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6/22/01 - the actual story behind the very first Double Venom Spring Fling later known as the London Cobra Show...

Ed "Double Venom / DV" Combs

Gary "UFO" Osborne

Dan Semko

Dave Semko

In a very rare occasion, Ed "Double Venom / DV" Combs and Gary "UFO" Osborne meet here once again on 7/29/2016 at Ed's home in western Michigan

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.

the Ed Roth story...

As I mentioned before, I found his number through dialing Utah information. I found it unbelievable that someone with celebrity status like that would have a published phone number. His wife worked for some government office there (can't recall which one) and perhaps that is the reason. In any case, I found it and called it.

When I first talked to him, I asked what he would charge for a commissioned drawing of a Cobra in his famous Rat Fink or Monster driver style. I was hoping that he would offer his service for free since it was for charity but I could not bring myself to ask him to do so. He quoted me $5000. I was a little surprised that he would charge that much for a charity design or that little for a regular commission. I explained that while any piece of art from him would be worth every bit of that and more, that I was going to have to pay for this out of my pocket as a donation to our charity event and I could not handle that much money. I then quickly moved him off subject in an effort to try to build some kind of relationship with him. Frankly, I am not sure if I did that just so I could say I know Ed Roth, to divert his attention and then hopefully get a better price or just because I was somewhat star struck. In any event, I mentioned that I had met him just a few months earlier in Indianapolis where he was signing some of his shirts and other artwork at a car event. Of course he recalled the event but not me.

After a brief off the subject chat, I went back to the shirt design and asked if he might consider doing something on a royalty basis even though I knew we would be luck to sell a few hundred shirts. Of course, this was of no interest to him and it would not have been to me either if I was in his shoes. The sales would be impossible for him to trace and would surely way under pay him. However, he did say that he THOUGHT he might have drawn a Cobra in the past and IF he did and IF he could find it that perhaps he could give me that design at the more modest price of $500. That sounded awesome to me because the idea of having something exclusive to the DVSF carried very little value. The Cobra fans and other Roth fans would be happy with any Cobra design. So we said our goodbyes and he said he would look around and get back to me.

I was on pins and needles and hoped that he would contact me in the next few days. That never happened. A good month went by and I heard nothing from my new found friend. I was out in California on some business which made the time zones work to my benefit and so while we were on a break, I decided to give him a call. His wife answered this time but she quickly got him on the phone and I reminded him of our conversation. Ed told me that he "had not come across it yet and maybe his memory was paling tricks on him and he never drew one in the first place. Now, just among us, I doubt he even ever looked for it. I certainly cannot say for sure. But he gave me no hope that he was going to locate it if he had not come up with it in a month. He either was not motivated to do it or he looked and things were so cluttered and unorganized that he would never ever find it if it did exist. I have to say, I was very disappointed…..not surprised….but disappointed. At least I had the privilege of speaking to him directly and that alone was a win for me.

I told him how wonderful it was for him to at least look and how deeply I appreciated him trying to help me out regardless of the outcome. It was then he began to tell me how busy he had been over the last month. They used to have a annual party for him out in CA where people would come to pay tribute to his genius and he would raise money for HIS favorite charity…..his own support of young underprivileged men and women. He had an art school where he taught young people how to draw in hopes of giving them an appreciation for art as well as give them a sense of direction through exploring their talents, whatever they may be. As he spoke of this school he held annually it was obvious that he had a clear and deep passion for it and these kids. We had a great conversation.

I was about to hang up and begin to explore other avenues for a design when he asked me what I did for a living. I laughed and told him I was in the cemetery and funeral business. I laughed because I know what the common reaction to my answer was and it was particularly distasteful to intellectuals and creative liberals….of which he was both. Oddly, he sounded interested in my life. He began asking questions and then launched into a story of some of his past projects….one of which was building a hotrod with a baby casket on the car which was used as a gas tank. I remembered that car and we had a fun conversation about it. In it he mentioned that he had been wanting to do another project for years that required a full sized casket but his local undertakers (his description for the profession) said it was illegal to sell him a casket before he was dead. He was obviously disappointed.

Bull I said. I told Ed that his "undertakers" did not know what they were talking about and if he wanted a casket, I could get him a casket. Ed was genuinely surprised and maybe even a little skeptical. I asked him what kind of a casket he wanted. His response was that it needed to be metal but other than that he did not care. He did not care what color or what kind of interior it had or even whether or not it had rounded corners or sharp corners, etc. He just wanted an adult sized casket. "Give me ten minutes and I will call you back, Ed" I replied and we hung up.

At the time, I was the vice president of sales for a large international company in the cemetery and funeral business. We had over 3000 cemeteries and funeral homes in the USA alone as well as large presences in South America, Australia, the UK and France just to mention a few foreign countries. I pulled up my list of funeral homes in Utah and found a few all of which were run by one man. I called him and told him I had a friend who needed a casket and described a specific model and told him the guy would be coming by to pick it up. I wanted it at my cost (which was basically the company cost and being the largest customer in the world for caskets, we got HUGE discounts. We were the Walmart of our industry. I asked him the price and it was $375. Now granted, this was a cheap casket but that is what Ed said he wanted since he was going to take it apart and put it back together "Roth Style" anyway.

I called Ed back and when he answered the phone the first words out my mouth were "Your casket is waiting for you but you have to pick it up or pay for shipping…. what do you want to do"? Ed was shocked and excited. I don't think he believed me at first. I told him what town it was in and that it was in stock and waiting for him. He said he would be there the next day with his pickup truck to pick it up. Then he said, I found that Cobra print. Where do you want me to mail it. I gave him my address and he said he would put an invoice in the shipping and I could just send him a check.

A few weeks later a long cardboard tube comes to my door and in it is the drawing that is on my office wall to this day. It was a black and white line drawing of a Cobra with one of his Monsters at the wheel. Above the picture were the words "Hot 1" and below was "Very Rare and Very Fast". That drawing became our design. In the packing was an invoice with some very kind words of appreciation for the casket and a bill for $375.

Now that alone make for a great story. But here is the rest of the story. I found it odd that he could not find a drawing of a Cobra in the month that I gave him before calling him back however in the ten minutes I had to locate and arrange for his casket, he also found the drawing. Perhaps he knew where it was all along and he did not want to give it to me for the poultry sum of $500. Perhaps he was more organized than I thought and he knew right where to pull it from. However, as I scanned the drawing, it was dated 2000. I cannot say for sure but I sincerely believe that he drew it as a way of thanking me for my help when I asked for nothing in return….even after being told he could not help me. But there is even more to the story.

Two weeks after the drawing arrived and only four weeks after him getting his casket, Ed died. Maybe he knew his time on earth was short and he wanted a custom casket to be buried in. Maybe it was a total coincidence. I don't suppose it even matters. But the other thing is that IF Ed actually drew the 2000 dated Cobra picture for us, then it was likely the very last work of art he ever created. I have no idea what the drawing is worth or when it was drawn or for whom. Yet, I know what it is worth to me…..maybe less than the experience itself but more than any other artwork I own and I have quite a bit.

And THAT is how the first DVSF art was created.