Barn Find Hunter Explores the Shelby Cobra Herbie Hancock Has Owned Since New

Barn Find Hunter

Tom Cotter made a stop by an old friend’s garage in Los Angeles for the latest installment of Barn Find Hunter. Cotter introduces us to Steve Beck, who owns some very cool cars of his own, but is also the caretaker for one of the earliest Shelby Cobras, which jazz legend Herbie Hancock purchased new and still owns.

Cotter, who has had the opportunity to meet Hancock and talk about their shared love of the powerful roadsters, tells the story of how the car was originally sold to Hancock when he was a young musician in New York City. Just the sixth Cobra ever built, its single-owner status means that Hancock has owned a Cobra longer than anyone else. Besides its famous owner and all of the great stories involving Hancock and other jazz legends, its early production status makes for a Cobra that is interesting on its own.

“This car is so early in production that it’s still very British,” says Beck. It was so early that it was built with a 260-cubic-inch Ford V-8, rather than a 289 as you might expect. The early Windsor engine, equipped with a solid-lifter cam, could be a leftover from the Mercury Comet’s overseas exploits in the 1964 East African Safari. The roadster’s amalgamation of American V-8 and British chassis is apparent when Beck pops the hood. The car’s brake and clutch master cylinder aren’t what you’d expect, and neither is the generator. Like its AC counterparts, this Cobra is positive ground and uses a Lucas generator.

Cotter and Beck look over some of the car’s early-production oddities and some of the accessories that have miraculously survived its long ownership. One of our favorite aspects of the car is its odometer, showing just over 30,000 miles. Rest assured, though, that this car served as Hancock’s daily driver for years, and that odometer has rolled over once. Hancock plans on that number to go up, as the car is destined to go to his grandson, keeping this Cobra and its interesting history in the family for years to come.


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    This Story is fantastic! I just Love this stuff! So cool Herbie is passing the car down to his Grandson too.

    My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I believe it was in 2021 or ’22 at the Central Coast British Car Club show at Channel Islands Harbor (Calif) that I saw an original Cobra 260 or 289 that was owned by a black man that said he owned it from new. Don’t know if it was Herbie’s Cobra as my memory says it was red.

    That very well may have been a fellow named Hank Williams (no relation to the country music family). Hank has passed away recently. He was 98, and was a WW 2 veteran and took part in the invasion of Normandy Beach in 1944. He was the original owner of a light blue 1965 Cobra, which he also raced. Easy to find pictures of him and his car online.

    I hope the car fares better than most cars “handed down” to grandsons who have no understanding or appreciation of their significance.

    Not certain about this but I think #7 is owned by an individual in Felton PA. Anyone know about this car. I’ll see if I can find more about it.

    I’ve seen him in interviews before talking about this car. I’m trying to think of something cooler than a legendary Jazz musician who is into classic cars, owns an original, and is a nice guy to boot!

    I’m coming up blank.

    Miles Davis had at least a couple of Ferraris at different times. And while he had a few friends I’m sure….generally speaking he didn’t fall into the category of “nice guy”.

    Met Herbie and his Cobra at Santa Monica Pier about 8 or 9 years ago…..what a fantastic guy and car with an amazing story!

    I remember the story the salesman didn’t want to sell the car to Hancock thinking he couldn’t afford it.
    Hancock persisted, wearing him down, and the rest is history.

    I think he was trying to buy a Corvette or something and they wouldn’t sell it to him so he bought the Cobra out of spite. I could be wrong. Good story either way.

    Along the same story line, I was at a Peterson Publishing car show in Indiana about 1982 with my 1975 Corvette convertible and my then girlfriend. We parked next to an early Cobra from Canada. The owner drove the car to the show. It was extremely dirty and the back had a slight sheen of oil from engine leaks it must have had. The fender arches were stressed cracked and overall in poor condition. But it was an early Cobra. After several conversations the owner wanted to do a swap for my Vette. I was very interested however it ended when my girlfriend said “ I’m not riding home in that”! That ended my conversations about the trade! I never saw the vin number but from my knowledge now it was an early car. Would’ve, should’ve, could’ve.

    It seems that there comes a time when car enthusiasts have seen so many cars they all seem to blur. At this point you learn to watch for those cars that are the rarest or have a really great story attached to them. This car has both. In fact it has two stories; the personal one and the automotive one. It doesn’t get any better. I can still get enthusiastic when I see a cool car at a stop light but only a story like this one can I relate to my wife and have her listen because it’s not just another car story.

    I got a Friday ride from my College to my home in ’67, about 70 miles. I headed back on Sunday morning, hitch-hiking with my skateboard. My first lift got me about 25 miles to a five point intersection that went straight back to campus. After about ten cars passed me by, a black 289 Cobra pulled up and stopped. He offered to get me about two miles from campus. I loved Cobras and would have paid for the ride. Although I was exalted and drooling about a ride in a Cobra, I have to say that, at the end of my ride, I was happy to get out. I was wearing shorts and my legs and feet were “S-O-O-O” hot, I couldn’t believe it. HOWEVER, I got my first ride in a Cobra. I’ll never forget it and I’m now 77. Steve’s Cobra story rattled my brain about my first Cobra encounter.

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