It was a pair of national record-setting Cobras, that first put Chevrolet performance icons Joel Rosen and Motion Performance into the National Record books. The first was his small-block MOTION Cobra, the second was the big-block LOST & FOUND: MOTION KING COBRA.
LOST & FOUND: MOTION KING COBRA! During 1965 and 1966 Joel Rosen campaigned not one but two national record-holding Cobras – the small-block MOTION Cobra and Clem Hoppe’s big-block King Cobra. While he did have help from Shelby-American’s Don McCain in converting his street 289 into a Motion Dragonsnake, Rosen prepared and campaigned the 427 Cobra without any outside support. After wrecking his 289 Cobra, he continued tuning and racing Hoppe’s NJ-based King Cobra.
“One Sunday, while racing my Cobra at Island Dragway in New Jersey, I pitted next to Clem Hoppe, the only other Cobra racer at the track. Hoppe had a stunning, brand new, black 427 Cobra that wasn’t running as quick as a well-tuned 396 Chevelle! He was not happy,” recalls Rosen.
Hoppe is quoted in “How To Snake A National Record” SPEED AND SUPERCAR, June 1967: “My best runs were in the 14s; I couldn’t get a bite. I was about to chuck it all when I saw Joel Rosen in his Cobra put on a show at Island Dragway in New Jersey. That renewed my faith in the Snake. Next stop – Motion and recordsville.”
Shortly after turning his Cobra over to Motion Performance, Clem Hoppe, right, with Joel Rosen, embellished the King Cobra graphics with Motion livery and started collecting 11-second time slips. Rosen’s first run in CSX3159 was an 11.90 against an 11.40 NASCAR record. Later in the season, King Cobra ran 10.30s and set a new NASCAR record – 131 mph in 10.64 seconds. Clem Hoppe got exactly what he wanted!
Longtime friend, Bill Kolb, a serious drag racer and high-performance Sales Manager at Larsen Ford in White Plains, NY during the mid-1960s remembers Hoppe. Kolb sold CSX3159 to Clem Hoppe on July 1,1966: “I remember selling Hoppe a black Cobra like it was yesterday. I had it special ordered with optional rear fender flares. He was the only guy who ever came into Larsen shopping for a Cobra to go drag racing,”said Kolb.
Prior to wrecking his MOTION Cobra on an 1/8th mile run at Islip Speedway on Long Island, Rosen campaigned both his Cobra and Clem Hoppe’s King Cobra. He sold the totaled Cobra to Barry Richter, a local Corvette broker, and then focused his efforts maintaining and driving on the big-block King Cobra.
At the 1967 Record Meet at ATCO Dragway, Hoppe’s King Cobra blasted the NHRA record. “My partner at the time, Jack Geiselman and I drove the 427 Cobra for more than three hours to the track followed by a shop support car. We changed plugs and tires and made a couple of passes. We set the AA/SP record at 10.67 seconds, put back the street plugs and tires and drove back to the shop. Except for almost going deaf and my back taking a beating, it was a piece of cake,” said Rosen.Licensed and regularly driven on the street, King Cobra‘s 540-horsepower 427 engine was blueprinted and balanced by Jack Merkel. It was fitted with trick cc’d Shelby heads with sodium-filled exhaust valves, forged pistons, magnafluxed and micro-finished steel crank, steel rods, Ford (#C3AZ625OZ) cam retarded six degrees, finned and baffled eight-quart Shelby (#S2CR6675B) road racing oil sump and Motion headers with 32-inch tuned tubes, 3 1/2-inch collectors and takeoffs for small mufflers. Motion-Mallory Super/Spark ignition (36 degrees total advance) with Ramcharger wires supplied the firepower. Fresh air was ducted to the engine via a Shelby (#S1CS-7616025A) hood scoop.
Rosen, left, set up the Cobra’s tubular chassis using fully adjustable Koni (S2CR18124-A and 125A) coil-over shocks (90/10 front, for maximum weight transfer; 70/30 rear) in place of stock shocks and springs. He installed a pair of Rebat aircraft batteries behind the passenger side bucket seat and over the competition rear which he packed with 4.88 gears, Detroit locker and Halibrand hardened steel axles. A Schiefer clutch and nine-pound aluminum flywheel were used to complete the drivetrain. On the track the Cobra was fitted with “pinned” 10.5×15-inch Goodyears inflated to six psi and narrow Goodyear Stock Car Specials on six-inch wheels up front. Its original knock-off Halibrands are still on the car today! Before going to the track, Rosen dyno-tuned it.
