THE KEEPERS of Chessington Zoo in Surrey will tell you that a Cobra is a venomous hooded snake. Elsewhere in Chessington village Cobra has a different meaning, for there Brian Angliss tends to the Cobra which was sired by AC Cars, Carroll Shelby and the Ford Motor Company, the wildest, most venomous production road car produced this side of World War II and, in its Mk. III 427 (7-litre) form, probably the fastest accelerating production road car of all time.
We shouldn’t need to tell MOTOR SPORT readers the attraction (and to others, detractions) of the fast, brutal Cobra; that splendidly no-holds-barred recipe of a massive multi-hundred horsepower V8 engine plonked in the front of a simple tubular ladder type chassis and cloaked in a curvaceous aluminium body, the whole lot weighing only a ton. It is a sports car in the real sense, a classic of all time . . . and there must be hundreds of owners all over the world cursing the day they were made. For in recent years, although AC Cars can supply some parts, the spare parts situation has become fairly desperate and the condition of many Cobras has suffered as a result. Which is where Brian Angliss and his company, Cobra Parts, come to the rescue.
Brian Angliss has practically, but not quite, put back the Cobra into production. Almost, but not quite in that he has built and is building brand-new 427 Cobras, but at the end of the day there won’t be any more Cobras on the road than left AC’s Thames Ditton factory; each of his “new” Cobras is based on the identity of an original car to avoid floundering into the legal jungle of safety regulations, car tax, registered trade names and what have you. Apart from which, some of the complete cars which are sent to him to rebuild are so rough that it is easier and cheaper to build them up entirely of new parts. No matter what happens to your Cobra, whether it’s driven over a cliff (as happened to a chassis which Brian has acquired from the States) or completely burnt out, Cobra Parts can rebuild it. At least 90 per cent of all parts for 427 Cobras (and the AC 289, a Mk. III coil-sprung car, produced in entirety by AC Cars, with the 4.7-litre engine) can be supplied and more than 80 per cent of Mk. II Cobra 289 parts. He can also help with spares for the Ace and its close relatives.
Angliss prefers to emphasise himself as a specialist in the supply of Cobra parts rather than a rebuilder of complete cars. He regards the cars he builds as illustrations of his complete spares facilities. An outsider like the writer can only look in awe both at the magnificence of the completed Angliss Cobra exemplified by Nigel Hulme’s 427 on these pages and at his collection of parts. A Cobra owner walking into the buildings where Cobra Parts is based would think he’d walked into a treasure trove. Brand-new aluminium body sections hang from the old wooden beams, gleaming 7-litre engines sprout from a concrete floor, crates of new windscreens, steering racks, seats, Salisbury differentials, pistons, instruments, boot floors, footwells, badges, you name it, are scattered around. And then there are the chassis; two brand new Ace chassis complete with tubular superstructure, a couple of AC Frua 428 chassis complete with coil-spring wishbone suspension, awaiting shortening by six inches to Cobra wheelbase and three chassis and superstructures which Brian has constructed himself from scratch. One is for a coil-sprung Mk. III 427 destined for motor dealer and MOTOR SPORT advertiser Rod Leach, eventually to carry Rod’s famously apt number, COB 1, a second is a transverse leaf-sprung 289 Mk. II chassis which is being kept as a reference chassis until another Mk. II has been built, and the third is for Brian himself. This last has to be the ultimate in high performance road cars: Race Engine Service’s dynamometer showed no less than 505 b.h.p. and 520 lb./ft. torque from the 7-litre, dry-sumped, NASCAR-specification engine which will power this one-ton car. Four twin-choke 58DCO3s, the largest carburetters made by Weber, mounted on a cross-over manifold, feed this monster and ignition is by a modern version of the Scintilla Vertex magneto, vintage enthusiasts will be interested to know. Other special features of this very special Cobra will be ventilated disc brakes all round, semi-inboard at the rear and Teflon instead of Metalastik suspension bushes.
The Angliss chassis follow the original design, but are much strengthened to avoid problems like the bowing of the two 3 in. diameter main chassis tubes which occasionally afflicted the original 289s; Angliss uses 10 gauge solid drawn tube instead of the original 13 gauge seamed tubes, for instance. The complex body-carrying tubular superstructure requires tremendous skill and experience to ensure accuracy for AC’s jigs were destroyed, so that Angliss must rely on drawings and another chassis as a guide. The main chassis is built up on a surface-table using a Swedish Mig inert gas welder. Many of the existing chassis which Angliss has repaired by sleeving on new main tubes have suffered incredible bendings and batterings in racing, including an ex-Alan Mann, ex-Granville-Smith car which he is currently rebuilding in entirety.
Some 1,011 Cobras were built between late 1962 and late 1968, most of which remain in the USA. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that Angliss’s biggest customer is Cobra Performance, Sacramento, California, who took over the Shelby Organisation as official Cobra stockists. They can’t obtain many of the rolling chassis parts which were produced by AC Cars in England (new cars were shipped to the States complete except for engine and gearbox), Brian can’t obtain many engine and gearbox parts in England so there is something of a reciprocal arrangement.
Many of the parts are made by Brian or outside contractors to original specification, rather than acquired by buying up old spares. Windscreen frames, for example, totally unobtainable for years, are back in production again using most of the original jigs—and the man who made them originally. Overriders, like gold dust, are being manufactured again using the original press tools, which Brian managed to track down to and buy from GKN (original production was by Pyrene). He can supply the 2 1/4 turns lock-to-lock Cam Gears steering rack (which he modifies from one designed for another make of car), whereas in recent years the only new rack available has been the lower-geared 428 Frua type. Wherever possible he improves on the quality of the original parts: door ferrules in stainless steel instead of rapid-wearing chrome on brass, for example.
Manufacture of most of the parts was arranged as lessons were learnt during the construction of Nigel Hulme’s car, the first Angliss had built in its entirety. A brief ride in this beautiful, specially-trimmed Cobra reminded the writer what brute power is all about, in spite of an intermittent misfire; it’s a little matter of controlling wheel-spin in top gear and feeding the power in gently at road junctions to avoid spinning across the opposite kerb. I might add that Nigel Hulme did neither of these things, as befits a man who also owns the ex-works Cobra raced at Le Mans in 1963 by Bolton/Sanderson, which had later claims to fame for John Willment in the hands of Jack Sears and has recently been overhauled by Angliss. Nigel Hulme regretfully confessed that he was having to sell the newly-built 427—to make way for the infamous Lola Aston Martin. Understandably, because of the endless variety of specifications, Angliss finds it difficult to put a price on a complete rebuild with all-new parts, but on average it would be about £10,000. On top of that an original Cobra car/chassis would have to be bought upon which to base the rebuild.
To avoid time-waking, merely-curious, callers—he works as a one-man band— enquiries should be addressed to him at PO Box 14F, Chessington, Surrey KT9 2PF.