Simanaitis Says

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CARROLL SHELBY’S UR-COBRA

OL’ SHEL’ recognized a good chassis in the British A.C. Ace sports car. He also sensed how much improved it would be with the burble of a proper ‘Merican V-8. In September 1962, R&T recognized this too: “An Ace from AC, assisted by a V-8 from Ford, is a 150-mph car built for production racing.”

This and other images and insights from R&T, September 1962.

The punctuation of this traditional English company’s name seems to have been momentarily misplaced. What’s more, though R&T’s cover identified this cream-color car as a Shelby AC Cobra, its banner and text within called it an AC-Ford Cobra.

A retrospective note on the cream color: R&T referred to the car throughout as a prototype, without specifying its uniqueness. By mid-1962, Cobras of several hues were appearing at car magazine offices, car shows and other events, thus substantiating Shelby’s optimism for his new venture.

It came out only later that these cars were all indeed the single Ur-Cobra, CSX2000, given a new paint job for each venue.

CSX2000 sold for $13.75 million at the RM Auction in Monterey, August 2016. Image from RM Auctions.

A good deal of the AC-Ford Cobra was retained from the A.C. Ace. Its chassis was still parallel tubes, albeit with greater wall thickness and extra cross bracing. Suspension continued by transverse leaf, front and rear, but with the leaf springs extended for a wider footprint.

Bodywork was essentially Ace, except for flared fenders to accommodate the Cobra’s wider rubber, 6.50-15s front, 6.70-15s rear, versus the Ace’s 5.50/16s all around.

Not commonly known at the time, Shelby’s first choice for power had been a Chevrolet V-8, but Chevy wisely didn’t want to be supplying engines for a Corvette competitor.

“The Ford Fairlane V-8 fits the AC engine compartment without the proverbial shoehorn,” R&T observed.

“Power for the Cobra is one of Ford’s new lightweight V-8s. It is the largest of the Fairlane-series engines, having a displacement of 260 cu. in. and, in single-carburetor form, pushed out an “advertised” 260 bhp”

“Our test car had the “street” engine, which is virtually stock Ford but equipped with solid valve lifters and a camshaft of non-standard but unspecified timing. We were somewhat surprised to find that it would idle with only a trace of lumpiness, pull strongly at almost any speed, and buzz past the 5800 rpm power peak to 7200 rpm before it began to sound distressed. Also surprisingly, the power did not appear to fall off much even at 7000 rpm….”

A lot of ground was covered very quickly in running to 7200 through the four-speed Borg Warner, even with the prototype suffering from an overly large gap between third and top. The Cobra sprang from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds and posted 13.8 in the quarter at a speed of 112 mph, “equal to the best efforts of drag-strip-tuned Corvettes,” according to R&T.

“In a demonstration at Riverside Raceway, Carroll Shelby shows photographer Bill Motta 6000 in 4th gear.” This computes out to 131 mph.

Such high performance called for prudence in its application: “… the inept or inexperience could get into considerable trouble, but a middlin’-good driver can certainly get the car around a race course in a hurry. One facet of the handling that made us feel a trifle wary at first was the extreme angle (relative to its direction of travel) the car assumes when drifting….”

“Treated with any finesse at all,” R&T wrote, “the Cobra will hold its tail-out attitude without trying to spin, but a clumsy throttle foot could give you a thrill.”

You bet’cha. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017

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This entry was posted on April 19, 2017 by in Classic Bits and tagged , , .
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