Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Lely Teacher Building Shelby Race Car in his Garage


Photos by Scott H. Shook | Chris Black with his Shelby Cobra replica kit car.


 

Lely High School teacher Chris Black is taking on a huge project in his spare time. He’s building a car—a 1960s Shelby Cobra race car to be exact. 

Okay, you’re probably thinking, “Black must be a shop teacher, right? Or maybe Lely has an auto mechanics program?” No, Black’s the school’s Media Specialist—which makes his huge undertaking all the more fascinating. 

Chris Black and his father Robert.

“I’ve always been a classic car guy,” Chris Black explains. “I got that from my dad. I go to automobile auctions and car shows, and I’ve always wanted a 1960s-type muscle car.” 

Black has been planning to add a 1960s muscle car to his garage for years. He’s just been biding his time until his son finished his education—and cleared up a little disposable income for his dream car. However, he didn’t think he would be adding a muscle car to his garage one piece at a time. 

So my goal was,” Black said, “when my son got out of school and I stopped paying for that, to buy something. He’s an adult and grown, so I started looking the last 2 years. I wanted something, a muscle car, something fun, something to drive around the island and take to shows. At this point, I had no thought of building something. I was going to buy something. I was really looking for a 1929 roadster with a flat head V-8. My wife had a 1967 Firebird as her first car in high school.” 

When Black started his search in earnest, he quickly became discouraged. It seems that the cars he liked were too expensive. The only specimens he could afford were project cars that would require a lot more work than he thought practicable. He had never even considered a Shelby Cobra, considering the prospect out of his budget. 

“I never even thought about a Cobra,” Black said. “Or a Corvette. My favorite car in high school was a Corvette, the old Corvette. But both were way above my teacher salary. Anything that I wanted was out of my price range. I wanted something that I could drive and not worry about it breaking down. If it was in my price range, it was going to need a lot of work. I looked around, then I started seeing replica Shelbys, and they were in my price range. So, I put them on the list.”

 



 

Black and his wife took a trip to Orlando where they saw two Shelby Cobra replicas. They liked things about both cars, but didn’t like either car enough to make a purchase. When he returned to Marco, he started to scour the internet. 

“I got home that night and started searching the internet,” Black recalled. “I found this company Factory Five. They’re kit cars.” 

Then Black had an epiphany. He could build a brand-new car for what he was looking at paying for some of the old classics he had been researching.  

Chris Black with his project.

“I walked into the bedroom with my iPad and told my wife, ‘I’m going to build one,’” Black said. “She said, ‘I was wondering how long it was going to take you to figure that out!’ 

A guy must be blessed to have a wife so understanding to agree to welcome such a project into her home. 

“There’s times she’s gotten frustrated with it,” Black admitted. “I’ve taken over my son’s old bedroom for my parts. She has no interest in building it, but she definitely has an interest in driving it.” 

The kit car comes as a collection of parts. Thousands of parts. 

“It comes with all the parts,” Black said. “It basically shows up with the frame. Everything else I have to put together. I had to drill all the holes. I replaced their throttle cable with one I like better. It was the first time I ever did brake lines. I’m not building a car to show it or resell it. I’m building a car we can have fun and drive. For the first time doing it, I think I did okay.” 

Black’s dad, Robert, is a car enthusiast himself. When he was in high school in the late 1950s, he had a collection of muscle cars and street raced several times a week. He even appeared on American Bandstand numerous times. He’s proud that his son took on such a daunting challenge.

 



 

“He assembled the whole front end,” Robert Black said proudly. “All the shock absorbers are assembled by him.” 

“Everything that is on the frame is something I did,” Chris Black continues. “I worked on cars as a teenager. I rebuilt a Volkswagen. I rebuilt the engine, replaced the floor pans.” 

Chris Black displays the famous Cobra logo.

However, that didn’t really prepare him for the challenge that faced him with building a race car. Robert Black produced a manual that appeared to be over 1,000 pages. That’s just a guide—it doesn’t contain step-by-step instructions. 

“I’m on a Factory Five forum with these guys who build these,” Chris Black stated. “You ask a question and within an hour you have answers. One of the top builders in the country is in Port Charlotte. I’ve been up there to visit him. 

“It’s not as hard as it looks,” Chris Black claims. “Factory Five has a forum where you can ask their mechanics questions. There were plenty of times after the kit arrived that I asked myself, ‘What did I get myself in to?’ But you take it one step at a time. There are times when I thought I bit off more than I can chew. But I just stepped back and came back and looked at it again.  

He tries to make sure he does at least one thing a day on his car. He’s devised an ingenious frame that allows him to roll the body of the car in and out of his garage.  

“Every day I try to do something,” he said, “it might just be a bolt or two. It might just be bending something. My goal is every day to do something. In the beginning, I was rushing myself. I learned my lesson to take my time, one step at a time.” 

 


 

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