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Interview

1965 Shelby Cobra 289 Street Roadster CSX2546

By Jeremy Wilson

Photos by Mike Litt

Without doubt the Kirkland, Washington Concours d’Elegance is the Northwest’s premier classic car show. Restricted to ninety invitation-only cars, the event showcases the region’s most elegant automobiles.

A true standout at this year’s Concours was John Voigt’s 1965 Shelby Cobra 289 Street Roadster. Differentiating Voigt’s car from other Cobra’s, and indeed, the majority of all entries, was its unusual provenance: This Cobra is a one-owner automobile. That’s right, one owner since 1965!

The historical connection between Voigt and his car was particularly refreshing, considering the venue. High-end classic car shows are filled with rare and exotic cars, many restored to perfection. Often these cars are part of large collections, trailered to shows, and presented by “representatives” of the owners. It’s wonderful that these owners share their collections with the community, and the cars are interesting in their own right. But nothing tops a long-term ownership story, especially when it covers four and a half decades, and begins with a college student and a Cobra.

Voigt recalls the events leading up to the purchase.

“My father actually bought it. He was going to buy a Corvette. He had a marina blue fastback Corvette picked out but I talked him into the Cobra instead. It was a pretty fun time because there weren’t any Cobras in Racine, Wisconsin, so I had to sell him on something he couldn’t see or drive.”

Once convinced, John’s father purchased a Cobra, but it never made it to their house.

“The first one we ordered fell off of the carrier about nine miles from Racine,” said Voigt. “The driver went over railroad tracks that were under construction and the car came off of the carrier. It was shortened by about a foot when it hit the cement.”

Fortunately father and son did not interpret this unfortunate incident as a bad omen. An identical car was found in Daytona Beach, Florida and purchased in August 1965.

Voigt’s Cobra is original and has only 68,000 miles on the odometer; the first 40,000 miles accrued during its first four years, including numerous cross country trips.

“It was my commuter for the first four years,” he stated. “I went to college in Wisconsin and you couldn’t have a car there so I didn’t put a lot of miles on it. But when I came out to the University of Puget Sound, it was my commuter. I drove it from Racine to Tacoma numerous times through North Dakota and Montana. I went through Wyoming, took it to Aspen and to Arizona down Highway 1. So it’s been driven. After graduation I took it back to Racine and pretty much parked it. I had it repainted in 1972 and repainted the back of the car a couple of years ago.”

For those unfamiliar with the Shelby Cobra, it was the result of Carroll Shelby’s dream of fitting an American V8 engine into a British sports car. Based on the AC Ace, the original CSX 2000 series utilized Ford small block engines--this one is a 289. The CSX 2000’s were also referred to as “slabsides” as they lacked flared wheel arches, characteristic of the later Cobras. The cars are numbered within their series. In this case, the CSX 2546 means it was the 547th car built.

Although this Cobra is basically original, it has had a few changes.

“Early on I put a scatter shield on it, because your feet are right there!” Voigt said laughing. “In 1966, when I was 19, nothing was fast enough. So we pulled the motor out and did all the stuff Carroll Shelby was doing to race engines including valve work, porting and polishing the heads, and adding a high rise aluminum intake manifold with a Holley 615 carburetor. About five or six years ago we refurbished the engine compartment, rewrapped the springs and upgraded the fan. I did the Copperstate 1000 Road Rally in Arizona and wanted better cooling capacity so I replaced the original two-bladed fan that was mounted in front of the radiator. I had the exhaust manifolds ceramic coated and installed a Pertronix electronic ignition system. Other than that it’s pretty original.”

For safety and reliability’s sake, Voigt also made some brake and suspension upgrades.

“I lost the brakes about 10 years ago in Kalaloch, Washington. There are two master cylinders and there was too much absorption of moisture so the fluid was getting on both sides of the pistons. We redid the brakes and put stainless pucks in the calipers. We also redid the suspension, installing new bushings and nickel plating the splines.”

When asked about his favorite time with his Cobra, Voigt replied, “When I was young I loved driving it. If you drove it all the time you got so you really knew the car. You became one with the car. You knew what it would do. Back then I loved the Illinois turnpikes because every ten miles there was a toll road. You’d throw in your thirty-five cents, and there would be eight lanes, and away you’d go up to about 100 miles per hour and then you’d back off. Now I’m much more careful because I don’t drive it frequently and don’t want it to get away from me. It’s very tractable, not dangerous like a 427--with those you better have the car pointing in the right direction because things happen fast.”

You might be wondering just how fast a twenty year old would drive his Shelby Cobra “commuter” car.

“I had it up to about 140 miles per hour when I was in college in Wisconsin,” said Voigt. “It was like a jet engine inside the car--it was loud!”

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