Jerry Heasley
May 5, 2015

Editor's note: Jerry Heasley and Bob Perkins had discussed doing this story for some time, agreeing that while it shows a potentially dark side of our hobby, it’s nevertheless an important story to tell. When done honestly, parts “cobbing” is just fine—a deal among friends. But when done dishonestly, such as you’ll read here, it borders on fraud.

What does “parts cobbing” mean? It’s a slang term in the hobby meaning removing parts from a car, either to obtain a high ranking at a car show or to save them before selling the car. There’s nothing illegal or illicit about cobbing parts from a car prior to selling it—in fact, cobbing is an important and essential part of the hobby today.

As we began researching this article, at least two and perhaps three Thoroughbred Gold Mustangs were poised to cross the bidding block at nationally televised classic car auctions. However, these cars had been stripped of valuable parts that helped give them their prestigious awards. Once, these Mustangs scored Thoroughbred Gold. Now, they are not worthy of the award, but their owners would like big auction prices commensurate with their Gold award status, amounting to trading gold for fool’s gold.

It’s hard to believe, but restorers cob interior parts such as seats and door panels, all in the name of winning an award.

How valuable is a $2 trophy? The answer can be well into six figures when the trophy represents a win in a prestigious restored class such as Mustang Club of America’s Thoroughbred, or perhaps Premier at a Shelby American Automobile Club (SAAC) event or Team Shelby. The Mustang Club of America is well intentioned, and its dedicated members have spent years setting up various classes to give out awards to recognize owners for their restorations or original Mustangs. SAAC and Team Shelby are also well intentioned and these clubs are to be commended for their judging standards and due diligence giving out prestigious awards. Likewise, the auction companies credit their descriptions to the car owners since it would be impossible to vet every one of the hundreds of cars that go across the auction block—so you can’t blame them either.

A reader (who shall remain nameless) recently sent us an email about a person who had advertised N.O.S. parts in the MCA’s Mustang Times magazine from a Thoroughbred Mustang that he was parting out, telling us, “When I asked him why he was parting out a Thoroughbred Mustang he said, ‘Well, I sold the car [at auction], but before I shipped it, I took off the expensive N.O.S. and original parts and replaced them with cheap reproduction parts. Now I am selling those parts.’”

Original tires, as seen on this 1965 Mustang, are valuable for the points they garner at shows.

This seller sold and replaced those high-dollar N.O.S. parts with reproductions before he shipped the car to its new owner. Of course, the Mustang was his and he could sell what he wanted—the entire N.O.S. original exhaust system, trunk mat, Autolite battery, original Polyglas tires, and more—but to us it stinks of a fraudulent sale. The emailer wrote that the seller saw no problem auctioning the stripped car “to some poor guy who thought he was buying an award-winning original Mustang.”

The reader was surprised the owner told him—a complete stranger—that he was not concerned that he could face any repercussions and was somewhat blaséin defining this obvious parts cobbing as “just standard practice.”

Over 20 years ago, the author remembers a well-known collector buying a 1968 Shelby Mustang just to obtain some original N.O.S. parts. The buyer “cobbed” five Goodyear Polyglas tires from it and replaced them with reproduction tires, using the originals to upgrade his other 1968 Shelby. In this example, the cobbed car becomes the donor car to upgrade an even better car to a higher-class award—the lesser Shelby from which the parts came did not have the potential of the upgraded Shelby.

Original spark plug wires are important in judging. These wires are also easy to borrow.

“It’s not uncommon for owners or restorers to buy an entire car of lesser value to obtain parts such as the interior, and then resell them. Usually, these cars are not high-end show Mustangs,” Bob Perkins, head MCA Authenticity Judge said. In other words, buying a Mustang that has already won a major gold award to cob parts would not make much sense. But, cobbing an interior, for example, off a low-mileage but rusty car makes perfect economic sense.

Parts cobbing crosses the line when a car is falsely misrepresented in a sale. For example, a 1969 Mach 1 wins an MCA Thoroughbred Gold Authenticity award. Then, when the car goes to auction, the seller neglects to mention that he cobbed $20,000 to $50,000 worth of original parts. To the untrained eye, the 1969 Mach 1 in this example still looks like a show winner. But would the car still win the award for which it is being represented and sold? Doubtful.

MCA judging also has a provision for an Authenticity award in Thoroughbred, which is a step above Thoroughbred Gold. “For the Authenticity award, you have to get a Gold in Thoroughbred and then 99 percent of the authenticity points on the sheet,” Perkins said. “Bonus points for original paperwork are not counted toward the authenticity award.”

Thoroughbred cars depend on original parts, meaning original to the car or date-correct N.O.S. A Boss 429, for example, may miss a Thoroughbred Gold or Thoroughbred Gold Authenticity award because the owner lacks a set of original tires, which can easily cost $5,000 to $10,000. An original exhaust system might set back the owner $15,000 to $25,000, depending on the particular model. And the pièce de résistance is an original battery, often $10,000 to $15,000, but most of the time unobtainable due to extreme rarity. I mean, how many batteries remain from 1969?

