Because they’re such good cars late-model Mustangs are obviously the coin of the realm in the Ford universe. From the number of parts sold to counting noses at car shows, 2005 and up horse-Fords is where the Blue Oval rumbles.

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Best of the pre-2005 Mustangs are the lightweight Foxes. Among Foxes, early Saleens are some of the best looking as Jim Dvorak’s black hatch demonstrates. It’s clean as a pin, as you’d expect from the public relations guy at both Mother’s and the Saleen Owners and Enthusiasts Club. Of course Jim parked it in the Saleen corral immediately in front of the Saleen display tent. Like Shelbys, Saleens are SoCal natives sometimes built just a couple of miles from Knott’s Berry Farm and there are always a squadron of them at Fab Fords

Yeah, the asphalt was still steaming this morning. — Marc Bodrie, Fabulous Fords Forever

So when we tootled off to our umpteenth Fabulous Fords Forever car show at Knott’s Berry Farm last month we were expecting massed legions of late-models, and they were there, many hundreds strong. But, in addition to our traditional coverage, we also wanted to dig a little deeper into the other categories and dared to go where there wasn’t a Coyote in sight.

Our first impression was too-large-to-ignore open spaces in the show field — enough so we asked Fab Fords major domo Marc Bodrie what was up. Turns out entries were cut off at 1,600 cars instead of the usual 1,800 because Knott’s Berry Farm had been working on its water park and had the parking lot torn up as a consequence. Fab Fords wasn’t sure the lots would be restored by show time so they limited entries. Naturally, Knott’s had the lot paved and striped in the bare nick of time (during the last two days before the show), enough so Marc joked, “Yeah, the asphalt was still steaming this morning.”

Expect the usual bulging show field next year.

There is just one remaining original owner Shelby Cobra in the world: Hank William’s 289. Hank is also a Knott’s stalwart having missed but one of 32 shows and he’s become Fab Fords living link to the free-revving Cobra heyday. A complete character, Hank was telling the crowd what it wanted to hear, pulling out old magazine articles and pointing to, the spare tire that’s never been out of the car and noting everything down to the pristine knock offs and the hammer that hits them are original. And the roadster truly is a time capsule, the ’64 Lincoln Silver Mink paint and thoroughly chipped American Racing wheels having been added so long ago as to count as original these days. The hardtop is a rare accessory made necessary by Hanks’ wife, while the worn “AC” logo’d clutch and brake pedals can only come from decades of use. Hank won’t give his age, but he’s a now vanishingly rare participant in the original Cobra legend and one to enjoy before the era passes completely.

With Cobras marking their 55th anniversary this year, we quickly found a small but aesthetic cluster of snakes on the grass area Fab Fords reserves for anniversary cars. Now too expensive to display in public save by the most dedicated owners, the Cobras have morphed into unicorns and are seen about as often, so it was great to see some in the aluminum again.

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We’ll bet one thing the irrepressibly up-beat Hank likes better than his Cobra is telling stories. The Fab Fords crowd provides an endless audience stream and his well-wishers form a non-stop stream past his roadster. Obviously Hank did his share of color barrier breaking with his Cobra — easier to do in sports cars than in other forms of racing in the ‘60s — and we asked him about his relationship with Carroll Shelby. “Carroll was a southerner,” Hank explained, “and much of the time he had to act a certain way among people, but privately he was great friend.”

Luckily, the Cobras at Knott’s were survivors in an arrested state of decay rather than over-restored Pebble Beach fodder. The crusty wheels, faded carpet, stone chips and crazed leather are authenticating virtues on these hairy old carts, and are treated as prized combat scars by Cobra owners more interested in preserving accomplishment and historical accuracy than building prestige.

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Another Cobra survivor is this yellow small block street car now owned by Los Angelino Lynn Park, long a major planet in the Cobra universe. Originally red with a black interior, the car was picked up in 1967 by Charles Offenhauser of the famed Offy engine family. He painted it yellow, drove it only a while and then left it outside for years. Today the car has an amazingly crusty patina that’s far too valuable to ruin via restoration, so Lynn keeps the car as original as possible. Not to worry, Mr. Park has several other original Cobras for track days.

Also featured nearby for its 85th year was the Flathead V-8, a paradigm-shifting engine and another mental trip to confront in person. With the Flathead era long consigned to dusty history, supplanted by our love of small-blocks, FEs, Clevelands, the 385 Series and now the current Coyote, it’s surprising to remember the Flathead was the world’s first affordable V-8 and ushered in a giant performance leap to the masses. More popular in its day than the 5.0-liter Ford and small-block Chevy combined, the Flathead doesn’t get a glance from kids, but is arguably Ford’s most important engine and worthy of a few moments of appreciation.

Like Lynn’s small-block, this red, big-block Cobra is now somewhat regularly seen in Los Angeles area car shows. One of a handful of true competition cars, this racer has been everywhere from Texas to Europe, to Illinois and now back to L.A. It’s also been painted silver green, then red, then blue, then red and now Rangoon Red for many years. It too has a sweaty patina and is kept in a suspended state of preservation. We’re also showing the interior with its backward turning speedometer mainly because we spent over 1,000 miles in a similarly red big-block street Cobra years ago and don’t mind reliving the memory! These cockpits are impossibly cramped, with your right foot offset all the way to in-line with your left shoulder, and you might as well be in a tornado for all the buffeting wind. The clutch is knee-aching heavy, the notchy as a 3/8-drive ratchet and the shifter has a wonderful, but curious up-and-down rather than fore-and-aft travel. Always hot, always loud, these cars are so terrible they’re incredibly personable (brutal) and fun. And yes, they are very fast, even today.

