Build A Cobra In Your 70’s!

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Several cold drinks later the upside-down chassis fit is complete, all 4 corners, diff, drive shafts and steering rack installed

Several cold drinks later the upside-down chassis fit is complete, all 4 corners, diff, drive shafts and steering rack installed

Neville Mordecai started building his Cobra replica a Pilgrim Sumo when he was 71, under a plastic Gazebo, on a pig farm, without power and in all weathers, his story shows you can do anything, at any age with enough enthusiasm…. Born in Surrey just before the war, Neville Mordecai remembers the anti-aircraft guns ‘going off’ on Mitcham Common and being one of thousands of evacuated children sent away from London. Following school young Neville took his first job as a ‘book-binder’ in the printing trade, which he actually hated. At the time of the Suez Crises (1957) the law was changed so that a provisional licence holder could drive a car alone providing it was fitted with L plates. It was at this time that Neville was looking for his first car. Totally naïve, a trip to Tooting resulted in a Ford Y type purchased from an unscrupulous character. The old Ford had some serious issues and after a terrifying unaccompanied journey home Neville contacted his older brother who was working for a local garage at the time, could he sort out the 9 inches of steering play and the fact the brakes only worked on one side. With his brothers promise to inspect the Y type after work Neville decided to have a go at it himself, with no experience and a couple of spanners the brakes and steering soon worked as they should.
A rolling chassis the correct way up, brake system underway and now Neville made up his own wiring loom

A rolling chassis the correct way up, brake system underway and now Neville made up his own wiring loom

Neville was a natural and a lifetime around cars began, all self-taught; next the cylinder head came off and a ‘de-coke’ carried out, the more he did the more he learnt, the young Mr Mordecai had ‘found his calling’. A neighbour noted young Neville constantly working on the Ford and asked him to carry out repairs on his car. Removing and rebuilding gearboxes and engines didn’t faze him, ‘it just came naturally to me’; so after working for a Rootes agent, still without any formal qualifications, in 1973 Neville set up his own workshop in Sutton. A career in the motor trade learning all the skills he could, including welding, body repairs and spraying whilst dealing with the day to day running of his own garage all led to a hankering to build his own car, his way, once he retired. Why a Cobra Replica? With price tags of £250k to £500k the norm for an original 1960’s version the market for replica versions is buoyant and ever changing. Not cheap to build ensure the finished replicas on sale fetch good returns. Neville started this project because he wanted to build his own car the way he thought it should be done, so the next question was which manufacturer to choose from?
Lack of facilities for Neville to move the chassis under a ‘gazebo’ whilst the body awaits fitting

Lack of facilities for Neville to move the chassis under a ‘gazebo’ whilst the body awaits fitting

After watching the Mark Evans programme ‘A Car is Born’ a visit was then arranged to Pilgrim Cars near Henfield in Sussex, for no other reason than it was local. A wry smile crossed Neville’s face as whilst thumbing through a box of Sumo related papers he remarked ‘I have never added up how much the car cost to build and I don’t think I ever want to’; I bet he is not the only builder to have had that thought. The order went into Pilgrims on 20th April 2010 and the journey began. The Build The Sierra chassis supplied by Pilgrims arrived first after about a month and unhappy with a galvanised finish this was quickly prepared and sprayed black; although this is not required Neville found the black kinder on the eye. Donor parts that would be used were all cleaned, prepared and painted and then ignoring the manual Neville began the build with the chassis upside down. He still fails to understand why the instructions don’t offer that option as it was so much easier to run brake pipes, fit new brake discs, fit hand brake and diff with drive shafts plus the suspension with the chassis that way insisted Neville. Once completed all that was needed were several strong friends, some scaffold boards and a set of old wheels, ‘we just flipped it over!’ I couldn’t help a laugh when this 75-year-old said ‘it’s quite heavy you know’.
Interior luxury and the contrast of cream leather and body matched blue works very well

Interior luxury and the contrast of cream leather and body matched blue works very well

With a rolling chassis, now the correct way up, the engine and gearbox could be installed. With the criteria demanding a pre-93 V8 it was a lack of facilities that forced Neville to try and source one ready to fit, so he chose Jim Robinson’s JRV8 in Northern Island to supply him a fully rebuilt unit from a Range Rover, supplied with an LT77 gearbox. There is no doubt Neville would have liked to acquire his own power-plant and rebuild it himself but doing so under a plastic ‘gazebo’ was far from ideal. Neville decided to make up his own wiring loom all of which would be hidden and secured with household trunking, maybe not the norm but it is mostly invisible under panels but where a can be viewed he coloured to blend into the rail it is attached to. One of Neville’s major gripes with the Pilgrim design is the location of the fuse box, very difficult to access down in the driver’s foot well, resulting in steering wheel removal to change a fuse. As Neville says this may not be a problem for someone younger but at his age being head down in the foot-well was not the easiest place to extract himself from so than when test fitting the body.
Filler-primer coat hangs heavily in the air, more ventilation please Neville

