May 3, 2014

Living out a Cobra dream

MOUNDRIDGE – Matt Jarvis freely admits he is a General Motors fan, and he backs it up with a pair of late-model Corvettes and a Camaro parked inside his farm shed.

MOUNDRIDGE – Matt Jarvis freely admits he is a General Motors fan, and he backs it up with a pair of late-model Corvettes and a Camaro parked inside his farm shed.

But tucked safely back in one corner of the building is a car that couldn’t be any more Ford if it tried: a bright red replica 427 Shelby Cobra roadster with white stripes running fore to aft.

“I’m a Chevy guy, but ever since I was a little kid, this has been my dream car,” Jarvis says. “You know how it is when you first see a picture of a special car … this was it for me.”

As he came of age, though, the dream of owning an original, aluminum-bodied big-block Cobra built by Carroll Shelby himself, had already accelerated out of the realm of possibility. Those cars routinely sell in the million-dollar range today.

But that just meant Jarvis had to readjust his plans a bit, since the original Cobra had spawned a thriving sub-industry of replica Cobras, most of them fiberglass-bodied and fitted with small block V-8 engines. Those were still expensive, but much more affordable.

So when one became available about seven years ago, Jarvis didn’t hesitate.

“A buddy of mine (Gary Dirks) had it and needed to get rid of it,” he said. “It was a running, driving car, titled in 1992 … but it had a 429 engine in it when I bought it. I wanted to make it more original.”

That meant getting the right engine under the hood.

The body and chassis had been built by Mid States Classic Cars & Parts in Hopper, Neb., a company now owned and operated by another Nebraska company, Shell Valley Classic Wheels Inc.

Jarvis would not be satisfied until the 429 was replaced by an authentic high performance 427 Ford “side oiler” engine. After researching all the parts numbers needed, Headway Engine Services in Buhler put together just such a power plant for him.

It runs the correct Shelby intake manifold mounting a pair of 750 cfm Holley carburetors. The high compression heads mean it needs VP 105 octane racing fuel, which is fired by an MSD electronic ignition system.

“This one is putting out 700 horses. We had it on a dyno,” Jarvis said. Just in case, there is a 150 horsepower boost available via a bottle of nitrous oxide stashed in the tiny, tidy trunk of the Cobra.

The car is equipped with a 5-speed top-loader transmission and a 9-inch Ford rear end using a Detroit Locker gear setup. The rev limiter is set at 6,500 rpm.

“In fifth gear, at that rpm, it will do 140 mph,” said Jarvis, who believes the Ferrari Red Cobra could clock that speed in a quarter mile.

It will smoke the big 295/55R15 Mickey Thompson rear tires at will, which is probably just as well, since he’s afraid the car might wheelstand and do damage to the front suspension if the tires hooked up on launch. Compomotive reproduction Cobra wheels are used at all four corners of the low-slung machine.

The 427 starts with a bark, followed by a staccato rumble through the functioning side pipes. Jarvis said the pipes contain removable baffles, but he’s never taken them out since it is plenty loud as is.

The first owner was able to find several original Shelby pieces when the car was first built, including the windshield, glass vent wings and headlight buckets, which add to the overall feel of authenticity of the replica car.

Inside the snug cockpit, things are simple and straightforward, with a pair of black leather clamshell bucket seats and a black dash filled with racing gauges. A wood-rimmed Shelby racing steering wheel and an iconic reverse-mounted Hurst shifter round out the look.

On the surface of the glove box is boldly scrawled the signature every Cobra fan cherishes, that of the late Carroll Shelby himself. Jarvis said Gary Dirks had Shelby sign the car and passed on the certificate of authenticity when he sold him the car.

As the owner-operator of MJ’s Truck Repair, Jarvis keeps plenty busy and finds little time to get the Cobra or his other cars out on the road.

“I think I’ve had it out maybe three or four times since I went through the engine 2 1/2 years ago,” he said.

But the Cobra attracts plenty of attention whenever he does take it for a spin. “Truckers going down the interstate will lean out and give you a thumbs-up,” he grinned.

At some point, he would like to try his hand at road course racing in the Cobra. But for now, just having his boyhood dream in his possession will have to do.

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