The SZD-36 was the penultimate iteration of the SZD-24 Foka, with improved construction techniques and materials and many detail changes over the Foka 5. The aircraft was designed especially for the 1970 World Gliding Championships at Marfa, Texas, where J. Wroblewski took 2nd and F. Kępka took 3rd places in the Standard Class behind a Rolladen-Schneider LS1. The Cobra also proved popular with ordinary pilots resulting in a long production run of 290, of which 215 were exported.
To compete in the Open class at Marfa in 1970, W. Okramus and M. Mikuszewski developed a 17m span version as the SZD-39 Cobra 17, which took 5th place flown by Edward Makula.
Construction was predominantly of wood with plywood skinned semi-monocoque fuselage, thick skinned built up wings, and fibreglass cockpit shell. With high g limits, high Vne and effective speed limiting air-brakes on the upper surface of the wings, the SZD-36 Cobra is popular as an aerobatic machine. There have been cases of catastrophic structural failure due to incorrect wing attachment, caused ultimately by worn parts in the attachment assemblies.
Following a fatal accident due to failure of the wing attachment mechanism in 2007  and another fatality with a glider with similar assembly mechanism, the British Gliding Association has issued a Safety Alert for owners of Cobra gliders.