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Buying: Sports Cars

Shelby/AC Cobra 427 (1965-1967)

Does any other classic sports car resonate with sheer power in quite the same way? Here’s what you need to know to buy one

Shelby/AC Cobra 427 (1965-1967) front view
INTRODUCTION

This is The Power Issue, so what better car for this slot than the Cobra 427? Launched in 1965, it was the world’s most powerful car in its day. It was also the fastest car tested by Autocar magazine that year, established the Guinness Book of Records’ fastest 0-100-0mph time, and held it for ages.

So the Shelby Cobra was the ultimate road rocket, even if it wasn’t as successful on the track as its forebear, the 289 MkII. But by 1965 the 289 racers were up against serious competition: the Cobra needed more power. 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.

Like many radical designs the 427 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. 

MARKET VIEW

Leading specialist and expert Rod Leach (top)has dealt with over 350 Cobras since establishing his Nostalgia business in 1973. ‘There is a small but keen market in the UK and, while there is no typical 427 Cobra buyer, they are all great enthusiasts,’ he says.

‘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,’ says Rod.

Cobras have risen steadily in value and are in huge demand, offering sensational performance with ease of maintenance.

IN A NUTSHELL

‘Of course, you 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,’ says Leach. ‘There is 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. 

With original 1965 427s selling for up to a million pounds, the AC Cobra 427 MkIII S/C Continuation cars (as pictured here, road-registered as a 1966 Historic Vehicle) seem like good value at about half the cost. With cast-iron AC Cars Ltd certification (and FIA eligiblity), this 427 appears and drives exactly like the 1960s original. Only ten were built in total during the early 1990s.

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. That said, all Cobras feature aluminium bodywork, so watch for stress cracks and dents. A complete body rebuild costs around £100,000.

But the really 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. 

CONCLUSION

The Shelby Cobra 427 is one of the rarest and most powerful road cars ever manufactured. Original cars can be worth more than £1 million, so it is essential to know exactly what you are purchasing. 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, at www.billshepherdmustang.com; +44 (0)1932 340888. 

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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Shelby/AC Cobra 427 (1965-1967) front view
Shelby/AC Cobra 427 (1965-1967) side view
Shelby/AC Cobra 427 (1965-1967) parked on road
Shelby/AC Cobra 427 (1965-1967) engine
Shelby/AC Cobra 427 (1965-1967) rear view
Shelby/AC Cobra 427 (1965-1967) interior
Extra info
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, one of which you see photographed here. 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. 

SPECIFICATIONS
1966 Shelby Cobra 427

Engine 6997cc V8, OHV, single four-barrel Holley carburettor
Power 420bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque 480lb ft @ 3700rpm
Steering Rack and pinion
Front and rear suspension Wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers
Brakes Discs front and rear
Weight 1147kg 
Top speed 185mph (Competition)
0-60mph 4.5sec

CLUBS

Shelby American Automobile Club

AC Owners Club

THANKS TO...

Rod Leach’s Nostalgia
+44 (0)1992 500007
 

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