A New AC Cobra Follows Carroll Shelby’s Original Recipe

December 28th, 2020 by

What made the original AC Cobra special was the blending of two cultures. Up to that point, European cars were small and light, had great handling, but also weren’t that powerful. AC’s cars were built on that basic European recipe. American cars of the day were big, heavy, and could go really fast in a straight line with their V8 engines, but struggled on twisty roads compared to their European cousins.

Then Carroll Shelby approached AC about putting Ford V8s in an AC chassis. By blending European lightness with American power, something special was born that would win races for years to come.

Now, AC Cars (the most recent resurrection of the company) is doing the same thing again. Take the old British-American recipe but bring it into 2020 with what today powers America’s (and the world’s) most valuable automaker: electric power!

The new AC Cobra Series 4-electric isn’t a quick and dirty electric conversion aiming to sell green cred while disrespecting its roots. AC actually put in the effort to make sure it’s a decent electric sports car and a real Cobra. The car weighs only 1190 kg (2600 lbs), which helps it get decent handling performance wise, but also helps it get better range. Compare this with a Nissan LEAF (around 3500 pounds), or a Tesla Model S (around 4900 pounds), and it’s pretty clear just how light it is.

“Eliminating excess weight brings with it positive benefits for the car’s owner. Lower overall weight reduces energy consumption, allowing the batteries to deliver a longer range and the ability to drive the car to AC’s traditional high standards for speed and acceleration which the marque has achieved over many years” said Alan Lubinsky, the owner of AC.

The car has a 54 kWh pack, but with the light weight, it can go around 200 miles on a charge.

They didn’t make this some eco-wimp, either. With just over 600 HP and over 700 ft lbs of torque, the car has plenty of American power, but without the weight of today’s American electric cars. That makes for a 0-60 time of around 4 seconds. Just like the original Cobra, the car is powered by a partnership with another company. Falcon Electric, based out of Derby, is a self described “hard-core technology company with the mission to make electric vehicles exciting.”

The original Cobra happened in the early 1960s, when recently retired race car driver Carroll Shelby decided to do something he had been toying with for years: build a light race car with American power and European light weight handling. “…the longer I went on racing and was around the limited-production factories in Europe, the more I realized that America was missing a big bet, a winning bet…that winning bet I’m talking about was the design and production of an all-purpose, all-American sports or grand touring car that you could drive to market and also race during the weekend…”

At the time, the company making AC’s engines got out of the automobile market at around the same time Ford’s Zephyr 4- and 6-cylinder engines were experiencing declining sales. This left both companies in a good position to play ball, and Carroll Shelby convinced both of them to provide him with parts on credit. AC provided its Ace vehicles, and Ford provided 300 HP V8 engines, along with a transmission. In the following years, the put in larger and larger Ford V8s.

With the light weight and big V8 power, the car was a screamer on both sides of the pond. It won a number of races in Europe and the United States, with street versions sold as Ford Cobras in the US and AC Cobras in Europe. The car is even blamed for the introduction of 70 MPH speed limits on British motorways.

Eventually Carroll Shelby wanted even more performance to compete with Ferrari, which was starting to beat them on the track, but a Ford big block V8 proved too much for the chassis. Reworked versions of a light vehicle with even bigger engines eventually led to Shelby improving Ford’s GT40 project, leading it to racing success. The Cobra’s DNA lived on in cars like the Mustang GT 350 and GT500, with smaller vehicle size and big engines, becoming the classic “pony car.”

These days, America’s quickest cars are again getting heavy, with cars like the Tesla Model S weighing in at almost double what a Cobra weighed. Acceleration is fantastic (especially in Ludicrous mode), but once again, AC is taking what makes American power great and putting it in lighter vehicles again.

With all of this heritage it’s important that AC get it right, and it appears that they are on track to do it.