This Cobra Was Found in a Bubble, Not a Barn

Photography Credit: Dirk de Jager

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of Classic Motosports. Some information and prices may be different today.]

Story by John Webber • Photography as Credited

It’s Shelby’s 50th anniversary celebration, and the Monterey Peninsula is crammed with Cobras. Necks snap as slack-jawed car buffs try to catch them all. The familiar Ford rumble–backed by solid lifter music–echoes through the streets. A whiff of unburned gas spices the air. 

From the show in Carmel-by-the-Sea to the historic races at Laguna Seca, and from the giant auction tents to the 18th fairway at Pebble Beach, Shelby fanatics are tripping over big-block, small-block, Weber-equipped, and wire-wheeled Cobras. It’s like they’ve died and gone to heaven.

Folks are saying they haven’t seen this many Cobras in one place since … Then they pause, shake their heads, and admit they’ve never seen this many in one place. Entranced, they shuffle off to snap another picture. 

On the Tour d’Elegance, Pebble Beach Concours entrants are exercising their 100-point, museum-quality, triple-chromed beauties along the scenic coastline, and they’re all having a grand time. But Billy Weaver–driving his 1964 Cobra that has never seen the inside of a restoration shop and is showing a little honest wear–is having just as much fun. This no-excuses original has clocked fewer than 9300 miles since it left Shelby’s tiny assembly operation on Princeton Avenue in Venice 49 years ago.

A Car Guy’s Formative Years

“I’m a third-generation car guy. My grandfather started in the car business in 1936,” Billy said, “and my other grandfather had an XK120 Jag that he drove every day. In South Carolina in the 1950s, that was like having a spaceship.”

Billy, who lives in Greenville, said he started his sports car life with a Morgan and has since gone through 100 or so, in a variety of shapes and sizes. Lucky man, he’s been able to combine his passion for things mechanical with his day job, which is partnering in a Harley-Davidson dealership and two auto dealerships: Chrysler-Dodge and Ford. 

Billy doesn’t trade sports cars like he used to; these days he focuses on keepers. Over many years he has built an impressive personal collection highlighted by three Corvettes, a trio of Cobras, a 1965 Shelby GT350, and a Ferrari Daytona Coupe. This man loves all his cars and drives them as often as he can.


Photography Credit: John Webber

Fords Rule

Despite the diversity in his stable, Billy said, “I’m basically a Ford guy. I became interested in Cobras when I first saw one in 1964. It just took many years before I could get one.” He owns two big-block Cobras, one a 1965 narrow-hipped example and the other a 1967 formerly owned by Bobby Rahal. The 1964 Shelby 289 Cobra is a more recent acquisition; Billy bought this one-family-owned example in late 2011.

Since he is a friendly guy as well as a Cobra fanatic, folks sometimes approach him with tales of reclusive Cobras. He has chased a few leads and learned that they seldom live up to expectations. Still, he’s always on the lookout for the one that just might. That’s how he heard about CSX 2384.

“It was indirectly, though a friend of a friend,” Billy told us. This guy shared a simple anecdote with Billy’s buddy: He remembered that, back in the day, a new Cobra sold to a Ford dealership mechanic who worked in a small town in West Virginia. Details were murky, but the storyteller believed the mechanic still owned the car. 

Well, just a hint of a story like this–combined with a few follow-up phone calls and emails–was enough to point Billy in the direction of Bluefield, West Virginia. There he learned, to his surprise, that this unlikely tale was absolutely true.

The Thrill of the Chase

For sale: 1964 289 Cobra. Low mileage, one family since new. Equipped with factory clock, radio, luggage rack, soft top, side curtains, tool kit, hardtop and more. Maintained by longtime Ford mechanic-owner. Never raced, modified or molested. Stored for many years in a bubble inside a heated garage. 9075 actual miles. Yes, you read that right: 9075 actual miles.

Just fooling. Billy didn’t see this classified ad. (In fact, no Cobra hunter has seen an ad like this for 40 years.) Still, it accurately describes the car he chased and won.  

Billy learned that the owner of this Cobra did indeed work as a mechanic at Andy Clark Ford in Bluefield, where the car arrived in 1964. Priced at $6000–when a Corvette cost $4000 and a Hi-Po Mustang $3400–CSX 2384 did not immediately fly out of the showroom. Several months later, when it remained unsold, the mechanic took out a loan and bought it. Seldom driven and lovingly protected, this Cobra was to remain in Bluefield with the same family for the next 46 years.

According to the owner’s son, who inherited the car after his father’s death, only a couple items had ever been changed. He said his dad didn’t like the whitewall tires and replaced them not long after he bought the car. He had also removed the rear mufflers and installed exhaust pipes that exited in front of the rear wheels. He wrapped those mufflers in newspaper and put them in the trunk, where they stayed.


Photograph Courtesy Bill Weaver

As the years passed, the owner drove the car less and less. At some point, he installed a bubble over it in his heated garage, and the car started a long nap. Maybe time didn’t stand still in Bluefield, but for this Cobra, it slowed to a crawl.

There are few secrets in the Cobra community, and CSX 2384 wasn’t one of them. Plenty of enthusiasts knew its story, and over the years, several had tried to buy it. And after the owner’s death, Bluefield became an even more popular destination for Cobra seekers.

Billy joined those seekers later in the game. Even so, as soon as he examined this Cobra, he knew he had to take a shot. “It was unbelievable. I felt it was one of the most original ones left,” he said. “But I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Other people had been up and looked at the car, too, and hadn’t been able to talk him out of it.”

