AC Cobra

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The Cobra was the world's most powerful car in its day, now it has become a true motoring icon.

When retired American racer Carroll Shelby shoe-horned a good ol' American V8 into a pretty British sportscar and called it Cobra, he created a legend that's become so resonant it's spawned a worldwide kit-car and replica industry.

The story started in Surrey in 1954 with the launch of AC's neat, lean and agile Ace, an expensive, bespoke sportscar powered by a rather vintage six-cylinder engine. In 1962 Shelby gave it a massive steroid shot, pumping up the chassis, suspension, brakes and aluminium body to cope with a series of fire-breathing Ford V8s. The first 75 cars used 4.2-litre engines, then grew to 4.7 to create the 289 - the engine's capacity in cubic inches.

Performance figures were shattering, but still Shelby wanted more and, in an attempt to realise his goal of winning Le Mans, he squeezed in a stonking 7.0-litre V8 under the bonnet and beefed up the chassis still more to create the 427.

The Cobra 427 never won Le Mans, although competition Cobras won races in other categories all over the world, and on the streets the car marketed as 'the fastest production car ever sold to the public' was just about the loudest, proudest, most raucous and primal four-wheeled projectile around.

The fact that 'fake-snakes' outside Home Counties semis probably far outnumber the real thing is certainly a tribute of kinds, even if many of the Cobra copies are powered by routine Rover V8s or even more asthmatic six-cylinder engines.

However, there is one modern car that can claim a true genetic descent from the Cobra, the aptly named Dodge Viper. 

Production (1962-1968): 998
Engines: 4265cc, 4727cc and 6997cc V8s
Power: 260bhp, 271bhp and 425bhp
0-60mph: 5.7 - 4.2 seconds
Top speed: 138 - 165mph

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