The Chris Craft Cobra is perhaps the most exciting and dramatically styled wooden boat ever produced. It’s sleek, elegant but racy looks evoke speed and power. From the Cobra’s wraparound panoramic windshield to the tip of its golden dorsal fin, it is heart-poundingly gorgeous. Rare and desirable, the mighty Cobra commands attention on any body of water it graces. Produced only for one year, only 106 Cobras were delivered to lucky buyers in 1955. Offered in two hull sizes, 51 18’ models were produced, and another 55 21’ boats were made. Expensive to produce, and with a limited amount of utility, Chris Craft’s goal was not to sell thousands of Cobras, but to make a splash in the boat world. Mission accomplished.
The Cobra featured here is a 21’ model named Ventuno (21 in Italian), apply named by its present owner at the time of this article, Northern California classic car and wooden boat collector Steve Marini. Ventuno is also hull number 21. 18’ Cobras are powered by 131hp KBL 6-cylinder engines, but the 21’ model was available with V-8 power. This boat was delivered new with a 331 cubic inch, 285 hp, dual-quad, Cadillac Crusader engine that will easily propel this finned beauty to speed in excess of 50 mph. Chris Craft records confirm this boat was built for the 1955 New York Boat Show, and came with a special display stand made by Chris Craft just for this boat. The striking dorsal fin is made from fiberglass, a first for Chris Craft and an early indicator of where boat production was headed in the future. Old-world wooden boat craftsmanship combined with the modern technology of fiberglass, wraparound windshield and V-8 power bridged the gap between the classic boats of the past and the modern features mid-century designers and engineers once only dreamed about just a few years earlier.
Riding in a Cobra today is still as thrilling as it was in 1955. I had the privilege of riding in Ventuno. It is fast and responsive, and a thrill to see and be seen in. Restored to perfection by the famous Katz's Marina in New Jersey, Ventuno is a multiple award winner, including Best of Show at the 2013 South Lake Tahoe Wooden Boat Classic, and first in class restored at the prestigious 2013 Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance. The Cobra has but one seat, making riding in one almost as exclusive as owning one. Idling into the marina, with the menacing, deep sound of a big Cadillac engine just behind me, I felt like Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin as a congregation of gawkers converged on the dock to gaze at the golden floating idol. Ah, the Cobra, not me.