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Lynn Park, MR. COBRA

Several years ago, I was at a major automotive event watching a lot of famous, big-name builders greet their adoring public and show off their latest builds. As is often the case I was in the back of the crowd studying the events at hand looking for photo opportunities that caught my eye. Standing a few feet from me was a man who was also watching, and he caught my attention. Something about the confidence with which he stood there and the seemingly kind and genuine aura he radiated made me notice. Words & Photography by Tim Scott (IG: Scott Photo Co.)

I remembered seeing him a couple of times previously though I couldn’t recall exactly where, so I went up and introduced myself. His handshake was firm and confident, and he said that his name was Lynn Park.

I really had no idea who I had just met but I was sure that there was something interesting to this man’s story.

It was only years later that I would come to learn that Lynn Park was known worldwide as Mr. Cobra and had been deeply involved with the Cobra story, almost since the beginning, and was a friend and confidant of legendary men like Peter Brock, Mike McCluskey and even Mr. Carroll Shelby himself. This is a story of a man with a love and passion for the iconic Cobra that has lasted more than 60 years and is still going strong.

Lynn Park grew up in Southern California during a time of immense optimism and prosperity following the darkness of WWII. Working at a service station meant that Lynn had to learn about cars, as in those days’ “service” meant more than just putting gas into cars. From fluids to tires to engines, Lynn was building the foundation of knowledge that would serve him for the rest of his life. When he got his driver’s license in 1959 his mom gifted him the ’56 Ford Mainline that had been her daily driver. With gearhead blood already flowing through his veins he went down to the local scrapyard and bought a 410 cubic inch Edsel motor to put in the underpowered Ford.

Everyday he learned more about his automobiles as he and his friends worked to make them nicer, faster, and more fun.

Soon he discovered that he could buy stripped and totaled cars from the same scrapyard, often very clean cars simply missing an engine or an interior or needing basic body work to make them road worthy again. He would buy, repair, and then sell them to fund his growing love for cars and was soon driving very nice cars himself.

Lynn’s sister’s boyfriend, Joe, was also into cars at this time and owned a Lotus. Of course, this led to many spirited discussions about horsepower versus handling. One fateful day Joe brought the September 1962 issue of Road & Track magazine that had this new “Shelby AC Cobra” on the cover. A sleek, curvaceous, sexy body with V8 power? This one moment and photograph lit a spark in Lynn that was to become a lifelong passion.

With curiosity overflowing Lynn drove down to Venice where the Shelby “factory” was at the time. By this point, after flipping many cars, he was able to drive a really nice automobile so when he drove up, they assumed that he could actually afford one of these hot, new sports cars.

Carroll Shelby did his best to sell him one not knowing that he was unable to afford one.

While Lynn didn’t buy a Cobra then, Carroll and the staff at the Cobra factory were so nice to him that he just started coming back time and time again. He befriended many of the people there and before long most people just assumed he worked there. Lynn really wanted a Cobra but couldn’t afford one, so he bought an AC, put a V8 in it and made, perhaps, the very first Cobra replica ever. From 1963-1967 Lynn raced his home-made “Cobra”, attended college at UCLA and enjoyed life in Southern California. In 1967 Lynn joined the Army and was honorably discharged in late 1969.

It was now 1972, and Lynn was determined to get his first “real” Cobra. He found a wrecked one for $2,100, ordered parts directly from AC and started the rebuild.

Before his first Cobra was even finished, he found another Cobra, the 10th ever built, which had also been wrecked and was now in parts. He purchased this one for $2,000. As was the norm for the time he bought a new, original AC body and completely rebuilt the car. This was just the beginning as he started buying every Cobra he could find. Working on his Cobras alongside a legend himself, Mike McCluskey, who has done all of the paint and body work on Lynn’s Cobras from day one, Lynn has learned every little detail of his cars with his own hands building priceless experience for use for the next 50+ years.

L.P. "The yellow car is a 1963 Cobra. It’s the car that my wife and I have taken on thirty “Cobra 1000” tours over the years. I put a Tremec 3550 five speed transmission in it to reduce the RPMs during the long road trips. Otherwise, the car is very original and is a fun car to drive.”

Lynn continued buying, repairing, and driving Cobras from that time on supporting his habit while running several successful businesses. He has never approached buying Cobras as an investment and will quickly caution would-be buyers against doing so.

L.P. “I don’t look at them as money-makers or an investment. Don’t buy a car thinking of it as an investment. That means that you’re not going to use it. You’re going to park it and wait for the opportune time to sell it.”

Lynn drives all of his cars. Some are street cars, and some are race cars. With many, many Cobras passing through his hands through the years, he currently owns 10 “real” Cobras, 10 replicas and 6 of them are race cars. Every single one has its own personality, patina and story and is “perfect”, to him. He explained to me that cars that are banged up often have more personality than a “perfect” car (ask him about his Cobra that he’s affectionately named “Dirtbag”).

