Superformance celebrate 20 years of history and the birth of the Superformance MKIIIHillbank
Join Hillbank Motor Corporation in celebrating 20 years of Superformance history, and the birth of the Superformance MKIII.
Superformance was founded by Jim Price in 1992, but the story of Superformance and the factory that builds the Superformance vehicles (Hi Tech), begins much earlier. Jim actually had a successful business career long before Superformance was even a dream -not in making exquisite reproductions, recreations and continuation vehicles, but in heavy construction and brick making. After achieving some success and later tiring of that line of work, Jim decided it was time to pursue his passion for cars, for racing and most especially, for the legendary Shelby Cobra.
In the early 1980s Jim was introduced to Richard De Beer, a man who owned a small factory producing MGTD kits, and the dream of Hi Tech began. Although he has since relinquished his ownership of Superformance, Jim still owns and runs Hi Tech, the factory that continues to build Superformance products to this day – thirty years after taking the plunge.
After meeting De Beers, Jim decided he wanted to build and market the MG (and a version of Richard’s personal Contemporary Cobra) internationally so he invested in the company. The MGTD kits were VW-based and powered by Ford engines. They seemed like a good product to launch his car career, but soon after he made his initial investment in the project, Jim’s plans were shelved as a result of the United States imposing economic sanctions against South Africa.
It wasn’t until 1989 that changing global political and economic views allowed Jim to revisit his automotive project. This time he was focused entirely on the Cobra. Jim’s vision was to build a car that customers would want to drive and enjoy. The favorable labor rates in South Africa allowed Jim to offer a very competitively priced product.
Jim acquired a piece of property near Port Elizabeth that included a fiberglass production facility. His initial facility was modest and employed only 12 workers. Jim 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 the highest quality, visually correct and carry the consistency and continuity of a factory built component roller. The designs and molds were all done by hand; the chassis and suspension were designed on paper. Originally, the chassis was designed to accommodate donor Jaguar components, thus explaining the car’s robust rectangular frame. This was later changed to Ford Thunderbird parts, which could be ordered new, making spares easier to source.
Since no original Cobras were available to measure in South Africa at the time, the measurements and molds were taken off of Richard De Beer’s car. Jim had made earlier inquires and established that Richard’s Contemporary had actually been splashed from a real 427 Cobra.
New tools were made for the body panels although 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 in his design. He also felt that 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 were all duplicated. Hi Tech designed and made its own tooling for the Roadster style bumpers offered on the undercar 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 indicator lights – incidentally borrowed from the 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 provide them.
Jim experimented with a number of different components and procedures on the prototypes (chassis 001- 031) before settling on the basic consistent production specifications that most of the component cars following car number 31 adhered to. The first two prototypes 001 and 002 were trial builds and were supposedly cut up and discarded. When cars 003 through 025 were built, some were exported while others remained in South Africa. Cars 026 through 031 were never completely finished. In all, 23 prototypes were produced.
Originally Jim wanted to call the car a HI Tech but the name was already being used in an associated industry in the USA, so Jim created the name Superformance. In 1992 the first Superformance was sent to the USA, although at this stage it was still not a full production model.
In 1992, the real history of what was to become the Superformance MKIII began. When the first prototype was ready to be tested, 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, South Africa. After passing all of its tests with flying colors, the first production cars were finally shipped to Doug Reed and Charlie Ponstein in New Orleans. Doug became the first recorded dealer.
In 1994, a finished car was sent to a friend of Jim’s, Jerry Bernheimer, with the intent to take it to the Cobra Show at Knott’s Berry Farm for evaluation. Jim wanted to gauge the interest and see what kind of comments the car received in a class that included original Cobra, as well as reproductions and kits. This car was held up by the customs officials in L.A. unfortunately 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) imported his first two Cobras into the USA becoming the second Superformance dealer. In total, ten 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 in the Run-and-Gun event in Phoenix, Arizona. By doing this, he could showcase how quickly a car could be completed and prove the build quality of his car in race conditions. Jim Price, Bob Olthoff and Bob Bondurant collaborated in the preparation of this car. It was painted black with silver stripes and was powered by a Bill Parham 484 cubic inch “427” Side Oiler engine expertly installed by the Olthoff team. After having so much fun on the race track, Bob Bondurant decided to order several cars both for his driving school and for resale. Bob became 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 and was now capable of building 100 cars a year. By the end of 1995, 75 cars had been built and shipped. The very next year, the number of cars built more than doubled.
It was in 1996 that Superformance International Inc. established an office in the USA (Ohio). In that same year, Bob Olthoff (Olthoff Racing) became the fourth dealer, setting up shop in North Carolina.
