January 2001

My son Scott had a day off from school on the 15th, so we scheduled our visit on that day. Scott and I worked to prepare a long list of questions to take with us so that we wouldn't forget anything.  

JBL Motorsports  is located in Fallbrook CA, about 90 minutes north of San Diego. We arrived on Sunday evening so we'd have the whole day Monday if we needed it. JBL is associated with a machine shop in Fallbrook which is where we met Dave Hadley, one of the principals of JBL, and Richard Hudgins, the car's designer. 

JBL is a very small company which seems to employ primarily part time people. They don't have large building full of people building kits. But I felt comfortable with Dave and Richard, and Dave's machine shop is very impressive. He does a lot of work for major auto racing teams. It was clear that they had the equipment and expertise to build a high quality car.

After talking for an hour or so, we drove with Richard over to Chuck's house. Chuck is a local owner and was willing to show us his completed car and give us a ride. JBL's test mule was in no condition to demonstrate at that point. The ride in Chuck's car was impressive to say the least. The car is a little firm over sharp bumps, but is very agile and sticks like glue around the corners, despite the drizzle that was starting to come down.

We went back to Dave's office and spent another couple hours talking, getting our questions answered, and then going out for sandwiches. Before heading back to the airport, we went over to Richard's house to take a look at the test mule so that we could see the chassis and suspension details more clearly (no body on this car).

While we were sitting in the airport waiting for our plane, Scott wrote the following story about his Cobra ride for his humanities class.

First Ride by Scott Torborg

I drag my finger slowly along the smooth fiberglass lines of the body, marveling in awe and admiration at merely standing in the presence of such an exemplary piece of automotive engineering. The rear wheel wells bring to mind the shoulders of a wildcat, poised to lunge.

"Who wants to take the first ride?"  Chuck

questions gleefully. I glance towards my dad, who points back at me. I frown skeptically, but slowly walk over to the passenger side. I start to tremble slightly, intimidated by the aggressive machine. However, I manage to pass the test of agility as I crawl into the cockpit, carefully avoiding the relatively massive fire extinguisher. The door slams shut with a loud clang.  

Chuck works his way into his harness, then reaches forward to turn the key in the ignition. Suddenly the garage becomes alive with the wondrous thunder of an Ford V8 let loose. He clicks the car into gear, and we slowly roll down the driveway to the main road. After a short jaunt around the block to warm up the roadster, we set off on a twisty mountain road, all the while experiencing turns far beyond the limits of any ordinary metal beast. 

We slow to a halt at a stop sign. The roads sit empty, devoid of any other cars. Suddenly I snap back against the seat as we rocket forward. Mere moments later, the acceleration vanishes, flinging me tight against the belts as the tach nears 7000 and the driver shifts. A split second later, the acceleration returns, and the jet catapults off again. Only moments after this Chuck shifts into third. This time, however, I prepare and anticipate the sudden break in acceleration. Then I catch a glimpse of a sign as it flashes by. "45" A quick glance reveals the speedometer crossing 90, 95. Rows and rows of palm trees fly by like stars in an imaginary "hyperspace." I hear a vague noise camouflaged beneath the blaring roar of the exhaust sidepipes. I listen, confused for a moment, then realize Chuck is talking. I turn and yell, "What?" He repeats, "Are you having fun yet?" I quickly nod and shout an enthusiastic, "YEAH!" 

We pass by a high school, having slowed down slightly. Despite the holiday, a group of students grins madly and waves, witnessing the rare juxtaposition of a dove among crows- Fords, Kias, and Chryslers. We return the gesture, and continue to blaze past block after block of houses until finally drifting to a stop. I climb out, ears still ringing. My dad walks over, raises his eyebrows and asks, "cool car?" I casually nod and manage, "Yeah, kinda cool." But the snake is already off again, vanishing quickly into its next delightful roller-coaster ride into the California distance.

We decided to go with the JBL stage 2 kit. This kit includes almost everything required to build the car except for the drive train and body finish details. The car is partially assembled, with all the difficult assembly work (suspension components, etc.) already completed. We had hoped to do a little more of the assembly work ourselves, but decided that we'd get a little more adventurous with the engine instead. 

Dave promised delivery of the stage 2 kit by the end of June. We're certainly hoping they can meet this date since Scott and I would like to work on the car while he's out of school for the summer.

Once the decision was made to go with JBL, we needed to decide what, if any, customization we wanted. We came up with the following list.

Seats - we wanted to use full-height seats for added safety. The space within the cockpit is fairly narrow, so we had limited choices, but we found a pair of red Sparco seats that will work great. These seats are decidedly non-traditional, but we're building a car for us, not an exact replica.

Roll bars - the car comes standard with a single hoop roll bar behind the driver. We also wanted roll over protection for the passenger. The wide roll bars we've seen on Cobras just don't look right, so we decided to go with a second single hoop behind the passenger.

Dash - since we're going with a relatively contemporary style (with the seats), we decided to go with a brushed alloy dash instead of the traditional leather upholstered dash. 

Gauges - VDO gauges come with the kit, but we decided we liked the Autometer Ultralite gauges better. So, we're going with a a 5" 160 MPH speedo and 10K tach, and 2" gauges for oil pressure, oil temp, water temp, voltage, fuel level, and fuel pressure.

Wheels and tires - these aren't part of the kit, but JBL offered to get the Compomotive wheels and Michelin Pilot Z tires for us at a good price. This will make it easier to ship the car to us as well.

Bumpers - we wanted to have at least a superficial bumper on the car, so we decided to add over-riders in the front and a stainless nudge bar in the rear.

While we waited for the final quote from JBL, we set out to find an engine so that we'd have the drive train ready to go when the "kit" arrived. The JBL Roadster has a fairly tight engine bay because of the way the chassis and suspension are designed. It will only fit a Ford small-block, and the height clearance limits the choices for block and induction combinations. The small-block part was fine with us since the weight balance and handling are better with a small-block anyway. 

The height limit was more of a concern since we really wanted to use fuel injection. The taller deck height of the 351W block would not fit under the hood using a standard EFI intake manifold (such as a GT-40 or Holley Systemax). So we started looking at a 302 block.

When we first started our engine investigation, I was very nervous about getting involved with the engine build ourselves. I had never worked on an engine before and there just didn't seem to be enough information in the various books I had started to read about putting an engine together. Besides, the number of component choices was overwhelming.

So when we first started looking at engines, our plan was to get a complete dyno-tested engine. We contacted a few engine builders to get quotes based on a 302 block. The rest of the month was spent discussing these quotes and trying to learn as much about engines as we could.

We also spent a little time shopping for seats. We wanted to make sure that we could find seats we liked that would fit in the car. We had taken some measurements when we went down to JBL. We found some Sparco seats that we liked which are a racing style shell but without the really high sides that make it difficult with anyone with large hips to fit in. Unfortunately, Sparco had decided to discontinue these seats. Our dealer called the warehouse and found they still had two in stock in red. These seats are going to look pretty outrageous in a Cobra but will go great with the metallic silver with red stripes paint scheme we're currently planning on.

Next Month - Engine decision made, the short block arrives, ordering more parts.