My Car Quest

February 23, 2019

The Psychedelic Cobra

They say if you can remember the Sixties, you weren’t there.

by Wallace Wyss –

I was, and I don’t actually remember hearing the name Tara Browne, or the Right Honorable Tara Browne to use the proper nomenclature. But, back then I did hear, many times, the Beatles song A Day In The Life.

And in the ‘70s when I began chronicling Cobras, I noted the existence of a Cobra version called the Mk. III, a small block 289, made for the British market. Those cars never saw Shelby’s Venice factory.

Tara Browne

Tara Browne

To those unfamiliar with the Cobra, here’s a capsule history. A.C., an old time car company, had a hit in their Bristol six cylinder powered A.C. sports cars in the early ‘60s but lost access to more Bristol engines when Bristol switched over to using American V8s. So about that time Carroll Shelby providentially showed up, a failed chicken farmer but with the imprimatur of having won LeMans in 1959. Shelby proposed building the AC Ace with the Ford small block V8.

They agreed and Shelby began importing them to America, installing the V8 in his Venice, California factory and calling them the AC Cobra. After awhile he had the frame widened and enlarged and installed 427 and 428 cubic inch big blocks, but over in the UK they didn’t want such a humongous engine, and stuck with the 289 for a bit, making a model called the Mk. III.

And who should buy COB6107 (the initials “for Cobra of Britain”) but the Honourable Tara Browne, the thatch haired heir to the vast Guinness brewery fortune (he was great grandson of the founder).

Tara was living life at the edge, and actively involved with headliners in the psychedelic art and music worlds, including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones (there is even a documentary showing him playing records with Paul McCartney).

He saw that two young artists, including one named Dudley Edwards, had painted a Buick convertible in a psychedelic pattern and asked them if they might do the same for his new Cobra. Edwards was famous for shop-front friezes, on the Kings Road and Carnaby Street, and even painted furniture, most notably Paul McCartney’s piano, and served as a consultant for the animation on the famous psychedelic classic, the Beatles, “A Yellow Submarine.”

The Cobra, suitably psychedeliced, was put on show in a posh London gallery as a work of art.

Tara Browne's Cobra

Tara Browne’s Cobra

Browne was on his way to the gallery for the unveiling of his car– in a Lotus Elan– when he ran a light in South Kensington, hit a VW that pulled out in front of him and bounced into a London bus, hitting it head on. He was taken to the hospital, but died a day later. He was only 21 years old.

His girlfriend Suki Potier, what you called a “sex kitten” in the tabloids of that era, survived the accident, later resurfacing as the long term girlfriend of Brian Jones, from the Rolling Stones.

Tara Browne's Cobra

Tara Browne’s Cobra – When the car came to auction four decades later
it was painted a burgundy solid color

The art dealer showing the car was later charged alongside Mick Jagger with the possession of cannabis.

THE SONG

Two of the Beatles, Paul McCartney and John Lennon, decided to incorporate the following lyrics relating to the death of Tara Browne into the anthem ‘A Day in the Life’ from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

Now they used a bit of creative license. Where the lyrics say: “He blew his mind out in a car” nobody knows if he had used drugs before he got in the car. The lyrics also said : “He didn’t notice that the lights had changed” where the accident accounts say he blew a light.

The lyrics go on to say “A crowd of people stood and stared … They’d seen his face before… Nobody was really sure If he was from the House of Lords.” Now that was a bit of hyperbole, the fact was that Tara’s father was a long time Member of the House of Lords and young Browne could have also aspired to be there, if he had followed a political route.

Sgt._Pepper's_Lonely_Hearts_Club_Band

After the accident, the Cobra was removed from the gallery on the order of Browne’s father, Lord Sligo, painted a funeral black, and sold off.

Four decades later the car reappeared on the auction circuit and was sold for over half a million dollars.

Now in the chapter on this car in one of my books in the Incredible Barn Finds series I questioned whether the car should be repainted in the original theme? I mean, after all it is not only a bit of automotive history but a bit of art history. But then again, as a fine artist myself, I say you can’t make the same exact painting twice. Even if you could reunite the original two artists, they might not want to work together (one having become much more celebrated than the other) or wish to attempt to replicate their original.

Janis Joplin’s psychedelic Porsche 356 was stolen, painted over with a spray can, and then recovered and two later artists hired to duplicate the original psychedelic paint scheme. They did so and it sold for over a million at auction. But as an artist, I say the re-creation of the psychedelic paint job was “close but no cigar.”

And so it is, a bit of Sixties history lost forever. But now, whenever I hear that Beatles song, I think of the Right Honourable Tara Browne, celebrating life by commissioning a psychedelic Cobra…a life that ended all too soon.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

THE AUTHOR: His painting of the Tara Browne Cobra will be at Concorso Italiano in August 2016 during Monterey Car Week.

 

 

Summary
The Psychedelic Cobra
Article Name
The Psychedelic Cobra
Description
The inspiritation for a Beatle's song had a psychedelic AC Cobra.
Author

Comments

  1. Wayne Watkins says:

    I worked in Carnaby Street in the 60’s for John Stephens and lived off Kings Road Chelsea . I remember when the first small block engines for the initial Cobras arrived in UK , the workers there thought that they were Japanese engines coz the boxes and V8 engines were labelled FOMOCO . Sounds Japanese , but was short for Ford Motor Company ! One day John Lennon came in to buy a few dozen shirts & pinstriped flares in his psychedelic Rolls Royce . …………. Good times , the 60’s

  2. Glenn Krasner says:

    Wow! Never knew the song lyrics were based on an actual person. Fascinating and depressing at the same time. Thank you for the back story!

  3. Fred Reitz says:

    Again a great and informative article. Now even some background to the lyrics of the Beatles’ Sargent Pepper music

  4. Your commentary is most informative! I never heard of these guys either.

  5. Tara has a chapter about him in a new book by Stephen Bayley called Death Drives..despite the title it is a good read

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