My 1965 Factory Five Mk4 is a triple tribute
I always wanted a sports car. As I considered retirement, I knew it was time to get one. To me, the quintessential sports car, with its sensuous curves and storied racing history, was the Shelby Cobra. I call mine a “triple tribute” car.
There were plenty of replica Cobras for sale, but I couldn’t really determine their worth or quality. Then I heard about a three-day “build school” at Mott Community College near Detroit. Factory Five Racing donated a kit, and two experienced instructors led 15 students in assembling a Mk4. We had the roadster running just before 5 p.m. on the third day. I took plenty of notes and photographs and was impressed with the quality of materials, parts, and the details provided in the 500-page assembly manual. The entire experience gave me the confidence to build my own replica Cobra, and I knew I wanted a Factory Five roadster.
As I started to plan out the project, I called my best friend from college, Mark Kroncke, and told him my idea. He said he’d come from California to help build it. Mark had muscle cars all his life and was handy with a wrench. I, on the other hand, am a self-taught backyard mechanic. I have tinkered with and restored two WWII Jeeps and a Ford Model A roadster, but I’ve never done any major build work.
Life is not always fair and accommodating, however. Around the time I placed my order for a Mk4 roadster, Mark passed away suddenly. I was devastated. To honor my great friend, I pressed on with the build, and dedicating the effort to Mark was my first tribute.
One of my passions is vintage aircraft, including warbirds. For eight years, I was the chief pilot and caretaker of a 1944 SNJ-5/AT-6, the WWII-era Navy and Army Air Corps advanced trainer. The plane was built “rivet up” over 10 years by my wife’s uncle, Bill Dorris. After he passed away, I became its steward. In the midst of my Cobra build, the family decided to sell the SNJ-5/AT-6. The choice of which color to paint my Cobra then became easy—T-6 Yellow. It’s a hue with a touch of orange that all WWII Navy aircraft trainers wore. The two glossy black stripes down the center of my Cobra are a nod to the black stripe running from a T-6’s propeller to the front of the canopy. I added a decal of the USAF roundel on each door, and the dash has the tail number of the aircraft that Bill built, N3286, embroidered in yellow thread. I replaced the electric dash clock with an eight-day manual windup clock from the instrument panel of a SNJ-5/AT-6. The second tribute of my Cobra is to Bill.
The kit arrived as 24 boxes, two wooden crates, a chassis frame, and a fiberglass body—some 4000 parts in need of assembly in a particular sequence. Although Mark was unable to help me build my Cobra, about a dozen local friends helped me out, including my friend Yvonne Sippel, who learned to wrench from her father. Her signature and those of the others now adorn the inside of the hood. The third tribute is to her and the rest of the volunteer wrenchers who helped get this Cobra on the road.
I am in love with this car, and I’m so grateful to all the people who helped me achieve this long-term dream.