By Michael Barrington, www.mbwriter.net
If you saw the movie “Ford versus Ferrari,” then you may be a Cobra enthusiast. Did you know that one of the finest collections of Cobra cars in the country is on display in Martinez? Thanks to an enthusiastic collector, Drew Serb, founder and curator of the museum, The Cobra Experience. Among the many historic displays, it holds two cars that were used in the movie; an original car that was driven and a replica.
As a high school student in the 1960s, Drew Serb fell in love with the AC Cobra muscle car. In class he would hide car magazines in his textbooks and study the sexy sport car’s specs. Eventually, he bought a beaten-up 1964 Cobra for $1,500 and rebuilt it. In 1978, he sold it for $33,000. He winces when he thinks about that sale, since the car today would be worth close to half a million dollars.
As I interviewed this unassuming man, I was entertained by his impish sense of humor and enthusiasm over his collection. As he explained, he was captivated by the Cobra in the early seventies and began his journey of dedication and restoration.
The money he made selling his first Cobra enabled him to buy the electronics company he worked for at the time that has built giant sound systems for sports stadiums, including the 49ers, Raiders, Giants, Padres, and New York Jets. By 1997 he had grown and expanded the business and was providing sound systems for The Grateful Dead, the Dave Mathew’s Band, Luciano Pavarotti, Andrew Bocelli and Placido Domingo.
In the 1960’s, the Shelby Cobra captured the heart and imagination of car racing enthusiasts. Carroll Shelby, the designer of the famous Shelby Cobra, GT40, Daytona Coupe, and GT350, amongst others, from 1962 to 1968 built cars at Shelby American in Southern California. These cars remain giants for their contributions to the evolution of the muscle car industry in this country.
Drew has been a Cobra roadster owner/restorer for more than 30 years. He bought several Cobras, some severely damaged, to restore and added some of them to his personal collection. In 2002, he bought a business known as “Cobra Performance,” that started out in Pacheco. That company had stockpiled all the remaining Cobra parts from Shelby American when it shut down in 1970.
The idea of a museum emerged as his storage space filled to overflowing with Cobra material: “I had about 10 cars at the time . . . and a whole basement full of parts,” he explained. “If anyone wanted to sell Cobra parts, I was interested — a hard top, a grille, a set of wheels — so that’s really how it all started.”
In 2014 Drew moved his sound system business to a new commercial building in Martinez. This facility would not only serve as the home of his business operations on the first floor but also provide 25,000 square feet upstairs to house his personal collection of Shelby cars and memorabilia. That same year together with his wife, Janet, and daughter, Emily Serb Lambert, now the Executive Director, and several business partners, he was able to transform his passion for the cars into “The Cobra Experience.” It opened for business as a Non-Profit enterprise on November 1, 2015.
Drew has spent a great amount of time and effort into the creation of a world-class exhibit, displays, lighting and signage in the creation of the museum. Visitors will surely agree that The Cobra Experience has successfully captured the essence of the early years of the Shelby American legacy. Even the restrooms here are themed, and you can hear background rock music from the 1960’s playing everywhere.
As East Bay residents, the Serb family is immensely proud of being able to share their passion with the community “There’s a lot of history that people don’t know about what Shelby did in just a few years, and starting from nothing,” he explains in his animate voice. “Those guys went out and beat Ferrari, got the World’s Manufacturers’ Cup, and won Le Mans five years in a row. The importance of this collection is education through the preservation of this special time in Shelby American and Ford Performance history in America.” He paused as if to gather his thoughts.
On display are many unique cars and a collection of original Shelby-American shop equipment, Shelby engine and wheel displays. There is an impressive amount of period memorabilia and what must be every collectible toy Cobra roadster ever made. Other event spaces include a complete research library, a classroom/lounge area, a banquet facility for up to two hundred people for private events, and a gift shop.
You can experience the unmistakable feel and sound of the Shelby-modified Ford 427 V-8 through clever special effects backed by an impressive Surround Sound system in its 40-seat in-house theater.
Currently there are 24 cars on display. The Cobra Experience in Martinez is open every third Sunday each month between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., or by private event or appointment. If you drop in, you will have an amazing experience and likely meet Drew who will be happy to fill your ear for an hour or two of non-stop fascinating information about his Cobra passion.