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How Hurricane Nicole swamped a Shelby Cobra sports car replica

THE SIGHT OF a kayaker paddling past homes on a flooded street was surreal enough.

But the most shocking part came as my video camera followed the lone kayaker down Java Drive in Briny Breezes on Nov. 9: There in the background, swamped in rising Intracoastal Waterway tides stirred by an approaching hurricane, a bright red Shelby Cobra sports car!

The video went viral on Facebook, where comments screeched like skidding tires.

“OMG Is that really a Shelby Cobra sitting in water like that?”

“What’s a Shelby Cobra doing just sitting there getting swamped–wtf??’’

The owner of the car wasn’t around the day the video was made, but I caught up with him a week later.

His name is Paul Bialowas. He wasn’t exactly thrilled about talking to a reporter, but he was polite enough to answer a few questions about the car on Nov. 15.

First off, he said, it wasn’t one of the original Shelby Cobras, an iconic sports car named after automotive designer Carroll Shelby (played by Matt Damon in the 2019 film “Ford v Ferrari”). They’re rare. Only 998 were made from 1962 to 1967 when Ford pulled the plug. (More on all of that later in this story).

Today, original Cobras can fetch upwards of seven figures, spawning a lucrative market for replicas and kit cars.

The one Bialowas owns is a fiberglass replica 427 made in 1990, “my pride and joy,’’ he said on Nov. 15. He wouldn’t disclose what he paid for it, but some of those carry price tags ranging from the $30,000s to six figures.

“That car is a collector’s item, even though it's a reproduction,’’ he said.

But nearly 2 feet of surging water, stirred by Nicole, ruined the engine and transmission, he said.

“It’s totaled,’’ he said. “I feel a little heartbroken.’’

Paul Bialowas' replica Shelby Cobra in Briny Breezes where rising tides flooded the streets on Nov. 9, 2022. (Joe Capozzi)

Why didn’t he move it to higher ground before the king tides, as Hurricane Nicole was taking aim at South Florida?

Bialowas, 72, said he tried. But he said he is disabled and was unable to operate the car’s clutch. He did not explain why he didn’t ask a neighbor in the tiny town of mobile homes for help.

He did say that the last time he took the Cobra for a spin was “about a month and a half ago.’’

Dealing with chronic tidal flooding is the price residents of Briny Breezes pay for living in their little patch of paradise between the ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. The tiny community has been dubbed the most expensive trailer park in Florida.

Homes on the east side of town by the ocean are on higher land. The west side of town, where Bialowas lives, is at sea level and susceptible to chronic floodiing.

Watching the weather and tide forecasts are daily routines. As residents were evacuating from town on the morning of Nov. 9, many could only shake their heads when they saw the fire-red Shelby Cobra with white racing stripes along the front swamped in flood waters.

“My dad said, ‘Shouldn’t that car be out of there?’’’ said Briny resident Craig Foland. “It blows my mind. That’s a cool little sports car.’’

Shelby Cobra replica sits in flood waters as Rylee Collin paddles a kayak down Java Drive in Briny Breezes, Fla., Nov. 9, 2022. (Joe Capozzi)

Three Shelbys are on display this weekend at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, among 200 collector cars being auctioned by Broad Arrow Auctions in partnership with Hagerty, the classic car insurance provider.

There was a free preview today, Nov. 17, from 10 a.m to 6 p.m. The auctions will be held Friday Nov. 18 and Saturday Nov. 19.

Admission this weekend for non-bidders is $50 per group or family. For in-person registered bidders, admission is $100 for two people. Doors open at 9 a.m. and the auctions start at 11 a.m.

“The whole mystique of a Shelby is pretty big,’’ said Ty Houck of Ragtops Motor Cars.

1965 Shelby GT350 (top) and 2012 Shelby Mustang (bottom) will be auctioned at the Palm Beach County Convention Center this weekend. (Joe Capozzi)

That mystique started in 1962 when the Ford Motor Company partnered with Carroll Shelby “to create a world-championship winning race car. It was a very short period of time to design and build a car that could go out and compete in the world circuit and win a championship over Ferrari. Carroll Shelby did that,’’ said Donnie Gould, a senior car specialist with Broad Arrow.

Fans were shocked when Ford pulled the plug in 1967 and withdrew from racing.

“But the success they created in that 5-year period was never forgotten and that's part of the mystique of the Cobra, those race -winning efforts that were made by both American and foreign drivers on American and European soil. Carroll Shelby told Enzo (Ferrari) he was gonna whip his ass, and he did,’’ Gould said.

No wonder it spawned a thriving market for replicas and kit cars.

Paul Bialowas' replica Shelby Cobra on Nov. 15, 2022 (Joe Capozzi)

“It’s the most replicated car that's ever been created,’’ Gould said.

The one Bialowas bought looked as beautiful as ever, if you can look past the rusted exhaust pipes, as it sat in the sun earlier this week. (Bialowas wouldn’t allow me to photograph him, but welcomed me to take photographs of the car on his dry driveway pad.)

Paul Bialowas in 2006 (Palm Beach Post via

But its days cruising Ocean Boulevard are over.

Bialowas said he has filed an insurance claim.

“Maybe I’ll just go buy another one,’’ he said with a laugh.

Bialowas was just one of several residents in the barrier island town whose homes and vehicles were flooded by rising tides in the hours before Nicole made landfall near Vero Beach, some 90 miles north of Briny Breezes.

Had Nicole made landfall in Palm Beach County, it could’ve been a lot worse.

“We dodged a bullet,’’ he said.

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About the author

Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.


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