The Art of the Deal

Still, Billy liked his chances. A lifetime of selling cars and motorcycles had taught him a few things about making deals. Plus, he’s creative, loaded with Southern charm, and above all, persistent. Like others who had pursued this car, he didn’t get much encouragement early on. But Billy kept at it, his eyes on the prize. As the months passed, he talked to the owner regularly. 

They became better acquainted, and Billy eventually learned that this man had a serious craving for two specific items: a new Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson Road Glide–in a particular color–and a new Boss 302 Leguna Seca Mustang. Make that three items: He also wanted money.

When he heard “Harley” and “Mustang,” Billy saw his chance and made his pitch:

“I told him that if he really wanted those things, I was one of very few people who could show up with a trailer hauling both of them. I think that finally made the deal.” 

For a Harley dealer, finding the Screamin’ Eagle was relatively easy, although Billy had to wrangle a trade with a dealership in Pennsylvania to get one. But even a Ford dealer had to jump through hoops to locate a limited-edition Leguna Seca Mustang. After calling in a handful of markers, he found one. Soon he loaded his trailer with these treasures–plus a check, too–and set off for West Virginia, where he finally closed the deal.

Despite the ups and downs of this yearlong courtship, Billy relished the opportunity to acquire this very special Cobra and understood how difficult it was for the son to part with it. “He was a good guy, and this car had been in the family since he was born,” he said. “It was very hard for him to let it go.”


Photography Credit: John Webber

Preserving–With Care

While the Cobra would start and run, it hadn’t been driven in years. So when Billy got it home, he began the process of bringing it back–very carefully. “We went though every system–brakes, clutch, fuel, cooling, electrical–on the car,” Billy said, “just preserving, not restoring.” His goal: Get everything operating correctly while doing as little as possible.

When he got deep into this Cobra, he was delighted to find that it was very much the way Shelby’s crew had built it. After a lifetime of careful maintenance and storage, the car was virtually factory correct. To make sure it remained that way, Billy enlisted the help of Cobra expert Dan Case, who offered preservation guidance and expertise. “He knows every washer on a Cobra,” Billy said. “I can’t thank him enough for his help.” Together, they set about finding and correcting the few items that were not original.

The owner had made a few changes that were considered upgrades in the 1960s, including installing a larger carburetor, which Billy replaced with the original. He decided not to touch the side exhaust pipes, which were done soon after the car’s purchase. “I could have replaced those with correct pipes, but those would be shiny,” he explained. “These were from the original time period, and I would rather leave them that way.” 

The Goodyear tires the Cobra wears probably replaced the original Goodyear 7.35 whitewalls. Although they’re not entirely trustworthy for spirited driving, Billy liked their period look and left them on.

Other than a few nicks and dings, the paint remained in remarkable shape. Billy left the blemishes alone, and with the help of his son Alexander, performed a light cleaning and applied some quality wax. “We wanted to protect the paint,” he said. The interior, including the seats and carpets–which showed a few creases, wrinkles and fading–got the same light cleanup and feeding. 

Most rubber trim, like the weatherstripping under the windshield, was cracked and showing its age, as was the trunk opening surround. None of these trim items was touched. Inside and out, this car wears the originality it was born with. In fact, it is so authentic that several Cobra restorers have showed up to take pictures and make notes.

Steppin’ Out

Billy admitted that he’d never been much of a show guy, but maybe that’s because he’d never before owned a not-seen-in-public, bubble-find Cobra with a cast-iron provenance. 

This car’s first outing was the 2012 Amelia Island Concours, where it created quite a buzz as the only unrestored Cobra. “What a great show,” Billy said. “It’s one of my favorites, and this car got a lot of attention. Folks could tell how original it was.” According to Billy, the 40-mile concours driving tour was the longest workout this car had enjoyed in nearly four decades, and it performed without a hitch.

Next, the Cobra’s show tour traveled to Pebble Beach. “It’s a real honor to be invited to this show. There’s so much going on out there, it’s overwhelming,” Billy said. “I really enjoyed it.” The Cobra competed in the Preservation Class, and Billy speculated that he might have cleaned up the car a bit too much. “They wanted to see more dust on it,” he chuckled. “I think it would have gotten more attention if I had left it dull and dirty, just the way it came out of the bubble.” Dust or not, photographers and Cobra fanatics swarmed around the car all day.

A few months later, back in South Carolina, Billy took the car–drove it, actually–to Euro Auto Festival near Greenville. “This is a great, fun event with a lot of variety. There’s no high pressure of competition, and you can just enjoy the people and the cars,” he said. As it turned out, Billy’s was the only Cobra there, so it got a lot of time in the spotlight.

The Hilton Head Motoring Festival & Concours d’Elegance wrapped up Billy’s 2012 schedule, and he said he was impressed with the show, the spectacular location, and the quality of the cars. Winning top honors in the Cobra class gave him a lift, too.

While he enjoyed showing this car and was pleased to share it with fans from coast to coast, he said its show circuit is over for now: “It’s been a rewarding experience. It does get a great deal of attention, although some people who are familiar with restored show Cobras see it as an old car that could use a little paint and spiffing up. But those who are familiar with Cobras understand. But even some of them say it looks almost too good to be an original car.”

Now he just wants to enjoy it. He plans to mount a new set of old-style Avon tires to another set of wheels, replacing the old Goodyears. “I intend to drive it on pretty Sundays,” he said.


Photography Credit: Dirk de Jager

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