1964 AC Cobra 289 Coupe

We have the horsepower, it’s time to slash the drag. That was the philosophy behind the various Cobra coupes, and this was the pretest.

With Shelby taking the plaudits in ’63, this was a chance for AC itself, which after all built most of the Cobra, to wrest some of them back at Le Mans in ’64.

The first the Shelby team knew of it was the car’s debut at the Le Mans test day that year. Designed inhouse by Alan Turner and visibly lower than the Pete Brock Daytona coupe (which had been kept high due to uncertainty over Le Mans screen height regs), its sleek form promised to be a great leap forward on the Mulsanne Straight. To confirm that, AC took the 289-engined car to the nearest test track, also known as the Ml, but the story that the resulting 185mph triggered Britain’s 70mph speed limit is a myth.

At the Sarthe Jack Sears and Peter Bolton were clocked at 183mph, matching the Daytona Cobras despite giving away 30bhp to the Shelby entries, and at one point the car was running in third place but on Saturday evening a tyre blew, wrecking the car in its first and only race. The ruins sat in AC’s workshop for many years until enthusiast Barrie Bird undertook the huge task of straightening it out, and after a long restoration it is now a familiar sight at car gatherings. Look out for it in the recreated AC workshop at the Goodwood Revival.

Gordon Cruickshank