1998 RAM AC CobraView vehicle description
Why can’t we cruise legally at more than 70mph on a UK motorway? Because of the AC Cobra. Back in 1964, when you could go as fast as you liked on the new M1, AC cars tested a Le Mans Cobra at 185mph on the five year old tarmac, which was the beginning of the end of autobahn-style high speed cruising in Britain. A 70mph speed limit was introduced the following year.
The Cobra was an unlikely fusion of a lithe and sophisticated English sports car with a crude, brutish but highly effective American V8 engine. Powered by a 2-litre 128bhp straight six Bristol engine the AC Ace was an instant hit and began to dominate racing circuits in Europe and America. It even took class honours at Le Mans in 1958. But in 1961 Bristol stopped producing the 2-litre engine, leaving the Ace’s future up in the air.
Carroll Shelby was itching to build a two seater sports car, but struggled to find a chassis and a manufacturer that would support his efforts. Now with a medical condition that effectively sidelined his racing career, Shelby wanted to continue his involvement in racing not as a racer, but as a team owner and constructor.
Having seen the Ace dominate SCCA events in America, Shelby caught wind of the Ace’s potential demise and contacted AC with a proposal. He wanted AC to send a car to Los Angeles to see whether he could shoehorn a Ford V8 into it.
AC shipped him a car and within a few months Shelby was sitting in an Ace with no engine and no suspension. He then talked Ford into sending a few engineers to his shop as long as he committed to install a Ford engine into all of his cars.
Shelby assured Ford management that his car would dominate the racing world and create a name for Ford in a period that was dominated by Porsche and Ferrari. By 1962 he’d stuffed a small block Ford V8 into the Ace, and renamed it the AC Cobra. Thus, a legend was born. Then in 1964 he decided to take the already wild Cobra into truly outrageous territory.
Shoehorning the 289 into the engine bay of the Cobra was no small feat, but fitting a 427ci (7-litre) big block V8 into an engine bay designed for a 2-litre straight six was impossible. Again, calling on the masters at Ford, Shelby took to rebuilding nearly every single component of the AC Cobra to fit this massive powerplant.
He stretched the body in nearly every direction, relocated the transmission tunnel and moved suspension pick up points. Only the windscreen and boot lid are interchangeable between the 289 and 427 Cobras, and the final result was staggering. Power was officially 475bhp, although Shelby himself, says it was more like 550bhp, with over 500lb-ft of torque. Enough to get to 60mph in 4.6 seconds. That’s high performance in 2021 – in 1964 it was staggering.
On road and track the AC Cobra simply embarrassed everything that came across its path in everything from straight-line speed to brutal acceleration. Production ended in 1968 when AC finally halted production of the body, a very short production run for such an iconic car.
And only 998 Cobras were produced from 1962 – 1968, with just 348 of them being 427s. Of those, only 260 were road cars while the rest were designated as competition models. Today there are fewer than 100 actual, real Cobras out there. When they go up for sale, they fetch eye-watering sums.
It’s because of the scarcity of original AC Cobras that specialist companies started building replicas of these fantastic beasts. However, not all replicas are created equal. What we have here is arguably the best of them all.
When Carroll Shelby visited Europe to launch his Heart Foundation, he went to see Realm Engineering’s Essex factory. He was so impressed by the quality and driving characteristics of their RAM Cobra that he officially authorised them to use the term ‘AC Cobra replica personally approved by Carrol Shelby’. So this isn’t just another Cobra replica.
Although similar in appearance to lesser Cobras, Ram Automotive cars are totally different under the double-skinned glassfibre shell. Instead of the crude ladder frame chassis that other manufacturers use, there’s a full spaceframe, which was developed in conjunction with race car constructors, Reynard.
This gives massively increased rigidity over most ladder chassied cars, which leads to handling that’s in a different league. Jaguar top and bottom wishbones mount on the front of the chassis and are used in conjunction with uprated road springs and dampers. At the rear of the car a modified Jaguar XJ series independent rear suspension setup is used with narrowed drive-shafts.
