AC 428 Frua Coupe

It is impossible to consider AC cars of the 1960s without invoking the Ford-engined Cobra models. The degree of credit due to Carroll Shelby will be forever argued, but it cannot be denied that the Thames Ditton automaker benefited from all the notoriety. Too few appreciate, however, that other remarkable AC cars continued after Cobra construction had been principally consigned to replicators.

Carroll Shelby, born in Texas in 1923, began his career as a racing driver. Driving for Donald Healey in a modified Austin-Healey 100S, he set 16 US and international records, and he won Le Mans in 1959 for Aston Martin. He retired that year and opened a driving school but also began looking around for a car-building project. In his travels he came across the AC Ace-Bristol, then making a name for itself in sports car racing.

Bristol engine production had ended in 1959, and AC were using Ford Zephyr powerplants instead. Shelby suggested an American Ford V8 alternative. The “small block” unit of the early 1960s was of 3.6 litre displacement and a bit weak, but a new 4.2 litre version from 1963 showed more promise. An Ace chassis was flown to Shelby’s California works and repowered – and christened “Cobra.” The chassis, which had been designed by John Tojeiro, was tweaked – by Shelby’s account redesigned – by both AC and Shelby-American, and the cars homologated for US racing. They did very well, achieving Shelby’s initial aim of beating Corvettes, particularly with the larger 4.7 litre Ford engine fitted.

By 1963, an even larger engine was called for to meet the competition. Ford’s “big block” seven-litre V8 (called “427” but actually 424.9 cubic inches) was put in a strengthened chassis. Thus was born the 427 Cobra, a remarkable car but reportedly quite a handful on track or road. The partnership with Shelby dissolved in 1967, but AC continued to assemble a few small-block Cobras through 1969.

The Cobra legacy, however, begat the 428 Frua. Taking a 427 Cobra chassis, AC stretched it six inches, and had Carrozzeria Frua of Turin clothe it in handsome Italian steel coachwork. For power, Ford’s street-tuned “428” engine (actually 426.5 cubic inches or 6,989 cc) was used, and gearboxes were either four-speed manual or automatic. Just 81 were built: 49 coupés, 29 convertibles and three special bodies. Chassis were shipped to Italy, bodied and then returned to Britain for power trains and trimming. A better performer than its Italian competition, the AC 428’s production was limited by Frua’s capacity and Ford’s ability to supply engines. Finally, the energy crisis of 1973 finished it off.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in October of 2009 at the Battersea Evolution, London.

345 bhp, 6,989 cc overhead valve V8 engine, three-speed automatic gearbox, independent coil spring front and rear suspension, four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 96"

Source: RM Auctions

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