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AC Cobra: Buying guide and review (1962-1967)

AC Cobra AC Cobra AC Cobra AC Cobra AC Cobra
When the AC Cobra was launched in 1962, few people could have predicted the effect it would soon have on the motoring world. A new partnership between small-time British sports car manufacturer AC, American ex racing driver Carroll Shelby, and the mighty Ford Motor Company, saw the creation of a legend. 
Initially, a 4.2-litre Ford V8 engine was slotted into the AC Ace’s curvaceous body to create the Cobra 260. The chassis needed considerable upgrades to handle the power, but even then it was far from tame. But this was built to win races, not to take shopping, and on track the Cobra was king. 
As the race wins stacked up, and the competition started to catch up, the Cobra’s power plant was uprated to a larger 4.7-litre unit in the 289 model. But by 1965 the 289 racers were up against serious competition: the Cobra needed more power. This prompted the ultimate incarnation of the Cobra in 1965, with the introduction of the 427 - the world’s most powerful car in its day. 

The first big-block Cobras were intended to take the fight to Ford’s increasingly competent rival, the Chevrolet Corvette, in the FIA’s GT class, since the 289 was now at the limit of its development, but there was a problem: Shelby had completed only 51 of the 100 examples required for homologation when the FIA inspectors came a’calling on 29 April 1965. They had already thrown out Ferrari’s 250LM for the same reason and were not inclined to make an exception for the Americans. All of a sudden, Shelby had no need for the remaining 49 chassis that he’d ordered from AC Cars, and he cancelled his order.
But then the FIA threw a curveball. In June 1965 it created a new class, Competition GT, for which the 427 Cobra was eligible – but in so doing it pitched the Ford GT40 in direct competition with the Ford-powered Cobra. The GT40 programme meant a lot more to Carroll Shelby than the Cobra did by this point, so to keep the Blue Oval happy he agreed that he would only sell the 427 to private entrants and would not field any ‘works’ entries.

But take-up for the relatively expensive Cobra was slow. Orders for a further three competition cars were received, bringing the total to 19, while the remaining 34 chassis (which included two prototypes) were built up into ‘street’ versions and cannily marketed as the fastest street cars ever built. Not surprisingly, these thinly disguised race cars – which were dubbed 427 S/C for Semi-Competition – are now rather desirable machines.
So the Shelby Cobra 427 became the ultimate road rocket, even if it wasn’t as successful on the track as its forebear 289. Ever-wider wings clad a tubular chassis with coil springs instead of leafs and a race-developed 420bhp Ford 427ci (6997cc) V8. There were three derivations: Competition, Street/Competition and road cars. 
Which one to buy?
Perhaps more than most classics, the Cobra you choose generally depends on how much money you have got to spend, although we’ll get to that later (See prices section). The vast majority of the 1003 Cobras built were sold in the USA, and none were officially brought into the UK until 1964. 
In total, just 75 early Cobra 260s were produced, making these among the most difficult to track down. Finding a 289 is less of a difficult task with 580 built in total. It’s worth knowing that the first 51 289s to roll off the production line kept the original’s slightly wayward steering set-up, which was changed for a much better rack and pinion system later. 
Then came the 427, which like many radical designs was not a sales success. It was never homologated by the FIA, as fewer than the required 100 cars were built, and the road cars were fitted with cheaper, more fragile 428 Police Interceptor engines. In total, 320 MkIII Cobra chassis/bodies were sent to Shelby and 27 were constructed and sold in Britain and Europe with the 289cu in engines, sold as AC 289s. 
Of the 320 officially constructed 427 Cobras (the chassis numbers go up to 350 but 30 were unused), many were developed and raced with success by privateers and, as such, they remain some of the most mystical and therefore collectable of all Cobras. 
Prices go up when the overall market is good and then stay there. Because these cars are so rare and enjoyable to drive they will never go down in value. Supply is still outstripped by demand. Originality is important, but some cars have had their 428 engine replaced with an authentic 427. That’s acceptable, but the car must retain its four-speed gearbox if you don’t want to affect the value. 
We’re focusing on the genuine Shelby cars here, but there has always been a thriving scene for replica and kit-based Cobras, as well as continuation cars that offer much the same thrill for a fraction of the cost. These are seriously worth considering if you are working to a sensible budget.
Performance and specs

AC Cobra 427
Engine 6997cc, V8
Power 410bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque 480lb ft @ 6000rpm
Top speed 165mph
0-62mph 4.2 seconds
Fuel consumption 9mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
Wheelbase 2286mm
Length 3962mm
Width 1727mm
Height 1245mm
Kerb weight 1147kg
Common problems

• Because what you’re really buying is provenance, and because Cobras are highly valued, this isn’t the kind of buying guide that warns of frilly wheelarches and blue smoke on start-up, although there are a few things to be aware of:
• All Cobras feature aluminium bodywork, so watch for stress cracks and dents. A complete body rebuild costs at least £100,000. 

