Just as the fortunes of the AC Ace were waning rescue came from an unexpected corner. Texan racing driver and entrepreneur Carroll Shelby was forced to stop his active racing career after heart problems in 1960 and now fancied the idea of creating an affordable sports car with European looks and handling and brute American power. The idea itself was not original, it had been done for decades with British examples like the Hudson powered Railton in the 1930s and the Nash powered Healey and Ford powered Allard in the 1950s. In fact, it was a Cadillac V8 propelled Allard J2 which Shelby drove in 1953 that had inspired him. But the way Shelby executed this idea was however unique.
So for AC the idea came at the right time. On the other side Shelby found the Ace ideal for his plans as well. It was a car with a racing pedigree which he saw win its class in the 1959 Le Mans race, it was lightweight and pretty and had a sound built quality. That left the matter of the right engine.
Development of the Shelby car had begun as early as 1961 at AC Cars in Britain. Under supervision of chief engineer designer Alan Turner of AC the chassis was stressed and strengthened to prepare it for the increase of horsepower and especially torque. Initially the regular 221 ci Ford unit was used for the prototype; remarkably this engine only weighed 7 kg more than the Bristol unit used before. The new Borg-Warner manual gearbox put on an additional 4.5 kg compared to the earlier Moss transmission, but in all the increase in weight of the V8 powered Ace was surprisingly limited.
In 1962 the prototype, without its power train, was transported to Shelby in the US. On the exterior only minor revisions were visible, most notable were the flared wheel arches to fit the wider track of the suspension and the more protruding front end with narrower grill. Shelby fitted the prototype with a high-compression 260 ci engine version, which delivered an impressive 325 hp. Then he used it for car shows and road tests by journalists and alike, who where all blown away by the cars amazing performance. It topped 246 kph and accelerated from 0-60 mph (96 kph) in 4.2 seconds. To give the impression that the production of the car had already started it was resprayed in a different paint color each time it was taken for a test drive.
The car was officially baptized "Shelby-Ford AC Cobra", usually shortened to Shelby Cobra in the US (and AC Cobra abroad). Shelby had thought up the Cobra designation himself. A popular story is that this name came to him in a dream, but more probably he remembered it from his early racing career when lightweight, sheet-steel copper-brazed engines were used (like in the Mercedes 300 SLR). Fellow American Powel Crosley was the first to take this type of engine into production in the early 1940s and he named it "COBRA" (short for copper-brazed). Engines manufactured accordingly usually had COBRA stamped on the valve cover, and that's where Shelby might have picked up the name.
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