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

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

12 Search results
AC Cobra
4875 189000 GBP
  • AC Cobra 427

    POA POA

    This AC Cobra 427 is a real factory continuation car, built by AC Cars in 2006 following 427ci street specification. This AC with chassisnr COX3361 is the very last car built by AC Cars in the Frimley factory, and finished by Steve Gray at AC Heritage. This stunning machine is in virtually new and immaculate condition with only 915 miles on the clocks, and offers the most thrilling driving experience. Aluminium bodywork constructed on the original 1965 body jigs to original specification and using the traditional english wheel. All sections are gas welded with parent metal filler rod. The chassis is 100% to original specification, using the original AC factory jig. This example is finished in Guards Red with Black hide interior, and comes with a tonneau cover in black. The engine is a 427 ci. high performance engine built by Southern Automotive, with the following specifications : Keith Black hypereutectic pistons, Melling high volume oil pump, Southern Automotive custom grind hydraulic lift camshafts, Canton 8qt style oil pan, stainless steel intake and exhaust valves, 2 x 4V 390 cfm Holley carburettors and a 9:8:1 compression ratio giving approx. 450 bhp. The engine is mated to a

    • Year: 1966
    • Mileage: 915 mi
    For sale
    Albion Motorcars
  • AC AC COBRA LIGHTWEIGHT SHORTNOSE - ROLLS ROYCE EBONY BLACK

    POA POA

    Information AC COBRA LIGHTWEIGHT SHORTNOSE RHD (BLACK) - 1997 11,000 MILES BLACK COACHWORK with MIDDLE WHITE STRIPE HAND CRAFTED CONNOLLY HIDE IN SILVER GREY WITH RED PIPING MATCHING LEATHER HEAD RESTS, LEATHER TRIMMED ALUMINIUM LIGHTWEIGHT DASH WITH "SMITH" ORIGINAL STYLE INSTRUMENTS. INTERIOR IS FINISHED WITH HIGH GRADE WILSON BLACK CARPETS PIPED IN BLACK LEATHER. Engine V8, normally aspirated arrangement , 8.9.1 compression ratio cast iron engine block with cast iron heads, roller camshaft, upgraded SVO lower aluminium inlet manifold/upper aluminium inlet manifold body with performance 65mm throttle body For further information please contact us on 0208 202 8011 Interested In Vehicle Print Vehicle Details Back To Index

    • Year: 1997
    • Mileage: 11000 mi
    For sale
  • AC Cobra Lightweight Green

    £189,000 £189,000

    We are delighted to offer for sale this very rare AC Cobra Lightweight. Built at historical Brooklands race track in Weybridge surrey, first registered 22nd November 1991. Only 26 LightWeight examples where ever produced by the factory, always a head turner and very desirable by any AC enthusiast. Documented in Shelby World Register "Green 302 4V. Purchased by original owner Mr J Scott of England". Finished in Nile Green Metallic with traditional Old English White centre stripes with match roundels. The handcrafted interior is finished in Green Connelly leather complimented with dark Green leather bound carpets. Lightweight dash with Matching AutoKraft instruments, Mota-lita wood rim steering wheel, AC Swiss wooden gear knob. Factory fitted 5.0ltr Ford SVO 302 V8 engine with 350BHP, 5-speed manual gearbox, 29,031 miles, 3 former owners from new. Excellent spec including the following - unmarked15" colour coded Halibrand wheels with polished wheel spinners, chrome stone guards, Perspex sun visors, glass wind wings, chrome drivers roll bar, 4 point drivers harness, 2 sets of keys, alarm immobilizer / tracker, just completed full routine service by ourselves Redline Engineering UK. MO

    • Year: 1991
    For sale
  • AC Cobra

    £39,995 £39,995

    2008 AC Cobra (Gardner Douglas) 4.7 Full Spec Gardner Douglas Cobra fitted with Ford 4.7 V8 producing a believed upward of 400BHP. Stunning looking , even better driving. 5800 Miles only Finished in Black with Black leather interior. £39995 ONO

    • Year: 2008
    • Mileage: 5800 mi
    • Engine size: 4.7
    For sale
  • 1994 AC Cobra 427 Replica

    £39,995 £39,995

    We are delighted to offer this outstanding motor car onto the market. This AC Cobra has incredible looks and as it drives by it can be mistaken for a genuine 1960's period car with its stunning, popular genuine AC Cobra non metallic Black paint finish, expensive registration mark and period style headlamps and rear lights. Whilst the Cobra was originally built in 1994, in 2015/2016 a staggering £19,500 spent taking the car to a truly superb standard. This example is a Dax with Jaguar running gear, Dax Cars were founded in 1968 and started out as a fibreglass moulding company before coming the first British company to make a kit based replica of the AC 427 Cobra. Dax have now been producing these stunning cars for over 30 years and have sold over 4000 kits. Over the years we have had several Dax Cobra's and they have all proven to be outstanding cars of very high quality but this has to be the finest we have owned.