• The good news is that these powerful cars are easy to run and maintain. All components are available, with mechanical parts well priced in American catalogues. 

• Things get expensive with performance components such as heads, high-rise manifolds and Weber carburettors, but figure on a price around £10,000 for a full engine rebuild by a specialist such as Mathwall Engineering.

• You really need to know exactly what you are buying, because of all the replicas and fake cars out there. The absolutely crucial point is to double-check the chassis number. There’s a worldwide registry for all the cars in the Shelby American Automobile Club tome that lists all the chassis numbers but it is not entirely gospel. 

• Just to confuse the issue, a few cars share the same chassis number. This is inevitable because many of them were raced and crashed, resulting in rebuilds over the years. Also, there is a registry for Cobras within the British AC Owners Club.

• As with many sports and racing cars there are plenty of urban myths and stories about the provenance of some 427s, including Cobras being hidden by members of the mafia, etc. So you must consult a real expert before signing a (very) large cheque. 

• In the good old days, crashed cars were junked and chassis numbers were transferred to new cars so you really need to know your onions. Provenance is all with a Cobra so it is essential that your research is done with forensic thoroughness. 
Model history
1962: The original MkI was manufactured from 1962 to 1963. The cars were constructed in Thames Ditton and the initial prototype chassis, CSX 0001, was fitted with a 221ci engine and tested in Britain. The engine and gearbox were then removed and the chassis shipped to Carroll Shelby in Los Angeles where a 260ci (4.2-litre) V8 was fitted, reputedly in just eight hours. In total 75 MkI 260s were produced. 
1963: The MkII followed with the 289ci (4.7-litre) engine and the first 51 continued with worm-and-sector steering. A further 538 MkIIs were then produced with rack-and-pinion steering taken from the MGB. 
1965: The 427 (MkIII) was launched and ran until 1967, with a total of 320 manufactured. Carroll Shelby stopped importing chassis/bodies in 1967 but thereafter AC cars continued producing cars in Britain with the 289ci engine (and the 427’s tubular chassis and independent suspension) until 1969. 
Autokraft: Brian Angliss of CP Autokraft started building cars using Cobra parts and AC shells from the mid-1970s and began manufacturing the MkIV in the early 1980s. 500 were built. 
Continuation cars: The first AC Cobra 427 S/C Continuation was specially commissioned and built in 1990, and over the next 13 years just ten Continuation Cobras were constructed. Nine were left-hand drive, of which five remain in the UK; one right-hand-drive example went to New Zealand. Now worth between £250,000 and £300,000+. 
Other ‘Cobras’: Autokraft went into receivership in 1996. Alan Lubinsky then developed the MkV and carbon-bodied CRS. Carroll Shelby built ‘continuation’ versions of the 289 FIA and 427 S/C.
Owners clubs, websites and forums

• www.billshepherdmustang.com
• www.rodleach.com
• www.acownersclub.co.uk
Summary and prices
Of the genuine Shelby-built cars, it’s the early Cobra 260 that offers the cheapest entry point. Although a sketchy car in need of restoration might still available for £160,000, the starting point is £270,000, rising to £380,000 for a much better example. Concours examples have been known to sell for close to £490,000. Later 289 models are worth roughly 10 per cent more. 
By far the most valuable is the original 1965 427s, which is today selling for up to a million pounds. The AC Cobra 427 MkIII S/C Continuation cars seem like good value at about half the cost. With cast-iron AC Cars Ltd certification (and FIA eligibility), this 427 appears and drives exactly like the 1960s original. Only ten were built in total during the early 1990s. 
Speak to the AC Owners Club and Bill Shepherd who, although he now specialises in Mustangs, has a great wealth of experience racing and preparing Cobras. 
But most definitely talk with Rod Leach, who is a fund of information on the complicated history of this great marque. The story of AC itself, the Cobra, Shelby, lawsuits, the various owners of the company and the rights to the name, Continuation Cobras, Autokraft, replicas, kit cars, etc, etc – it’s a snake pit that can catch out even the most agile researcher. Make sure you don’t get bitten. 
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Last updated: 18th Apr 2016
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AC Cobra cars for sale

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AC Cobra
29995 189995 GBP
  • AC Cobra Replica GD 427 Gardiner Douglas Cobra. 5700cc V8 Chevrolet Engine.

