My Car Quest

May 26, 2019

AC 428: If Shelby Had Gone Italian

by Wallace Wyss –

Actually Shelby knew the Italians could whack out bodies like nobody’s business, and after the first Cobra coupe was bodied entirely in the U.S. body wise (by Bill Honda) he sent the remaining five chassis to Carrozzeria Gran Sport in Italy to be built, right in the heart of Ferrari territory!

AC 428 Frua

But then, when the Shelby Mustangs came along and the pressure from Ford to shape up their mid engine Ford GT40, he left off the idea of having any bodywork done in Italy.

But AC cars sort of liked the Cobra, with all its excess power. They had been selling the big block body style with the tamer 428 engine. When Shelby stopped ordering Cobras, they went to an Italian coach builder Pietro Frua and put in an order to design a body for the Cobra, and body some of their chassis. They chose to offer it in big block form. And to use wire wheels which looked more traditional sports car, though Shelby in the 427 Cobra had chosen to go with mags, having had a bad experience in the GT40 with snapping spokes in wire wheels.

AC 428 Frua engine

Some say the car bears a strong resemblance to the Monteverdi and the Maserati Mistral. Ironically all three were bodied by Frua and all three share some body or trim parts.

It was marketed in Europe as the AC 428. Only 81 models were built from 1965 through 1973, 49 of them fastbacks, 29 Convertibles and 3 special bodied, actually prototypes for future models, one with pop up headlamps and, improbable as it sounds, a four-seater prototype on a Frua floorpan called the 130M. Only 8 convertibles were built with a manual 4-speed gearbox and only one was left hand drive. Subsequently, another one of the 4-speed cars was converted to left-hand drive.

AC 428 Frua Spider

AC 428 Frua Spider – photo by Alexander Oet

The AC428 benefitted from being able to use the Ford Engineering-designed AC Cobra 427 Mark III tube frame coil spring chassis. But the original Cobra was a little tight passenger-wise, so they stretched the wheelbase by six inches. Adding half a foot to the frame made it weigh more. AC would make the frames over in the UK at Thames Ditton and ship them to Frua in Italy. Once the body was attached they would come back to England still without a drive train (or else who knows how many would be wrecked by dock crew trying to drive them onto a ship?)

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AC 428 Frua

But all this shipping back and forth really hurt the profit margin. They were trying to compete with Jag but when they priced it twice the price of an XKE they still lost money. So the car was dropped. Other reasons for its demise? The oil crisis too many EEC and USA regulations that required changing the car for each country, labor strife in Italy, and a total inability of Frua to get the cars done.

The car was not without flaws. Cockpit heat is a problem. So is the fact the body is steel, they rusted. Only the bonnet and rear deck lid were aluminum. And with no power steering the 3150 lb. car was a chore to steer.

The car was, not like the Cobra, available in automatic (Shelby actually had a few automatic Cobras, mostly for his own use) a three-speed Ford C6 gearbox or if you wanted to shift for yourself you had the 4-speed Ford “toploader” close-ratio transmission.

It as a fast car, though the steel body sapped its power compared to the alloy bodied 427 Cobra. I have heard of a top speed of just over 140 mph and a 0-60 mph of 6.2 seconds.

In retrospect the car is much respected, though at auctions it hasn’t quite reached the highs of the Shelby built 427 Cobras (some of which were sold with 428 engines if you looked like a Goober…) I saw one 2010 price for a coupe at 100,000 Pounds. But that was nine years ago. AC428s are rare at auctions.

AC 428 Frua

1969 AC 428 Frua

It’s too bad it didn’t succeed because it would have marked the Ford big block FE series engine as a grand touring engine fit to compete with the best. But the car, with all that shuttling back and forth between countries just to get done, just couldn’t compete…

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

Wallace Wyss

 
 
 
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of 18 car books, currently doing portraits of classic cars in oil.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

AC 428 Frua logo

Summary
AC 428: If Shelby Had Gone Italian
Article Name
AC 428: If Shelby Had Gone Italian
Description
When Shelby stopped ordering Cobras, AC went to Italian coach builder Pietro Frua and put in an order to design a body for the Cobra, and body some of their chassis. AC chose to offer it in big block form.
Author

Comments

  1. wallace wyss says

    One for sale in Germany right now, a blue coupe Ni-Cola Classics for 385,000 Euros, sounds like higher than I thought they would be going for….

  2. The back end of this car looks like the Aston DBS…

  3. SKIP HINOJOS says

    YES, THIS DESIGN WAS HIGHLY CO OPTED FROM THAT OF A MASERATI MISTRAL COUPE AND SPYDERS.

  4. SKIP HINOJOS says

    I HAD A 69, SILVER COUPE, AND LOVED IT. I THINK MASERATI MADE THERE CARS BETTER THAN FERRARI DID, IN THOSE DAYS.

  5. Rex Clayton says

    As a teenager, my school sports ground was right by the AC factory. I remember, whilst waiting for the bus one summer afternoon, seeing a convertible version leave the factory and head towards Esher – I have wanted one ever since!

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