This is about one of the lowest
mileage Cobras in the world. Not only is it low mileage but it’s
got “added value” with some Eye-talian exotica, in the form of
a one off body built in Italy. And the designer’s famous-- the
guy from Chrysler who was The Tailfin King.
That car exists. The Exner-designed Mercer Cobra, CSX2451, is
named after an extinct pre-war American car company called Mercer
(whose most famous car was the “Raceabout”) but this one
created decades after Mercer’s downfall should have been called
the “Exner Cobra.
” Virgil Exner Sr. was famous for helping
start the whole tailfin phase at Chrysler, sold as “the forward
look.” Out of some 40 plus “dream cars” bodied in Italy for
Chrysler,he was responsible for most of them. The only one that
reached production looking almost the same as the dream car was
the Dual Ghia, actually made by a Detroit entrepreneur who bought
the design of the Dodge Fire Arrow show car.
After leaving Chrysler Exner Sr.,. and his son Virgil Exner Jr.,
opened a design studio in Bloomfield Hills, right on the famed
Woodward Ave. They began designing cars for private clients. Among
them was the Copper Development association. In 1963, Exner had
made four drawings for Esquire magazine predicting what four
classic names in American cars (including Mercer) would look like
if they made a new car. All the cars were what you would describe
today as “Full on balls-to-the-wall take-no-prisoners Retro.”
Among the cars was a Mercer. It turned out that the Copper
Development Association President George Hartley, liked that
design and approved it as their upcoming show car. It was the
association’s practice to periodically build show cars
showcasing the wonders of copper.
A 1964 Cobra was bought from Shelby-American and lengthened and
the conversion began.
A small Italian carrozzeria, Sabona-Basano, run by at least one
ex-Ghia employee, was awarded the contract to build the car but
the Exners went over to Italy to supervise the building as well.
As much copper as possible was featured, even to the gauge bezels
which look very much like Chrysler gauges of the last few years.
The copper bezels were not functional but underneath the original
Cobra gauges were kept.
The car was never planned on being
drivable so there was a lot of leeway in making the design wild
and not having to worry about hobbling the driving. The various
metals were finished in the best texture, some of the metals being
bronze, some brass, some copper, in order to show the versatility
available in each metal. This was a homage of sorts to the art
deco movement in design which in part involved highlighting the
natural finish available in metal (see the elevator doors in the
Chrysler building in NYC, for instance).
The car had a racing windscreen wrapping around the cockpit. There
was no provision for a convertible top. The headlights popped out
when needed. The car had dual sidepipes similar to those seen on
one or two small block Cobras used in racing. Another feature of
the car was scoop-like vents behind the rear wheels similar to
those on the Pininfarina designed Ferrari Superfast. The interior
is black leather set off with white piping.
In June, 1979, the car was offered for $165,000.That was before
Gen.William Lyon, a California home builder, bought it and it was
under his ownership that it was displayed on the “dream car lawn”
at Pebble Beach.
Though it would easily be worth $300,000 to $500,000 if rebodied
as a small block Cobra, it would be far more interesting if this
ever comes on the market again as the Mercer-Cobra!
Ironically, though Exner was responsible for the tailfins at
Chrysler,the Mercer Cobra does not feature them. It’s the
ultimate in long hood,short rear deck styling and still looks
Wallace Alfred Wyss is a historian who lately has been doing some
fine art. To see some of his work, look at the legendconnection.org/links.aspx