In 1969 Clem Hoppe and his ultra-quick King Cobra mysteriously dropped off the radar screen. His Mercedes, with luggage in the trunk, was discovered abandoned in a parking lot at JFK Airport. Neither man nor machine could be found. Years later Rosen learned that Hoppe had vanished and that his parents stored his Cobra in a barn. While trying to track down King Cobra, I learned that Hoppe had a partner – a childhood friend named Alan Earl, who helped him purchase the it from Larsen and was involved in racing it before, and for a short time after, Motion came on the scene. LOST & FOUND: MOTION KING COBRA!
“We went our separate ways in 1968 and I was shocked when Clem’s Dad called to let me know he had disappeared,” said Earl who still lives in New Jersey. “Clem and I had some great times with the Cobra after it was Motion-ized. I’ll never forget match racing against the famous Turbo-Stang Mustang in the summer of 1968 at New York National. The turbine-boosted Mustang put on quite a show, but Clem managed to hold his own against the fire-breathing racecar.”
It was not until early-2004 that word leaked out about the ground-pounding Motion 427 King Cobra that had vanished in 1969. It was available. It didn’t look like the former record-holder. It didn’t run like it either. Gone was the unique Motion livery and raucous 427. But it was the real deal.
Interviewing Tony Conover, who found and restored the King Cobra, and checking the Shelby Club (SAAC) Registry revealed that in the early-1970s, Clem Hoppe’s family had sold the Cobra to Carl Mentz of Reamstown, PA for approximately $6,000. A 428 engine powered it at the time. Mentz, a Cobra enthusiast, bought it cheap knowing that it required a full restoration. It was still a bargain. LOST & FOUND: MOTION KING COBRA!
When Mentz showed CSX3159 at the 1977 Shelby Club (SAAC) Nationals, it was painted Guardsman Blue and powered by a medium-riser 427 fitted with stock exhausts. In 1981 Mentz sold it to Dr. Charles Hash of York, PA for $55,000. When the civilian-dressed Cobra came on the market in 2004, Shelby restoration specialist, Tony Conover in Hanover, PA, immediately recognized and valued its drag racing heritage. And, he wanted it. Approximately $265,000 changed hands and Conover became the rare Cobra’s fourth owner. After spending more than 30 years hiding in plain sight and masquerading as a stock 1966 Cobra, CSX3159, powered by a correct solid-lifter 427, was driven out of Conover Racing & Restoration. It looked and ran like it did when it collected mid-10-second time slips and annihilated 1966-1967 NHRA and NASCAR AA/SP records!
In January 2005 the King Cobra was featured at the Russo & Steele auction in Scottsdale, AZ. After spirited bidding, Len Perham, Chairman & CEO of Optimal Corporation, paid $525,000 for the keys to the born-again racer. It became the centerpiece of his collection of special Shelbys, big-block Corvettes and 427 COPO Camaros. Len Perham drove the King Cobra on the street as well as in competitive events and showed it at local concours. He kept a 55-gallon drum of Cam-2 to ensure that the Cobra ran as well as it did in the late-1960s.
It later was sold and the current keeper of the King Cobra is noted rare Corvette, racecar and Musclecar collector Irwin Kroiz. He recently showed it at the Radnor Hunt Concours, above, and has no plans of it leaving his collection any time soon! Photo by Mike Matune.
Rosen’s involvement with Cobras started to fade with Chevrolet’s introduction of the new Camaro in late-1966. He continued racing Hoppe’s King Cobra, but shifted his primary focus to partnering with Baldwin Chevrolet, building a 1967 big-block Camaro racecar, and concentrating on developing a marketing program for niche market Baldwin-Motion Chevy Musclecars and unique Phase III GT Corvettes..
“I am glad King Cobra is owned by Irwin Kroiz and has a great home surrounded by ultimate performance cars of the 1960s. He appreciates its heritage and collects only the best examples available. I wish I knew where my MOTION Cobra ended up,” reminisces Rosen.
Anyone interested in owning their very own King Cobra, should check out eBay for the 1:18 scale die-cast metal model in the Ertl American Muscle Thunder Series. Unlike the original, it is affordable!
For more information about Joel Rosen’s Cobra and the LOST & FOUND: MOTION KING COBRA!, they are featured inhttps://www.amazon.com/Motion-Performance-Tales-Muscle-Builder/dp/0760355606/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1490080598&sr=1-2&keywords=motion+performance