You can never have too much Cobra, right? Yes, Tom Cotter is at it again in pursuit of more Shelby goodness, this time with the guidance of Cobra guru Lynn Park. In the garage behind Lynn’s house near Pasadena, California, he shows us a heavenly assortment of Cobra treasure and shares the fantastic tale of an original 289 he affectionately dubbed “Dirtbag”.
The retired Park is a well-connected Cobra collector, racer, and broker with a lifelong passion for these cars. He came by Dirtbag in 1995, at which point it had already been sitting for 20-plus years outside under a blue tarp. Originally purchased by a relative of famous racing engineer and mechanic Fred Offenhauser, the car was abandoned by 1974 or 1975 in the backyard after something broke. One of Lynn’s friends managed to persuade the original owner’s wife to let it go, and he ended up trading it to Lynn in exchange for race car parts and some cash.
Due to so many years spent outside, the paint was cracked, wrinkled, and faded all over, and the interior was largely ruined as well. Aside from a new set of seats, the interior is nevertheless original, benefitting from a lot of Lynn’s expert repair and refurbishing skills.
“I wanted to restore the car,” Lynn says. “[But] Carroll Shelby saw it at one of the Cobra days at the Petersen Museum and he said, ‘Look at all these shiny cars. No one’s looking at them—they’re all over here looking at this thing. You oughta leave this alone.’ And I said, ‘You know what? If it’s good enough for Shelby it’s good enough for me.’”
It still has the original 289 motor, which Lynn has never taken apart. He did patch it up with a new carburetor, water pump, and fuel pump. It had 30,000 miles on it when he got it and it shows 38,000 now. “It smoked like the devil,” he says. “But Marvel Mystery Oil to the rescue! Put that in the crankcase and it smoked less and less. Now it doesn’t smoke at all unless you let it sit for 30-40 minutes and then start it up, you’ll get a little puff. But it needs to smoke, it’s Dirtbag!”
Next, Tom and Lynn wander over to an orange SCCA Cobra race car. Like a lot of weekend-warrior racers, the car shows evidence of rock dimples and piecemeal body changes to suit the changing series rules. “It shows what a lot of Cobras were. They weren’t the pretty-boy racers, just old race cars that got used every weekend.” He put the engine back together with older parts after locating the original at a machine shop where it had been sitting for 40 years.
Lynn’s tour of Cobra heaven ends with a unique build. Using a brand-new Cobra body and an AC chassis, he put together a barn-find-looking car using all old and refurbished parts, without necessarily paying attention to original Cobra details. It’s far from traditional, but Lynn has fun with making what’s new look old. Two years ago the engine was just a pile of components, and although its freshly assembled, it looks like it’s been through hell. When the car was done, it looked too clean, so Lynn drove through muddy waters on Angeles Crest Highway to make it look convincingly filthy.
When Tom assumes Cobra enthusiasts would generally be offended by this concept, Lynn doesn’t miss a beat. “Not as many as I thought would be,” he says. “They wish they had thought of it themselves.”