There was something in the air at the Cobra Experience auto museum in Martinez on Tuesday. That new car smell?
More like that new marriage smell.
The 25,000-square-foot classic car museum hosted 16 couples on Valentine’s Day; 32 people who went in single and came out married, thanks to Contra Costa County selecting it to be its Valentine’s Day destination wedding site this year.
“So do you know where the door is to get these cars in and out of here?” asked Kenneth Espinoza, who was there to see his friends Greg Guzman and Xiomara Villanueva of Oakley get married. “Because I need to know where to take one with me. I just have to choose which one.”
The museum is located on the second floor of a nondescript office building off Arnold Drive in Martinez. The interior is anything but plain.
Inside is an amazing collection of cars, engines, banners, magazines, photos, and displays full of just about everything associated with cars and racing. The museum’s mission is the promotion, conservation, education and preservation of cars produced by Shelby American.
“I really like cars and classic cars but I never been here so … it’s like amazing I didn’t even know it was here,” Villanueva said, after getting married during the day’s first ceremony. “I’m like ‘Man, this is my type of thing.’ I really like classic cars; that’s really cool because in the past I had two classic cars. This is like magic.”
The county has offered destination Valentine’s Day weddings in previous years, including some at the top of Mt. Diablo and at the John Muir House in Martinez. Two deputy commissioners of civil marriages were on hand Tuesday, taking turns presiding at the podium set before massive cases of hundreds of toy cars.
Nelson Rayrao and Virginia Quares have been together for 14 years and decided to finally take the plunge, once they were told by the county clerk’s office the Cobra Experience was an option.
“He loves cars, so I thought it was really convenient right on Valentine’s Day; it’s perfect,” said Quares, who got a bit emotional during their ceremony. “We finally tied the knot and we’ve been through a lot together, so … don’t make me cry!”
Couples were able to bring up to 20 guests to witness their unions. Families browsed the exhibits and posed for photos with some of the most exciting cars ever built, including two that were used in the Matt Damon/Christian Bale film “Ford v Ferrari.”
Emily Lambert, Cobra Experience’s managing director, said someone from the county came through the museum a few years back and decided it would be a great spot for the civil ceremonies, but then COVID hit and the idea was shelved.
“This is a perfect idea for something different to do,” Lambert said.
Cobra Experience was co-founded by Lambert’s father Drew Serb, who started rebuilding, selling and collecting Cobras in the mid-1970s.
“He has an affection, you could say, for these cars,” Lambert said.
Some of the cars belong to Serb and the Experience, some are on loan. Nearly all of them are from local owners. Lambert said she isn’t exactly sure how many cars her father actually owns.
“I quit counting, really,” Lambert said. “It’s more than a hobby. Our whole purpose is to share this subject with the next generation because once the older generation goes no one’s going to have them, you know?
Matthew and Rosie Hutapea had been together for about a year when they decided it was time to make it official. Though not necessarily “car people,” Matthew said when the county clerk offered them the chance to get married at Cobra Experience, they had to make it “part of our story.”
“Obviously it’s a very special day, a very special holiday, and it’s one less holiday I’ll have to think about since it’s together with our anniversary,” he said. “We just thought it was a very unique experience. I don’t know another single person who’s ever gotten married at a car museum.”