By Karen Salvaggio

Photos by Juan Lopez-Bonilla

The words “family reunion” conjure up a wide range of emotions for most people. For some, this phrase brings up memories of good times spent with family and friends, while for others, it might create some apprehension. Fortunately for Cobra owners, everyone in this “family” is surrounded by stunningly beautiful cars and some of the most like-minded and generous enthusiasts in the automotive world.

Now in its 15th year, the London Cobra Show has grown to be one of the most fun-filled auto festivals on the planet. Hosted by the Ohio Cobra Club as a charity fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, this annual event is held in London, Ohio, and the surrounding area during the last weekend in June.

A tally of 154 Cobras registered for this year’s event, representing more than 10 states, with some participants traveling several hundred miles to the show. This year also attracted 15-plus Cobra owners who registered for the event without even bringing their car, just so they could enjoy the camaraderie of the show.

Thursday is arrival day, and it’s a spectacle to witness each of the uniquely beautiful roadsters, coupes and even a few GT40s make their way into the parking lot. With each arrival, everyone gathers around to check out the rides and to greet old friends or welcome new ones. Soon enough, hoods are up and the good times are underway.

If you’re a roadster owner with no convertible top, you tend to have more concern than usual about the weather, and there were ominous forecasts for heavy rain throughout the weekend. While some folks tow their cars to the event, the vast majority of Cobras arrive under their own power. Many navigated rain-soaked roads on the way to the show, but the Cobra drivers and their passengers proved their mettle, and a group of hearty enthusiasts began streaming in by early Thursday afternoon. 

Cobra roadster owner and regular LCS attendee, Garry Bopp, was in the middle of engine upgrades this year, so he would not be able to bring his car but decided to make the trip from Atlanta anyway.

“I was not happy that my Challenge Car wasn’t ready for LCS, but I certainly wasn’t going to miss out on the show,” Garry relates. “I saw on the Ohio Cobra Club webpage that they were looking for volunteers to help out at the show, and I signed up to work the burnout lane on Saturday afternoon.” But it turned out that he wasn’t stuck with just being a bystander to all the driving excitement.

“No sooner did I arrive than my friends, Brian and Tracy Klecker and Matt and Mary Ries, offered me their cars to drive at the autocross!” Garry enthused. “I had never done autocross before, so I was somewhat reluctant to take them up on their offers, but Matt finally wore me down, and I jumped in his car and did several sessions. Great fun!”

Friday’s official events included a variety of guided cruises. These included the Wade Chamberlain Memorial Autocross, a road trip to the Vintage Grand Prix at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the Frank Forestier Memorial Cruise to Serpent Mound, the Flying Freddie Memorial Cruise to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, and an escape to the Shawshank State Prison tour.

Participants met with their guides early in the morning and headed out for the day’s adventures. Despite threatening skies, a group of hearty souls braved the inclement forecast and made the 30-mile trek to Circleville Raceway Park, where their enthusiasm was not to be dampened. By 10 a.m., blue skies were breaking through the clouds, and the autocrossers were rewarded with a spectacular day on track. Everyone agreed that Wade Chamberlain was indeed smiling on the event.

In addition to the guided tours, several self-guided destination road trips were also available to entrants. Trips to the elegant Piatt Castle, the giant cobs at Cornhenge, the mysterious stalactites of the Ohio Caverns, ancient culture at SunWatch Indian Village, and Clifton Mill with its historic covered bridge were all great options in the area. Each trip provided engaging opportunities for drivers to savor the winding back roads of the lovely Ohio countryside.

In the evening, attendees visited in small groups under awnings set up around the hotel parking lots. A steady stream of folks mingled at all the parties — not the least of which was the infamous “Snake Pit,” hosted by the lively Kentucky Cobra Club.

While the Friday activities are fun for everyone, let’s face it: Everyone who’s been to LCS knows that Saturday is the day. Everybody gathers in the town center to bench race, check out the vendors, and enjoy burnouts, all while raising funds to support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. For 15 years, the good citizens of London, Ohio, have welcomed these loud and uncivilized cars not only into their town for display, but they actually turn Main Street into a real-life drag strip for the day — all under the watchful eye of local law enforcement. Talk about cooperation!    

More than 150 Cobras gathered at a freeway truck stop, where they formed into a cacophonous convoy. Escorted by police, this cavalcade roared through the countryside and then paraded into London where they filled downtown for the day. Industry partners are a very big part of the show, and eye-catching vendor displays from dozens of manufacturers filled the upper end of Main Street.

Rich MacDonald, Superformance Sales and Promotions representative (who also served as a wonderful guest speaker on Saturday evening), provided some perspective.

“As a first-time attendee and guest speaker in 2017, I was blown away by the size and scope of this event,” he observes. “It certainly exceeded all expectations.” He found more of the same this year, with Main Street filled with people and Cobras stretching as far as the eye could see. “If you’re considering a Cobra road trip next year, I highly recommend the London Cobra Show!”

The charity rides began at 10 a.m., and a seemingly endless number of paying riders formed a long line, anxiously awaiting a seat in one of the thundering Cobras. The sound of roaring engines filled the air all day, accompanied most often by shrieks of giddy laughter and downright happy screams, as each Cobra launched from the line toward its 1/8 mile run down Main Street.

While all of the charity-driven Cobras were striking, one in particular stole the show. Erik Treves’ Daytona Coupe, dubbed the Hawk Coupe, did an impressive full burnout at the start. Erik is a master car builder and a regular attendee at LCS, but it was truly different for him this year. Normally he parks his car alongside the others and gives charity rides. But this year, “When planning the build for the new Coupe, I installed a line-lock system in the car — in truth — to do a burnout down Main Street at the London Cobra Show.”

As luck would have it, the positioning of the cars at the end of an alley allowed him to do a quick exit toward the charity staging lanes, and the conditions were set. “I rolled into the lanes, grabbed one of two riders for that day, and lit the fuse. Away we went!”

The runs — which Erik thought were going to be the highlight of the weekend — were surpassed by something else: “The smiles on the faces of the riders and their parents as their kids stepped out of my car!” he relates. “If I did nothing else that weekend, it would have been fine!”

After a long day in the sun, attendees came together under the big tent where the Ohio Cobra Club provided a delicious barbeque dinner followed by engaging presentations from this year’s guest speakers: Rich MacDonald and Shawn Carroll Shelby.

With a knowledge base only the son of an iconic American racer could possibly possess, Rich readily captured the attention of every Cobra enthusiast with his insightful, personal, and very informative reflections on his father, the legendary Dave MacDonald, and his amazing Cobra racing career. Then, Shawn treated the crowd to a behind-the-scenes look at what it was like growing up as the grandson of the legendary Carroll Shelby. He brought smiles and laughter from the crowd with his tales on learning to drive under the watchful eye of “Grandpa,” as well as the lessons learned about how to stretch a dollar. While Carroll Shelby was a living legend to so many of us, he was Grandpa first to his family.

As the evening drew to a close, George Daulton, the Ohio Cobra Club president, took the stage to draw the winning ticket for this year’s raffle car. The beautiful Cobra from Backdraft Racing was won by Larry K., who purchased his ticket the very day of the drawing after letting his granddaughter take a charity ride. Talk about a lucky grandpa! Thanks to this raffle, the Ohio Cobra Club was able to present to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation a check in the amount of $104,000, bringing the collective total to more than $1.3 million over the years.

Family is often compared to the branches on a tree. Our lives may grow in different directions, yet our roots remain as one. The roots of the London Cobra Show are strong and deep and continue to grow through the years.