For this reason, friends occasionally loan friends key original parts to achieve high awards in MCA (Mustang Club of America) judging. A battery is pretty easy to swap out, and some people borrow interior pieces, like seats or door panels. We’ve observed, at big national Mustang shows, car trailers littered with original parts, all of them borrowed. The entrant installs these parts for judging and then strip the parts later after he has received his Gold award. MCA cannot police borrowed parts; they have to judge the car as presented by the owner. Perkins believes most owners in Thoroughbred class would not use borrowed parts to get an award. But is borrowing parts cheating? Jeff Mays, the newly elected president of the Mustang Club of America, believes, same as Perkins, that borrowing a part to get an award is cheating.

What if one of these award winners with borrowed parts sells his Mustang at auction as a Gold winner? Will he mention those borrowed parts? How often do these Fool’s Gold Mustangs show up at national auctions? How many award-winning Mustangs at auction have been stripped of their high-dollar original parts? How many buyers buy on the basis of an award oblivious to parts borrowing?

So what happened with the two Thoroughbred Gold Mustangs we mentioned at the start of this article? One car sold for a new world’s record. A second car sold for a very high price, but not a world’s record. Here’s the true saga of one of those cars, not make-believe, with valuable parts cobbed and sold at a national classic car auction. Due to liability issues we cannot reveal the exact car or the parties involved.

The engine bay of any Mustang, and especially one as complex and rare as a Boss 429, is a challenge to return to stock condition. Completely done and done “right” requires a treasure trove of parts and the hand and mind of an artist.

Three Blind Mice

Mr. A purchases a restored Mustang from Restorer A, who promises a Thoroughbred Gold award in MCA judging. Unfortunately, the Mustang does not achieve Gold in Thoroughbred, due to its lack of key correct date-coded parts and workmanship. Mr. A calls for help from Restorer B to bring the car up to Gold status. This time, the Mustang brings home Thoroughbred Gold and Mr. A is pleased.

Mr. A sells his Mustang to Mr. B, who successfully shows this Mustang in MCA Thoroughbred class for several years and wins eight Thoroughbred Gold awards. Mr. B decides to sell his Mustang at a national collector car auction but his Mustang does not bid high enough for him to sell, so he refuses the bid and keeps his Mustang.

To help recoup the healthy price he paid, Mr. B sells the N.O.S. tires, N.O.S. exhaust, N.O.S. battery, N.O.S. trunk mat, spark plug wires, and other N.O.S. parts off his Thoroughbred Gold-winning Mustang. The N.O.S. tires are worth $10,000. The exhausts might fetch $15,000. The original battery could have sold for $7,000. Other N.O.S. parts bring more cash, most likely in the range of $10,000 to $15,000.

An original exhaust system is another key part in the quest for an authenticity award.

Once again, Mr. B offers his Mustang at auction, only this time stripped of those high-dollar N.O.S. parts. However, Mr. B still represents his Mustang as a Thoroughbred Gold winner. The auction company announces this prestigious accolade as the car crosses the block and bidders crowd around the champion Mustang. The auction company also announces the name of the famous restorer to boost interest and value.

To Mr. B’s good fortune, his Mustang fetches a higher bid by $25,000 than the first auction and sells for $145,000 to Mr. C. With over $50,000 (we don’t know the exact figure) from selling the N.O.S. parts before the auction, Mr. B has pocketed close to $200,000 for his Mustang and parts, or almost double the highest auction price of $120,000 at the first auction with the N.O.S. parts intact that enabled his Mustang to win MCA Thoroughbred Gold.

An original battery can cost $15,000 and is one of the key pieces for an authenticity award in MCA judging. Therefore, borrowing a battery is much easier than buying one.

Several years pass. Mr. C decides to sell his Thoroughbred Gold Mustang. Mr. C promotes the Thoroughbred Gold award in his vehicle description. Mr. C may or may not realize by now that key N.O.S. parts are missing. To a casual onlooker the reproduction trunk mat looks N.O.S. Mr. C may not even crawl under the car to inspect the exhaust system. But, most likely the car’s prestigious show trophies do mean something to him and is a key selling point in the car’s description. What will the award-winning Mustang bring this time? The answer is stranger than fiction. The car above, which again we cannot reveal, sold for another world’s record at auction, even though for the first time the car was revealed to have a color change. Apparently, the auction-crowd was more concerned with the car’s outstanding workmanship and incredibly sharp looks. The car had become a commodity at auction.

For now, everybody appears happy: the seller, buyer, and auction company. One has to wonder however, what will happen if and when the new owner takes his incredible Mustang to an MCA show and for lack of those valuable N.O.S. parts fails to win the award for which this car was advertised?