The Mercer COBRA 
created by Virgil Exner
© Wallace Wyss, W.Kohrn - March 21st.2009




The Mercer Cobra 
Author: Wallace Alfred Wyss

Picture Archive W. Wyss

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 modern today.

Wallace Alfred Wyss is a historian who lately has been doing some fine art. To see some of his work, look at the .

Wallace A. Wyss is the author of SHELBY The Man The Cars The Legend

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