Written by Gary Osborne - June 10, 2014 - Back in late 1999 (near Christmas) Dan and Dave Semko and I had just taken delivery on our SPFs. We met when I started the Indiana Cobra Club (it was called ICE and stood for Indiana Cobra Enthusiasts). It failed miserably…. LOL. Before buying my Superformance, I had met Ed "Double Venom aka DV" Combs who had built a Viper powered Cobra and I was going to have him build one for me. We became good friends as we went through the design process in spite of the fact that I decided to go with Superformance in the end. Dave and Dan met DV via Club Cobra and we all became fast friends. Just before Christmas of 1999, we got together in Ohio at DV's house for a little pre-holiday celebration and DV's wife served us some cookies. They were good homemade chocolate chip cookies but not all that special. Well Dan, being a kiss ass that he was (or maybe he was just polite and gracious….I have always had difficulty distinguishing kissing ass from graciousness) commented on Club Cobra that DV's wife had made "the best chocolate chip cookies in the world". Being winter time and poor driving weather, all the Cobra guys were dying for something the BS about and so the comment started a debate.
As time went on others on Club Cobra commented on their wives, mothers and occasionally themselves as being the chefs who could make the best pie, or cookie or cake or whatever in the world. So a challenge was tossed down to get together for a cobra family picnic in the spring and we could have a cook off / eat off and vote for the best food. From that offer of a picnic, the Double Venom Spring Fling was born.
As time went by, a date was set and people began saying they were coming. At first, it was just people from Ohio and Indiana. Then there were a couple guys from Kentucky and then Michigan. Before long some of the GasHoles from CA said they were coming and all hell broke loose. We had people coming from 38 states and four countries (USA, Canada, England and Australia).
As this small picnic for 20 or so turned into a full fledged international Cobra Event, the backyard picnic had to be replaced by a much larger venue. We needed a places to house, feed and entertain everyone. Due to the size of the cruises, we needed to find police escorts to keep everyone in line and safe. We needed to provide some insurance to cover potential liabilities etc and so to cover some of the cost, it had to be changed from a free gathering to a paid event. The question was how much do we charge. No one wanted to make money on the thing. After all, it was just a big party for friends. But the cost was too large for the four of us to cover out of pocket. So, after much debate, we settled on somewhere around 35 or 50 bucks if I recall….not much but enough to cover costs. The group kept growing and we found that with the increased numbers the income was likely to surpass the cost and so we considered lowering the fee but that would require refunds to the earlier participants so we just decided that if any money was left over, we would donate it to some charity so no one could accuse us of making anything on the deal.
Once that decision was made, the discussion arose about to which charity would we give the money. Numerous options surfaced including Shelby's Children Heart fund. Then someone mentioned that Dave Smith's daughter (Dave Smith was the owner of Factory Five Racing) had Cystic Fibrosis and so CF became our charity of choice IF there was money left over.
Then came the idea for souvenirs to remember this historic event. All the typical things were mentioned (hats, T-shirts, beer cozies, etc). We decided to do the shirts and hats. To do that, we needed a logo. I wanted to have a traditional car themed shirt. DV wanted to have something to spotlight Jenny (Dave Smith's daughter). I thought the spotlight was sweet and generous but I thought people would rather have a cool hotrod type shirt than a CF shirt with a little girl's picture on it. We compromised and combined the ideas. We had a tribute to the little girl on the front and a car themed design on the back. Now that raised the discussion of artwork.
DV went about handling the front of the shirt and I was to come up with some ideas for the back. There was a discussion on Club Cobra and the classic artwork of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth came up as the coolest car art ever made. It was a tongue in cheek conversation as we all knew that would never happen. It would be like trying to get Picasso to do something. Anyway, a challenge went down to at least try to get Big Daddy art and so I set out trying to find him. I went to Moon Eyes and various auto memorabilia dealers seeing if I could find a contact number. Finally, on a internet search I found an old interview in which it mentioned the little Utah town Ed lived in. So, I called information and asked for a listing for Ed Roth.
Much to my surprise, they had a listing for an Ed Roth in that little town and I dialed the number sure that it would not be the target of my inquiry. Some guy answered and I said I wanted to talk to Ed. He said this was Ed and I asked is this the Ed Roth who did the car artwork. I was shocked when he answered yes. Frankly, I thought he might be conning me.
This gets into another LONG but interesting story which I will skip for now, but you can read it below on this page. The short story is that I got him to create some artwork for our shirts making them really cool collector shirts. For those who came to the 2014 Texas Cobra Club spring meet, that design was brought back around for the 2nd time, and perhaps last time ever. So, IF you have one the TCC event shirts, THAT was the design used in the original DVSF except that the TCC shirt is in color and the DVSF shirt was in black and white.
We ended up with around 300 Cobras there the first year making it the largest collection of Cobras in history as of that date. The second year we actually had around 400 Cobras. I doubt that number has ever been topped anywhere. It dropped a little (still over 300) the 3rd and 4th years. We also added more events and things to auction each year including the Cobra raffle to raise more money for Cystic Fibrosis. That raffle lives on today. CF got closely involved in year 3 due the the large amounts of money we raised and we welcomed them in because their involvement made it easier for participants to get tax receipts and they also had some liability coverage that gave us some peace of mind.
Unfortunately, the event morphed into something it was never intended to be. It was always our desire to have a fun event for Cobra enthusiasts to attend, make new friends and see old ones and enjoy their cars. If we made a little extra money, it would go to a worthy cause and we could all feel good about the process. However, as time passed it became a charity event first and a cobra gathering second. It became all about the money. While it was certainly a worthy effort, it just was not the same. It became very political behind the scenes where everyone wanted some share of the credit. People started nitpicking Ed about how much money was given versus how much SHOULD have been given. He got sick and tired of living in a fishbowl and everyone second guessing if he was handling the money responsibly or maybe even taking a little off the top.
Frankly, I cannot say for sure that the money was handled properly. Ed kept that pretty close to the vest and while he is a nice guy and a moral guy and not anyone I would accuse of any wrong doing, he is a lousy businessman. His accounting was weak at best. If we all knew the truth, the truth would probably show that Ed spent too much out of pocket and gave more to CF than he should have but due to his lousy accounting, no one will ever know… not even him.
Regardless of the frustration, during the 4th year Ed's daughter became gravely ill and that weighed heavily on him. Between her health issues and the politics, he had enough and gave up his efforts. It was at this time the Ohio Cobra Club took the event over and it became the London Cobra Show because DV withdrew his name from the event. The venues remained the same. The charity remained the same. The processes remained mostly in tact. Nothing much changed other than who was responsible for the organization. There was a year or two of some power struggling within the OCC or at least certain members of it and how things should be done and who would be responsible. Eventually, OCC got their arms around it and things calmed down (at least publicly).
I am sure it is still a great event but frankly, my job became far too demanding for me to care about it or even attend after the first 4 years so I cannot speak about the OCC version of it. All I know for sure is that it is still well attended but I don't think it has the draw it once did. There are so many more Cobras on the road than there were 15 years ago and I am confident they still draw a huge crowd. I just doubt they have as many states or countries involved as we did in the early days. Whether that is correct or not is of no concern of mine. I know what it takes to put that kind of event on and I respect those who go to the trouble. It is a thankless job.
In the end, no cookies were ever served. They were replaced with a lot of beer and alcohol. Perhaps that explains the events longevity more than anything else. And so THAT is the abbreviated story of the DVSF aka London Cobra Show.