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Motoring: AC Cobra - 1962

The original Cobra was developed from AC Ace, an open top 2-door sports car launched in 1953. The Ace was itself developed from a racer designed by John Tojeiro. It featured independent suspension by transverse leaf springs, Bristol power and Ferrari inspired bodywork. The body style changed on the production Ace and power was by AC's alloy 1,991cc ohc six; a well-known unit originally designed by AC's founder, John Weller, in the 192Os.

Bristol's remarkable BMW derived 1,971cc, l25bhp+ six became an option in 1956; the engine powered the Ace to many race victories around the world, including in SCCA events in the US where it won Class E championships three years running. Ken Rudd narrowly missed out on two British championships in his own Ace Bristol. Bristol ceased engine production in 1959, leaving AC looking round for a new engine and stopping the gap in the meantime with Ford power in the shape of the Zephyr 2.6- litre, a lifeless and rougher unit.

Fortunately the Ace-Bristol had been noticed by retiring race driver Carroll Shelby, who approached AC and Ford in 1961 with the idea of combining the AC chassis with Ford's new lightweight 260ci, 164bhp V8. Production of the first aluminum-bodied Cobras, with strengthened Ace chassis and drive train, began in 1962. Engine size went up to 289ci in 1963 with the MkII - still leaf sprung, mind, but with rack and pinion steering. That year a Cobra took seventh place at Le Mans. It was 1964 before AC started selling right hand drive customer cars, the rest having gone for export. In 1965, the year the Cobra finally took the FIA World Championship for Ford for the first time ever, the 425bhp, 427 (7-litre) Cobra MkIII was announced a car capable of accelerating from 0 to 100 mph and stopping again all in under 14 seconds! For the 427 the chassis was strengthened and at last gained coil springs. Customer, as opposed to race specification, 427s mostly came with the softer, heavier 428 engine but the exceptions were the 425bhp 427S/Cs, the schoolboy's wet-dream variant with side pipes, fat rear guards, bonnet scoop and oil cooler vent being the main distinguishing features.

Cobra 427 production stopped after Ford withdrew factory support from Shelby's racing programme in 1965, although AC kept building the ' AC 289 ' until 1968 using the 427 chassis with the 289 engine and wire wheels - and Cobras kept winning races well into the 1970s. Other models continued production well into the 1990s.

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