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Book Review: The Cobra in the Barn, by Tom Cotter

By Satch Reed

cobra in the barn Everyone loves a good story and car enthusiasts particularly love ones about those "Eureka!" moments when a special car is found under a rotting tarp at the back of a rickety barn. It may be covered in dust, home to varmints, but to someone who can envision it in restored condition its former beauty is plain.

This book, (available from www.Motorbooks.com) first published in hardback in 2005, is now available in paperback — and it's filled with tales of discovery, a sort of Antiques Roadshow look at vintage autos. Some of the tales are the author's own but many have come from the discoverers themselves. Out of their stories come a number of tips about how a car hunter can make a dream come true: Get word out about what you hope to find. Never pass up a rumor. Know that you may not be able to keep all the cars you find. Don't offer too little and lose a deal. Be patient, persistent, and nice.

The cars in this edition may have been family runabouts or custom transport for the rich and famous — Marlene Dietrich, the Vanderbilts, or Edsel Ford. From surf buggy woodies to chopped top hot rods and from an Abarth 1500 to a Lotus Elan, the finds are out there. Some go back to the 50's but others have been located in the last ten years. They may have been kept in pristine condition or stored away after an engine blowout — still full of gas. Their purchase prices range from outright gifts to mega bucks, and with 20/20 hindsight there are heart breaks aplenty as collectors think about the one that got away or what the same car might have gone for a decade or more ago.

You have a good read in store as you learn about the hunter taking refuge from a sudden storm who chances upon a '40 Ford with standard grille and tells a friend who purchases it. As the friend trailers it home, he gets two offers for it, the second more than three times what he'd just paid. You'll read about a collector whose dad taught him about cars and spent hours restoring an early find with him, one who bought his first car at age 12, and one who fell in love with Cobras and now owns nine of them. These are real people, all afflicted to one degree or another with a love of older cars and their distinctive lines, engine sounds, and histories. They're special in the way they track the lead of a "Doozie" left parked atop a hill in Wyoming or locate the first car they ever owned. They research carefully before starting a restoration and proceed carefully thereafter. Even in pre-internet days they managed to find some real treasures, and this book's many photos prove it.

About the Author

Tom Cotter has spent a lifetime learning and writing about cars — and building a very successful motor sports PR agency. Co-chairman of the Amelia Island Concurs d'Elegance, he lives in Davidson, North Carolina where he keeps a garage filled with vintage cars, a number of which he's found unused in a barn, a carport, a field, at a neighbor's, etc. Over thirty-five years of hunting he's discovered more than 100 cars in need of a new caretaker.