November 18, 1995. The temperature hovered around the freezing mark, and the sky was overcast as I hooked our 16-foot car-carrier trailer to our Ford F-150 4x4 pickup truck. I double-checked the hitch, safety chains, lights, and the trailer's electric brakes before towing it up to the barn where I could access compressed air to top-off the tires. All four of them needed a couple of puffs to bring them up to 35 PSI.

I also checked the trailer's battery and electric winch to make sure we had enough electromechanical muscle to pull the Cobra aboard. The deep-cycle battery could have used a charge, but I reasoned that the 12-volt electrical feed from the truck would take care of that during the two-hour drive to Connecticut.

Carrying a portable cellular phone, Debbie came out of the house to join me, and we were were underway at 7:35 a.m. I remember stopping at the end of the driveway for a minute to twist a CB-antenna mast to the permanently installed mount on the roof of the truck. Then I tuned the Cobra CB radio to channel 19 so we could receive the latest "smokey reports."

Traffic was light that morning, and we arrived at ERA at about 9:45 a.m. Inside, Peter was in his office, on the phone as usual. He waved, smiled, and hoisted an index finger in the air as his attention returned to the telephone. A few other people were milling around the assembly area; it was difficult to tell if they were employees, prospects, customers, or just curiosity seekers who happened to be in the area.

Within minutes, Peter emerged from his office and led us toward an area near the right-front corner of the building. There it was: ERA #452 in all its fresh-from-the-fiberglass-mold glory.

It was awesome. ERA had installed and aligned the doors, trunk lid, hood, roll bar, headlights, and taillights to make sure that everything fit as it should, so the kit really looked like a complete car. Of course, there was no carpeting installed, the seats weren't bolted-in, and the windshield wasn't in place, but if you looked quickly, it sure resembled a real Cobra. Even the steering wheel was there.

Behind the car, there was a neat pile of cardboard boxes. Each box had "#452" written on it, along with a unique identification number. Nothing fancy; just the familiar 1 of 12, 2 of 12, 3 of 12, etc., numbering system. The boxes contained most of the parts and accessories we would need to complete the car.

The only component not boxed was the rebuilt Ford top-loader transmission we had ordered from ERA. We knew it was ours because someone had used a blue marker to write "452" on the cast-iron transmission housing.

Peter gave us a few minutes to become acquainted with the new car, then suggested that we start loading everything. Somewhat expertly, I backed the trailer up to the large garage-type door, firmly set the parking brake, and positioned the trailer's ramps to accommodate the width of the new Cobra.

As I put the winch in free-wheel mode and started pulling cable from the spool, Peter and some helpers rolled the car into position near the bottom of the ramps. I had judged the car's width accurately, so the front tires were perfectly aligned with the ramps.

I slid under the nose of the car and wrapped a short length of nylon tow strap around the front cross-member of the frame, then hooked the winch cable to the tow strap. Back at the front of the trailer, I plugged the winch control switch into its socket and took up the slack in the cable.

With all eyes checking for possible interference between the bottom of the Cobra chassis and the trailer, I carefully punched the "up" button on the winch control. Only a few small steering corrections were needed to keep the Cobra on track, and within a minute, it was in place on the trailer.
While I took care of securing the precious cargo with heavy-duty tie-downs at all four corners, Debbie and the others loaded all the boxes and the transmission into the bed of the truck. Thanks to ERA's organizational skills, the whole process of loading the car, plus its parts and accessories, took about 15 minutes. Trailer

Back inside, we returned to Peter's office to take care of the necessary paperwork. Peter opened a large manila envelope and removed its content. On top was an itemized invoice that showed the cost of everything we ordered, along with the two $4,000 payments we had already made. The bottom line showed that we owed a balance of $27,180. But according to my calculations, that amount should have been $27,030 -- exactly $150 less.

Peter and I reviewed the entire invoice and compared it with my records, line by line. It didn't take long to discover that my number was wrong and Peter's was right. The discrepancy was the $150 for the chrome roll bar that Peter had supplied per my request six months earlier. Satisfied that everything was in order, we gave Peter a bank check in the amount of $27,030 plus $150 in cash. In return, Peter gave us a copy of the invoice stamped "PAID IN FULL" in large red letters.

The next thing Peter showed us was ERA's kit list. This was a detailed summary of every part and accessory that we had just loaded onto the truck, along with the number of the box in which it was packed. Peter suggested that we check everything against this list when we returned home and asked us to call him immediately if anything was missing.

The final piece of paper Peter showed us was a Motor Vehicle Certificate of Origin. It was an official-looking document that clearly named ERA as the manufacturer, presented the new car's serial number (ERA452), and specified the date of manufacture (November 18, 1995). Peter's signature was at the bottom. He explained that we would surrender this certificate during the process of obtaining a Massachusetts vehicle identification number and title.

Peter stuffed everything back into the envelope and handed it to me. Then he opened his top desk drawer, picked out something small and shiny, and handed it to me. It was a Cobra key fob with two keys attached.

Peter thanked us for our business, shook hands, and said goodbye. With that, we headed back to the truck. Perched on the flat-bed trailer, the Cobra looked powerful -- even without an engine. The Halibrand pin-drive wheels with aluminum knock-offs really looked sharp. And the impeccably detailed Jaguar differential and suspension glistened from under the rear of the car.

I checked the tie-downs, hitch, and safety chains, then Deb and I climbed into the cab for the ride home. All the way home, people honked their horns and gave us the thumbs-up gesture in approval of our cargo. I wondered how many of them thought we were hauling a genuine Shelby Cobra to a restoration shop.

We made it home without incident. It was about 1:00 p.m. when we pulled into the driveway and headed toward the barn. After a smooth U-turn, I carefully backed the trailer toward the door of the bay we called the Cobra nest.
Deb and I had transported many cars on this trailer, so we each knew what to do to unload the latest addition to our family of fun cars. Within minutes, the Cobra was safely inside, and we turned our attention to unloading the boxes and transmission from the back of the truck.

As we opened each box and compared the contents with ERA's list, Deb and I talked about how much fun we would have assembling all those pieces into a machine that you could drive and depend on. We checked and rechecked each component; just as Peter predicted, everything was there. It was time to start building the car of our dreams.

Sittin' in the car

Next week: Make It Vineyard Green, Please