The Cobra story
I was languishing in English 101, as old Miss Bulterrier sat in front of the class reading us “Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea”. Back then the thought of bringing a gun to school was frowned upon, not for fear of a student going on a rampage as they are so inclined to do today, but the administration who was well aware of Miss Bulterriers’; “Not soon enough for me to get away from these miserable little rodents” attitude about her impending retirement. The fear was that after an hour of Miss Bulterriers’ monotone droning of Jules Verne that a student would turn the gun on themselves, and no teacher wanted to send that note home to your parents.
I stared out the school windows and dreamed of being ten miles away up amid the pines and firs on Birch Mountain (to the best of my knowledge there has never been a birch tree on Birch Mountain. It’s a little bit like a Kansas City real estate developer naming your cul-d-sac Marina Bay View Drive) when suddenly I was snapped back to the classroom.
“Mr. Speedwell? Mr. Speedwell!! Your book report is due a week from next Monday. Have you selected a novel yet?”
“Oh, uh…I was heading to the library right after class.” (Hey, I didn’t know if the school even had a library!)”
“Never mind that… here.” she said tossing me a paperback. “I want a report on that in ten days.”
My mind was racing. “How was I going to get out of this?”; when I happened to see the title on the dog-eared cover; “The Cobra Story”…written by, yes, the old man himself, Carroll Shelby! The book that had just landed in my hands looked bigger, and bigger as my saucer sized eyes tried to take it all in. I frantically thumbed through the pages while, for the next half hour, old Miss Bulterrier slogged through the rest of Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. Who needed to dream about playing on Burch Mountain? I was suddenly transported to Riverside, standing in the pits next to Carroll who was readying the Cobra for Dan Gurney. I could hear the roar of the powerful overhead valve engines as they fired up and rolled to the starting line, when suddenly I saw it; the center section of the book… complete with pictures! (Now THAT'S my kind of book!). There she was, the car of my dreams, a 289 Cobra! She was the size of Dave Brubaker’s Austin Healey Sprite (Dave who wasn’t old enough to drive, well… legally, aptly named the sixty dollar Sprite; “Gutless Horace”) but had an engine as big as my mom’s Cadillac! (Well… almost). She had curves more lusty than Rachael O’Dell, who when I tired of dreaming about Birch Mountain, I would look three desks up to the right and stare at Rachael’s curvy backside. Forget Rachael! This thing was gorgeous, and it HAD to be mine!
I had just spent a year scavenging pop bottles on the side of the road so I could buy my first guitar. I wanted the well-worn ’61 Les Paul down at Belmont Music, but it was sixty bucks! Sixty stinkin’ dollars!! And.... And!… the finish was worn through on part of the neck! No way! Beaney must have been out of his mind to charge that kind of money for a guitar! So I settled for the thirty dollar Harmony sold at Western Auto. Yeah, I know….
My troubles grew worse. The Cobra was more than twice the price of a ’64½ Mustang. Four cents for a pop bottle, and at sixty five hundred dollars… ok, I needed a new plan.
That evening I was wringing my hands in desperation when I noticed my mother opening a can of Jolly Green Giant green beans. That can. Steel…and tin plated so it wouldn’t rust. Hammered out flat it was about fifty square inches. The total body area of the Cobra is about... divided by fifty inches…. I had my plan! That Cobra would soon be mine! I suddenly saw myself driving north out of L.A. on Pacific Coast Highway with the top down and by far the hottest girl in school, Lisa Morrow at my side. The oh-so-slightly muffled 289, the smell of the Pacific, and Lisa. Over and over that scenario played in my head, and in a matter of months the Cobra would be finished AND I would be old enough to drive…well, legally. The future was closer than I thought and I owed it all to the Jolly Green Giant! Ho, ho, ho!!
In slow motion I saw my mom’s hand release the green bean can as it slowly glided down to the garbage. Flying through the air I intercepted that can like a Chicago bears wide receiver. “Max, what are..?” “Never mind, Mom….” My words dropped off as I ran out the door. I checked out the rest of the garbage, I hit-up Eleanor Brubaker, I hit-up Mrs. Dodson, I collected cans like the end of the world was coming. Of course I didn’t rinse them out. The brazing process would burn-off the residue of the old tuna fish. I found a spot in the top of the garage, and hid my stash there. Occasionally I would use the tin snips and open the cans and hammer them out flat. Only a few hundred cans to go and I could then begin brazing them into a quilt of steel that would become the body of my new Cobra. It wouldn’t be long now. Should I tell Lisa to begin packing? I was almost there… I could smell it. Turns out I wasn’t the only one who could smell it. The garage attic was hot…very hot, and the smell of rotten green beans, and tuna soon caught my dad’s attention.
As the day to assembling my cans drew near I began to prepare. Flux, brass rod, plenty of acetylene, and oxygen. I went to the garage attic to collect my cans…
My trip up Pacific coast highway…gone!
Lisa’s long hair trailing in the wind......GONE!!
The smell of stale tuna hung in the air as I frantically rifled through the attic. Panicked, I ran into the house. “Mom!! Quick, what happened to my cans?”
“What cans, Max?”
“My Cobra cans in the top of the garage!”
“You stored snake innards in those cans? No wonder they stunk so bad. Besides, we don’t have cobra’s around here, it was probably a bull snake. Your father threw them out on garbage night.”
Dejected I lay in bed and stared at the ceiling all night. How would I ever break the news to Lisa?
The next morning I walked through the school halls, and saw Lisa coming towards me. Her long hair flowed in slow motion like a Breck girl, and she had full pouty lips long before they were fashionable on Southern California housewives. How could I ever tell her? (To this day I'm not sure if Lisa ever knew I was alive. I sure would like to look her up & down again, but you can't go back. My guess is the gorgeous Lisa is looking very matronly).
My hopes shattered, I walked into English 101 and plopped my backside down into the desk.
“Ahem… Mr. Speedwell? Your report?
“Uh… oh… Somehow I may have lost it somewhere in “The Valley of the Jolly.”
Retrospectively submitted by Max Speedwell who never did have his way with the Cobra, or Lisa.
(the names have been changed to keep Lisa from ever looking me up!)