Join us in Celebrations as we take a look back at 20 years of History and the birth of the Superformance MKIII.
Jim Price was the founder of Superformance and although he sold the company, he still owns and runs Hi Tech, the Factory that continues to build Superformance products today. Jim started a successful business career in heavy construction and brick making but decided to change his business and pursue his passion for cars, racing and especially the Cobra. The dream of Hi Tech began when in the early 1980’s Jim heard of Richard De Beer who owned a small factory producing MGTD kits which were v/w based and accommodated a Ford engine he also owned a Contemporary Cobra. Jim wanted to build and market the MG and Cobra internationally so he invested in the company. Soon after the investment the USA imposed economic sanction against SA prolonging this idea.
1989 Jim saw economic changes in SA and believing the time was right, he decided to revisit the car project focusing on the Cobra. Jim’s vision was to build a car that customers would want to drive and enjoy. The timing allowed him to take advantage of the favorable labor rates in SA and Jim realized that he would be able to offer a very competitively priced product. Research showed that although a number of Car kits were sold very few were finally assembled and Jim decided to offer an assembled component roller rather than a kit. Jim also did not want to build a “kit car” which is defined as a car constructed using a base or donor car onto which a new fiberglass body is fitted. Instead, he had a vision to use highly skilled craftsman to create a car on its own frame and use all new components. The Car would be of high quality, visually correct and carry the consistency and continuity of a factory built component roller. Jim acquired a larger property near Port Elizabeth with a fiberglass production facility.
The initial facility was modest and carried only 12 employees. The designs and molds were all done by hand. The chassis and suspension were designed on paper. Originally, the chassis was designed to accommodate a used Jaguar suspension, thus the robust rectangular frame. This differential was later changed to a Ford Thunderbird differential which was available new and spares would be easier to source. This basic chassis design, although in Jim's opinion a bit "agricultural", has stood the test of time and has proved to be absolutely trouble free.
Since no original Cobra’s were available in South Africa, the measurements and molds were taken off of Richards car. Jim had made earlier inquires and established that Richards Contemporary had been splashed from a real 427 Cobra. New Tools were made for the body panels and many changes were made. Jim corrected the symmetrical lines left to right, correcting gaps in the doors, hood and trunk, and used the more desirable S/C curved fenders and he felt the slightly protruding "Roman nose" (top part of the large front air intake) was visually too prominent, and shortened it so that the oval was perfectly flat. Components such as the seats, dash panel, pedals, windshield, gas cap and quick lifts. Hi Tech also designed and made tooling for the Roadster Style Bumpers offered on the under car exhaust version of the MKIII Jim visited Smiths Instruments in England and found the original tooling to replicate the original gauges. He also found a source for the original switches and turn light indicator (1963 VW beetle). Jim obtained a windscreen frame and even had the original maker's name tag replicated. A soft top and side screens were also manufactured at Hi Tech. Any original components that were still made available were purchased from the Suppliers that could provided them.
In the late 1990's Jim considered replacing the chassis with an original AC frame and suspension, but the SPF dealers convinced him that it would be a retrogressive step as the Mk III was a far better handling vehicle than the original, both on the street and on the track.
Jim experimented with a number of different components and procedures on the prototypes ranging from 1- 31 before settling on the basic consistent production specifications that most of the component cars following car number 32 adhered to. The first two prototypes 001 and 002 were trial builds and were supposedly cut up and discarded. Cars 003 through 025 were built. Some were exported and some remained in South Africa. Cars 026 through 031 were never produced. In all 23 Prototypes were produced.
Originally Jim wanted to call the car a HI Tech but the name already existed in the USA and was an associated industry so Jim decided to call it a Superformance and in 1992 the first Superformance was sent to the USA. The Superformance at this stage was still not a production model.
In 1992 the history of what was to become the Superformance MKIII began. The first Prototype was ready to be tested and Jim called on his good friend Bob Olthoff who had raced the original Cobra in Europe. Bob Olthoff along with his son Dennis performed a panel of rigorous tests both on the track and through the streets of Port Elizabeth SA. The car was tested in the heat, rain and on a number of road surfaces. It passed and the first production cars were ready to be shipped to their first customers Doug Reed and Charlie Ponstein in New Orleans USA. Doug was the first recorded Dealer.
