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A Half-Century of Roaring Passion: Cobras, Shelby Mustangs & The People Who Love Them
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By Dean Kirkland
Published 3 weeks ago on
June 21, 2024
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(GV Wire/Dean Kirkland)

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COSTA MESA —The Cobra Owners Club of America-Orange County just threw a party that made Woodstock look like a quiet evening at home.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Concours de Nice 2024 was a full-throttle celebration of everything that makes automotive culture worth getting your hands greasy for. Held at the Westin Hotel Park, South Coast Plaza, this shindig on June 9 had more horsepower per square foot than a NASCAR starting grid.

Dean Kirkland Portrait

Dean Kirkland

Central Octane

The venue provided the perfect backdrop for this petrolhead pilgrimage. With cars lined up like gleaming jewels on the lush, manicured lawns, it was clear that this wasn’t your average Sunday car meet. The venue buzzed with excitement as enthusiasts, collectors, and the curious gathered to gawk at a stunning collection of Cobras, Shelbys, and other Ford beauties.

Now, let’s talk about the real stars of the show — the cars and the people behind them. This event had it all: from meticulously restored models to those showing the patina of well-loved classics, each vehicle had a story that echoed the roar of their engines.

The 1967 King Cobra (GV Wire/Dean Kirkland)

Morgan LeBlanc, an environmental health and safety consultant and Mustang enthusiast, provided an overview of the event.

“What we have going on here today is the COCOA OC’s largest show of the year. It’s an event specifically for Shelbys, Mustangs, and cars associated from 1963 through the early ’70s,” he said. “We’ve also brought in our late-model Shelbys and Mustangs, bringing in newer and younger members.”

LeBlanc highlighted the club’s evolution, from its roots focused on Shelby Cobras to including a wide range of Ford enthusiasts. “We had dignitaries like Pat Bondurant, Bob Bondurant’s widow, and other notable figures from the Shelby world. It was incredible to see so many beautiful cars and hear so many great stories.”

Pat Bondurant (GV Wire/Dean Kirkland)

Pat Bondurant’s Love Affair With Shelby Racing

Speaking of Pat Bondurant, she didn’t hold back her enthusiasm for the event.

“The drivers of the Shelby American team will never be ghosts; they’re just reminders to keep it alive. That’s part of my job and my honor to write Bob’s book about his racing history.” — Pat Bondurant

“I’m on the hunt for a new track for the Bondurant School, and currently, I’m writing the most amazing book about Bob Bondurant, my husband,” she shared. “Being around the Shelby world, I had the phenomenal opportunity to meet Carroll Shelby and many others. It’s been an incredible journey.”

Pat’s passion for preserving the legacy of the Shelby American team was evident.

“The drivers of the Shelby American team will never be ghosts; they’re just reminders to keep it alive. That’s part of my job and my honor to write Bob’s book about his racing history.”

A Carroll Shelby autographed Cobra (GV Wire/Dean Kirkland)

The Original Venice Crew

Jim Marietta, co-founder of the Original Venice Crew, reflected on his long history with Shelby.

“I started out interested in the cars back in ’63 and ’64 when they were winning races,” he said. “I ended up following the racing group during 1964 until Al Dowd asked me where I was from. I wanted to work for them, and he gave me a chance. It was all about the camaraderie more than building a car. We ended up building our prototype in Peter Brock’s garage in Henderson, Nevada. It was Ted, myself, and Peter. We just about completed the car at the end of 2014 and debuted it on February 14th, 2015, exactly 50 years to the day the car won its first race in Green Valley, Texas.”

Bernie Kretzschmar, a former Shelby employee and long-time COCOA OC member, brought along his GT350 replica.

“I’ve had this car for years, and it still brings back memories every time I drive it,” Bernie said. “I used to drive a hot rod to work when I was working for Shelby, and I still have that hot rod. Events like this are important to keep the spirit of these cars alive.”

Tom Malloy, a well-known collector and a good friend of mine, brought his beautifully restored black 289 Cobra. “It’s a gorgeous car, and it’s great to see so many people appreciate the work that goes into maintaining these classics,” Malloy said. “Events like these are crucial for keeping the history and love for these cars alive.”

Ford Mustang GT 350 (GV Wire/Dean Kirkland)

Why Was a 1962 AC Bristol Here? It’s the Grandad of the Cobra

The sense of community was palpable. Whether it was discussing the finer points of a specific model or reminiscing about past races, the event fostered a sense of connection that transcended generations. Young enthusiasts mingled with veteran collectors, each learning from the other and sharing their mutual love for these mechanical marvels.

It wasn’t only about Cobras and Shelby Mustangs, however.

Robin Grove, a retired car shipping magnate, brought along her 1962 AC Bristol. Now, if you think that sounds fancy, wait till you hear the story.

“I brought a 1962 AC Bristol, which is the grandfather of the Cobra,” Robin shared. “I was just opening up my company, and somebody told me I needed a car. So I waited around, and they said they found my car. It was green, matched my eyes. I’ll buy it, I said.”

That car, a staple of her adventures, has been the gateway to meeting legends like Lynn Park, Alan Grant, and Peter Brock.

“It just kept on steamrolling, and it’s been one adventure after another,” she added, capturing the essence of the event.

As the day drew to a close, it was clear that the 50th Anniversary Concours de Nice was a success. It also was a reminder that while cars may be inanimate objects, they have the power to bring people together, to create lasting memories, and to inspire future generations.

In the words of Morgan LeBlanc, “We want the young people to carry this over. A lot of us are getting older. Some of us are passing. You just can’t escape the earth alive. So it’s important that we keep this club going.” The Concours de Nice 2024 was a fitting tribute to the past 50 years and a hopeful look forward to the next 50.

And so, as the engines cooled and the sun set over the Westin Hotel Park, attendees left with full hearts and fond memories, ready to drive into the future with the same passion and dedication that has kept the Cobra Owners Club of America-Orange County roaring for half a century.

427 Cobra (GV Wire Dean Kirkland)

About the Author

GV Wire Producer Dean Kirkland is the founder and director of Gas and Gears, an independent film production company that has produced numerous television series and feature films, including the award-winning documentary “Racing Through The Forest” (2014).

 

 

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