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The final right-hand-drive ‘COB’ AC 289 Sports MKIII
Delivered new to England in right-hand-drive specification
One of just 27 original coil-spring 289-powered ‘Cobras’, of which just 17 were finished in right-hand drive
Finished in its original colours of Guardsman Blue over a black interior
Chassis no. COB6124
The AC 289 Sports MKIII
If ever there was a person who needed convincing of the appeal of the AC Cobra, we’d position them on the outside of Lavant corner at the Goodwood Revival during the RAC TT Celebration race and leave them to watch as the train of competing Cobra 289s squirm and slither round virtually the entire lap on opposite lock. It’s a spectacle which treads the line between majestic and savage – an awe-inspiring recipe of brute force and deft skill.
As the Texan chicken farmer turned Le Mans winner Carroll Shelby had the foresight to install a powerful American V8 into the lightweight and nimble chassis of the British AC Ace, so one of the all-time great sports cars was born: the Cobra. And it’s not difficult to understand why this Anglo-American creation has captured the imagination of so many millions of people over the decades.
Thinking about it, the Cobra has everything you want in a sports car. Striking good looks, commanding power, comparatively delicate poise and agility and a hair-raising annoy-the-hell-out-of-your-neighbours exhaust note. What’s more, because of the relatively straightforward underpinnings and the bulletproof nature of Ford’s small- and big-block V8s, the Cobra was reliable. It’s small wonder that Shelby enjoyed so much success with the Cobra 289 on the racetracks of North America.
Beyond the Cobra’s credentials as a physical sports car, it embodies a greater philosophy – that of Carroll Shelby’s unrelenting American Dream.
Of the myriad road and race AC- and Shelby-badged Cobras built between 1962 and ’67, the magnificent example we’re delighted to be offering is, ironically, a Cobra in all but name. Its official nomenclature is ‘AC 289 Sports MKIII’. Allow us to explain.
When Shelby began building and selling a seven-litre big-block 427 V8-powered Cobra with coil springs and a new wider and more curvaceous body in 1965, AC Cars in Thames Ditton, England, were disgruntled. Fuel prices had skyrocketed and the British government had levied higher taxes on cars with higher engine capacities as a result. Furthermore, the brand’s top brass was fed up of playing second fiddle to Shelby in the marketing stakes. From the outset, Shelby and Ford had made out AC to be but a mere subcontractor for the project, when in reality, it was manufacturing most of the car.
The decision was taken to install the smaller 289 engine in the new coil-spring 427 chassis – a recipe which would prove far more refined and useable on Europe’s comparatively twisty roads – and clothe the car in the bodacious new body but with narrower hips at the rear. In what was a bold move, AC then proceeded to remove all ‘Shelby’, ‘Cobra’ and ‘Powered by Ford’ badging from the car, renaming it simply the ‘AC 289 Sports MKIII’.
Just 27 289 Sports MKIIIs were sold before ‘Cobra’ production at Thames Ditton concluded in 1967. Right-hand-drive cars sold to Great Britain, of which there were 17, were assigned by the chassis number prefix ‘COB’, while the 10 left-hand-drive cars designated for export were ‘COX’.
This AC 289 Sports MKIII
This right-hand-drive AC 289 Sports MKIII is chassis number COB6124, which was the final right-hand-drive example constructed in Thames Ditton and finished in Guardsman Blue over a black interior. It was first acquired via Victoria Motor Works in Surrey by one Robert Hewitt. The car passed through the hands of two further UK owners, before it was exported to Illinois in the USA in 1983 and offered for sale by William Richardson.
COB6124 remained in North America over two decades, during which time it was registered in New York under the license number ‘BBP 2469’ and exhibited at the 1992 Lime Rock Vintage Fall Festival. In August of 2006, RM Auctions sold this AC at its flagship Monterey sale to Brian Classic, who subsequently returned the car to the United Kingdom. Classic advertised the car for sale in 2008, after which point it wound up in the possession of a collector in Japan.
The aforementioned collector took the decision to make a small number of changes to return the car in line with its original specification, including repainting it in Guardsman Blue. Its black leather interior remains original and in excellent condition. We imported COB6124 to the UK in September of 2021 and promptly sent the car to The Light Car Company in Oxfordshire for a thorough inspection and service. Following that, we sent this 289 Sports MKIII to be professionally detailed.
Today, this ultra-rare late-production 289 Sports MKIII represents the pride and engineering prowess of AC Cars, but also the vision of Carroll Shelby. Installing the smaller and more tractable 289 V8 into the final-development coil-spring chassis of the 427-powered cars was a stroke of genius on AC’s part, resulting in arguably the most pleasurable ‘Cobra’ to use and drive. Every drive in a Cobra is a scintillating experience which sears itself into your memory. And isn’t that exactly what a great classic car should do?
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