What It Means to Drive a Cobra (from Dan Mroz)

My friend Dan Mroz gets credit for this article…
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Driving a Cobra Replica


“If you want to just gas and go, and never have to worry about replacing an alternator, or snuggling down the header bolts, or getting a wet leg driving in a rainstorm, or learning how to set your carb float level, or driving in traffic on a warm winter day with “winter gas” in the tank, get a Corvette. “

With a Cobra Replica you have to remind yourself that you are driving a handmade race car on the street. There is no compromise for anything other than pure speed. These cars are brutal and unforgiving, with all the refinement of a medieval battle ax. Like being in a relationship with an exotic dancer, you can never take anything for granted. These cars don’t have millions of miles of testing refinement before you get yours. For any trip longer than an hour, you need earplugs, and goggles, and carry Advil and eye drops. You will need to learn to “read” the clouds for rain in your path, and have experience in un-wrapping your frozen fingers from the MotoLita. You will experience lady passengers “wetting” the passenger seat when you merge into traffic from an on ramp, and then nearly burn their calf getting out of the car.

You will have all the invisibility of a burning Hindenburg, and flee from underground parking lots when uncountable car alarms are screaming your departure. When you shop, you will remind yourself that these cars get more attention than a dead body in a parking lot.

With a power to weight ratio better than almost every supercar, you will find your 1/4 mile times traction rather than power limited. On the other hand, when you stage, out of the corner of your helmet’s visor you will see almost the entire audience lining up at the fence, most with cameras up. If you track on a road course with a Porsche club, owners of expensive German machines will come to the fence to watch you power out in smoking oversteer. You won’t even try to start your engine in the garage, but push it out onto the driveway, else your loyal watch dog will croak from the exhaust fumes. If you idle next to other “sports” cars at a traffic light, by the green, their girlfriend will be coughing green phlegm into her hanky, yelling at her date to just go! When you refuel, you might as well prop the “bonnet” open, because you are going to have to show your motor to just about every other guy there. When you order your wings at Hooters, your waitress will whisper in your ear “take me for a ride.” When you stop at the red light, the girl in the convertible next to you will invite you to “take my top off too.”

When you slowly pass a troop of Harley riders, they will look over and give you thumbs up. When you want to ease out into traffic, other cars will immediately pause to let you go ahead of them. When your engine has its hot, crackling, intimidating exhaust side-pipe aimed right at the flank of the GTO, or the Z28, your exhaust pulsation’s slowly unscrewing his lug nuts, the other car will remain motionless, as if the slightest quiver of his car will cause your car to stomp it dead. When you leave it open in a parking lot, and come back to find your sunglasses and cell phone still sitting on the tunnel, it is because your car has sullenly warned those who came over to admire it “touch me and I will rise up here and kill you dead.”

When you put that tiny silver key into the ignition, and begin your start countdown, your car will whisper “take me for granted, and I will kill you.”

When other drivers just hop in and snap up their belts while backing out of their parking space, you will still have two more minutes before you even get all the Simpson’s properly on and snugged down. Pulling up in a Cobra Replica is like landing an F4U at an ultra-lite convention.

In summary, very, very few drivers want this kind of attention, or can tolerate all that a formidable Cobra Replica demands. These cars are intolerant mistresses.

But remember, there will come a day when you have to hang up your car keys for the last time. And perhaps you want to say then “I did it.”

Ten Cobra Driving Safety Tips

1. The two most dangerous words in aviation are, “Watch this.” The same goes for driving a Cobra. Humility is a wonderful personal trait to have for driving a Cobra safely. If you’re not humble now try thinking you’re a hotshot driver in a Cobra for a while – you will get humbled, as they say down south, “…right quick.”

2. “You don’t even know what you don’t know”. Huh? Well think about it – if you’re not a professional race car driver, you’re kind of out of your element in a Cobra. I saw a video of a Cobra going out of control and rolling because the driver missed a downshift at speed in a sweeping turn. This caused the rear wheels to momentarily lock up and the rear end to slide out and thus the rollover. I didn’t even consider that as a possibility when I’ve been downshifting all this time, did you? That’s my point; I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. That short wheel base Cobra you’re driving can introduce you to all kinds of nasty things you never thought possible. Be careful out there and learn from others. The problem with learning from the school of hard knocks is that the tuition is too high.