    £29,995 £29,995

    Gardiner Douglas 427 Cobra, 1996. Euro 427 specification. 5700cc V8 Chevrolet engine (brand new in 1995) with Tremec 5 Speed gearbox. Recognised as one of the top AC Cobra Replica manufacturers and with j ust 10,700 miles from new with supporting old MOT certificates. Fabulous in Brooklands Racing Green with matching holly green leather and carpets. Twin stainless-steel roll hops and stainless steel bumpers. 4 point Willans harnesses. Come with an extensive history folio and this is an outstanding well cared for example. Comes fully serviced and MOT’d.

    • Mileage: 10700 mi
    For sale
    UK Sportscars
    01227 728 190 VIEW CONTACT NUMBER
  • AC 289 Cobra SOLD


    Year of construction 1963 color vinnyard green leather black first owner from 1963 to 1986 since 30 years in the hand of the second owner well documented histrory since first bill of sale known Cobra at Shelby register price SOLD EUR

    • Year: 1963
    For sale
  • AC Cobra MkIV Lightweight (1995).

    £124,250 £124,250

    The AC Cobra is our favourite sportscar, nothing more, nothing less. For that reason, it was a rather pleasant surprise to come across this fantastic example. This is one of the last AC Cobra MkIV built in 1995 by Autokraft, and the only successor of the original AC Cobra 427 from the sixties. Brian Angliss was a well known Cobra restorer, who owned the original Cobra jigs and tools. He made an agreement with Ford to build an eighties version of this iconic car, and was allowed to use both AC and Cobra names, as this was the closest thing to a proper sixties Cobra. The cars were handbuilt in the Brooklands factory in tiny numbers, and less then 360 examples were produced over a period of ten years. Most of these were the "standard" MkIV version, but on special request Autokraft could build you a Lightweight version which had more features similar to the original 427 : shortnose body, chromed roll-over hoop, fuel tank filler in the right rear wing, shortened dashboard and of course 15" wheels and tyres. Approximately 60 examples of this Lightweight were made, and most of these have an AKL chassisnr. This example is a 1995 model year factory Lightweight, and is finished from new in t

    • Year: 1995
    • Mileage: 26498 mi
    For sale
  • AC Cobra


    AC Cobra 7 Litre Right Hand Drive: UK Supplied: Only 7,682 miles from New: 1 of 3 Specially Commissioned Lightweights AC Cars are Britain’s oldest car manufacturer and have the unique distinction of having been in production since 1901. The AC name carries much prestige, international recognition and ranks alongside other major worldwide historical marques. AC was approached by Carroll Shelby to use a small block Ford V8 engine in the Ace chassis, producing the AC Cobra. Shelby needed a car that could compete with the Chevrolet Corvette in US sports car racing. The resulting Cobra was a very powerful roadster, and it is commonly blamed for the introduction of the 70 mph (113 km/h) limit on British motorways. This was in fact a major factor in the decision, after a coupe version was caught doing 196 mph (315 km/h) during a test run. The rest they say is history! This specially built Cobra we understand is just one of only three fully completed lightweight 7 litre motorcars cars manufactured by AC Cars Ltd at Brooklands, Surrey. #1318 was commissioned to be built to a unique specification in 1989. Our Lightweight Cobra has been fitted with a 7 Litre Ford V8 – custom made with a works freshly rebuilt 7014cc (dating back to 1967 when new) and fitted with a Ford top loader “Rug” 4 speed gearbox. Special build features included: •Full 427 bodywork utilising the original bucks & jigs from 1965 to incorporate the original rectangular lights and riveted bonnet scoop. •Power output is approx. 400bhp with an estimated 0-100mph in less than 10 secs! •Specially commissioned to be painted in Alfa Romeo “Zagato” Red. •Original Mk 111 (1965) interior trim in black with Mk 111 steering column, flick switches, single lever indictor/horn, original pattern wood rim steering wheel, chrome bezels instruments and drivers race harness. •Driver’s side roll cage. •Recessed Monza style petrol filler. •Original 15” Halibrand wheels fitted with Pirelli P7R tyres. •Polished bronze 3 eared knock – off spinners. •Oil cooler, Radiator stone guard, Wind wings, Perspex sun visors, Tool kit in bags. •Full weather equipment and car cover. •Complete with original handbook pack and other associated technical information. A unique opportunity to own one of four motorcar produced which took over 2,000 highly skilled man hours to construct by one of Britain’s oldest car companies whom produced cars in the traditional way of hand built manufacturing since commencement of its first model way back in 1901. Our car will complete its full post-sale preparation by UK leading AC specialists prior to handover. Available for immediate inspection at our central London showrooms.

