My Car Quest

November 17, 2018

The Hudson River Shelby Cobra

wherein a 427 Cobra spends mucho time in a murky river before being rediscovered…

by Wallace Wyss –

The story starts March 3, 1968 when a red 427 Cobra was seen on Route 5 between Schenectady and Albany, New York.

The driver, even after all these years is still to be named. And he wouldn’t want his name known because the fact was he was driving a stolen car. Now Rule 1 when you steal a car is don’t steal one that’s memorable but this was Rangoon Red 1966 Shelby Street Cobra. It had last been seen in Schenectady where it may have belonged to a bucks up college student..

Now Carroll Shelby himself told me “a 427 Cobra will kill ya in a second” and might kill a few others too, if improperly used. Just as the sun was fading, 15 miles east of where the Cobra was snatched, it impacted a pedestrian and killed her.

AC Shelby Cobra

Hemmings motor news shot of Mr. & Mrs. Prock and the restored Cobra

Now the car thief wasn’t about to be caught at the accident site in a stolen car, he headed northeast toward the town of Waterford, which sits right alongside the Erie Canal. There was no chance he could continue, oh the soft aluminum had taken the hit and caved in but 427 Cobras are stout underneath and it was still running strong.

He rolled it up to the edge of the Hudson River, the part that fills the canal lock in Waterford, and got out, then pushed it off the edge of the concrete wall of the canal.

The water was 14 feet deep. Nobody saw him. He got away.

But the car lived on. It sat at the bottom of the canal until 13 months later, in 1969, when a barge comes along, this barge driver tasked with cleaning debris off the canal bottom. He hits something hard, something solid. He stops his barge, sends down a probe and finds it’s a car. He lifts it with a chain but it is not a recognizable car.

AC Shelby Cobra

Ken Miles giving comedian Mort Sahl a ride.

It is taken to the nearby junkyard where a mechanic, Sam Prock, is called by the junkyard owner to identify it. The mechanic sees the big block valve cover and realizes, Jeesuz, it’s a 427 Cobra.

So the mechanic offers to buy it. Of coure the good thing is it only has 7,777 miles on it. A cream puff. But it’s been rolled off a cliff, mangled by a chain, underwater for 13 months.

Now it happens that Sam had just started a repair garage in a nearby town, Lansingburgh. But before that he had been a Ford mechanic at a dealership. So he knew big block Fords.

The carowner had already collected the insurance money. The insurance company didn’t want it. Sam got it cheap –the princely sum of $370, for a Shelby American built Cobra, CSX 3184. But that was a lot of money back then so he paid by installments, $20 each week.

The business came first. And though Sam wanted to drive it around, what with kids and the scarcity of parts, it took decades to restore it.

Now how it got there, at the bottom of the canal, became known when the State Police contacted Sam and checked out the SN.

It was the car that killed the woman. But the cops had no clue who the driver was that did that dirty deed.

The hardest part was getting the body panels, only one, the decklid, had survived intact but Shelby still had Cobra body panels and Sam was able to order them through a dealer friend.

The chassis also had a hole in the driver’s side, maybe impact with the barge tool.

AC Shelby Cobra Post Card

AC Shelby Cobra Post Card Announcing the Cobra 427

“Eventually Sam got parts form several suppliers to Shelby including Smiths who made the gauges. In 1985, with five children in tow, the Procks moved to a farm and the Cobra got a chicken coop to live in.

He also rebuilt the engine, a low-riser, center-oiler engine (not the fearsome side oiler of the S/C). The block was rebuilt and a new set of heads found.

The original crankshaft and connecting rods were used with .030-over pistons.

When the 427 was up and running a dyno test showed it cranked out 450 hp. With its dual-carbs, a little above what Shelby promised.

A modern touch was more modern shock absorbers actually Carrera coil overs. The original brake calipers, ball joints and tie-rod ends, were all used.

A safety touch was to go to steel braided brake hoses. Sam retired in 2007 and that became his go-to-car-meetings car.

Fabricating a replacement body took well over 1000 hours, but eventually it was done and drivable.

And made an apperance at various events including the Shelby American Automobile Club event at Virginia International Raceway.

There onlookers listened to the story of the car at the bottom of the Hudson…and marveled that the right man had found it.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

Wallace Wyss

 
 
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of 18 car books. A fine artist, he is currently painting portraits of some of the more significant postwar sports cars on commission for owners.

 
 

 

 

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Summary
The Hudson River Shelby Cobra
Article Name
The Hudson River Shelby Cobra
Description
Sunk and lost but then found by the perfect person.
Author

Comments

  1. ADRIAN SULTANA says:

    I loved this story
    Thanks Wallace
    You have to feel sorry for the hit and run victim
    But what a rewarding outcome for the Procks!
    Are these cars stil easy to steal or do most get fitted with a modern immobiliser.
    I’ve got that and a killswitch on my ’68 911

  2. Nice Story are you looking to be the next Sam Spade?

  3. Pretty amazing, the story is what re breaths life into the car, which through no fault of its own has a very checkered past, the fact that it was lovingly saved by its owner is a true testament to enthusiast automobiles… great story well worth telling… nice job guys…

  4. Thanks for an absolutely fascinating story about, not another barn find, but instead a canal find. I have walked and bicycled that same canal which passes less than a mile from my home. Since Albany is just across New York State from my home, I may, hopefully, get to see that car and talk with its owner/restorer, Sam Prock.

