Meet the man who has forgotten more about Shelby Cobras than you'll ever knowLynn Park might just be the world's greatest authority on the Shelby Cobra, having worked closely with them -- and Carol Shelby himself -- for decades. XCAR met up with Mr Cobra.
[MUSIC] My name is Lynn Park, and all my friends kinda refer to me as Mr. Cobra because I've been involved with Cobras for 52 years. So I guess it, name's gonna stick. Before I could even drive, I was taking apart my mom's car in the driveway before she would go somewhere. She had a 56 Ford and I was just, just playing with it. I worked at a gas station and I would take stuff apart there, just to see what it was. A fellow dropped off an old Splathead Ford at the gas station, and I got to play with that. And it just, it was a, a natural. Progression and I just got more and more involved and then when I got my driver's license it was, first thing I did was my mom's 56 Ford was take the motor out and put a great big Edsel motor in it. Cars were it for me forever. I was a drag racer from day one until I discovered when, what they had were, were wrecking yards where they would get in these. Theft strips they called them. Where a brand new car, a muscle car, was stolen. And maybe someone just stripped the interior, or, or stole the engine, but I would buy what was left of the car. Which was usually a perfect car, that just needed a replacement engine. So I would buy those from the wrecking yard, and put a new motor in it, or what ever it took. And then I'd drive that car till another good one showed up. And then I would do the same thing. I'd sell one so I was always driving a really nice brand new muscle car. In 1962 I was driving one of these theft recoveries a 62 406 Ford and my sister's boyfriend who was a sports car guy came home from school and plopped this Road and Track magazine down on the table. And here was a Cobra on the cover, which is a Ford hot-rod in an English body. And he said, look at this. I said oh my gosh. I was at Shelby American the next week learning about the Cobra. And Shelby thought I wanted to buy one so they were really nice to me down there. And I couldn't afford a Cobra any more than I could fly, but [MUSIC] I, I got my education there. Met a fellow who worked at Shelby American and I, I just hung out there. They thought I worked at the shop I was there so much. I just loved those cars. So then I got an AC of my own and put my own Ford motor in it and kind of made my own Cobra. And then I started breaking all the things that, that Shelby broke right off the bat. But I drag raced that car right up until the time I went in the Army in 1967. In 1969 when I got out of the service I, I was on a mission. And I said I've got to go find a Cobra. And I did. And I bought one for $2100. And worked on it and bought another one for $2000. It, it's that car over there, number 97. Fixed both of them up, sold one, bought some more. And, and at that point Cobras really became more than a hobby. It was a passion with me that, that's lasted right up to this minute. Yeah, I've probably owned 50 Cobras over the years, some of which I bought. Strictly to sell to help somebody. Rarely have I gotten one that was just the way it was supposed to be and I would resell that. I would fix them up and it took a little while. And then I started making wheels for Cobras. A good friend of mine Mike McCluskey restores Cobras and it's real easy to have a real passion when one of your really good friends is the best there is in the industry at restoring Cobras. So he's been a big help to me. I would get a car that wasn't quite right and I'd take it to Mike. And he would do some of the things cosmetically and I would do the, the, the mechanical things to them. And next thing you know I had a car I could sell or, or one I wanted to keep. My gosh, I've still got a few of them so I, I, I keep most of them. Once the vintage racing came about in the early 80s. Late 70's, I said oh my gosh this is too good to be true. So we started racing the Cobras and, and now I race three cars with my two sons and it, it is a full time passion. I like putting some of myself into the car. And, and that's what you do when you buy a derelict car. Something that someone has not really abandoned but needs some work. And I like to buy them that way so I can work on them and, and, and go race them or drive them or whatever. Everybody would have a Cobra but they'd also have a Ferrari or a Porsche or whatever. I had Cobras, that's all I was interested in was the Cobra. Nothing else thrilled me much. I had a Porsche for a short time, got rid of it [MUSIC] Had a Ferrari that was a project. Never finished the project, sold it as such and moved on just in Cobra's. I never deviated from Cobras and when people would need a part or, or would need information, or whatever, they could come to me and I, I just knew what it was. When people would call Shelby. And, and ask about a question that they didn't know the answer to because they were all new guys. They didn't, they didn't work with the Cobras back in the day. Shelby would have them call me. Shelby was just became a very good friend just out of the fact that I was there, he was there. I am so fortunate that I met him early on. And, and have known him forever. I mean, he and I have been very good friends, went to, to lunch all the time. I would take friends down to his shop to meet him and he was one of these guys that like to, oh, show off isn't the right word. But if I were to bring a friend down there, he says, oh, yeah, there's that darn man, I made him so many millions of dollars, buying his wheels for all my cars. And on and on and on. But when he needed something done with a car and he needed help he'd call me. I kept his Daytona coupe here for five years. When they finished restoring it he just didn't have a, a good clean place to keep it. He had one side out in the public. Yeah, he had to be the big, tough, Texan guy. But he really was pretty soft. In person. They're the most fun cars you can race. I mean, think about it. 20 years after a Cobra was out, say, say Vipers are coming along or whatever muscle car happens. They compare it to a 20 or 30 or 40 year old Cobra. That's the benchmark for American performance. So to go race a Cobra, it is just so perfect. It does. Everything better than any other car. Obviously, it, it won the World Manufacturers' Championship, competing against cars of similar performance. they're, they're just fun. They stop well. They steer. They've got lots of power. we, we call the, the gas pedal the apex correcter. If you miss your apex, you just stand on the