Filler-primer coat hangs heavily in the air, more ventilation please Neville

‘Fitting the body is when you come up against all sorts of problems’ is how Neville began this section of our conversation, he knew this would be the case when he was advised at Pilgrim’s ‘you make the body fit the doors’. Once in place the body is moved to get the doors to fit correctly, firstly he needed to get the body on the chassis, single handed. Neville chose to put the body on roughly and then adjusted so the doors had a chance of closing. ‘Did you ever feel like giving in’? I asked knowing he would not have been the first to do so, ‘oh no I wouldn’t let it beat me’ came the reply and at this point it came to mind that Neville had actually enjoyed the challenge more than he lets on. It was a case of love the car, hate the instruction manual and that situation would continue. Once the body was sealed off from both engine fumes and to keep out the elements the Sumo was ready to receive some beauty treatment with paint and an interior. The Time for Some Colour
They say a good finish is all about the preparation Neville’s attention to detail pays off

They say a good finish is all about the preparation Neville’s attention to detail pays off

After the first road test on a farm track in a rolling chassis, Neville described the ride as ‘bloody awful’. He moved forward knowing there would be many hours of adjustment and modification needed later once the weight of the body and interior were taken into account. He therefore decided to push on and get the Pilgrim body into colour taking on the ‘donkey work’ himself, as he put it. At this stage most panels fitted as they should; yes many slight adjustments would be required for perfection but he was confident the worst was over. Resolved to lock himself in a tin shed with the Sumo for a week, his aim was to create the perfect body for the painter’s gun loaded with ‘Ocean Blue’ and then lacquer. With barely enough room ‘to swing a wrestler’ the prepared body acquired two coats of Primer-Sealer then ‘flatted back’ to a glass smooth finish before the undercoat was applied. The top coat Ocean Blue is a rather dark Ford shade and to gain full depth of colour Neville then put on a coat of black; he explained that this was to eliminate any chance of a patchy finish. I assumed with all this attention to detail Neville enjoyed this part of the build although he described it as ‘a bit of a chore’; there is no denying the results made the ‘chore’ worthwhile. Neville asked painter Chris Pinnington to apply the two coats of dark blue and the final lacquer finish resulting in an excellent deep and glossy Sumo body. The Driving Experience
V8 power from Rover via JRV8 workshop where it was ‘breathed on’.

V8 power from Rover via JRV8 workshop where it was ‘breathed on’.

Unsure quite what to expect I slid (rather ungainly) into the passenger seat. First impressions were how well the dash area was trimmed, the seat was comfortable and there was ample room even for my 6 ft. 3 inch bulk. Neville over 20 years my senior had the knack and his entrance into the driver’s seat was a lot more controlled. The V8 fired instantly and although I expected the car to vibrate on tick over everything remained settled as the side exiting exhausts offered a deep burble. I was going to enjoy this! We made our way gently through the local streets and it was only once onto the dual carriageway on route to Epsom Downs Neville let the Sumo go from a ‘canter’ to a ‘gallop’. As Surrey flashed by I noticed how settled the suspension was, firm but not harsh with minimal body roll and the car had more than its fair share of power. Unusually I found the wind was not buffeting my balding scalp half as much as the average soft top, this is due to how low you are positioned in the body. As you can gather I was really impressed with the Sumo, its road manners are excellent and for the whole afternoon it behaved faultlessly; oh and it goes like stink! Conclusion
Against the rails Neville pushes his ‘thoroughbred’ on to Tattenham Corner

Against the rails Neville pushes his ‘thoroughbred’ on to Tattenham Corner

My time with Neville has been interesting, thought provoking and inspiring; he is from a generation that remembers really tough times, has seen incredible change and to use a modern term has ‘No Fear’. Whilst finding the Pilgrim Sumo a difficult challenge at times Neville is now thrilled with the final result and is really pleased he took it on. Admiring stares everywhere as the Sumo passes by and long chats with strangers at fuel stops are now part of Neville’s routine and have made all the effort worth-while. Now at seventy-five he admits ‘I will never again be in a position physically to build another which is fine because I have no intention of ever parting with this car, I intend to keep it till I can no longer slide into the driver’s seat.
Open countryside and rolling hills fail to quieten those side exiting exhausts

Open countryside and rolling hills fail to quieten those side exiting exhausts

  Neville Mordecai; Do’s and Don’ts of Cobra Replica Building Do read the manuals instructions and then think of a better way. Do have patience; accept setbacks and mistakes made by yourself and others. Don’t just buy the recommended parts for the kit, by costing the build in advance you can compare the options and save a lot of money. Don’t give yourself a time-scale, you will not stick to it and then frustration sets in. Don’t ever add up how much money you have spent. Grant Ford for classiccarmag.net   TECHNICAL SPEC Model: Pilgrim Sumo Chassis: Ford Sierra Engine: Rover 3.5 V8 Supplied by JRV8. Supplied with electronic ignition, compliant ignition leads, alternator, reconditioned starter motor, refaced flywheel, clutch kit, water pump, Edelbrock parts included 500 cfm carb, performer inlet manifold and 14" chrome air filter. Transmission: Five speed Rover LT77 Supplied with engine, changed to five speed W58 Toyota gearbox in 2013, Hydraulic clutch operation. Rear Axle Sierra based supplied by Pilgrim. Suspension Gas Shocks with springs from Damper Tech Front upper and lower Wishbones supplied with kit Brakes: Ford Sierra callipers and discs. Hubs and uprights Sierra based  Tags: