VSE Cobra…Oh so close


Well this is the separate start of the Flog story of the VSE Cobra. This story starts in a place far far away a long long time ago. In an era where gas was less then 2 dollars.

Itching for a project after selling my 1969 Chevelle SS 396 (Had a 427 in it) and having a job out of college I decided to start looking for a car project. Having income helped. I was lucky to be in the fast paced field of computers (sounds like a Devry add) and was working as a software developer. In my quest for a light car, I came across a Kit Car magazine. In looking caught some review of various Cobra Kits. One that was especially hot was the Herb Adams VSE Cobra monocoque chassis. At the time I was not a huge fan of the Cobra but it was starting to grow on me, so I ordered a steel backbone chassis, with the intention of collecting and paying for the parts as I went along. AND besides that Herb was an old GM guy and I loved the Big Block Chevy and had an aluminum block stashed away from a few years of horse trading (Ends up might be a Chevy Can-Am block, hard to say). Likely could get the car down into the 2200 lb mark with a Rat motor. The math sounded good.

About a week after ordering the chassis I get a call from Herb and Matt (his son) they they had an all aluminum version of the chassis that the customer didn’t like the look of the welding. The customer was very particular since it was to be used at the Pebble Beach concourse for the Aluminum manufacturing consortium so it had to be perfect. I understand that they ended up flying in a ringer to weld up one for the show. So for a bit more scratch I stretched for it, got a good deal and it was already done. What did I care I was living with my aunt in a rented room so I could afford it! So well on my way for the collecting the parts. I had a few weeks to gather the needed funds and It would be mine.

A couple of weeks later Me, my friend Richard, and our ‘Old Ladies’ made a trip up to San Fransisco then on the way back stopped in Monterey to pick it up. At the time VSE was being run out of Herbs home in his super larger workshop. We popped the the entire chassis on the top of my friends work truck and we were on our way. It was pretty light as I recall… but that could have been because we were young and in shape!

Back to the garage at my parents house, and close the garage door.

See you next time for more of the VSE Cobra story

Goto www.gtsparkplugs.com and you will find more about the VSE Cobra

14 Responses to VSE Cobra…Oh so close

  1. Administrator September 16, 2007 at 3:34 am #

    Not to break up the story here, but if you read the original FLOG you know I screwed up by breaking the primper shaft cup when priming the motor getting it ready for start. After numerous magnets, and related mirrors seems like it has to be in the pan. Spent some time checking fuel lines from the Barry Grant pump to the fuel cell and dumping some coolant into the motor. Hit the button and got a couple of pops. But I was on my way out, so I didn’t get it to fire. I need to double check the spark plug wires and the firing order. Will get on with the saga soon, just thought I would drop this info before I forgot.

  2. Administrator September 17, 2007 at 4:26 pm #

    IT’s ALIVE

    I got every magnetic tool I could find, magnets on a coat hanger, telescoping magnets, refrigerator magnets, etc. Gave it one last go to find the missing part and after an hour of looking with the dental mirror and bright lights I deduced that the part had made it way to the Oil Pan! Well that is my hope. So in that moment of probabilistic calculations my brain said to fire that bitch. Being older and wiser I put water into the engine, checked the fuel lines (yep, many were loose), and gave it a once over. For the final fun, Cranked in 10 gals of 76 100 Octane Racing unleaded into the ATL fuel cell which should be good to go for starting (I’ll stick with racing leaded 110 for general use however). Hit the big GREEN lighted button and Ka-Bang. A back fire. That seemed good for a start. Hit it again, and Ka-boom. Mind you I’m inside a cider block warehouse so it is, with the used of bad language F#$%$#@ LOUD. After one more attempt my guess was that the distributor was in 360 degrees off. Pretty much a given on any motor I fire. Spun the MSD distributor around and, plopped it back in, hit the button… IGNITION. I forgot how good a high compression Big Block Chevy sounds. Sweet music! Motor came up to speed, oil pressure looks good, sounded good. RPM way too high but couldn’t bring it down until I realized that the throttle cable was not letting it down. It seems that Matt Adams from VSE didn’t care to check to see if the throttle would, in fact, close. Oh well. At least it is running. So if that part made it to the pan all should be well. I’m sorry I didn’t hear you can you repeat that? My ears are still ringing a bit, and I’m sure I suffered from some form of Carbon Monoxide poisoning, but in the long run it was worth it! Now to continue to finish off some of the crap that Matt didn’t do right, and to get the MSD Tach adapter to work with the VDO Tach that does not like the MSD Tach signal.

