Kit cars haven’t always enjoyed the best rep, particularly with the number of VW Beetle based models that appeared on the scene back in the 70s, but times have moved on, quality improved and so with a V8 engine up front and a decent chassis underneath is there now a case for cars like the AK427 when originals are changing hands north of £1,000,000.
After all there were only 998 Cobra’s built in the 1960s, split between the 260, 289 and 427cu in powered models and with those cars fetching such a high premium surely if all people crave is a taste of what magic Carol Shelby created back then the case for the AK427 and other kit car manufacturers replicas is strong. Although to keep it all real there are some ground rules.
For starters there must be an American V8 under the bonnet and a manual gearbox. There are of course cars out there with Rover V8s which is OK for starters, but nothing with four cylinders should be allowed through, sorry if that’s you. After all to be anything like true, when you put your foot down you want a rip snorting muscle bound engine to take you by the scruff of the neck and sling you down the road fast and loud. Bringing us quickly onto Rule No.2, it must also be loud, very loud.
Let’s face it the basic Cobra shape especially in wide 427 body form is not a shy retiring violet by any means and so everyone expects your car to also have big power lurking underneath, meaty controls and a bark that would put any intruder off making one step closer to a house at night. This particular AK427 definitely has all the right ingredients topped off with a bit of irony as well.
You see all of Mr Shelby’s original incarnations ran Ford Windsor Engines. He did go to Chevrolet first but they said no, concerned this lightweight Anglo-American hybrid would undo their Corvette in competition. They were right of course. Ford on the other hand said yes and immediately crated up a 260 cu in motor for fitting. Slightly ironic therefore that our AK427 has in fact got a Chevrolet engine, a popular 350cu in (5.7litre) variant with Edelbrock tuning parts putting it up to 300bhp.
This particular kit was also built from AK Sportscars ‘standard’ chassis which means it uses Jaguar XJS/ XJ6 running gear, as opposed to that taken from the later XJ40. What you get therefore is inboard discs at the rear mated to the very strong 4HU ‘Powerlock’ diff, 5 speed manual (thankfully) gearbox, as opposed to the more common Jaguar auto-shifter, and other ancillaries like a silky smooth PAS unit, fly-off handbrake (also mounted outside of the driver’s seat aka Jaguar) and although not confirmed I suspect big cat pedals as well. Being top mounted as opposed to floor hinged as AC Cars would have fitted originally.
The seats are bespoke and although the correct height and shape were chosen by someone with very narrow hips because after a while they hurt feeling like you’re sitting in a giant bulldog clip. Still looking on the up side you don’t get slung around the cabin during B-road blasts and not inclined to fall asleep driving at night either. Not that the AK427 AC Cobra Rep is a back road sort of car by any means or an obvious place to dose off behind the wheel.
Power up the Edelbrock breathed on engine, which takes a number of turns before finally sparking into life, and you are left in no doubt this car means business. Putting aside the Ford versus Chevrolet arguments for one second, this is still a large capacity, by European standards at least, 5.7litre piece of pure American hardware after all. Select first gear, itself a laboured and reassuringly heavy process, pull away and you quickly discover the joys of high low end torque enabling a cool through town burble to be executed with ease.
Of course get things nicely warmed up and the AK427 V8 can be stirred from an engine that will cruise in fifth gear at just 1,000rpm without missing a beat to one that sounds like Thor parting dark clouds heavy with rain before roaring his dismay down at the planet we call earth. There is a true Jekyll and Hyde experience to be had here that ticks all the boxes for me. Perhaps why 50litres of Superunleaded got us no more than 180miles equating to just 16mpg?
One common issue with kit cars is that although they look the part, and this car is stunning incidentally even in its unusual maroon hue, and sound the part, once out on the open road things can begin to fall apart a bit. Quite often because they are ultra-light weight and therefore unable to ride over poor road surfaces easily. Not in this case though, as original Cobra’s came in at around the ton mark and so do these cars, they seem to have the necessary gravitas and mass to ride like a normal road car.
The driving experience is therefore quite believable and not faux at all. The heavy clutch pedal and gear change in our case are offset by mighty brakes and a delicate (Jaguar) steering feel. It’s possible even that the latter two might be improvements over original cars of course. Also this car has a lovely planted rear end, courtesy of the fully independent suspension, although mated to a slightly skippy front end, something that could be easily resolved with some minor adjustments.
This is part of the point and pleasure really of the AK427 and any other similar kit in that it can be customised by you to suit you. If this were mine for instance before anything else the seats would have to go and something wider found. The front would be softened slightly to match the rear and ensure that contact is maintained with the road surface all of the time. Smooth A-roads being absolutely fine by the way, so this is fine tuning. Yes I would also hand the interior over to an expert, but that would definitely wait until year two.
There are some nice surprises as well. For instance the boot is huge which makes it a practical two seater. There is also a modern immobiliser fitted, so it is still likely to there the next morning, and it has a roof, albeit one that fits where it touches along with side screens that can blow out above 40mph. Which means once on the move roof down is the only way to go, but you knew that already. When you do one press of the fan button pushes warm air over your lap, which I have to say was very welcome in the cold night air during leg one of our journey. On top of that and perhaps the biggest surprise was that the lights were fantastic.
All and all the AK427 package enables a decent pace to be maintained and when it comes to overtaking you couldn’t be in better company. The engine provides the necessary urge, along with an appropriate accompanying soundtrack, whilst the Jag rear squats down and sticks to the road leaving you left to just steer around any serious road imperfections. The car also felt completely safe and secure in the damp conditions that greeted us the following morning, although leaving any heavy right foot applications to straighter road sections was still very much the order of the day to avoid too many inevitable (and controllable) oversteer moments.
The AK427 AC Cobra Replica demonstrates how a taste of an original and now expensive masterpiece can be experienced at a fraction of the cost and after the disgraces of went before in the 1970s, without the clatter of a rear mounted VW flat four anywhere in sight.
How does this car make you feel?
In one word: Yee-Ha
As a favourite meal: Steak and Chips.
Anything Else: Most cannot afford an original and so this really is the next best thing, still not cheap though.
Key Ingredients: American V8, manual box, heavy controls (except steering), secure rear, controllable sideways moments out of junctions, correct weight and feel out on the road (not too light) and best of those looks and that sound.
With thanks to Great Escape Classic Car Hire and Rendcomb College
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