Driving off into the sunset . . .

End of the road: AC Cobra and Renault Five to cease production
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Two motoring legends - the historic AC Car company and the Gallic Renault Five - were consigned to history yesterday.

The much-loved French runabout, which inspired a generation of hatchback cars, ceases production this summer after 24 years as the company's best seller. Surrey-based AC Cars, founded in 1901 and one of Britain's oldest car companies, will disappear into receivership. Accountants Price Waterhouse said it had been appointed administrative receivers to AC Cars and its parent company Autokraft Ltd

AC Cars is based on the site of the former Brooklands race circuit near Weybridge in Surrey and has about 90 staff. It currently makes the pounds 56,000 AC Ace.

A link-up with Texan millionaire Carroll Shelby led to the creation of the first race-bred Cobra in the early 1960s.

It was widely regarded by enthusiasts as the ultimate "muscle car"; its hooded snake badge the last word in macho motoring. According to legend, grown men screamed when exposed for the first time to its brute power and fierce acceleration.

So keen are enthusiasts to own the legendary car that several kit car manufacturers make replicas of the Cobra retailing at up to pounds 40,000.

Current AC boss Brian Angliss took over the business in 1986. A year later, car giant Ford took a 50.9% stake in the company. The partnership proved an uneasy one and eventually Mr Angliss was allowed to buy out Ford's share.

By October 1993, AC Cars was able to show off the Ace car, having already produced the Cobra Mark IV. But cash difficulties have now arisen and the company needs to team up with a financially-secure partner.

Mike Gercke, one of the receivers said yesterday: "Production is continuing while the receivers seek buyers for the business as a going concern. No one has been laid off and we are confident that a strong partner can be found for the company."

By comparison the end of the Renault Five will inspire bitter-sweet memories rather than fanaticism. A last series of Fives, a limited run of 12,000 - named the 'Bye-bye' - will be the model's swan-song.

More than 9 million Fives have been sold since production began in 1972. It came into its own with the oil crisis, subsequently acquiring the sleeker, more stylish lines that facilitated its graduation into 'le Car' and the 'Supercinq', a design item of the Eighties.

Renault says the car is being phased out because it is outdated and no longer commercial. Since the replacement - the Twingo, darling of the Paris smart set - will not be sold here, British fans of the Five will have to be satisfied with the 'Bye-bye'. The name has annoyed the French so much that there may be enough to go round.