  3. Administrator September 22, 2007 at 4:42 pm #

    Ahh were did we leave off…

    Oh yeah, the bare chassis was nestled in the garage of my parents house in Sherman Oaks. Sat about for a year as about the same time I fell in love (Yes with a car) a BMW 850ci. I was just getting into nice cars and had been running a 1989 BMW 750iL V12 Sedan, that car’s name was Mr. PIBBS, and he was a mean bastard. He didn’t play nice with others or me sometimes for that matter. So about the same time I got the VSE Cobra chassis I also bought a 1993 850ci. It was 1994 so I got a crazy good deal and started making some obscene car payment. That pretty much zapped the drive for parts purchases from VSE. Still Slowly still collected parts, read end, suspensions, ATL fuel cell, seats, etc. Just most of the parts that were not available from anywhere else. Then I get married… skipped to divorce and I get back to working on the car. More parts were ordered mostly the plumbing, and work on the engine begins. I had stashed under my bed various Big Block Chevy parts from my childhood. Included were a pair of BowTie aluminum heads, and what I think is Can-am polished aluminum Big Block. At this time, if you can imagine this, heads were mostly HAND ported. The heads went off, and work began on them as I could only afford one major expense at a time. Next was the block. I took the block to Bob Lambeck in the Reseda/Northridge area. The started putting the motor together. I dropped of a 454 forged crank, a set of BBC Crower Rods, various other odd stuff including the Racemate waterpump alternator. Slowly it comes together and things are looking good except for some odd rocker to valve geometry. Was supposed to be sorted by longer studs and lash caps (More on that later). Well, I get the call. The motor was fired on the dyno! I has just started working at Bizrate.com (now Shopzilla.com) and was back at a full time job and could pay for the work! I’ll leave it at this, the motor made 701hp corrected at 7000 rpm. I stopped over before work the next day and all I can say is that the back of the hair on my neck was tingling as he wound it up. I have built some reasonably crazy SBF’s that wind up, but nothing has ever sounded like that. Just crazy mean.

    Last thought for this entry, will it stay together…

  4. Mark Dorman January 12, 2008 at 4:28 am #

    Hey, stumbled upon your story about VSE Cobra. I have a steel VSE chassis #0019. Not done yet, but close. Running a Lingenfelter built 502 Chev w/ Tremec 5 speed. I’ve built lots of custom fiberglass parts including my own body that accepts 335 rears, 17″ rims… looks alot nicer than Matts supplier. Also, cool induction hood uses twin K&N conical HUGE air filters that gulp in cool air from front fender area. Also, if you intend tu use full exhaust, I make fiberglass sidepipes which look exactly real… they weigh about 3 lbs each. My brother has a Superformance Cobra, w/ full sidepipes it is annoyingly loud after the novely wears off (even though it’s a Ford). Also making cool carbon fiber console covers for VSE chassis. Look at Chuck’s VSE Cobra site, I have a few pictures there. MD

  5. Sandy January 12, 2008 at 5:50 pm #

    Mark –

    I have checked out your excellent work for a while now! I have been up to Chucks VSE (www.vsecobra.com) site for a while. I think I was the last local to see Matt and Herb before they exited to Detroit. I picked up my car last year and they were leaving the next day. I have to fix up a few Matt things, but got it to the point were it’s just a bit of final assembly. I need to get more picture up, just haven’t had the will power to work on all the projects. The VSE Cobra is especially annoying as I was about to get it ready for a test drive after I dump in the seats, but the Frickin’ Doug Nash Transmission I used has a really bad leak from the front case. They use this odd aluminum crush plug that covers the main shaft and it is bad. So that too the wind out of the sails so to speak. I have yet to see if I can get it out the bottom or have to (Yeech) pull the motor again. I did notice that you did lots of body work, and it seems that you were just fitting 335’s x 17′ on the back. I had them on with the stock body, but ended up pulling them for 315’s as it look like it might not clear under full compression. I think it could be fix with a minor adjustment in hat thickness or rim offset.

    I do have a question, how did you do your seat mounts? I have the VSE cast aluminum seats, and they are on some hacked up rails that Matt made, but I am thinking of not using them, nothing really to adjust or room to do it so was going to toss the. Matt also jacked me up a bit as he mounted my E-Brake lever to the middle of the floor board as he though I was side rail mounting the seats. How did you do it?