gas, and you've caught right back up to where you were. What, what a lot of guys do when they're building or, or restoring their Cobra, they can't leave the motor alone. They don't say, they don't think a stock motor is enough. So they wanna build more and more and more horsepower. Then they become a little unmanageable. One, they wanna overheat. Two, they wanna over steer. They just tend to have too much power. They're hard to get launched off the line. You, you're feathering the clutch and feathering the gas and you're bucking and snorting and a stock Cobra the way it was built is just the most fun car to drive on the street in the whole wide world. They're all my kids, but probably number 97 I've had the longest of any of them. Okay, so it, that, that's probably my favorite car. 16 was the first of the five FIA cars that Shelby built, so with that in mind it, it's significant. It got wrecked badly by Bob Johnson at Sebring in '64. And, and wrecked and stripped. They took what parts they could. But, but I managed to get the wreckage and at that point, Brian Angliss in England was rebuilding Cobras, so he rebodied it for us, and it became a good old race car. It's, it's got a bad history but a lot of race cars have bad histories of having been wrecked and rebuilt from very little. It has little dents and they got to the first FIA race, yeah, I don't know I was talking [INAUDIBLE] one of those. But they had to put the, to race in the GT class it had to have this suitcase, which was just a chunk of wood, it had to fit in the trunk. Well, they put it in the trunk and it wouldn't fit. So they, Al Dowd, who was the, kind of the team manager, got out the hammer and dolly and, and made a couple of dimples in the trunk so that it did fit. And, and only five FIA cars have those dimples. One of the Offenhauser family, Fred Offenhauser, bought this car new from Shelby in, in lat. Yah, a 68 I think it was. Drove it until 75, and something broke. He doesn't even remember what broke. Parked it in his backyard with one of those blue plastic tarps on it. And it sat. And it sat, and it sat some more. For 20 years. They were never interested in selling but my friend Don Lee, talked them into selling him the car. He brought it over to me an hour later and said, man, I wanna make a race car outta this. And I said to him, Don, this is too much work. Now, now keep in mind, this is before the frenzy of barn finds ever showed up. It was just a, an old beat up Cobra at this point. So we find him a race car, and we did some horse trading and I wound up with his car. [MUSIC} And I took it, we had some Cobra Days at the Peterson Museum and I took it to one of those and everybody was kind a like this. They didn't know what to make of it. But, but Shelby saw the car, and he said Lynn that's pretty neat just the way it is. And I said well, maybe I ought to leave it alone. So, one of my, my mechanic friends. That builds motors for me, says man that is really a dirt bag. Oh, perfect name for it. So it got the name of Dirt Bag, and I just made it run without disturbing dirt. Hours and hours of going through the brake, all the hydraulics, the gas tank, the lines, the radiator. Every day new hoses and belts and an awful lot of work, but it runs like a top. Absolutely perfectly. 20 years ago it was, Len when are you going to restore that car? But now people say oh my gosh, I can tell that's a real one. That's one benefit of having all the replicas around, the replicas are all shiny. And for the most part, everybody elses Cobra's are shiny. Most people if they've only got one Cobra, they want it to look good. And I don't blame them. If I had one car and it was that one, I would probably spiff it up. But it, people enjoy seeing it. And you'd be amazed how many people who have original cars, who are doing restoration. Come over and look at this one to, to find out, you know, oh, how do I do this? What's this like? What, what color's that wire? So on and so forth. Shelby built five cars to go drag racing. Five Cobras to go drag racing. He built two that were painted in metal flake blue that Shelby American ran as team cars in the drag races. And you've got three for, for privateers. This was the first of the three. And it turns out this is the fastest of all five of the Dragon Snakes. Which just means the guy had a bigger motor. But, but it ran well and what makes this car fun is that. Oh my gosh, somewhere in the, in the 80s I suppose. Shelby got a chance to buy this car back. And his friends all said, Carol, you need a dragon snake in your collection of cars. So he bought it and put it in his name. I mean, got a pink slip with his name on it. So when I bought the car from him a few years later, I got the pink slip with Carol Shelby's name on it. And his signing off at the bottom, an, and that was a pretty neat deal to me. That, to me that's probably the most fun apart thing about the car. When, when I need a Cobra fix I go over and start that car. It, it sounds really good. If you've got a minute I'll start it up for you. It's, it's tremendous. Some of my friends that have these really beautiful garages that look like operating rooms. Say my garage is a little cluttered. And I would probably agree with them, but this is the way I like it. When people come in here, they, they walk around you know, they look at the cars for ten minutes. And then they're an hour or two, looking at the stuff on the walls. Back against that back wall there's 20 or 30 picture albums. I do one a year of all of our races, all the things we go to. And there's a lot of pictures of people. And they look back 20 or 30 years, oh my gosh there's Joe whats-his-name 30 years ago. And it's really fun. There's always one on the horizon. If you get one that you like better than the one you have, or one you just wanna add, I would do it. I'm, I'm never out of the market. It's American. Nothing against you British guys, but it's America. We've got friends who go on these thousand mile trips with us in the Cobras and they can't get over it. We're driving along and people are waving. This one fellow had a Ferrari, and he said you know we're on a Ferrari trip people are giving us the finger [MUSIC] And it's it's because it's, you're perceived in a Ferrari as a bunch of rich guys driving their cars around. A Cobra is an American car. They, they don't really know what it costs. They know its got a Ford motor and it's just kind of one of those American things. Like apple pie and hot dogs, I suppose. [MUSIC] Now this, this is my Cobra fix. You know, some people say having a bad day. go home and kick the cat. I just kind of start the car.