My Car Quest

September 19, 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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The Hudson River Shelby Cobra
Article Name
The Hudson River Shelby Cobra
Sunk and lost but then found by the perfect person.



    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.

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