    And I dig you headers, I hate side pipes too, they ruin the nice stereo sound that engines make, but I figured in this case better not to have them running under the aluminum frying pan chassis 🙂

    Clearly you are a master craftsman. And Great to hear from you.


  6. Sandy March 17, 2008 at 4:02 pm #

    Did some work on the VSE Cobra this weekend!

    Worked on getting it running at least. Fixed up the throttle linkage and set that up so the cable is the correct length and does not hold the throttle open. Fired it up and it ran awful. Adjusted the timming and it woke up! Let it get good and hot and seems to rap clean. As I have said before nothing sounds like a High Compression Engine, add in the fact that I love the sound of a Big Block Chevy with a mechanical roller cam and it was a good day. I did get a little carbon monoxide head ache since the blowers in the warehouse could not clear out the fumes as fast as I made them, hey what is a bit more brain damage…

    Next up, fix the Tachometer and get a set in it, hoping to hit the L.A. Shelby Open Track event in April, maybe just to get it rolling and see if it holds together for some light track use.

    Last comment, I got a call from Matt Adams! He is alive and well in Michigan, working for his dad on another project car based on the VSE Backbone frame. I recall is was a cross between a Firebird, Corvette and a Daytona Cobra. Matt also had his Cobra in the Detroit hot rod show, and to his surprise he had a bunch of people gawking at the car, notably the chassis. I guess people still love the Cobra… Go Figure 😉

    That is all for now. It’s small but it’s something

  7. Sandy March 26, 2008 at 11:47 pm #

    Ok, being lazy and having a credit card I just ordered a new VDO tachometer. The sad part is that the RPM limit is 7,000. Which for anyone seems like the real read line and the tach should go to 8,000 with some red paint on the dial. I guess this may be a tach that is the one for Hydraulic Cams! But I thought about it and after seeing some of the engine carnage that I had done to the Rippers motor (Couple of broken springs, bent valve, broken rocker shaft), seems like I should be more careful. Having a Tachometer that goes to 9,000 and a big block chevy might not be the best match up give the way that I drive. So with the 7k Tach maybe I’ll be more careful as the needle gets buried vs. I have room to go… I have to sort out the e-brake leaver and seats. I think other then a front end alignment and bolt check it might be drivable.

  8. Sandy April 25, 2008 at 4:20 am #

    Got to doing some more work on the car. One seat is basically in, as well as the harness, emergency brake lever. The harness is not optimal for the back straps, but a good as it can be. I’ll have to feed it through one of the seat cushions near the top and will be ok. The new 7,000 RPM VDO tach has also been installed. Sort of bums me out that it is only a 7k job, but as I said before, might keep me honest about keeping the RPM down. Finished off some of the last bits of wiring too. What’s left? Passenger seat mounting and harness, Front end alignment, a few oil leaks from the Accusump line/fittings, and that might be it for a road test. Oh yeah, put some more transmission fluid in the Doug Nash gear box. Man I hate oil leaks. Click HERE for the page, I added some more pictures. I’ll get some more as I finish off the passenger seat.

    Quick shot of the EBrake Lever, note it is not horizontally actuated and fits nicely under the seat. It is the basic Lokar hot rod unit with the deluxe braided steel lines. It is sketchy how Matt  routed to the E-Brake on rear axle, so some work in that area will be in order too. But at least it fits under the seat and out of the way.
    VSE EBrake

  9. Sandy April 25, 2008 at 4:34 am #

    Just to add it to this thread, the builders of the motor was a shop run by Bob Lambeck, and the guy who put it together was a Fellow named Brad Lagman. It ends up after I pulled all the parts from the other machine shop that had them for 2 years, mentioned that I should give QMP a try. Well full circle, Brad now owns his own shop, Quarter Mile Performance. So lets see what he can do with the aluminum SVO block from The Ripper. He did ask “What ever happened to the Big Block I did” he laughed when I said I just fired it up 10 years later…

  10. Sandy April 28, 2008 at 5:22 pm #

    I found this quote on line from John Morton (look him up if you don’t know who he is).