Knott’s is also happy hunting when stalking even rarer-then-Cobra beasts, such as factory race cars. One that snuck up on us was a B/FX Comet with the hood off to impress the natives via its four Weber downdrafts. The B/FX easily grabbed our eye as a marched by on our mission to see everything possible, but only after reviewing our photos did we notice it was owned by Rick Kirk of remote Ripley, Oklahoma. Probably the least seen but best collection of Ford rarities, exotic performance parts, factory and dealer memorabilia extant, Kirk’s collection fills a series of barns, any one of which could form a museum.

At Knott’s the flatties were mainly represented by a short row of ‘30’s through ‘50s Fords, with Matthew Ettinger’s ’37 roadster (no roll up windows) a standout. One of just nine ’37 roadsters extant, Matthew’s car has only had three owners and sports plenty of hot rod parts, including a S.C.O.T. supercharger. It also wears a racy hood ornament that reminds us granddad was young once too.

We also stopped to chat up Mario DeLeon because we liked the contemporary look of his early Mustang fastback, only to find we had featured the car in a previous life at the now-defunct Super Ford magazine (April 1999, p. 66-68). But back then the Fastback was blue with white stripes with a chromed-up, bottle-fed engine; now the car is Metallic Tangerine with a turbo small-block and new interior so we didn’t feel so bad for not recognizing it. And, we hadn’t met Mario previously, so we didn’t have to make excuses for our now completely porous memory, either.

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No doubt on hand to see if it would sell, Rick Kirk’s ’65 B/FX Comet is one of three factory racers with Weber carbs atop its 289. Little brothers to the A/FX progenitors of the funny car, the small-block B/FXers boast just as impressive spec sheets. The doors, ram air hood, fenders and front bumper are all fiberglass, for example, and most of the windows are Plexiglas. A factory race car, it never had body sealant, heater, defroster, radio or rear seat, so think of it as something like a sedan-based Cobra Jet. Kirk’s car says it shows just 106 miles, and we know he’d tell you it was only driven on Sundays.

Finally, we’ll admit a soft spot for the old and off-beat stuff that shows up at Knott’s. This isn’t the hardware we’d necessarily want to take home, mind you, but it often piques our interest or simply reminds of being young or some of the nutty ideas we had before becoming (somewhat) responsible citizens.

Matt DeLeon’s fastback caught our eye with its House of Kolor three-stage tangerine paint and 70mm turbo, but it turns out we’d featured the car before. Pretty much all new (again), the showy Mustang is powered by a 349 stroker wearing FITech fuel injection, Pro Comp heads, an Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake plus a 521 horsepower and 580 lb-ft of torque ratings at the wheels. The contemporary interior is from TMI and includes Sportline seats. Back in the day this car ran 11.20’s on squeeze, but now that he’s shaved the door handles Mario says the track won’t let him run, but he figures it should turn a low 10 or high 9. Today he uses it for general family cruising.

Here’s one we didn’t see coming, an old Econoline dressed for a day at the beach. You got to remember that California—land of fruits and nuts—has an outdoor tradition that goes back to the start of time, and to the vintage Ford fan this box wagon represents a time when you could find a parking spot at the beach or cruise the open desert, and the reality was surfing before work and building space ships 9 to 5. Behind Old Blue is a 4x4 Sportsmobile conversion of a more modern Econoline; same idea only more capable off-road.

Besides acres of cars, Fab Fords always has a few celebrities drop by for interviews. We managed a few minutes with Ford GT Le Mans winner (and native) Sebastian Bourdais. The current Indy car points leader, he had been crashed out of an Indy race at Phoenix the day before by an errant competitor, so that’s where much of the conversation went. Sebastian lives in St. Petersburg, Florida these days, enjoys ovals and big open road courses (Spa, Le Mans) and was easy to talk to.

Besides acres of cars, Fab Fords always has a few celebrities drop by for interviews. We managed a few minutes with Ford GT Le Mans winner (and native) Sebastian Bourdais. The current Indy car points leader, he had been crashed out of an Indy race at Phoenix the day before by an errant competitor, so that’s where much of the conversation went. Sebastian lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, these days, enjoys ovals and big open road courses (Spa, Le Mans) and was easy to talk to.

For ages commercial activity was streng verboten at Fab Fords, but then word came from the crowd that after a couple of hours of looking at cars they might want a diversion, so various vendors have been invited in. They range from local Ford dealers promoting boom trucks and service vans—which we must say really don’t fit the show—to customizers and SEMA regulars hawking superchargers, brakes and the like. But as always, the most popular seem to be the shirt-and-cap tractor trailers.

For ages commercial activity was streng verboten at Fab Fords, but then word came from the crowd that after a couple of hours of looking at cars they might want a diversion, so various vendors have been invited in. They range from local Ford dealers promoting boom trucks and service vans — which we must say really don’t fit the show — to customizers and SEMA regulars hawking superchargers, brakes and the like. But as always, the most popular seem to be the shirt-and-cap tractor trailers.