Chris Middleton - Nov 04 2020

Barn Find of a lifetime...
21' Chris-Craft Cobra found in the UK

Who knew - 21’ Chris-Craft Cobra found on the other side of the pond

Serendipity is an illusive concept and when it presents itself, one finds great value and benefit, not sought by ordinary means. It has intervened in my life many times and each time my path is altered. Having graduated from University in the 1980’s, I began to plot my course in Life. “Set sail through unchartered waters, behold sites unseen and find passion in life, without compromise”, was my mantra. I’d searched far and wide in my young life for some semblance of meaning and realized the box I had chosen to live in wasn’t big enough. Time to step out. My chosen Port of Call…London, England. My Mission…define my role in life by refining my inherent talents. I obtained an Ancestry passport which allowed me to live and work in the UK. The flight from Vancouver to London in 1987 proved to be a steppingstone as I soon realized I was about to settle in a World class City where one could study just about anything. I assembled a list of interests that were in line with what I valued and promptly contacted a variety of Training Centres. I decided to take the Train to Lowestoft, NE of London and arrived at the International Boat Building Training Centre (IBBTC), a world-renowned College for Wood Boat building. It was a summers day and the Boat house doors were open. I was overwhelmed by what I saw within. Graceful lines and glistening paint, curled shavings carpeting the floor and the sight, smell and sound of wood enveloping the exquisite shapes. I pondered, “Where has this been all my life?” Without hesitation, I enrolled in the school and on graduation, gained my apprenticeship. I went on to work for Jack Chippendale, a highly respected British boat builder. In my free time I ‘d scour the countryside for sites of interest. One day, I ended up in the Lake District, North of Liverpool, after hearing about the Lake Windermere Steamboat Museum (now called the Windermere Jetty). The museum had amassed a collection of Steam powered Launches but also retained a few Classic motorboats, specifically a 1937, 16’ Chris Craft Special Race Boat. The Windermere Motorboat Racing Club supported racing on the lake throughout the 1920’s-1960’s.

When we think of “messing around in boats” one cannot help but bring the British to mind. They are legendary for their unique ability to make their mark on the water. Historically, British vessels were innovative and State of the Art but often very fast. British Motorboats were no exception and with the advent of mass-produced internal combustion engines, the race was on to beat the competition. There has always been a nautical rivalry between England and the USA. In 1903, Sir Alfred Harmsworth offered up a trophy to recognize achievement in Motorboat Racing, not between boats or drivers per say, but between Nations. One has only to reference the epic battle on the water between Garwood’s Miss America and her rival Miss Britain in the 30’s. This decade set the stage for Motorboat racing on both sides of the Pond. Chris-Craft wanted a piece of the action and actively marketed its product all over the world, including the UK.

I returned to Western Canada in the early 90’s and began restoring Classic Mahogany speed boats. By chance, early in my career I found a 16’ Chris-Craft Special Race Boat race within a 2-hour drive of my Boat Works. Unlike most of the painted Special Race Boats, this boat was ordered by a Canadian in 1937 who insisted it be stained and varnished. I sold it to Dave Lobb who went onto restore it as “Rascal.” Since then we have restored and brokered countless Classic Speedboats and the demand remains very strong.

About a year ago, we were contacted by young couple in the UK who wanted us to sell their Classic Chris-Craft. When told the boat used to race on Lake Windermere, we got rather excited. Once I learned the boat was a 21’ Chris Craft Cobra, stored in a barn and not used for decades, I was virtually on the next plane out to the UK. I learned the Hull number was 50 and the original Chrysler Hemi V8 was still in the boat. It was imported new into the UK by Mr. Brooker who was a member of the Windermere Motorboat Racing club. In addition, it was part of a fleet of boats that escorted “Teal”, the Queens Launch, across the lake in the mid 50’s to celebrate her Coronation. The young couple had inherited the Cobra, had no use for it but wanted the boat to go to a good home. They insisted we find a suitable buyer who would have it restored at Absolute Classics.

It took us a year, but a local client stepped up, delighted at the prospect of seeing the Cobra roar across the water. We arranged to have the Cobra loaded into a container late last year, transported to South Hampton and then loaded on the container ship, MOL Experience. The ship crossed the Atlantic with stops in Savannah Georgia and Venezuela, through the Panama Canal, on to Los Angeles, Seattle, then Vancouver with an ETA of February 1st, 2020.  Restoration is underway with a goal to return this Cobra to “As delivered condition.”

Most of us would be fortunate to be able to say we have seen a 21’ Cobra up close and personal. Some are privileged to own one of the 50 built, but not many happen upon one without actively looking.

Serendipity strikes again.

Andrew Middleton
For the ACBS newsletter

The boat as seen on the trip to the UK 

Arrival in Canada

The Boat arrived in Vancouver BC February 2020. The engine was removed there before the boat was transported to Kelowna for restoration.

Follow along with the Restoration

We often get questions about what to expect when restoring a classic wooden boat - I figured much like the old saying "A picture is worth a thousand words" it would be easiest to detail and explain the amount of work that goes into the restoration of one of these amazing boats. While each boat is a little different as they've all been through different lives and experiences and have their own story to tell. I can't think of a better boat to illustrate this journey as a Chris-Craft Cobra. There are likely few unrestored examples left and it would be our privilege to detail this process as much as possible. 

Initial Disassembly

All Hardware was surveyed and disassembly started with all items removed and boxed. The hardware appears complete and original with a few exceptions (nothing that can't be fixed). Our initial findings are as follows:

● The sheer trim is in 3 pieces/side. It should be 2/side. I believe there is supposed to be 2 forward cleats/chocks missing.
● The 2 rods that hold up the hatches are incorrect. Should be ⅜ brass rods.
● All the gauges are there which will need to be sent out for restoration. We will be removing modern Speedometer and the large temp gauge. The foot pedal is being removed along with the linkage to the rear of the engine. We will restore the original push/pull throttle.
● The fuel tank removed - but it will likely need replacement.
● Prop coupler, shaft, prop, strut, shaft log and stuffing box removed
● Gear rod, pivot and shift lever removed. Lever is bent. Will need to be straightened
● Tach cable removed. Will try to restore. If not, replace it
● Hatches/fin were removed. Will sent out for restoration with correct paint code
● Seats removed - original frames/springs look good - vinyl incorrect for the boat, will need to be replaced with proper pattern material.
● Seat bottom framework is incorrect and will need to be rebuilt.

Click Photos to Enlarge. Hover for any notes on each photo.

Interior removal & Prep to flip the boat

We are nearly through State 1, the disassembly stage.
Instruments, and wiring and that has been accounted for in the appropriate section This past week.

● Completed removal of the interior of the boat
● Removed gear rod, shaft log, strut, rudder, tiller, stuffing box
● Removed gauges, steering column and das
● Labeled and photographed all wiring
● Removed all the small brass screws that secure the inner bottom planks to the outer bottom
● Removed battery and utility box shelves. These will be replaced as per factory specs
● Removed tach cable, copper oil line, Push/pull throttle and choke cable
● Reviewed fore deck framework. The deck was replaced in the UK. New deck beams were installed but are not correct
● No batons were installed as they laid a plywood sub deck down before reinstalling the original fore deck planks
● All the deck planks are coming off. Framework will be returned to original specs. New mahogany decks will be installed

Coming Soon - Flipping the boat & bottom plank removal

We will be adding more pictures and information to this page as the restoration progresses. Please sign up for our Newsletter to receive updates & follow along with the restoration