    • Scott Farrell says:

      I was lucky enough to have Mr. Prock as a Teacher at HVCC. He helped me rebuild my Uncles 440HP for a 1969 R/T Charger in our Engine Class. This took place in 1997. Rebuilding an engine, complete with performing all of the machining that we did was very time consuming. The semester was coming to an end and it was my last semester meaning, I was graduating and immediately moving to Charlotte NC. We were running out of time with my engine so Mr. Prock took my cylinder heads to his house to rebuild them. He invited me to his home, where I was expecting to see some type of a typical repair shop atmosphere located at his home. What I saw was a real deal professional speed shop. A building behind his house that had a main entrance with a parts room that looks just like what you see when you walk into a retail parts store. No different then a NAPA or Advanced Auto store. Shelves with new parts with price tags, very organized. He took me into the back where I saw his Cobra half restored. The frame was on a stand, parts for the car categorized in a very organized way at different levels of restoration. He took me farther into his shop and showed me his engine dynamometer complete with its own cell, just like you would see at a professional race shop at the highest levels. I remember him telling me that it is very common for people to talk about horsepower like it is an easy thing to acquire, that all you have to do is install a big carburetor and a set of headers, but in actuality its way more complicated then that and takes hard work and dedication to achieve true reliable and respectable numbers. He told me that he has spent countless hours fighting for just a few more horsepower with the engines that he builds. One thing that was not mentioned in this article is the fact that Mr. Prock is well known for building successful race engines for many top race teams. The article did not mention, probably because Sam didnt mention it to the author that Mr. Prock was also a NASCAR Cup Series Inspector too. The article mentioned briefly that he spent time working as a Ford Technician, he owned and operated his own shop and that he was a Teacher at a college. Those are just a few things Mr. Prock has accomplished in his life. The fact is, he has accomplished so much more then that! To me, the biggest and most important things that he has accomplished in his life are the people he helped mold, many people that he put a lot of focus and effort into teaching his craft. People who are just like me. I am now an Automotive Teacher myself at a college and I am teaching many things to my Students that Mr. Prock taught me. He is an incredible person and I am so lucky to have had him as a Teacher. Incredible technical talent for sure, but as a person, he is even better. I will be thinking about him again tomorrow morning as I welcome my Students into our first day of my Engine Class where I know for a fact, I will be talking about the things he taught me, and in turn sharing those lessons with todays Students. Its his legacy living on through me.

      • Thanks for sharing!

        • Scott Farrell says:

          Towards the end of the semester in engine lab we knew we were falling behind with time and I was young and inexperienced and I was starting to panic. It took probably 12 weeks just to bore the cylinders due to the fact that I was having to install and then remove the block for our cylinder king every class due to the fact that there were other Students using the same machine. The set up time itself was killing me. Torquing the block to the mounting system and then calibrating the machine for the stroke and bore size is time consuming to say the least and engine lab was somewhere around 4 hours a day twice a week. I remember me getting nervous about the build looking for ways to cut time when Mr. Prock snapped me out of it. He asked on simple question. Scotty, do you want to rebuild this engine, or do you want to learn how to rebuild this engine? That believe it or not was the right question to ask me at the right time. I told him that I wanted to learn how to rebuild it. Good answer is what he said. That was when he decided to take my cylinder heads to his house which is something he didn’t make a habit out of I am sure. He is the type of person who is sought after for his work and his time was limited. I remember him telling me as we were loading my engine on my truck when it was done saying, Scotty there is no way your Uncle could afford to pay someone to rebuild this engine the way we rebuilt it. That was his way of giving me his, Ata Boy! Things I remember him telling me, always is that he likes painting engine parts individually while the engine is disassembled as apposed to painting the engine after it has been assembled. That way it is easy for anyone to see that the engine they are looking at has definitely been completely disassembled and rebuilt. I also remember him say, Scotty one oh shit can destroy 100 ata boys in an instant. That was his way of say, you need to be perfect with everything you do in life. You have to give it your all. Thats Mr. Prock the Teacher. On that note, a few years ago I had my Students build a 440 for my Aunts 1970 Demon. A junk yard engine that turned out to be beyond impressive. Everything that Mr. Prock taught me while we rebuilt my Uncles 440 HP went into the 440 I rebuild with my Students, including painting every engine part individually but this time instead of painting a 440 the typical Chrysler orange, we used Plumb Crazy Purple. I would love to be able to contact him and show him the photos that I have of us rebuilding a 440 in his class along with the 440 i and my Students rebuilt in my class. I know he would get a kick out of it, i know he would

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