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A Cobra lovers dream -- Cobras, Shelbys, Tigers and much much more -- at The Cobra Experience

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The Cobra Experience -- Martinez, CA
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The Cobra Experience
Martinez, CA
November 19, 2017
A couple of disclaimers – First, I love Cobras and all things Shelby. Second, I’ve lived in the Martinez area for many years and just recently found out about this amazing exhibit. So let’s begin.
The Cobra Experience was founded by Drew Serb, founder and curator who runs this museum with his wife, Janet, and daughters, Emily and Kate.  The Cobra Experience is a 25,000 sq.ft.  museum located in Martinez, CA, and showcases original Cobra’s, Shelby Mustangs, a Daytona Coupe, GT40, King Cobra, Sunbeam Tigers and a Lotus.  Currently there are 24 cars on display, but this number fluctuates month to month. Unique to the museum is a 40-seat surround sound theater which features a HD film about the cars and about the Ford and Shelby American story.
I arrived at the Experience and was greeted outside by several original Shelby creations – a 427 Cobra, a 1966 GT350 and a 1967 GT350. Once inside, I went into the spacious 2nd floor museum and was greeted by Gordon Gimbel, a Cobra owner and former racer of his # 52 289 roadster. Gordon gave me the “grand tour” explaining the history of every Cobra, Shelby Mustang and Cobra variants as we went through the exhibit. To say this exhibit is fantastic is an understatement.
The Cobra Experience is much more than just an exhibit of cars. The walls are lined with posters, photographs and Cobra memorabilia. For example, there is a full set of every optional wheel offered on Cobras and Shelby Mustangs. A corner of the exhibit has many of the original tools and machines used by Shelby in his Venice and later LAX facility. One section has (I would guess) every magazine cover that ever featured Cobras or GT Mustangs.
Gordon was extremely knowledgeable and would point out unique features of some of the race Cobras. These included special flared rear fenders (stock on the 427 Cobra) on a 289 Cobra. These lead to the doors being cut down and the cars were referred to as “cut door cars”.  One exhibit that was very interesting displayed two Sunbeam roadsters. A white Alpine was the actual car used by Shelby and Ken Miles as the prototype for the Sunbeam Tiger. Next to it was a red production Sunbeam Tiger.
A Ford GT 40 Mark 2 (with a 427 big block) was on display. The sheer size of that 427 in the back of that coupe was mind blowing. Looking at the “bundle of snakes” exhaust headers coming from that 427 made me wonder just how wild it must have sounded at full tilt ! Speaking of engines—there were plenty of them on dfisplay—289’s with Webers, dual quad 427’s, a 427 with side draft Webers, and the prototype 260 V8  used by Shelby in very early Cobras.
Some special Cobras were displayed – these included the original Cobra “DragonSnake” drag racing Cobra in sparkling blue metal flake paint; the Cooper Cobra that was campaigned in the pre-CanAm series. Dan Gurney’s Lotus 19 with a small, block 289 Cobra motor and a replica Cobra Daytona Coupe with a Gurney/Westlake small block.  One very special car was Gordon’s own # 52 Cobra 289 roadster. Gordon raced that car for many a year and it is proudly displayed in a “repair setting”. There is a photo of Gordon in his # 52 Cobra on the grid. I took a shot of Gordon beneath that photo.
For all of us real “gear heads”, there was a 427 Cobra chassis on display along with a steel GT40 unibody. Also, a Ford dealer display, circa 1964, that showed the Shelby Cobra accessories available for your Mustang. Check out those dual quads !  One interesting display was several smashed and damaged Cobra “noses” from “back in the day”. What (today) are priceless auction cars were once just “plain old cars” that folks drove and (occasionally damaged. Kind of makes you think !
Lastly there was a 15 minute film on Shelby in the theater. Go see it !
I would highly recommend that anyone visiting the San Francisco Bay area check to see if the Cobra Experience is open- They are usually open on the third Sunday of every month. You won’t be disappointed.

The parking lot held this 1967 Shelby GT500

Walk in the door and you're greeted by this 427 race Cobra -- awesome !

This is why they called the headers on the GT40 .."a bundle of snakes"

The famous "DragonSnake" drag race Cobra

That is a Gurney/Westlake engine in the replica Cobra Daytona coupe

Gordon's own # 52 race 289 Cobra -- sweet !