L.P. “The #12 Cobra is one of the five FIA Cobras that Shelby built to race in Europe.  It has been vintage raced since the early 1980s by a good friend of mine who sold the car to me about a year ago. As you can see it’s got a lot of “Patina” but to me that’s part of the charm of this car. No one mistakes the car for a replica, that’s for sure. In addition to being raced for so many years it has participated in the famous “Cobra 1000” tour for ten years or more.”

To be clear, Lynn has no issue with replicas. Proof-in-point, he owns ten. Shelby officially stopped production of “real” Cobras in 1967 only to return years later and make replicas himself. The good thing with replicas available is that you can still get parts, which would likely be nearly impossible to come by otherwise. Having more Cobras out there allows more people to see and appreciate their beauty and uniqueness. “Real” or “replica”, these cars are meant to drive.

Lynn and his family and friends have been vintage racing his Cobras since 1982, racing all over the country at tracks from Monterey to Willow Springs, to Lime Rock, to Watkins Glenn, to Kansas City and St. Louis, to Road America and more. To this day, Lynn and his sons, Steve, and Tim, race their Cobras twice a year at Willow Springs. They would often take “Cobra 1000” trips – 1,000-mile trips driving with a group of Cobras to destinations across the country. Just because “driving a Cobra is fun!”

This brings us back to the big question of why Cobra?

L.P. “You know what’s fun about Cobras? You meet the people that own them and almost without exception they’re nice people.”

The more Lynn talked about his years with his Cobras the more it sounded like a family. His entire family was involved from the early days – from making 1,000-mile trips, to racing with his sons – to this day the Cobras are a family affair. Beyond that there is an entire extended family and close community built around the love for the Cobra – a community of friends built over the past 50 years that still gathers as friends, brought together and united by this car.

L.P. "The maroon coupe is a 1959 AC Aceca. I have owned it since 1985 and it reminds me of the Aceca that I bought in 1963 when I couldn’t afford a Cobra. The Cobra was $6000 and the Aceca was $1500. I promptly swapped the original six-cylinder engine for a 289, added a four-speed transmission and had my own Cobra. When I bought this particular car, it had no engine or transmission so the decision to put a 289 in it was an easy one. This car has Cobra disc brakes all around, Cobra rack-and-pinion steering and Cobra suspension so it’s basically a 289 Cobra with an Aceca body. There were only 350 or so of these cars built and even fewer than that in the U.S. which makes it virtually unknown to anyone but an AC enthusiast."

The Cobra has lived and thrived well beyond its relatively short manufacture period. Its essence is so much more about the car and the experience than some kind of perceived “status”. It’s a different kind of supercar. Even Carroll Shelby himself, while bold and larger than life, was always about the car and the people that loved it. Whenever there was a Cobra event, Shelby would show up. He was kind and accommodating to the crowds, signing autographs, and talking to them about the cars. A kind and genuine person attracting other kind and genuine people that would become part of the Cobra family.

For many years the Cobra was the epitome of a performance car. It was doing everything better than what was being offered at the time. It’s noisy, it’s hot, it’s cold, it’s open to the elements and that’s part of what makes it special.

When you drive a Cobra, you experience the world in a more immersive and memorable way. When is the last time you remember fondly driving your perfectly comfortable, soundproofed, fully enclosed car? This is a car for the pure joy of driving, for experiencing your journey in a way that no other can offer. It’s not for everyone and you may have to make time to wave and talk to complete strangers who may or may not know just how valuable and special this car is.

L.P. “The silver 427 is a Kirkham replica. It was built by Mike McCluskey roughly thirty years ago.  It has a 427 engine and a top loader transmission and is as accurate in every aspect to an original 427 SC.  With its big tires and loads of power it is a ball to drive.”

But to Mr. Cobra, the true value has always been in the friends he has made, the experiences he has lived and the joy of sharing that love and passion with all who will listen.

Even with so many years of owning, driving and being involved with Cobras you can still see the smile on his face and hear the passion in his voice as he talks about his family of Cobras and friends.

In his words, “Someone my age has grown up with the best 80 years of American history”.

These days Mr. Cobra still drives each and every one of his cars. Whether on the track, or even just an 8 mile drive up the beautiful Angeles Crest Highway, these cars are loved and driven. People like Louis Hamilton, Jay Leno, Ashton Kutcher, and so many others from all over the world call him for information and his expertise – and of course, advice on buying a Cobra.

The next time you are at a car event take a moment to look to see if there is a quiet, unassuming gentlemen in the back wearing perhaps a hat or shirt with a Cobra logo.

If you see him, say hello, ask him about Cobra and enjoy some wonderful stories from a wonderful man.

This is what the Cobra family is all about.


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