The Ten Golden Rules (for selecting and purchasing your Cobra)

1. Comparison shop. Regardless of which Cobra (or GT40 or Daytona Coupe) you’re interested in buying, make sure you check out each and every entry in current production before you make your decision. Each Cobra replica has its own attributes—ease of assembly, engineering sophistication, fiberglass quality, construction quality, customer relations track record and other considerations. And check out resale values: altho’ pre-owned Cobras generally return good prices, a little research will promptly reveal to you that there are one or two heavily-advertised budget brands that fare quite poorly at resale time. Where’s the economy if you spring for a $3,000 savings in kit price… only to be forced to take a $15,000 net loss in order to unload your bargain-basement/wretched resale value racing reptile.

2. Ask questions. Make up a roster of questions regarding both the manufacturer and the Cobra itself, and insist upon solid answers. What is the firm’s experience in fiberglass craftsmanship, chassis design, bodywork, painting, upholstery, or any other considerations relevant to your purchase. How much technical assistance can you expect for those tasks you will be completing yourself. Do they stand behind the fit, finish, and quality of their products. How much fitting and block sanding is required to finish the body panels? Even if you think you’ve settled upon a specific Cobra make, TALK TO AT LEAST 3 OR 4 other Cobra PRODUCers: Let each of them know who else you’re considering, and take advantage of their feedback. Tho’ you’ll find it necessary to filter out some competitive posturing, you’ll also learn a lot about comparative pros & cons by eliciting critical feedback from each maker. To be a well-informed buyer, you must ask lots of questions, and insist upon solid answers.

3. Visit the manufacturer (if possible). Making a personal visit to the manufacturer permits you to examine firsthand the facilities, jigs, molds, and production practices. The production facility should be organized and well-lit. But bear in mind that some of the least-impressive production shops produce among the highest-quality product… and vice versa.

4. Inspect the car. If the body is constructed of fiberglass, is it of adequate (and consistent) thickness throughout? Are the edges of the fenders rolled and reinforced (to inhibit stress cracking)? Is the fiberglass hand-laminated or chopper-gunned, or is it a combination of both? Generally speaking, hand-laminated is superior because the higher glass-to-resin content makes it stronger, more durable and at the same time lighter-in-weight; however, top-notch “chopper gunned” fiberglass may be superior to mediocre handlaid work. If there are large, relatively flat areas of fiberglass, as on some panels of a GT40, is it properly reinforced… with “sandwiched” lamination or steel, for instance? Are the door hinges and latch plates solidly mounted in steel (that’s good), or merely bolted into fiberglass (not so good)? You should seek to inspect new body panels that have recently been removed from the mold. A fiberglass body produced by a skilled professional from a high-quality mold should require minimum effort for you to prepare for painting. You shouldn’t have to spend 150 hours correcting air-pocket holes (and sloppy flange seams and fiberglass “print-through”), and block-sanding the body.

5. Get it in writing. Insist that all claims, assurances and warranties be put down on their letterhead and signed in your presence, so that there can be no dispute later as to what was agreed upon. Get everything in writing, including refund policy. If you’re handed a standard contract, insist upon taking the time—off by yourself—to read it thoroughly… especially the fine print. If you’re pressured to sign immediately—take a hike! And keep hoofing it.

6. Keep your money in your pocket. Don’t fork out your folding money until you are thoroughly satisfied with the integrity of the manufacturer and his commitment to quality of product and after-the-sale service and assistance. His after-the-sale service should include a ready willingness to permit you to phone them on weekends and evenings for advice. Apply the “telephone test” of character: Don’t even consider doing business with anyone who can’t exhibit the simple courtesy of returning your telephone calls (I remove any firm from our database after they’ve failed to return two phone calls). Avoid and reject seductive, slick-talking telemarketers. Honest manufacturers don’t routinely offer “deals”—they offer quality product at a fair price, just as in every other industry. You should demand no less… and expect no more. Remember and heed the dictum “If it sounds too good to be true… it probably is.” And for the telepitchman who tells you “In order to qualify for this special deal, you must rush your deposit to us by commercial courier (FedEx, UPS, etc.)”—Beware! This is your tipoff to a ripoff.

7. If (sigh) you should decide to do business with a telemarketer, use only a CREDIT CARD for payment. Use your credit card. Got that? You’ll fare better odds of getting your deposit back, especially if you seek a refund from your credit card issuer within 60 days. And a special alert: in 2001 we heard from a carshow visitor who had let a Florida telepredator at a carshow charge his American Express card for a $2,000 deposit… only to promptly discover he’d made a BIG mistake. Only an hour after they charged his card, he asked them for a refund. Not only did the shady outfit deny his request, they illegally threatened him with a civil suit if he sought a credit from AmEx! Such a shocking response is contrary to AmEx and MasterCard and VISA policy—and it’s in direct violation of U.S. federal law. AmEx would’ve cheerfully given him a full credit.