    • Year: 1992
    • Mileage: 7682 mi
    For sale
  • AC Cobra

    £44,000 £44,000

    Full Leather, Immobiliser, Head Restraints, Sports Seats, Power Steering, Push Button Start, Soft Top Convertible Gardener Douglas GD 427 Mk4 AC Cobra Roadster 5 Speed Manual 6.3L V8 finished in Black with Black Roof registered September 2007, 18 Inch Split Rim Period Alloys, Roadcraft 383ci Chevy Engine with 400BHP and 400lbf.ft, Full Black Leather Interior, Tremec TKO600 Gearbox, Forged Crank, Edelbrock Performer-RPM Aluminium Heads; Air-gap Inlet Manifold and Carburettor and Roller Cam, MSD Distributor and MSD-6AL Ignition, Aluminium Water Pump, Billet Flywheel, HD Clutch, Mohair Soft Top, 4 Point Willans Harness, Huge History File with Original Parts and Build Invoices. Fully Valeted; 12 Months MOT; UK Wide Delivery Available; Part Exchange Welcome.

    • Mileage: 5600 mi
    • Engine size: 6300
    For sale
  • AC COBRA MKIV Lightweight by AK Autokraft 1991

    £189,995 £189,995

    Built by Autokraft in 1990 under licence from AC Cars Ltd, this is one of the finest example of genuine AC Cobra Lightweights in the world today.;;Handbuilt on the original 1960's AC jigs but with a redesigned suspension system, they are now widely considered to be a better car than their 60's relatives. This example is one of only 26 built and has covered over 10'000 genuine miles from new.;;Since being owned by the previous collector who bought the car in 2007, in 2008 the car underwent a full nut and bolt restoration project. At the time, the car was fitted with its original 5.0l 302cu.in Ford Supersport engine complete with brand new 5 speed gearbox. Since which time, the car has been fitted with the iconic 7.0l cu.in V8 (to note, both engines come with the car), has had a full baremetal respray in Guardsmen Blue Metallic with Chevrolet White Le Man Striping, and has been fully retrimmed.;;Also worthy of note, the dashboard was sent to America circa 2009 when it had been retrimmed to be signed by Carol Shelby (receipts for evidence) making this a truly unique example.;;The history on this car is too big and detailed to simplify in 1000 characters, for any additional information or to arrange a viewing of this simply stunning vehicle, please do not hesitate to contact us.

    • Mileage: 10284 mi
    • Engine size: 7
    For sale
  • AC Cobra Mk IV


    The AC Cobra is without any doubt the most sought after classic super Sportscar. The combination of a beautifully designed tubular chassis by Tojeiro, an ultra-light aluminium Italian Barchetta style body and Carroll Shelby’s genius idea to shoe-horn into the chassis the very strong and reliable Ford V8 small block engine was the initial recipe. From the original versions (MKI MKII and MKIII), built between 1962 and 1967, only approximately 1,000 were produced, but fetch today on the collectors car market astronomical prices !Petrol crises and world events sadly led to the bankruptcy of AC in the late seventies. The company’s tooling and eventually the right to use the name, were acquired by Autokraft, a Cobra specialist and car manufacturer owned by Brian A. Angliss. In agreement with Carroll Shelby and the Ford Motor Company, the last version MKIII car, of which only 327 were produced in the sixties, would appear again in 1982 with some modifications as the Autokraft MKIV, in essence an AC MKIII car with a 5.0L V8 and a Borg Warner T5 Transmission.These MKIV AC Cobra's must not be confused with any of the replica Cobra's out there. They are built to the very highest standards and are totally authentic, hand made, aluminium bodied cars built on the original bucks etc from AC Cars in the seventies. The engines were sourced from Ford USA and indeed the Ford Motor Company went into business with Brian Anglis, Autokraft, to collaborate in the production. This stunning example is finished in Raven Black with Black alloy wheels, chrome bumpers and a Tobacco leather interior. Purists will be quick to note that the interior is noticeably more luxurious than that of an early Shelby Cobra, benefitting from a stereo system with a CD player, leather trim, and seats with headrests. The car is fitted with Ford’s tried-and-true 225-brake horsepower, 5.0-litre engine with EFI, which is mated to a five-speed manual transmission.As the Mk IV offers a handful of welcome updates over the original Shelby Cobras, it makes for a wonderful driver’s car, providing ample amounts of both power and additional comfort. These cars are seldom seen in Europe, and this example would be the perfect stablemate to an original 289 or 427, or it can also be driven and enjoyed with ease and reliability. As it bears the AC name and was produced using many of the same tools and techniques as the originals, the Mk IV represents an interesting period in Shelby and AC history, and this extremely fine example would make for an excellent wind in the hair, long distance sports tourer.Available for viewing in our Kew showrooms.

    • Engine size: 5
    For sale
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