    • Year: 1994
    For sale
  • AC Cobra Mk4 Red

    £98,500 £98,500

    We are pleased to present this stunning hand built aluminium bodied AC Cobra Mk4. First registered February 1988 and exported to California USA, documented in Shelby American World Registry "Red/Tan interior, EFI 302, shipped to Frontier Ford" returned to the UK in 2011. Finished in Porsche Guards Red with White centre stripe, handcrafted tan leather interior with cream carpets, Mita-Lita polished woodrim steering wheel and gear knob, all correct matching numbers. Power is delivered by normally aspirated 5.0 litre Ford 302 V8 injection engine mated to 5-speed manual gearbox, 9'750 miles from new. High spec including upgrades by Redline Engineering UK: unmarked 16" Halibrand wheels with polished spinners, chrome stone guards, Monza fuel filler cap, spare wheel & tool equipment, glass wind wings, full service by ourselves Redline Engineering UK, MOT July 2017, stainless sports exhaust tail pipes, aluminium riveted bonnet scoop. This stunning looking AC just looks fabulous, a real head turner, fantastic sound from the V8 engine. Year: 1988 Price: £98,500 For more information call 01932 875435

    • Year: 1988
    For sale
  • AC Cobra 5,7 Cabriolet

    €60,700(£54,472.18) €60,700(£54,472.18)

    AC Cobra 5,7 Cabriolet Equipment: Bilen er ekstrem flot bygget Prisen er ekskl reg afgift skal ses ring for info

    • Year: 1965
    For sale
  • AC Cobra CRS Silver

    £65,000 £65,000

    We are delighted to offer this excellent condition AC Cobra CRS, built by AC Car Group Ltd at Brooklands in Weybridge Surrey. Built December 2001, finished in Porsche Arctic Silver with Royal Blue leather interior, 9,280 miles from new, 3 owners, RHD, 5.0 ltr V8 injection engine with 5 speed manual gearbox, carbon fibre body construction. Very good level of specification: 16" colour coded Halibrand wheels with Redline Engineering bronze wheel spinners, perspex sun visors, stone-guards, road CD, 2 sets of keys, chrome driver and passenger roll bar, handling kit, full weather equipment and tonneau cover, excellent history file with all handbooks present, MOT December 2017, AC registration. Fabulous condition AC both inside and out matched with fantastic V8 sound when driven. Year: 2001 Price: £65,000 For more information call 01932 875435

    • Year: 2001
    For sale
  • Gardner Douglas Cobra

    POA POA

    Correctly registered Gardner Douglas Cobra. First registered 1971. Engined by a V8 Rover 3.9 with 240hp. 5 speed manual gearbox. Jaguar setup on the rear with mechanical LSD. Sold by us to the actual buyer. Fully professional recond last yeas, around 4000£ spent. 55k mileage shown. Probably the real mileage is less. Wonderful conditions throughout. Full weather gear and tonneau cover. Part exchange possible.

    • Year: 1971
    • Mileage: 55000 mi
    For sale
  • AC COBRA YAMAHA RAPTOR 700R GYTR KIT 2006

    £4,875 £4,875

    Yamaha Raptor 700R GYTR Kit - RECENTLY SERVICED ROAD LEGAL;;OTHERS ALWAYS AVAILABLE;;Usual extras, recently serviced, drives great, no lights on dash, electric dash and start;;;battery has been charged ready to go for the summer;;AFTER ANYTHING INTERESTING PX;;FULL DEALER FACILITIES AVAILABLE;WE ACCEPT ALL CARDS ;ALL CARS ARE SOLD WITH WARRANTY VIA AUTOPROTECT;DRIVE AWAY INSURANCE AVAILABLE ;ANY INSPECTION WELCOME ON APPOINTMENT;WE ACCEPT PART EXCHANGE ON ALL OUR CARS;;ALL OF THE ABOVE IS SUBJECT TO TERMS AND CONDITIONS ;;Elite Car Sales- The right place to buy your car ;

    • Mileage: 1000 mi
    For sale
  • AC Cobra MkIV Red

    £95,400 £95,400

    We are pleased to present this stunning and rare LHD hand built aluminium bodied AC Cobra MkIV finished in Porsche Guards Red with handcrafted tan leather interior with unmarked cream carpets, 5ltr Ford 302 V8 injection engine with 5-speed manual gearbox, 9'500 miles from new, high spec including the following - unmarked 16" colour coded Halibrand wheels with polished spinners, chrome stone guards, Monza fuel filler cap, Mota lita wood rim steering wheel and gear knob, full weather equipment, glass wind wings, just completed full service by ourselves Redline Engineering UK, road tax & Mot, stainless sports exhaust tail pipes, colour coded aluminium riveted bonnet scoop, this stunning looking AC is joy to drive and sounds fantastic, offering great enjoyment and tremendous value when compared to original MkII and MkIII Cobras. Year: 1987 Price: £95,400 For more information call 0845 241 5557

    • Year: 1987
    For sale
  • AC Cobra Mk IV

    POA POA

    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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