In 1994 a car was built and sent to a friend of Jims, Jerry Bernheimer, to take to the Cobra manufacturers Show at Knott’s Berry Farm for evaluation. Jim wanted to gauge the interest and comments received against all other Cobra Originals, Reproductions and Kits at the show. This car was held up by the customs officials in LA and could not be shown but the information gathered from that show lead to a number of refinements to the Superformance design. Later that year, Ron Rosen (Dynamic Motor Sports) an ex South African now then living in Ohio, imported his first 2 cobras into the USA becoming the second SPF dealer. In total 10 prototypes of the Superformance were imported into the USA in 1994. The first production model was car number 32.
In 1995 Jim built a Superformance that he wanted to enter into the Run and Gun event in Phoenix AZ. By doing this, it would showcase how quickly a car could be completed and the quality of build in race conditions. Jim Price, Bob Olthoff and Bob Bondurant collaborated in the preparation of this car. It was Black with silver stripes powered by a Bill Parham 484 CID 427 Side Oiler engine expertly installed by the Olthoff team. After the race,while Bob Bondurant was having fun on the race track he decided to order several cars both for the driving school and for resale. Bob was the third dealer in the USA based in AZ.
Hi Tech had now grown in size and the total staff had been increased to 75. The factory had increased their capacity to build 100 cars a year, and by the end of 1995 75 cars had been built and shipped. The next year the number of cars built more than doubled.
In 1996 Superformance International Inc. established an office in the USA (Ohio).
Bob Olthoff ( Olthoff Racing ) became the fourth Dealer setting up shop in North Carolina after settling in the USA in 1996.
In 1996 Jim contacted Peter Brock to assist in the design of a Daytona Coupe. Jim fondly recalls a meeting held in a Detroit hotel with Peter Brock, Bob Bondurant, Bob Olthoff and Bob Negstad (The Ford suspension guru responsible for most of the chassis design work on the original 427 Cobra for Shelby American in the sixties) where specifications for the coupe were formulated.
In 1998 Bob Bondurant decided to focus all his attention to driving school. Dave Radtke at House of Cobras in Orange, Southern California became the Dealer. In 1999, Lance Stander, owner of Hillbank Motor Corporation became the Superformance dealer for Southern California.
In 1997, Mike Stenhouse purchased chassis SP00218 for Olthoff Racing. Discussions after the sale led to the creation of the Superformance Cobra Owners Registry (SCORE) in November 1997 and the publication of the first Second Strike newsletter in January 1998. The registry and newsletter were originally limited to Olthoff customers but after discussions from Jim Price at the Charlotte Motor Speedway the registry and newsletter were made available to all Superformance dealers and owners. Today the registry is a custom built Data Base system including ownership records for 2,683 Mk III’s, 44 S1’s, 140 Coupes, and 171 GT40’s – over 95% of all Superformance Chassis sold. It also includes 2975 current owners and 1168 prior owners. The SCORE registry also serves as the SAAC registry for the Superformance Coupe and Superformance GT40.
In 1999 Hi Tech expanded the facility adding a state of the art paint facility.
In September 2000 Randall Thomas created the Superformance Owners forum was created to increase communication and Interaction with owners around the globe. The Mailing List and Chat site for this organization are the primary tools for members to enjoy and benefit from. With this access, hints, tips, suggestions, tricks and questions are all here for the asking. This site is funded privately and by the sponsors and supporters to S.C.O.F. for the sole purpose of providing this benefit to Superformance Owners everywhere, free of charge.
In October, 2000 Superformance International Inc. established a corporate office in the USA concentrating on the distribution of Superformance products and to establish and lend support to the dealer network. Ronnie Kruger, a retired South African motor and Allied Industry Executive, was recruited by Jimmy Price and became the CEO of Jimmy Price's United states Procurement and Distribution subsidiary. Originally, Ronnie accepted the position for 2 years but just before Ronnie and his wife Winkie arrived in Newport News, Virginia on Feb 28, 2001, Superformance was sued by Shelby American. Superformance had a this stage shipped its 1000 th Superformance MKIII.
In February 2001 Shelby American Inc. and Carroll Shelby, launched a second lawsuit in Massachusetts Federal Court this time against Superformance . The suite cited trademark infringement, dilution and unfair competition claims.
In 2002 Jim decided to develop and produce a GT40. A number of original drawings, parts and moldings were obtained to create a near identical copy of the original. This paid off as the Superformance GT40 is now one of the most respected reproductions available today with sales being recorded into the Shelby World Registry. Originally the GT40 MK2 was launched with the GT40 MK1 following a few months later.
In 2003 an amazing story was being spread throughout the Superformance Community. It was the story of Hubert and Christine Mueller who drove 15,000 miles in 2 months. Hubert ordered his new Superformance and flew over from Malaysia to start his lifelong dream of owning one of these incredible cars and touring the twisty-turny back roads of America.
