While much of the UK industry is performing sluggishly at present, Iain Robertson is relieved that an age-old Thames-Ditton favourite has revealed not only its latest petrol supercharged V8 roadburner but also an eclectic all-electric alternative.
It is worth highlighting that the original AC Cars was based in Surrey, England. However, as with several other marques, ownership is now with a German-based company, renamed AC Automotive. The anachronistic but highly respected carmaker endured a long history in the UK, ultimately making a model named Ace, with a coupe version known as Aceca, in the late-1950s.
While the brand is also synonymous with the pale blue glassfibre, Villiers motorbike engined, three-wheeled ‘invalid carriages’ of an era (up to 1976), it attracted the attention of Ford Motor Company, when ordering the US firm’s petrol V8 engines for its Ace model. Thanks to Carroll Shelby’s relationship with Ford, the AC connection commenced in 1961, when he installed a Ford V8 and four-speed Borg Warner T-10 manual gearbox in an Ace and the Cobra phenomenon was born. A very fruitful racing partnership ensued and AC’s reputation was accelerated to a sometimes scary, high performance legend.
The original 427 S/C version became renowned as a rear tyre-shredder of gargantuan proportions. Its 7.0-litre V8 motor could develop in excess of 550bhp, which was enough to blitz the 0-60mph benchmark in less than 4.0s, before surging on to a top speed of over 165mph. Positioning the engine as close to the front bulkhead as possible, as much for an attempt to create a more ideal chassis balance, as to reduce the nose weight, introduced a gearshift compromise that led to a rearward cranked manual shift lever that was seldom less than recalcitrant. Drivers could be spotted muscling gearshifts, while hunched against equally heavyweight steering.
Of course, it was not the first time that American ‘iron’ was employed to raise the heartbeat. The rare Humber Imperial saloon borrowed a Chrysler V8, although the Sunbeam Tiger sports car used a small-block (4.2, then 4.7-litre) Ford V8 to great effect. Even Italian supercar manufacturers, such as Iso, Bizzarrini and De Tomaso built their reputations on Latin styling and rumbly US V8 motors.
AC Cars already welcomed the very first production AC Cobra 378 Superblower last summer. The reborn Superblower showcases the best of AC Cars’ highly measured attention to detail and its stance on quality engineering to whisk the memorable nameplate back to the fore.
Now powered by a Chevrolet sourced, 6.2-litre 580bhp petrol supercharged V8 engine and featuring an all-original four-inch round tube ladder frame chassis, the reborn Superblower signifies a continued resurgence of the AC brand. Its signature flowing lines and that unmistakably muscular body shape are complemented by a beautifully hand-crafted interior, in order to maintain the essence of AC Cobra pedigree throughout.
The AC Cobra 378 Superblower Mark IV (actually a Mark VI) complements the recently announced Series 1 all-electric and 140 Charter Edition AC Cobra models that form part of the reborn series of cars being recreated faithfully, like the stunning originals. As with its forebears, every newly produced AC Cobra 378 also weighs in with a full certificate of originality along with a designated ‘COB’ chassis number on the correct ‘AC Cars’ chassis plate.
Alan Lubinsky, Chief Executive of AC Cars, told us: “We are incredibly proud to see the first production version of 378 Superblower now built. It is a tremendous achievement by our team of engineers to produce such a high-quality car ahead of schedule and during a challenging global pandemic. It is a big step forward we are tremendously excited to kickstart UK sales.”
AC’s sole UK dealer, Boss Motor Company, based in Buckinghamshire, is now representing the specially recreated model of the famous AC Cobra 378 Superblower. It is a car that raised plenty of interest when it was conceived and launched by AC’s current owners back in 1998. It satisfied more than a few petrolheads’ ears with its gruff, distinctive and determinedly authentic V8 soundtrack. For various reasons, only a relatively small number of cars were built and sold at that time but now, 22 years later, the Superblower is making a return bid for glory.
The AC Cobra was never an inexpensive sports car and the original versions change hands among collectors for sky-high prices. The new Superblower is priced at a whopping £129,500 but boasts a specification that intends to deliver an authentic driving experience, synonymous with the AC marque.
The standard aluminium bodied specification includes the aforementioned, original four-inch diameter, round tube, ladder frame chassis, the 6.2-litre 580bhp supercharged V8 engine, a slicker Tremec six-speed manual gearbox, an aluminium radiator and header tank with electric cooling fan. High performance servo-assisted race specification brake callipers, complete with ventilated disc brakes front and rear, provide much improved stopping power.
A 3.45:1 ratio limited slip differential channels a mountain of torque to the rear wheels, while front and rear multi-link suspension with coil-over dampers and front and rear anti-roll bars provide its sporty handling characteristics. Pin drive 7.5J x 15.0-inch diameter front and 9.5J x 15.0-inch rear wheels clad in appropriately wide tyres replicate the Cobra on-road stance. Meanwhile, the hand-crafted interior is finished in black hide that is continued onto the dashboard, glovebox and door pockets. Deep pile carpeting covers the floor.
It is hoped that AC Cobra traditionalists can see past the Ford to GM engine supplier change. The red-topped unit serves eminently well in that other renowned US classic, the Corvette, and is well regarded for its dependability and consistent power delivery. However, stretching credibility further is the all-electric, Mark I alternative. Beneath its bonnet is a 54kWh lithium-ion battery pack that promises a range of 150-miles. In standard form, it despatches the 0-60mph sprint in around 6.4s, to a top speed of around 120mph. Based on the narrower Ace body, only 58 examples will be produced at £138,000.
Conclusion: AC Cars have been produced in Surrey almost consistently since 1903, although the company has endured several liquidations and owners since. A little know fact is that the railway carriages used on Southend Pier were built by AC in 1949.