    “When I left the pits, the Cobra right away felt big and clumsy. As it accelerated through the gears it felt very fast, but it also felt like a piece of junk, a scary kind of combination.” – John Morton

    Hmm, I’ll bet this was for a 427, but who knows. After getting the driver seat installed with the harness, I can see what he might have been talking about. The car is just odd to me as I sit in it. Feels way too long in front of me and too bulbous (caution 50 cent word). But feels like your glued into it with not much room. Most of the other replicas and real Cobra’s seem to have more room due to the ladder chassis construction, this having a giant tunnel makes for a tight fit. With the seat cushions and way it is set up it is a good thing I’m 5’8″. Sorta’ a claustrophobic passenger compartment.

    The VSE chassis will have a few things going for it that the originals didn’t and that is very good suspension and excellent geometry which is the main reason why I went with the VSE. The rest of the cars at the time looked like mustang II suspension and although not bad, not what I was looking for. As I have said before I’m not a huge fan of the Cobra body, but it grows on you.

    I’ll get some shots of the installed seat, and hopefully work on the passenger seat and harness very soon. That will be easier as it has no hand brake and I know where to do the harness mounts.

  11. Sandy May 11, 2008 at 7:39 pm #

    Did some more minimal work on the VSE Cobra. Started working on the seat rails for the VSE Cast aluminum seats. I think I could loose about 20 lbs out of the car with some Momo’s or Cobra type of seats. These are really heavy and a pain in the a$$ to deal with as they are very wide and just fit. Well when putting the rails on the bottom of the seat the casting is just tapped for 5/16 bolts, but of course one is stripped and the others are questionable. So the option to either move them up to 3/8×24 bolts of do some Heli-coils became my thought pattern. Since I have no helicoil kits it will be that route so I can buy more tools! Also will be easy since all the rest of the bracketing is the smaller size bolt and doing the helicoil will allow that to stay the same. Also the cushions are Velcro mounted to the frames of the seat. The cushions are sewn with the hook side of the Velcro and the seat rails get the stick on loop portion. Well of course I didn’t have enough of the stick on side to finish that, more jobs on hold. At least McMaster Carr has both the Loop Side of the Velcro and the Helicoil tool sets and will have them in hand in a couple of days. I’ll get some pics up of the seat.

  12. Sandy May 22, 2008 at 12:26 am #

    Well almost done with seats and the racing harnesses. Drilled and mounted all the passenger harness mounts and just need a second hand to wrench them all down. Drilled, tapped and heli-coiled all the passenger seat bolt holes, and was really a simple job. I had never done Heli-coil’s before, it didn’t look that difficult but who knows what odd problems could happen as I break a coil off or something. It was really simple and I sound stupid for even talking about it, but that’s me being honest and fun about it. After the new threads were in I tried to bolt up the seat rails and I can now see why they were stripped. The holes were badly aligned in the seat to rail fit. So will have to ‘oval’ out a couple of the rail mouning holes and will be as right as rain. Still need to change out the bad velcro on the seat cussions, but that’s easy and quick. Inching along, but at least got that uglyness out of the way. Next tasks, work on the final lock down of the seats, then on to the Accusump leaks…

  13. mark dorman August 1, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

    Sandy, have not checked in with you and your projects for a looong time. My old VSE project cobra is 99.5% done… painted, wired etc… just an oil cooler away from firing up (BBC Lingenfelter 502/ Trenec 5 speed). Very close, labor of love. I should up-load current photo’s to Chuch’s site. Will be at Historics this August. will any other VSE fans be there? Hope so. Mark Dorman

  14. Sandy August 1, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

    Hey Mark!

    I’m about 90% done but have not messed with it for a long while. It’s sitting on the top of my lift and I have not touched just have not had a bit of time to get it finished. Just need a few bits of wrenching and testing.

    Don’t know if others are making to Monterey, this will be the first year that I don’t make in a long time.

    Have not heard much from Matt either, last I talked with him I think he was back in Michigan with his dad working on the Contessa Car. It’s a bit odd looking, he really should have focused on just the cobra I think.

    I think the last time I was up in Monterey after I picked up the car was when I saw Matt, wow been a few years now that I think of it…

    One thing that I do think about is that the car is over powered 😉 I have a 468 Aluminum block with just at 701hp and after running my 65 fastback at the track (on and off I guess is a better way to put it), have over some amount has no gains. My mustang has about 560hp out of a 331 and almost can’t imagine what the Cobra would be like!

    Keep in touch, let me know when you get it running, will motivate me!


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