A-Z of marques: No.1 AC

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The marque: AC, British sports-car maker prone to crisis and frequent rebirth

The marque: AC, British sports-car maker prone to crisis and frequent rebirth

The history: AC began in 1904 with the single-cylinder Auto Carrier delivery vehicle and Sociable passenger version. After 1918, AC made six-cylinder sports cars, tourers and sporting saloons.

After the Second World War, AC turned to the swoopy but dated two-litre saloons and convertibles, still powered by that 1919 six-cylinder engine. But there was diversification into railway carriages and invalid cars.

Then came the AC Ace. In the early 1950s, racing car designer John Tojeiro made advanced sports car chassis with independent suspension, several bodied like a Ferrari roadster. AC bought the design, fitted its own engine and in 1953 the Ace was born.

Aceca and Greyhound GTs appeared later, but everything changed in 1961. Texan racing driver Carroll Shelby fitted a Ford V8 in the Ace, and called it the Cobra. The combination was explosive, especially when the engine size rose from 4.7 litres to 7.0. A racing version may have helped tip political opinion to the 70mph speed limit, after it was tested at 183mph on the M1.

Then it started to go wrong. AC wanted a smaller, less thirsty sports car for the 1970s, and adopted an Austin Maxi-powered, mid-engined sports car called Diablo shown at the 1973 Racing Car Show. A Ford V6 replaced the Maxi motor, and the AC 3000ME was born, but not until 1979. It was expensive, handled strangely and was soon off-loaded to a new company. Then the original AC company fizzled out and the name went to Brian Angliss, who put the car back into production.

A link was formed with Ford, owner of the Cobra name, and various projects for a new Ace failed. Ford pulled out, and Angliss designed a new Ace designed to take on Mercedes-Benz's SL. It failed too. Angliss sold to Alan Lubinsky in the mid-1990s, who concentrated on the Cobra-like sports cars that can't be called Cobra because of the name-ownership wrangles.

Today AC makes beautiful recreations of the original Cobra on original tooling, and lightweight carbonfibre-bodied cheaper ones. There's also the new Mamba, an updated but still Cobra-style GT. Lubinsky's AC has downsized from Angliss's Brooklands factory to another in Frimley.

Defining model: Cobra 427

Official view: Nurturing the spirit of the iconic British sports car, and moving with the times.

Our view: It could be time to move on before the whole thing implodes again.

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