At one point in the late 1990s, Jim Price considered replacing his bespoke chassis with an original AC frame and suspension design, but the Superformance dealers convinced him that this would be a retrogressive step. They felt the Mk III was a far better handling vehicle than the original, both on the street and on the track. But Jim felt there was still more to do.
In 1996, Jim contacted original Shelby designer, Peter Brock, to assist in the design of a new Daytona Coupe. Jim fondly recalls a meeting held in a Detroit hotel with 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. Specifications for the coupe were formulated.
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. Today the registry is a custom built database system with ownership records for all Superformance Chassis sold. The SCORE registry also serves as the SAAC registry for the Superformance Coupe and Superformance GT40.
Also in 1998, Bob Bondurant decided to focus all his attention on his driving school. Dave Radtke at House of Cobras in Orange, California took over as Superformance dealer.
In 1999, Lance Stander, owner of Hillbank Motor Corporation became the Superformance dealer for Southern California. 1999 was also the year Hi Tech expanded the facility by adding a state-of-the-art paint facility.
In September, 2000, Randall Thomas created the Superformance Owners Forum to increase communication and interaction with owners around the globe. The mailing list and chat site for this organization have become the primary tools for Superformance owners around the world to share their experiences and shared interest.
In October, 2000, Superformance International, Inc. established a corporate office in the USA concentrating on the distribution of Superformance products and lending support to the dealer network. Ronnie Kruger, a retired South African Motor and Allied Industry Executive, was recruited by Jim Price to become the CEO of Price's U.S. Procurement and Distribution subsidiary. Originally, Ronnie accepted the position for two year term, but just before he arrived in Newport News, Virginia, Superformance was sued by Shelby American and everything was put on hold. Superformance had at this stage shipped its 1,000th Superformance MKIII.
In February, 2001, Shelby American Inc. and Carroll Shelby launched a lawsuit in Massachusetts Federal Court against Hi Tech. The suit 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. The GT40 MK2 was launched that year, 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 covered 15,000 miles in 2 months of driving their Superformance. Hubert ordered his new Superformance and flew over from Malaysia to begin his lifelong dream of owning one of these incredible cars and touring the twisty back roads of America.
The year 2004 marked the Diamond Edition MKIII - a celebration of Superformance International's 10th anniversary producing MKIIIs. A total of 50 Diamond Edition MKIIIs were produced.
2004 was also the year that four Superformance owners entered and won in a number of classes at the Run-and-Gun event taking home 21 awards amongst them. Overall King of the Hill was won by Dennis Olthoff, while Ron Frohs, Richard Price and Bill Belcher were crowned “Top Dawg” in the drag events. That same year, Superformance was featured on the television show, Dream Car Garage.
In February, 2005, Carroll Shelby and Superformance International finally settled their remaining differences regarding alleged trademark and trade dress infringements with regard to the Shelby Cobra and Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe body shapes. The two companies agreed to begin working together to advance their mutual objectives of making the highest quality products available to their customers.
HI Tech even started building the Shelby fiberglass 427 Cobras as one of Shelby’s official manufacturers. Following the settlement, the Shelby organization expanded their dealer network making Shelby products available to the Superformance dealer network in the USA.
In 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 of Hillbank Motor Corporation, which was a leading 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 as well.
In December, 2005, Lance Stander, President of Superformance LLC, announced the opening of the new Headquarters for Superformance in Irvine, California. Hi Tech remains the manufacturing source for the same high quality cars and products that Superformance has been famous for over the past 11 years.
During 2007, the Superformance MKIII was featured on Hot Rod TV in a segment that featured the build of an S/C body style Superformance MKIII with a Roush 427 SR engine a Tremec 5-speed transmission.
In 2007 the Superformance MKIII R was released for the annual SEMA automotive industry event. This was 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, Bilstein custom sway bars and H & R Springs, Cobra seats with custom embroidery. Additionally, all the trim on the Superformance MKIII R was finished in black chrome.
Early in 2010, Superformance owners visited the HI Tech facility in South Africa to witness the birthplace of their cars. The group toured the paint shop, trim shop, body shop, welding shop and the final assembly halls. This was a truly memorable experience for all involved.
In September, 2010, Superformance owners once again participated in the Run and Gun Event at Motorsports Park Hastings Raceway, winning 9 awards over the course of the event.
Also in 2010, Lance Stander decided to have a Chevy LS3 E-Rod engine fitted into a Superformance MKIII. This somewhat unorthodox setup won the Editor’s Choice Award from Kit Car Builder Magazine in April, 2010. To follow up on that award-winner, Lance fitted a new Ford “Coyote” 5.0L crate 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.
Today, Superformance has delivered more than 3,000 Superformance MKIIIs. We have thousands of enthusiast owners, a forum, the registry, the large dealer network and all of the awards attest to the legend of the Superformance MKIII. We thank you for sharing our joy in celebrating 20 years since the first MKIII was built and delivered.