Thirty years ago, Carl Lee Windham asked his father for money to buy the car he'd always hoped to own. An Arizona dealer was asking $30,000 for a 1963 Shelby Cobra the color of a candy apple. Windham's father reluctantly gave his son 30 grand in gold coins to buy the car.
Windham -- a six-foot-six, 350-pound laboratory research assistant from Tallahassee -- barely fit in the Cobra. On his initial drive, he drove over a set of railroad tracks, causing the driver's door to pinch his arm.
Apparently the Cobra didn't live up to Windham's car-of-his-dreams expectations. So Windham stuck the two-seater in a car trailer. That's where it sat for nearly 30 years,
neglected, covered in dust, and rotting.
Car buyer Donnie Gould heard about the car a few years back. Gould is president of Auctions America in Fort Lauderdale, a subsidiary of gigantic classic-car purveyor RM Auctions. Gould specializes in Cobras, a car built by an English manufacturer and then outfitted with giant V8 engines by legendary racer Carroll Shelby. Gould called Windham a few times over the years to see if he was ready to sell. No chance.
Then Windham called Gould last year. He wanted to meet. Gould offered to fly to Tallahassee, rent a car, and drive to Windham's place.
"He didn't want me to know where the car was," Gould recalls. "So he drove the car in its trailer to the Tallahassee airport."
They cut a deal in the back of that trailer right there in the airport parking lot. Gould declined to say for how much. As part of the deal, Windham wanted to drive the car to Gould's shop in Fort Lauderdale. "He wanted to make sure it was going to a good home."
A week later, with Gould's money in Windham's hands, he left his car at Auction America's shop off Oakland Park Boulevard. The car looked rough. Dust covered everything. The red paint was cracked, missing in places, and discolored in others. The interior was ripped and rotted.
Gould's mechanics replaced the parts necessary to make the car driveable: new electrical wires, a radiator, hoses, tires, rims. Otherwise, every speck of patina -- dust and dirt to most people -- remains. No touchups to the paint. No repairs to the interior.
And that's exactly why this Shelby Cobra, specifically chassis No. CSX 2080, is worth so much. Nowadays, classic cars in their original condition are worth more to collectors than if they had been rehabbed. Cars like this one, with the original factory manual in the glove box, have become the new rarity.
Windham's Cobra will sell for the first time in three decades at RM's auction March 5 at the Broward County Convention Center. Its projected sales value: $450,000.
Gould says it's one of the last Cobras still unaccounted for -- "barn finds," as they're called in the business. He has one more he hopes to buy.
"I'm chasing another one right now," he said recently during a drive in Windham's Cobra through Fort Lauderdale. The engine sounded like a pack of angry bears growling under the tiny hood. "Not sure how long it's going to take to get that one. Patience. That's all it takes."
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