The AC Cobra, sold as the Shelby Cobra in the United States of America, is an Anglo-American sports car with a Ford V8 engine, produced intermittently in both the UK and United States of America since 1962.
Like many British manufacturers, AC Cars had been using the Bristolstraight-6 engine in its small-volume production, including its AC Ace two-seater roadster. This had a hand-built body with a steel tube frame, and aluminium body panels that were made using English wheeling machines. The engine was a pre-World War II design by BMW which by the 1960s was considered dated.
In September 1961, American automotive designer Carroll Shelby wrote to AC asking if they would build him a car modified to accept a V8 engine. AC agreed, provided a suitable engine could be found. Shelby went to Chevrolet to see if they would provide him with engines, but not wanting to add competition to the Corvette they said no. However, Ford wanted a car that could compete with the Corvette and they happened to have a brand new engine which could be used in this endeavor: the Windsor 221 in³ (3.6 L) engine – a new lightweight, thin-wall cast small-block V8.
AC exported completed, painted, and trimmed cars (less engine and gearbox) to Shelby who then finished the cars in his workshop in Los Angeles by installing the engine and gearbox and correcting any bodywork flaws caused by the car‘s passage by sea.
The first 75 Cobra Mk1 models (including the prototype) were fitted with the 260 cu in (4.3 L). The remaining 51 Mk1 models were fitted with a larger version of the Windsor Ford engine, the 289 cu in (4.7 L) V8.
In late 1962 Alan Turner, AC‘s chief engineer completed a major design change of the car‘s front end to accommodate rack and pinion steering while still using transverse leaf spring suspension. The new car entered production in early 1963 and was designated Mark II. The steering rack was borrowed from the MGB while the new steering column came from the VW Beetle. About 528 Mark II Cobras were produced in the summer of 1965 (the last US-bound Mark II was produced in November 1964).