3. “Know Thyself”, was said by the Greek philosopher Socrates. How true it is when it comes to driving a Cobra safely. I know that for myself I’m unqualified to be driving my Cobra anywhere near its performance limits. I have virtually no racing experience, very little training and I’m in my 50’s so my reactions are not what they used to be. Instead I have the advantage (I hope) of wisdom. It is said, “The superior driver uses his superior judgment so as to not have to use his superior skill.” The most important thing here is recognizing limitations, do you?

4. I saw a video of a Cobra going out of control when the passenger door was not closed properly and the driver tried to close it while underway. The lean of the body when reaching for the door caused the throttle foot to press on the pedal. Probably not a problem in a regular car but in a Cobra that does 0 to 60 in less than four seconds it’s a recipe for disaster – especially when you only have one hand on the steering wheel! What’s the lesson here? If something falls on the floor or to the side of the passenger seat from g-forces or whatever, wait until you’re stopped (in neutral) before reaching to pick it up.

5. Beware of the club ride. It could be that you will be surrounded by some guys driving bullets (it’s been said you don’t shift a Cobra – you just chamber another round) who are in denial or unaware of their limitations and driving experience. These guys and I’m including myself, have good intentions but are young at heart so the “two teenagers in a car” phenomena is in effect. You know how it goes; they say “This is so cool, let’s do something crazy!” Two teenagers in a car will do things one teenager in a car would never do. This effect can take hold in a club ride. Use caution and don’t get caught up in it. Be a defensive driver knowing someone, because of the above, may do something totally unexpected right in front of you.

6. Street racing kills. It’s stupid and only the completely self-centered do it. It can kill you, or worse yet it can kill innocent bystanders. So just say “no” and go to a track. When that Viper pulls up next to you at the stoplight and revs his engine, then if you must, yell “Ace Raceway [or whatever your local track is called], this Friday, 6 PM.” You’ve just saved face and saved lives — and I bet he never shows.

7. Take command of your Cobra. You can’t be afraid of it or else timidity will prevent you from taking the decisive action necessary to stay out of trouble. Now you must respect your Cobra, but not be afraid of it. Analyze yourself privately deep down and determine if you’re kind of afraid of the car. If you are, then it’s time for some professional training or time to sell the car. This is supposed to be fun and if you’re afraid of the car why deal with it, it will only cause trouble. A Cobra isn’t for everyone and there’s no shame in that.

8. Don’t let anyone tailgate you – ever. Folks behind you might want to get an “up close and personal” look at a Cobra and end up tailgating you. If you have to brake hard for some reason your car will stop much faster than theirs. You have no head restraints, virtually no crush zone and you’re basically sitting on top of a gas tank. Get the picture? Pull over to the slow lane and slow down if you have to in order to get them off your tail. Attention comes with the territory when driving a Cobra and the distractions can be dangerous.

9. Do “what if” scenarios in your head. Quickly now, what would you do if you were going down the freeway and your throttle return spring bracket let loose and you went to full throttle with no throttle control. Too late, you’ve already crashed. My answer is instantaneous and simultaneous controlled braking, clutch in, neutral gear then ignition off and coast to side of the road watching out for traffic and then and only then think about what happened. The key word here is “instantaneous”. You can’t do this quickly if you haven’t considered it beforehand. Be graphic and realistic in your scenarios. What would it sound like and feel like if you went to full throttle unexpectedly going down the freeway? How much time would you have? My engine has an electronic RPM limiter so I’m not going to worry about blowing my engine by depressing the clutch at full throttle. And so what if I did blow my engine – my life is at stake here. “What if” scenarios are wonderful because they’re free, they can save your life, and as my dad used to say, they “tickle your brain.”

10. Don’t go for a drive in your Cobra to clear your head. Clear your head then drive your Cobra. This ain’t the car to be driving when you’re distracted.

11. A bonus tip: Have fun – safely.

12. Leave the alcohol for the end of the day. Maybe, a single beer with a meal, but no more. These cars can go from fun to “OH S*^T!!” faster than just about anything I’ve driven.

“There’s nothing nice about a Cobra, it’s stripped down to the essentials – a big engine, a small car, and four wide tires trying to keep the whole business on the pavement. It’s loud, smells like gasoline, and shakes, shudders, and bucks. It makes your arms tired and your feet hot. You nearly crash about once every ten minutes. It’s so damn wonderful you can’t believe it

Cobra heard whispering to the owner: circa 1963

“When you put that tiny silver key into the ignition, and begin your start countdown, your car will whisper “take me for granted, and I will kill you.”