8. DEMAND references. Request the names and phone numbers of several customers, preferably in your general area, who have purchased and completed the Cobra you’re considering. The larger the firm and the longer it has been in business, the more (local to you) references they should have at their disposal for you to contact. Since the vast majority of Cobra owners (and motorcar enthusiasts in general) enjoy discussing and showing off their cars, there is never a legitimate excuse for a manufacturer to refuse complying with this request. Never. Make sure that the references you’re given aren’t dealers, professional assemblers or paid “shills” of the firm… generally not a problem—but pitchmen at one telemarketing boiler-room smugly respond to any request for references by giving you the name/number of one of their paid shills as a ‘customer reference’; alternatively, they tell you (with a straight face) “It’s against the law here in Florida to give out customer references.” Sigh. Caveat Emptor.

9. Purchase your COBRA in as complete a package as you can afford. You have plenty of effort in store for you in completing a Cobra or GT40 replica purchased with an assembled body (preferably a rolling “pallet car”), without your having to attempt to assemble the body panels and chassis components.

10. Ask about the price—last. We’ve saved the price issue for last, simply because it’s the very last subject you should bring up. Among Cobra replicas there are far too many variables for a single question of “How much does it cost?” to have any real meaning. Even if you attempt to reduce the comparison to “basic package cost” versus “basic package cost,” there’s still no real meaning since there’s no industry standard definition of just what constitutes a “basic” package. It’s far more relevant for you to assess just what the finished car will cost you to complete and what it will be worth when it’s finished. The bottom line is, your savings in time and money to complete a higher-quality Cobra or Daytona Coupe or GT40 from a reputable firm will often far outweigh even a substantial difference in advertised price. Remember: You cannot determine value by focusing only on price.

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Three More Things You Should Never Do
When Selecting a Cobra Replica Manufacturer

For your purchase decision, rely upon nothing that you see or read in the enthusiast magazines. Nothing. Not the ads, the editorial raves, the “Editor’s Choice” carshow trophies or the “best buy” accolades routinely unsupported by available evidence. For the most part, you can confidently regard these accolades to be ‘bought and paid for.’

It’s a charade… a callous, calculated, disgraceful betrayal of your trust by some of the largest automotive magazine publishers… and relentlessly getting worse. A few enthusiast magazines have for years profited lavishly from their de facto partnership with several fraudulent advertisers in the kit car, Cobra and streetrod industries; the ad salespersons lunge for those ad dollars and lay down no required code of conduct other than “Send us buckets of money.” For this bonanza of advertising revenue, the publishing executives’ tacit quid pro quo is “We promise to see no evil, hear no evil, pretend that we’re aware of no evil, and report none of your evil to our readers.” It’s a cozy little coalition to divvy up the proceeds: the advertising predators win, their pals the magazine executives and ad salespersons and editors win, you lose.

In the September 1995 issue of Petersen Publishing’s Kit Car magazine (p.4), editor du jour Steve Temple defended Petersen’s… let’s be charitable… red carpet… extended to these reprobates of the replicar industry, with this rationale:

“Regarding certain suspect companies, I occasionally hear the question ‘How can you let them advertise?’ Well, that’s not how most magazines operate. You might liken a publishing company to a hotel owner. When a couple reserves a room, we don’t ask for a personal reference or marriage certificate. Of course, if they tear the place apart or don’t pay the bills, they’ll eventually get kicked out.”

Now, fast-forward to the September 2004 issue of Kit Car magazine (p.19): editor Eric Geisert, in response to a Letter-to-the-Editor protest, replied in part: “… I know you’re not going to like this next statement: Because we aren’t the police, we’ll remove a company’s ads only when their balance becomes delinquent or offensive, not because they have problems with taking people’s money… that isn’t our job. Keep in mind (that) magazines like Kit Car are in the entertainment industry—we aren’t Consumer Reports…”

A cynic might interpret those editorial position statements as affirming a corporate ethos something like “It’s of no concern to us if you abuse and betray and swindle our readers, just so long as you keep that pipeline of advertising dollars flowing in.”

But shucks… you be the judge.

Don’t discount a manufacturer merely because their display ads are modest in size, or because their product literature is modestly produced. Among the Cobra replica producers, high product quality, integrity, commitment to customers and good value resides in great measure among the small- and medum-sized manufacturers. Always has, probably always will.

Don’t be a price shopper. It never works to your advantage when you’re choosing a Cobra replica. Shop first for quality of design & engineering, fit & finish, integrity and commitment to you, their customer. Then negotiate your best price.

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