"Accent on AC"
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The History of the AC 428 Frua
"Accent on AC"


The AC 428 Frua
1965 ~ 1973

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Mr. Derek Hurlock

"There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse, and so a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only, are this man's lawful prey." (John Ruskin 1819 ~ 1900)

The poet John Ruskin's quote that guided AC through the years and was noted with pride in their early sales literature and quoted in the official company history.


Accent on AC

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 CF 57 1970 Fastback

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AC's 428 Grand Tourer was more than just a new skin for the Cobra, as John Mclellan describes.

Part 1

ALONGSIDE the all white 7.0 litre Cobra 427 in full racing trim on AC Cars' stand at the London Motor Show, Autumn 1965, there was an arrestingly handsome dark red convertible.

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 CF 1

It was the Ford V8 powered AC 428 and its presence was the direct result of a train of events set in motion when Ferrari outsmarted the FIA in 1963 to have his GTO racing coupes homologated as production cars, thus becoming eligible for the FIA's Manufacturers' World Championship.

Armed with the GTO and assisted by adept political manoeuvring, Ferrari shut out Shelby American's 4.7 litre Cobra 289 roadsters and Daytona coupes from the 1964 World GT Championship. Vowing to spit in Ferrari's eye for 1965, Carroll Shelby, the laconic Texan behind Shelby Amencan ordered the design and construction of the 485bhp 7.0 lltre V8 powered Cobra 427 to crush Ferrari in world events and the GM Corvettes in USA championships.
 
AC Cars' little factory at Thames Ditton had been building Mk l and Mk ll 4.7 litre Cobra 289s for Shelby since 1962. They laid down the first Mk Ill 427 chassis in October 1964, a finished 427 was shown to the world at Riverside, California in January 1965 and by the end of February, 53 had been constructed out of the 100 needed if the type was to be approved by the FIA for the 1965 GT championship. The new racer was a total rethink of the earlier Cobra and to have got so far in less than five months ranks with Ballot's famous achievement in building a team of Grand Prix racers in about the same time in 1919.

It was not enough. Still burning over the GTO fiasco FIA officials monitored both Shelby American and Ferrari production closely. When it was evident that neither the Cobra 4.7 roadster or the Ferrari 250LM coupe had been made In anything like the quantities required by the rules, both types were disqualified from the 1965 series the instant the qualifying period expired.
 
Shelby now found he had well over 50 racing Cobras on his hands, far more than the tiny market, even counting the USA, could stand. He promptly instructed AC not to build any more and set to shifting existing stocks as best he could. This left AC with quite a problem. They had spent more than two years in frenzied work for Shelby. There was still plenty to do building 'street' Cobras, but perhaps it might be wise to find their own niche independent of the Texans.

If the market for 'street' specification 7.0 litre Cobras was larger in the USA than for the racers, it was still pretty tiny and virtually non-existent elsewhere. Potential buyers in the UK could comfortably be listed on the fingers of one hand. Continental buyers had strong patriotic reasons for preferring the likes of Porsche, Maserati or Ferrari rather than this Anglo-American hybrid. AC joint managing directors Charles and Derek Hurlock dropped the small block 4.7 litre 289 engine into the Mk lll chassis and looked for European sales with what they dubbed the AS 289, since the Cobra title had been retained by Shelby American for their USA products. Derek Hurlock also decided to go off on another tack. The chassis which he was now equipped to build in large numbers was the product of an intensive development programme kicked into play by Shelby American, funded and technically supported by Ford America and made real by the practical engineers at AC's workshops by the river Thames.

The structure was strong and its all independent coil spring and unequal length wishbone suspension was sophisticated. By early summer 1965, a Mk lll chassis had been lengthened six inches, sent out to Pietro Frua in Turin for a convertible body to be mounted on it and was back at the High Street works in fully finished, driveable condition, ready to be given the detailed attention that by now the AC team was so very good at. The product was that dark red 428 convertible which appeared at Earls Court the following October.

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CF 1

Linda Thorson in the TV series "The Avengers"

AC surely had a winner. Without losing the merits of the Mk lll chassis - its enormous rigidity, its seemingly limitless roadholding capacity - they had a car of their own that in elegance and practicability had something about it of the classic designs on which the company had built its reputation. Unlike so many of the super-exotics of the mid-Sixties, the 428 was a real working car. There was no V12 engine howling round just by the driver's ear, the seats were upright and visibility was first class through a sensibly raked screen. It was equally at home posing outside the Casino at Monte Carlo the night before the Grand Prix or cruising surefooted for miles at 135mph plus in the congestion and spray of the Autobahn in January. It was a magnificent artifact, as satisfying an image builder as any entrepreneur and his little friend could wish for to whisk them far from prying eyes in total security.

In 1966 there was a certain market waiting for a grand tourer in the heroic mould, combining the performance and panache of a Lamborghini or a Maserati with the running costs of a Ford sedan. Surely AC would reap the rewards of all this excellence ?

The sorry fact is that between 1965 and 1973 only 81 AC 428 convertibles and fastback coupes were made. Yet the demand for them was so solid that when Derek Hurlock, now sole chief executive of the company, reluctantly decided enough was enough, it was in the face of a firm order for nine placed by the HR Owen distributors.

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CF 24 

Between 1904 and 1915, AC made popular little 3½hp tradesmen's three wheelers and the Sociable cyclecar using single cylinder engines and an epicyclic two speed transmission. In the Twenties they went in for a vigorous competition programme with 1½ and 2.0 litre cars using Anzani and AC six cylinder units respectively. They took the first records at over 100mph in the 1½ litre light car class, underlining their success with elegant polished aluminium bodied sports models. AC's light six engine was one of the all-time greats, remaining in production until 1962 and its longevity made the economics of building small quality cars at Thames Ditton very good indeed. The tall and slender three speed ACs of the Twenties gave way to low, lean fast tourers and Sports models produced by a new management headed by William Hurlock. The company did not seek high outputs - only about 4000 AC cars of all kinds have been built since 1930 - but each car built in the Thirties was tailored to the precise requirements of the customer who ordered it. It was, owners said, like buying a little yacht.

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