The next best thing to owning a stock, original 289 Cobra is helping a friend bring one home
By Peter Egan
“Don’t bring much luggage,” Tom Cotter said over the phone. “The Cobra’s trunk isn’t very big, with the spare and convertible top in there. We only have room for a couple of small duffel bags.”
“No problem,” I said.
In my experience, there has always been a powerful inverse relationship between the quality of a trip and the amount of stuff you pack. Generally speaking, the less luggage, the more exciting the car (see Formula 1) and the less opportunity you have for some form of dreaded social nonsense along the way.
So I cheerfully spent about 15 minutes packing for this one. A few changes of clothes, a camera, my old flying jacket and a hat for the Great American Desert. Done.
If only a few minutes were consumed in packing, it took Tom considerably longer than that to line up the car for our trip. A lifetime, essentially, if you don’t count those sadly squandered juvenile years before you could tell one car from another.
“The first time I ever saw a Cobra,” Tom told me, “I was in fifth grade. The book cover on my social studies book wasn’t Princeton or Yale, but sports cars of the world; a Jag, an Aston Martin, a Lotus…and a wire-wheeled 289 Cobra. I’ve wanted one ever since.”
Tom, who recently joined R&T as a Contributing Editor, has owned or raced many other sports cars all his adult life—including the Morris Minor vintage racer we co-drove at Sebring a few years ago—but the Cobra has always remained the Holy Grail.
Tom is originally from Long Island, but moved south to become director of public relations for Charlotte Motor Speedway and later started a public relations firm, promoting several of NASCAR’s biggest teams. After years of long hours and hard work, he recently sold the business for considerably more money than I currently have in my checking account.
Among Shelby enthusiasts, I believe this is known as “Cobra Time.”
Tom spent many months searching for the right Cobra, and he would call occasionally to let me know how it was going. “I want a nice original 289 Cobra with wire wheels, all the street equipment and the standard 271-horsepower engine,” he told me. “No big fender flares or race equipment. I want a car I can drive on the street.”
One evening, two months ago, he called and said, “I’ve found my car. It’s a ’65, red with a black interior. Nice condition and very stock. The owner lives in Walnut Creek, California. I flew out and looked at it and we struck a deal. How would you like to help me drive it back to North Carolina?”
“No thanks,” I said. “I have to mow the lawn that week.”
“Just kidding. I can be there in about 15 minutes.”