The spaceframe design offers the safety conscious a well braced body shell, there are many impact absorbing zones, and the driver is surrounded by a substantial steel framework. The fuel tank is set deep into the chassis behind the seats for protection. The majority of Ram Cobra replicas are fitted with a mildly tweaked Rover V8 engine, but this car has a genuine 350ci (5.7-litre) Chevy small block V8, giving it similar performance to the original Shelby Cobra 427.
This is in our view the perfect engine for a Cobra. While a big block Ford V8 may be more original, it’s also a very heavy unit. The small block Chevy can be tuned to produce just as much power (should you really need 500bhp) yet it weighs considerably less, giving the car far better weight distribution and superior handling as a result. This, combined with the Adrian Reynard-designed chassis (he also penned chassis designs for several F1 cars in the 1980s and ’90s) means the RAM Cobra probably has the most dynamic chassis of all the Cobras ever built – including the original Shelby cars.
On the Outside
There’s really only one colour scheme for a Cobra and this is it – white Daytona Stripes over blue. Anything else just dilutes the Cobra vibe. Here it’s been beautifully executed, and although it no longer looks factory fresh, it’s in excellent condition and has just the right amount of patina to give this Cobra a genuine classic car feel, rather than that of a replica.
There are some marks on the paint, a small crazed area near the bonnet aperture and some crazing around one of the period-perfect bonnet catches, plus a scratch on the very extremity of the bodywork, near the nearside rear lights. But overall the paint is lovely, and for minimal outlay could be made perfect.
Under the bonnet it’s obvious this car was built to a very high standard. Most replicas like this are usually built by amateurs, although we mean that in the true sense of the word – people who are not getting paid to do it. Obviously that doesn’t mean they lack the required skills, and we wouldn’t be surprised if this car was built by someone with an engineering background.
The wiring in particular – often an area that lets a car like this down – has clearly been done with care, precision and craftsman-like skill. It’s neat, safe secure and professional looking, as is every other aspect of this car. The engine bay is very tidy and lacks any of the bling that can often afflict Cobra replicas, with painted steel rocker covers and no great lumps of chrome. This is, after all, a tribute to a racing legend.
As a bonus this Cobra comes with a top quality canvas tonneau cover to keep the interior dry if it’s parked up in a shower. You don’t need a hood – if it rains while you’re driving you just keep the speed high enough to let it pass over you.
On the Inside
Again, this is exactly what a Cobra should look like inside – restrained and simple, just like the originals. The black leather seats are similar to the sort Shelby himself would have raced in, and the black vinyl-covered dash is correct too. The gauges are classy plane black period-looking units that suit the car perfectly.
The tiny steering wheel has race car appeal but never fear – you don’t need to be Hulk Hogan to wrestle this car through the bends, as hidden from view is electric power assisted steering, with an adjustable level control near the steering wheel.
Race harnesses mean you can’t really pull the old Carol Shelby trick of sticking a $100 bill on the dash and telling passengers they could have it if they could grab it (he’d then nail the throttle every time they reached out, pinning them back in their seat), as they hold you firmly in place, and there’s a fire extinguisher clamped nearby, in case of emergency.
Bearing in mind the extremely low mileage it’s hardly surprising everything is so clean under here. There are some lower sections of the chassis that could do with some fresh paint or wax rustproofing, but overall it’s totally sound. The Jag XJ6 derived suspension was designed to support much more weight than this, so has a very easy time of things and will last many years.
The current owner bought this car from specialist Total Headturners in March last year. It was originally commissioned in 1998, yet has covered just 2850 miles in that time, which is verifiable from the selection of old MoTs that come with it (driving to and from the test every year probably makes up a large percentage of the total mileage!).
It comes with a current MoT which runs until May 2022 and there were no advisories. There is also a selection of bills with the car, listing parts that have been replaced over the years, including the clutch master and slave cylinders. There are also details of a new speedo cable, repairs to the fuel gauge and regular servicing work.
What We Think
The best Cobra replica we’ve seen in a long time, built to the highest standards using the best design there is, and with top quality parts throughout. And approved by Shelby himself.
Our estimate for this car is £29,000 - £36,000.
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