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

Part 7: Make It Vineyard Green, Please

On Sunday, November 19, 1995, Deb and I started preparing the new Cobra body for paint by removing the rollbar, trim, headlights, parking lights, tail lights, instrument panel, and windshield. It took about four hours to carefully unbolt and put away all the doodads that ERA had installed; the Cobra looked naked without the shiny stuff. We decided to leave the doors, hood, and trunk lid in place so that Jimmy and his crew at Phaze II Auto Body could see how they were attached and how close to perfect the alignment already was.

Referring to the ERA assembly manual, the next thing to do was cut openings through the fiberglass fenders for the side-pipe exhaust system. The size, shape, and placement of each "hole" had to be precise, so ERA provided a paper template for each side. The templates clearly showed the outlines of each opening and included instructions on how to align the template with top-, bottom-, and side-reference points on the fiberglass body.

We used masking tape to affix both left and right templates to the body, then double- and triple-checked to make certain that we had followed the instructions correctly. A mistake at this point would be expensive to correct -- not to mention embarrassing to explain.

After Deb and I agreed that things were as they should be, I drilled a small pilot hole through each template, near the upper-left corner of where the opening would be. Still convinced that we were doing the right thing, I used a 3/8-inch bit to enlarge the pilot holes on each side. I wore surgical latex gloves to prevent dirt, oil, or moisture from my hands from contaminating the raw fiberglass.
To cut the openings, I decided to use an air-powered body saw with a fresh, fine-toothed blade. The reciprocating blade was small enough to handle the complex curves the templates dictated, and the tool itself was light, powerful, and easy to maneuver. Within a few minutes, the procedure was over. After we removed the templates, we found that we had created two perfectly placed openings for the sidepipes. Whew. Cutting

It was getting late, but Deb and I decided to tackle the last thing that needed to be done before moving the car to Jimmy's Phaze II shop. Like many British roadsters, Cobras have a number of "snap-posts" installed around the perimeter of the cockpit of the car. These snap-posts are used to secure either a tonneau cover or a soft top to protect the interior from the elements.

There is a total of 22 of these snap-posts on a Cobra, and the ERA assembly manual recommended that we thread them into the holes provided on the body. This was suggested because the gel coat or fiberglass will sometimes chip or raise up when the snaps are screwed into the holes. If that was going to happen, ERA felt it was better to deal with the problem now rather than after the body was painted.

The snap-posts provided with the ERA kit were of the self-tapping variety. They were made of brass (rustproof) and the threads were similar to the ones you find on sheet-metal screws. As I started threading one of these snaps into the pre-drilled fiberglass, I could see the hole distort and the gel coat start to separate from the underlayment. Plus, I sensed that the torque required to install the snap-post would certainly cause the brass shank to sheer if I kept going. Not good. I reversed direction and removed the partially installed hardware.

Thinking back to the Cobra parts research we had done, I recalled seeing replacement snap hardware with #8 machine threads rather than self-tapping threads. Deb ran into the house to get our folder of Cobra literature. Sure enough, the Cobra Restorers, Ltd. catalog listed "Lift-a-Dot Body Posts" in both threaded and screw-in styles for 85 cents each.

Because the fiberglass was quite thick at each point where a snap-post was to be installed, it made sense that we could tap each hole with a #8 tap, and install a threaded post rather than use the self-thread style posts that ERA had provided. This would eliminate distortion of the hole and prevent cracking of the gel coat. This was our first FCO (field change order).

We decided to order 22 new, threaded "Lift-a-Dot Body Posts" and leave the holes as they were. After the car was painted, we would carefully tap each of the 22 holes and install the threaded posts without disturbing the new paint.

With the car prepped and ready to deliver to Jimmy, we cut power to the air compressor, turned down the heat, shut off the lights, and returned to the house with our three-inch-thick folder of Cobra stuff. Over dinner, we flipped through the pages of Rinsey Mills' Cobra restoration book, comparing our ERA replica to the genuine Cobras in the pictures.

At the back of the book, we revisited the list of paint colors available for the original 1966 Shelby Cobras. Because of the way the Cobra colors were listed, Deb and I assumed that plain "green" meant kind of a pure, opaque, really green green -- like the color of fresh grass. That wasn't what we had in mind, so we decided to investigate "vineyard green" as a possible color for the new car. But what did "vineyard green" look like?

Later that week, we returned to Phaze II (our local auto body and paint place) and told Jimmy that the Cobra was ready to be moved to his shop for prep and paint. As we discussed color options, Jimmy volunteered to research the availability of vineyard green and promised to get back to us within a few days. He had sources at all the major paint system manufacturers and thought he would be able to get a sample of this color to show us what it looked like.

In a few days, Jimmy called. One of his suppliers (Sikkens) was confident they could match the color in a base-coat/clear-coat formulation and had sent a sample of their paint. Jimmy sprayed a few pieces of clear acetate material for us to see. He explained that when you spray colored base-coat paint on acetate, then look at the result from the unpainted side, you get a good idea of what the color will look like when the complete base-coat/clear-coat system is applied to the car.

The instant we saw the samples, we knew that our new Cobra would be vineyard green. The color was extremely rich and deep -- like metallic ivy, if there were such a thing in nature. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the end result, complete with sparkling chrome rollbar and polished stainless-steel sidepipes. Awesome.

Jimmy volunteered to pick up the car with his ramp truck. It was one of those fancy rigs where the truck bed tilts, then extends down to form an inclined plane that touches the ground. Jimmy was an expert at operating the controls and we had the new Cobra loaded, secured, and on its way to Phaze II in no time. Fortunately, Jimmy's shop was only a few miles from our home, so it would be convenient for us to stop by and see how things were going every once in a while.

With the Cobra nest empty again, and knowing that Jimmy would need three or four months to properly prepare and paint the car, Deb and I decided to use that time to find an appropriate engine. I knew that no matter how much attention we paid to the cosmetic details, ultimately, a rumbling, grumbling, ground-shaking, big-block Ford would serve as the soul of this new machine.

Next week: Soul searching