AC's system was as follows: The Ace chassis numbers read AEX... "A" being the car series and "X" being for export with left hand drive. Later with the introduction of the Bristol engine the chassis numbers ran "BEX..." When switching to the Ford 2.6 engine the Ace chassis numbers ran "RS..." for Ruddspeed as Ken Rudd may have been influential in the choice of engine. The first Cobra chassis was left hand drive and given the next letter in the alphabet,i.e. C. Therefore the numbers ran CSX2... for all the export Cobras. Otherwise, the prefix was "CS2...". The four following numbers ran from 2000 sequentially. When the MKIII Cobra was built the identification ran from CSX3000 (for left hand drive export). There were other numbers used such as "COB...." and "COX...".Production proved to be easy, since AC had already made most of the modifications needed for the small-block V8 when they installed the 2.6 litre Ford Zephyr engine, including the extensive rework of the AC Ace's front end. The most important modification was the fitting of a stronger rear differential to handle the increased engine power. A Salisbury 4HU unit with inboard disk brakes to reduce unsprung weight was chosen instead of the old ENV unit. It was the same unit used on the Jaguar E-Type. On the production version, the inboard brakes were moved outboard to reduce cost. The only modification of the front end of the first Cobra from that of the AC Ace 2.6 was the steering box, which had to be moved outward to clear the wider V8 motor.The first 75 Cobra Mark I (including the prototype) were fitted with the 260 engine (4.2 L). The remaining 51 Mark I model were fitted with a larger version of the Windsor Ford engine, the 289 in³ (4.7 L) V8. In late 1962 Alan Turner, AC's chief engineer completed a major design change of the car's front end and was able to fit it with rack and pinion steering while still using transverse leaf spring suspension. The new car entered production in early 1963 and was designated Mark II. The steering rack was borrowed from the MGB while the new steering column came from the VW Beetle. About 528 Mark II Cobras were produced to the summer of 1965 (the last US-bound Mark II was produced in November 1964).By 1963 the leaf-spring Cobra was losing its supremacy in racing. Shelby tried fitting a larger Ford FE engine of 390 cubic inches (6.4 L). Ken Miles drove and raced the FE-powered Mark II and pronounced the car was virtually undrivable, naming it "The Turd". A new chassis was developed and designated Mark III.The new car was designed in cooperation with Ford in Detroit. A new chassis was built using 4 in (102 mm) main chassis tubes (up from 3 in (76 mm)) and coil spring suspension all around. The new car also had wide fenders and a larger radiator opening. It was powered by the "side oiler" Ford 427 engine (7.0 L) rated at 425 bhp (317 kW), which provided a top speed of 164 mph (262 km/h) in the standard model and 485 bhp (362 kW) with a top speed of 185 mph (298 km/h) in the competition model. Cobra Mark III production began on the 1st of January 1965; two prototypes had been sent to the United States in October 1964. Cars were sent to the US as unpainted rolling chassis, and they were finished in Shelby's workshop. Although an impressive automobile, the car was a financial failure and did not sell well. In fact to save cost, most AC Cobra 427s were actually fitted with Ford's 428 cubic inches (7.01 L) engine, a long stroke, smaller bore, lower cost engine, intended for road use rather than racing. It seems that a total of 300 Mark III cars were sent to Shelby in the USA during the years 1965 and 1966, including the competition version. 27 small block narrow fender versions, which were referred to as the AC 289, were sold in Europe. Unfortunately, The MK III missed homologation for the 1965 racing season and was not raced by the Shelby team. However, it was raced successfully by many privateers and went on to win races all the way into the 70s. The remaining 31 unsold examples were detuned and fitted with wind screens for street use. Called S/C for semi-competition, an original example can currently sell for 1.5 million USD, making it one of the most valuable Cobra variants.AC Cobras had an extensive racing career. Shelby wanted it to be a "Corvette-Beater" and at nearly 500 lb (227 kg) less than the Chevrolet Corvette, the lightweight car did just that. It was February 2, 1963 at Riverside International Raceway that driver Dave MacDonald beat an impressive field of Corvettes, Jaguars, Porsches, and Maseratis to give the Cobra its first-ever victory. Later, Shelby offered a drag package, known as the Dragonsnake, which won several NHRA National events with Bruce Larson or Ed Hedrick at the wheel of CSX2093.The Cobra was perhaps too successful as a performance car and reputedly contributed to the implementation of national speed limits in the United Kingdom. An AC Cobra Coupe was calculated to have done 186 mph (299 km/h) on the M1 motorway in 1964, driven by Jack Sears and Peter Bolton during shakedown tests prior to that year's Le Mans 24h race. However, government officials have cited the increasing accident death rate in the early 1960s as the principal motivation, with the exploits of the AC Cars team merely highlighting the risk.Although successful in racing, the AC Cobra was a financial failure, which led Ford and Carroll Shelby to discontinue importing cars from England in 1967. AC Cars kept producing the coil spring AC Roadster with narrow fenders, a small block Ford 289 and called the car the AC 289. It was built and sold in Europe until late 1969. AC also produced the AC 428 until 1973. The AC Frua was built on a stretched Cobra 427 MK III coil spring chassis using a very angular handsome steel body designed and built by Pietro Frua. With the demise of the 428 and succeeding 3000ME, AC shut their doors in 1984 and sold the AC name to a Scottish company. The company's tooling, and eventually the right to use the name, were licensed by Autokraft, a Cobra parts reseller and replica car manufacturer owned by Brian A. Angliss.
Shelby Cobra - Two Original '65 Competition 427s