"My brother and I just wanted to have a car that would always be the fastest at a stoplight drag race, and it has been"

Driving a 427 Cobra with sidepipes and an open exhaust is a ticket to be the badboy you always dreamed of being in high school. Within seconds of turning the key, you're revving the engine every chance you get, especially in underpasses and tunnels, and generally hoping that cows will stop giving milk because of your roaring drive by.

Bill and Bud Jones provided the opportunity for Wendie and me to drive their 427, CSX 3005, as part of an informal gathering put together by friend of SCM and The Cobra in the Barn author, Tom Cotter.

As important as the driving experience was, speaking with the owners-long-term and behind-the-wheel enthusiasts-was even more moving.

There were 13 Cobras in the group-both 289 and 427 variants-with two Shelby GT350s being driven by owners whose Cobras had "failed to proceed." The two-day route led through the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, and the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia.

Values have skyrocketed

It's no secret the values of Cobras have skyrocketed, and that it will take north of $600,000 to put a no-stories car in your garage today. That's a doubling of prices in the past three years. And yet, there were no garage queens in this group. All bore the typical and endearing signs of road use, including rock chips in the paint, well-used engine bays and weathered leather seats.

What all the owners had in common was their deep affection for the motoring experience offered by these cars. Part of the Cobra's popularity lies in the fact that they can be driven, with relative reliability (and somewhat less comfort), for great distances. After all, in the end these are just Ford drivetrains, with carburetors that can be rebuilt by any shop, and points and plugs that you could buy at Wal-Mart.

Contrast that with finding a shop that can get your Ferrari 400 Superamerica to idle smoothly. Or the overdrive on your 250 GTE to function properly-again.

So point one in favor of the Cobra is its mechanical robustness. Point two is its suitability for American roads. On the interstate, should you choose to abuse yourself by driving your Cobra on one, 80 mph is just an easy lope. Wind-buffeting aside, this is a car that gobbles up the miles as fast as you can stand.

On back roads, the skinny tires of the era combine with the relatively primitive suspension to offer great thrills at low speeds, one of the special pleasures of vintage cars.

If you're going to sacrifice your hearing.

The Cobras we drove-four 289s and two 427s-all had spacious cockpits, and even the 427s weren't pouring heat onto the driver the way, say, a Healey 100 or 3000 would.

We spent the most time in CSX 3005, a 427 that Bill and Bud Jones bought for $7,500 in the early '70s. "The bank made us a three-year loan with a balloon payment at the end," recalled Bill. "My brother and I just wanted to have a car that would always be the fastest at a stoplight drag race, and it has been." The car still wears its original paint, and is in essentially the same configuration it was when they bought it.

With all the stories I've heard about the brutish nature of Cobras over the years, I was prepared for an energy-draining pounding. But what I got was nearly the opposite. Yes, the car was loud. But if you're going to sacrifice your hearing, what better way to do it than in an open-sidepipe 427?

As you can imagine, the acceleration in any gear was effortless, and the ultimate velocity limited only by your courage or foolhardiness. The dash layout was logical, and the lack of a gas gauge made checking the fuel level with a wooden dipstick entertaining.

The 289 Cobras were lithesome by comparison. They were better balanced and more nimble, but remember, fast sporty driving à la Alfa Giulietta isn't really what these cars were ever about. Yes, they could and did beat European sports cars on the track, but those were cars prepped to within an inch of their mechanical lives and driven by men who clearly had no fear. In short, a Cobra not driven in anger is really just a powerful but non-poisonous snake.

From living room to museum

I do believe that this tour, and the ones like it in the next decade, will mark the end of an era of this type of owner/collector. With these cars worth from $600,000 to $1 million, the new owners will likely be wealthier collectors who use their cars differently. Just as Van Gogh and Matisse paintings once hung in the living rooms of private owners and have now moved on to museums, Cobras will migrate from original/enthusiast owners to wealthier, but perhaps no less enthusiastic, collectors. But there will be a difference in the way the cars are used, and how they are perceived by their owners.

Due to the inevitability of the passing of years, soon enough there will be no Cobra owners who bought their cars 30 years ago and still have them today. Which is what made being around these owners so important.

And which leads to my conclusion. If you own a car that has become immensely valuable-out of proportion to your net worth-you owe it to yourself to take it out and enjoy it (after being sure it is insured for market value, of course). The reasons you bought the car are as valid as they ever were, and you, like many of these Cobra owners, have had a chance to experience a truly extraordinary machine. Drive the cars, wring every bit of experience out of them that you can, and be satisfied with the time they have spent in your life.

Whether it's a Cobra or a Daytona or a Porsche Speedster that has skyrocketed in value, you were smart enough to buy one when it was affordable (they were never cheap), you've had the chance to use it as it was meant to be driven, and now the market has decided that you have grabbed the brass ring and will get a huge financial reward if you decide to sell.

Does it really get any better?

Comments are closed.