Last revised: 26-1-2009

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AC Shelby Cobra, 1966-1969: Mark III, resize for Europe

1969_AC_Cobra_289_Mk_IIIThe end of the original Shelby Cobra in the US didn't mean the end of AC's production of the Cobra though. Since AC still had quite a lot of parts of the Mk II Cobra in stock and the Cobra's demand in the US was declining AC decided to introduce the Cobra in Europe. Figuring that the big block 427 version wasn't very practical in European conditions anyway AC produced a version of the Mk III coil spring chassis fitted with the 289 ci engine. The car was officially named the AC 289 since Ford had registered the rights to the Cobra name but of course everybody called it the AC Cobra 289.
The first AC 289 left the factory in 1966, but it didn't prove very popular. The 2-seater roadster was considered old fashioned and its appeal didn't really catch on at the time. AC sold the last 289 in 1969, 2 years after the last Shelby Cobra 427, and only 32 were produced, practically half the amount of Mk II Cobras sold by AC in Europe previously.
AC went on producing the very expensive but beautiful, Italian styled AC 428 coupe and convertible which underneath resembled the Cobra 427 Mk III but was more a grand tourer than an all out sportscar. And AC held on to all the production tools for the Cobra, which proved almost invaluable later on.

1969_AC_Cobra_289_Mk_IIIIn the late 1960s and early 1970s the Cobra's fame dissipated. The value of the in total 1003 produced Cobras shrunk rapidly and it was hard to sell one, but then the tide turned. With modern road cars being rationalized and stripped from exciting but dangerous features in the name of safety and low insurance costs a sort of romantic craving for the brute cars of the past set in. This was felt mostly by the boys and young men who grew up with the myths of the Cobra and were dying to experience one. Since there were so few around and owners held on tight to their cars the value of the Cobra increased to a point that it became interesting to make replicas.
During the second half of the 1970s various Cobra replicas emerged. The success of these resulted in a new and improved AC 289 Mk IV appearing in 1981 which was manufactured by CP Autokraft of Brian Angliss under an agreement with AC Cars. Later on Ford licensed the Cobra name to Angliss to distinguish his "official" replica from all the other replicas that had appeared, often of inferior quality, and Angliss took over AC Cars when the company ran into financial trouble. Attempts were made to revive AC with new cars named Ace and Aceca which were less than successful, but reproducing the Cobra using the original tools and moulds meant a continuing source of income for the struggling AC Cars for the last couple of decades.

Meanwhile John Tojeiro has attached his name to a Cobra replica produced by the British Dax company and Carroll Shelby first started completing "leftover" 1966 Cobra 427 S/C models in 1989 and then introduced his own replica Cobra in 1995 (known as CSX 4000, named after the continuation of the original chassis numbers). Then some bickering started about who owned the rights to what regarding the Cobra, but ultimately the dust settled down and history repeats itself: starting from 2004 Shelby Automobiles will offer the Shelby AC Cobra CSX 1000 (meaning the new chassis numbers will precede the original CSX 2000 (Mk I & II) and CSX 3000 (Mk III) numbers), with chassis and body produced by AC in Britain using the original tools and then shipped over to be completed by Shelby in the US. A car conceived more than 50 years ago and still touching the hearts of car enthusiasts; the characteristics of a true classic.

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