London Cobra Show and encounters with Bob Bondurant

by Vince Lubbers, Butch Demerle and Roger Vincent

25-28 June 2009


Twelve Kentucky Cobra Club members pointed the noses of the rides northward toward London. They crossed the mighty Ohio at Cincinnati in bright sun. That was about to change. There were clues, but they paid no mind. Fun was in the air all around. The canopy was erected on the boulevard in front of the show hotel, the banner was hung, and Sam Jackson's gemutlichkeit (a general feeling of camaraderie and pleasantness) was in full swing as he explained one German brew after another. This was kickback and enjoy such as it seldom occurs.

Dinner did it. The group departed for dinner and the thunder gods struck with wind, and inches of rain. Vince who left his car behind to catch a ride in Roger's 427 did not understand that water rises in a cobra until it spills out the doors. He does now. His hat rusted, and Butch helped him bail water with Styrofoam coffee cups.


Friday awoke to a sunny sky and when the event management asked for a volunteer to escort the guest of honor (Bob Bondurant) to W-PAFB, Butch was on it. Here it is :

Butch's story:

"I was introduced to Bob and I asked if he wanted to do the driving to Dayton. He said 'Sure, because I make a terrible passenger.' We blasted onto I-70W at 90 mph and he said, 'What is the red light in my eyes, do we have oil pressure?' I told him that’s the shift light, and he said, 'We never had those in these cars.' He said multiple times as we drove along how he liked our cars a lot. We got to the Air Force Museum and I became his tour guide as I have been there many times. The stories he told were incredible. He asked if he could sit down for a few minutes and then proceeded to tell me the story of his 150 mph crash at Watkins Glen, where his lower legs and feet were severely fractured. We found him some books for souvenirs in the gift shop and went for some lunch at Big Boy of all places (his choice). We then headed back toward Columbus. He couldn’t believe all the police presence on the highways of Ohio…… We made a quick stop at his hotel where he could freshen up and then did a quick run up to the Cruise-in at Quaker Steak and Lube. I had to have him there by 4:00 PM so the OCC guys could get him to the airport to pick up his girlfriend who was flying in. The next day he saw me in London and came over and autographed the dashboard of my Cobra. A very cool experience to say the least!"

Most of the balance of the crew not going to W-PAFB went to the qualifying sessions for the Historic races at Mid-Ohio Raceway. Gorgeous weather and typical historic friendliness with our cobras parked in the infield. This was a very pleasant excursion because it offered a variety of activities depending upon your interest.
Saturday saw the club forming up at 0650 to travel to the Speedway meeting point for the parade into London proper. Tom Hoppenjans even got Mr. Bondurant to give his cobra a test spin during the wait while the group formation grew.
The traditional parade into London went smoothly and the 200 plus cobras assembled on Main Street and the side streets. London conducts its Strawberry Festival at this time of year and the LCS and the festival draw onlookers from all over. One of the main attractions are the burnouts down Main Street under the watchful tutelage of the London Sheriff's Department. These runs support the Cystic Fibrosis charity effort and for a small donation, spectators can get a burnout ride. In a clever variant on the theme Roger Vincent invited Bob Bondurant to use his 427 for two burnout runs and Roger snagged a spectator ride in his own car.


Roger’s story:

“He seemed to be a reincarnate rock star. He stood erect and straight as an iron pole belying his 76 years. People jostled for a closer look. Cameras videotaped; cameras snapped. They placed homage glove boxes in front of him for a signature. “Mr. Bondurant would you mind….Mr. Bondurant could I please…Mr. Bondurant what was your impression of the GT40…Tell us about your victory at LeMans in the Cobra….,” The questions were endless and the satisfaction on his face was one that is rarely seen on some other period icons. He charged no fee for his signatures, he was polite, courteous, and offered any number of anecdotes free for the asking. “You know I took that GT40 down the straight at LeMans achieving a top speed of 212! It was the third fastest qualifying time in 1964. Did you know I gave some of the first high speed driving lessons to James Garner, Tom Cruise, and Paul Newman? No? I did. I found actors to be some of my best students. They studied my every move, how I shifted, how I used my feet, where my eyes where looking. They wanted me to drive first for about 45 minutes before they took the wheel. They were and are really good competitive drivers on the track.”

I tentatively approached him along with the rest of the worshipers during an autograph signing moment, “Mr. Bondurant, how would you like to drag race an SPF Cobra down main street?” Looking me over, and looking momentarily for the car he said quite excitedly, “I would love to do that! Where’s it parked?” I pointed down the block and said, “It’s sitting there in the corner in the shade with the door open and the keys in the ignition.” He quickly turned from the autograph seekers who were still holding their pens glaring at me. He set off at a pace that I struggled to match. When we got to the car I began to wonder if he could still drive and if he would have difficulty lowering himself into the cockpit. With one swift single action he was in the seat, strapping down waiting for me to open the passenger door. I fumbled entry and embarrassedly explained that I “rarely ever got into that side of the car.” He said, “Where is the ignition?” I pointed. He asked why it wasn’t starting. I said I didn’t know. Then he moved the gear lever into neutral and it fired with a nice roar. He grinned. Revving the engine he said, “What’s it got in it?” I said it was a 427. Then added quickly, “Windsor.” To my delight he said, “That’s a wonderful combination, high horsepower, and low weight.” I responded, “Yeah, that’s what I thought…” I pretended to be more knowledgeable than I was.

By now the crowd is beginning to recognize the icon behind a Cobra moving toward the starting line. The event staff waved us to the front of the line, passing a disappointed civilian who seemed to understand the ownership icon issue facing him. There was no way in hell he was going to take my place, no sir. Not today. As we pulled onto the starting line cameras began, pictures were made, and everyone waited to see what the old man could do. With a wave of the hand from the starter Bondurant feathered the clutch and accelerator just as wheel spin began to occur and then nailed it when he felt them hook. A master craftsman at work. He snatched second, changed just before the rev limiter kicked in, and grabbed third never missing a beat. He leaned over and said, “This is one hell of a fine Cobra, it has great horse power and I love the engine.” I beamed from ear to ear, satisfied that my investment in engines had not been for nothing. Then I realized he was a gentleman. Still, it’s a nice thing to hear from a legend. Making our way back I said, “Want to do it again?” Without hesitation we made a second pass, this time seven miles per hour faster than the first. He said one more pass and he would have it nailed. But others were now waiting for him to drive their cars since they had seen him drive his first Cobra for the day. Just before he exited the car, I said, “You know of course Bob, now that you have driven this car you must leave your signature.” He reached for his silver permanent marker and said, “I came prepared.” He leaned over and wrote his name on the glove box. When I got back to my crowd I showed the signature to my ride-along nephew who exclaimed, “Damn, you let some guy write on your car?”


Ears ringing, the suntanned KCCers departed London to reform in front of the hotel and rolled out the welcome mat for one and all. We met a ton of new faces and we spread our circle of chairs to include all those who wanted to linger. As Juan is fond of saying, it really is about the people. It happened in June 2009, and if you were there you know it was a great time. If you could not attend this year, you were missed, and we will keep a spot in the circle for you next time.

Kentucky Cobra Club, Juan Lopez-Bonilla
2432 Crittenden Drive, Suite 201, Louisville KY 40217