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Motoring... King Cobra

by Helen  Tait-­‐Wright

Whilst chatting  to   a  reader   the  other   week,  he  asked  why   I  hadn’t   featured  any  American   cars  in   this  column.     The   answer   is  simple,   they  are   not   really  my   thing   but   I   hope  that   this   particular   beast,   while  not  strictly  all  American,  will  satisfy  the  craving!! The   AC   Cobra,   is   famously   associated   with   Carroll   Shelby,   the   American   automotive   designer,  racing  driver   and   entrepreneur   but   AC   Cars   Ltd.,   the   builders   of   the   Cobra,   is   a   British   specialist   automobile  manufacturer  (formerly  known  as  Auto  Carriers  Ltd.)  and   one  of  the  oldest  independent  car  makers  founded  in  Britain. The   Weller   brothers   of   London   built   their   first   car   in   1903,   and   started  using  the  “AC”  logo  in  1911.  The  company  produced  a  variety   of  products  over  its  history,  including  engines,  railway  carriages,  golf   carts  and   invalid   carriages,  but   throughout,  it   was  their   racing  cars   which  grabbed  the  headlines. In  1962,  AC  was  approached   by  Carroll  Shelby.    He  needed  a  car  that   could   compete  with   the   Chevrolet  Corvette  in  US   sports  car   racing.     The  resulting   “289”  Cobra   with  a  small   block  Ford  V8  engine  in   the   AC   chassis   with   aluminium   bodywork   was   not   only   achingly   gorgeous,  but  a  very  powerful  roadster,  and  contributed  towards  the   introduction   of  the   70  mph  (110  km/h)  limit  on  British   motorways.   An  AC  Cobra  Coupe  was  calculated  to   have   done  186   mph  (299   km/ h)   on   the  M1   motorway   in   1964,   driven   by  Jack  Sears   and   Peter   Bolton   during   shakedown   tests   prior   to   that   year's   Le   Mans   24h   Race. However,  at   the  end  of  the  1964  racing  season,  the  Cobra  was  being   outclassed  in  sports  car  racing  by  Ferrari.     So,  in  collaboration  with   Shelby,  AC  completely  re-­‐designed  the  chassis  and  fitted   a  monster   engine   to  the   MkIII  or  “427”  Cobra.     The  Shelby  Cobra  427  is  one  of   the  rarest  and  most  powerful  road  cars  ever  manufactured. It  was  produced  in  two  versions:  a  street  model  with  a  tamer  motor,   optional   dual   carburettors,  a  glove  box,   and   exhaust   running  under   the  car,  and  a  competition  version  with  a  stripped  interior,  no  glove   box,   different   instrument   layout   and   revised   suspension.     Unfortunately,   the   competition   car   missed   homologation   for   the   1965  season  and  was  not   raced  by  the  Shelby  team.  However,  it  was   raced   successfully  by   many  privateers  and  went   on  to  win   races   all   the  way  into  the  1970s. Sadly  the  AC   Cobra  was   a   commercial   failure   when   in  production,   which  led  Ford  and  Carroll  Shelby  to  discontinue  importing  cars  from   England  in   1967.    Despite  this  the  AC  427  Cobra  has  now  become   one  of  the  most  sought-­‐after  and  replicated  automobiles  ever. From  the  late  1980s   onwards,  Carroll   Shelby  (Shelby  Automobiles,   Inc.)   and  associated   companies  have   built   what   are   known  in   the   trade  as  "Continuation  Cars";  Shelby  authorized  continuations  of   the   original  AC-­‐built  Cobra  series. There  are  also   many  replicas  on  the  market,  allowing  you   to  indulge   in  the  legend  that  is  this  wonderfully  sexy  car,  for  as  little  as  £14,000.   Of  course  for   the  purists,  the  real  deal  will  set  you  back  slightly  more   -­‐   anything   from   £100,000   to   a   cool   million   depending   on   the   provenance  ......   I  think  I  could  live  with  a  replica,  couldn’t  you? Contact  Helen  at:


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English language magazine for the French department of Deux-Sèvres