2004 marked the diamond edition MKIII a celebration of In celebration of Superformance International's 10th anniversary of production models . A total of 50 Diamond Edition MKIII's were produced in two unique color schemes. 43 of them were produced in a dark silver with a light silver stripe and additional pin stripe accent and 7 were produced in Amulet Red with silver stripes with bordering silver pin stripes.
2004 was also the year that a four Superformance owners entered and won in a number of classes at the Run and Gun event taking home 21 awards between them. Overall King of the Hill was won by Dennis Olthoff and Ron Frohs, Richard Price and Bill Belcher were crowned” Top Dawg” in the drag events. That same year Superformance was featured on Dream Car garage.
In February of 2005 Carroll Shelby and Superformance International settled their remaining differences regarding alleged trademark and trade dress infringements with regard to the Shelby Cobra and Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe body shapes, and have also agreed to begin working together to advance their mutual objectives of making the highest quality products available to their customers.
Carroll Shelby announced. “I am pleased that Superformance has recognized the value of being associated with the Shelby entities, and on my part, I recognize Superformance in the replica car business for their quality of design and engineering integrity,” said Carroll Shelby, chairman of Carroll Shelby International, Inc. (CSBI.PK).
2005 Ronnie Kruger who was running Superformance International Inc. in the USA retired due to ill health and in November 2005 Jim Price sold all Superformance assets to Lance Stander from Hillbank Motor Corporation a Superformance dealer at the time. The Company was re -named Superformance LLC (dba Shelby Distribution USA) while the primary business has remained the same Lance added the distribution of Shelby Products to the portfolio.
HI Tech started building the Shelby fiberglass 427 Cobras as one of Shelby’s manufacturers. Following the settlement, the Shelby organization expanded their dealer network making Shelby products available to the Superformance dealer network in the USA.
In December 2005, Lance Stander, President of Superformance LLC, announced the opening of the new Headquarters for Superformance in Irvine, California. Hi-Tech remained the manufacturing source of the same high quality cars and products that Superformance has been famous for in the past 11 years, the new distribution Headquarters replaced the previous Newport News, Virginia based facility.
2007 the Superformance MKIII was featured on Hot Rod TV. It featured the build of a S/C body Style Superformance MKIII in titanium with black stripes. A Roush 427 SR enigne was installed which was coupled to a Tremec 5 speed transmission. American Racing Wheels supplied a set of 18" rims which were custom made for this purpose. The show aired in May and June 2007.
The Superformance MKIII R was released for SEMA event in 2007. This was a collaboration between Superformance and Todd Andrews who ran the engine program for Roush. This car featured a Roush 427IR engine, Roush emblems, a Roush shifter knob, American Racing 18" pin drive wheels, custom made Roush Floor mats and Wind Wings, Custom Wilwood upgraded power-assisted vented disc brakes with custom sway bars, Bilstein custom sway bars and H & R Springs, Cobra seats with custom embroidery and all the trim on the Superformance MKIIII was finished in black chrome.
2010 September, 4 Superformance owners participated in the Run and Gun Event at Motorsports Park Hastings Raceway, Hastings winning 9 awards.
Early in 2010 Superformance owners visited the HI Tech facility in South Africa to witness the build of a car. We toured the paint shop, trim shop, body shop, welding shop and the final assembly halls. This was a truly memorable experience.
In 2010 Lance Stander decided to have a Chevy LS3 E Rod engine fitted into a Superformance MKIII. This won us the Editor’s Choice Award from Kit Car Builder Magazine in April 2010. That same year Lance fitted a Coyote engine to a MKIII impressing Blue oval fans everywhere.
In 2011 a large group of Superformance Owners from SCOF (the Superformance Cobra Owners Forum) paid a visit to the Superformance head office in Irvine CA.
The Year - 2012.
In 1992 Jimmy Price set out to build a few prototypes of a car that he thought might be popular enough to sell a "few" of and while the rest is History we can't ignore the fact that 20 years later Hi Tech still builds the Superformance MKIII along with 12 other models that were added to the portfolio. Over the years there have been many refinements to the original concept, but although the original Superformance Mk III may have been conceived as an offspring of the Contemporary, there is no doubt that the SPF MK III - the only Cobra replica that is endorsed by Maestro Carroll Shelby himself - is indeed the fruit of the fertile and perfectionist brain of Jim Price who certainly achieved his goal.
Today Superformance has delivered more than 3000 Superformance MKIII cars and we have thousands of enthusiast owners, a forum, registry, large dealer net work. We thank you for sharing our joy in celebrating 20 years since the first "cobra car " was built and delivered.