Mr. Cobra goes full throttle

Lynn Park was just a 19-year-old hot rodder with a penchant for fixing up cars when he read a magazine article that would change his life.

A September 1962 issue of “Road and Track” featured an article on the new AC-Ford Shelby Cobra — a collaboration between British car manufacturer AC Cars and the American Ford Motor Company overseen by car designer and former racer Carroll Shelby.

PHOTOS: AC-Ford Shelby Cobra overload

“The direct approach in the production of a high-performance car is to combine a small, light chassis and body, and a big, powerful engine. It may not be subtle, but it is sure-fire, and no one could be better acquainted with this fact than Carroll Shelby,” the article began.

The very next week, Park headed to Venice, Calif., where Shelby ran an office and shop for the start-up company Shelby American.

“I couldn’t afford a Cobra to save my life, but they were so nice and befriended me,” he recalls. “I just started working with Shelby Cobras and have ever since.”

Today, the 71-year-old La Cañada resident — aka Mr. Cobra — is somewhat of a celebrity among those who love and appreciate the rare cars (only 1,000 were made between 1962 and 1967). He collects and restores Cobras, lends his expertise to anyone wishing to buy or sell them, and races his own several times a year.

But he seems to retain an even higher celebrity status among his two sons, Steve, 42, and 40-year-old Tim. Throughout their lives, Park has shared his love of all things Cobra with them, imparting life lessons about the value of work, humility and kindness from across the hood.

“My whole life I remember being around my dad and cars,” says Tim, who drove his first Cobra at age 16. “It’s always been super fun and something I would love to do — I’m so happy that’s my dad’s hobby.”

The trio make regular trips out to Willow Springs International Motorsports Park near Palmdale, up north to Monterey and to vintage car races during the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, a three-day vintage car racing event held annually as part of Monterey Classic Car Week.

In mid-August, the three will hitch up the cars and head north for the big event. On the way, they’ll stop at Big Bubba’s BBQ in Paso Robles, where staff have come to learn their names and orders over the years. The pilgrimage is a family tradition all three have come to treasure.

“Some families go camping or go to the beach,” Park says. “We go to the racetrack.”

Tim, who admits to being more competitive than his dad and brother, will drive No. 16, a 1964 sapphire blue beauty that can be a bit tricky to handle but was built for speed.

Steve will drive No. 97, the first Cobra the senior Park ever restored and owned. The award-winning sports car was the 10th Shelby Cobra to roll off the manufacturing line in 1962.

Their dad will drive a gold 1964 Cobra that once belonged to a man who put a hit out on his business partner, racing legend Marion Lee “Mickey” Thompson, and was charged with the 1988 murder nearly 20 years later. The car sat in a barn for 40 years before Lynn Park fixed it up.

They will check out the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, the world's most prestigious collector car show, and watch enthusiasts bid on big-ticket items, including at least one Cobra valued at more than $2 million.

Although they will compete in the historic race, the Parks won’t likely come in first. That’s not the point of being there, according to Steve.

“There’s nothing to win,” he explains. “The biggest reward is the cars getting back on the trailer just like they came off. It’s like my dad always says, ‘Nobody remembers who wins, but they all remember the guy who did something dumb.’ I don’t want to be that guy.”

Caution is par for the course when you’re operating valuable vintage cars, Park explains. That’s something he’s emphasized to his sons over the years.

“We don’t crash, and my sons know we don’t abuse the engines,” he states, matter-of-factly.

At the end of the day, for Park, driving Cobras isn’t about their value or the notoriety one gets from sitting behind the wheel of a rare beauty. It’s about the experience, which is the same whether you’re driving 100 miles an hour or going the speed limit.

“It’s noisy, it’s windy, it’s just fun at any speed — that’s part of the magic to me,” he says. “I don’t think of it in terms of dollars and cents. It’s a passion.”

It’s a passion Steve and Tim say they’re glad their father has shared with them.

“I love driving and driving fast,” Tim says. “(But) doing it with my dad and my brother is kind of what’s most important to me.”

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World