Although the 289 had proven to be an unstoppable force in national racing, the opposition wasn’t standing still. And although GM had walked away from a direct confrontation with Shelby in 1964, the need for additional power heading into 1965 was still very much on the agenda.
The 427ci V8 was the favoured choice, following Ken Miles’ performance in a race car fitted with the big-block engine. A rapid development programme – assisted by Ford – ensued, and to enable the ‘side-oiler’ engine to fit, the car was widened and its wheelarches provocatively flared to accommodate the new Halibrand magnesium alloy wheels.
Also, the cooling intakes were enlarged, the transmission tunnel widened and the engine moved back in the chassis to maintain weight distribution. In the end, every component was upgraded to handle the additional power, although it wasn’t enough to tame the 425bhp’s hold over the chassis. It was more than enough to earn the car its MkIII moniker.
And although the 260 and 289 Cobras had established themselves as effective giant-killers, the sheer scale of the 427’s performance would become all too apparent when Chris Amon tested the factory prototype in October 1964. The 427 demolished 0-100mph in 8.8 seconds, and established a time of 14.5 seconds for the 0-100-0mph run. Remarkable in an era when the 70mph motorway limit represented a stern challenge for the average family car.
Having been designed for competition, the 427 was never homologated by the FIA, as AC hadn’t built the requisite 100 cars in time, and its awesome speed was never put to the test in front-line motor sport. Sales were slow, and in the end many were sold as S/C (semi-competition) road cars.
CSX3216 (above) is one such example. Shipped to Shelby in 1966, and originally sold the following year with a 428ci Police Interceptor engine, it was then converted to S/C specification in 1972. It covered a mere 16,000 miles before its current owner Chris Wilson bought it in 2006.
Why Chris loves his 427, toured Europe in it, and then gave it a thorough overhaul is best summed up by him. ‘It was the fastest, most extreme car on the planet and is the sum of one man’s vision. And consequently it possesses an almost accidental beauty and assaults the senses, and I can’t help having a grin a mile wide just looking it.’
Acceleration: 0-100mph 8.8sec
Number built: 343
Cobra trader: Rod Leach
With over 350 examples having passed through his hands since 1973, Rod Leach has sold more AC Cobras than anyone else in the UK – or possibly anywhere else. It’s an obsession that started in the mid-’60s, when he heard the thunder of a Cobra coming the other way near Stonehenge. From that moment on, Rod was hooked.
Buying and selling cars had been a hobby until he decided to go full-time with his trade name ‘Nostalgia’ in 1973. ‘I put a wanted ad in Motor Sport and got a response from a guy in Germany. He was selling his car for £2500 – and I went across to buy it with £200 in my pocket with no idea how I was going to find the balance.’ A deal was struck, but within hours he was then offered a 7-litre car bearing the registration COB1. Luckily, Rod had a friend who helped him purchase both cars, and since then he’s never looked back.
There have been plenty of memorable moments. ‘I’ve had brushings with royalty. In 1980 I sold a Cobra which had been owned by Lord Litchfield to Crown Prince Saud of Saudi Arabia. I showed him the car outside the Royal Albert Hall, and on the test drive we went sideways up Park Lane...’ Prince Saud bought the car for £27,000 and a few days later it was delivered to him in Geneva. It was driven once, then put in storage before subsequently being picked up by its next owner, Prince Michael of Kent.
‘He drove it for three days, and then returned it for resale,’ Rod smiles. ‘It ended up being one of the more illustrious I’ve owned, as it also won the Autosport Championship.
‘The lovely thing about Cobras,’ Rod says, ‘is the people who own and drive them. There’s no typical customer; they’re all just total enthusiasts.’
But Rod saves his best sentiment for last: ‘Undoubtedly, my life wouldn’t have been the same without Carroll Shelby, so I owe him a huge thank you.’