My Car Quest

October 23, 2021

The AC Cobra Mk. IV – Establishing a Historical Reference

Wherein a Shelby author tries to get a handle on what came after the AC Shelby Cobra…

by Wallace Wyss –

In observing car clubs for the last few decades, I have come to realize that cars appreciate best when there is a strong owner’s club, exchanging information to get the story straight on the origins and history of the cars–especially important when the company has had its demise and there is no central source to go back to in order to clarify “what is original?”

I salute Jeff Gagnon, owner of AC Mk. IV No. 1085, who has become the Mk. IV registrar for the Shelby American Automobile Club and has been a concours judge for SAAC at National events for the last 10 years (Cobra only).

I thought the best way to approach this is to do a Q & A interview. At the same time I sent the questions to John Sadler, a Britisher who was a partner in providing another car from the Shelby era–the continuation GT40s known as Safir. His comments are in separate boxes.

AC Cobra Mk. IV

AC Cobra Mk. IV at the factory

We are hoping you readers who know people who own AC Cobra Mk. IVs will get this to them so they can add their 2 cents worth. The results could be cars that are more “thoroughbred” in their lineage and are more documented and well known.

I met John Sadler, the co-founder of Safir Cars in England, when I went there to order a Safir, a Ford-licensed GT40. It turns out he’s an AC buff as well so upon hearing from him some 30 years later I decided to write him questions about the AC Mk IV, which, aside from the Shelby-built Cobras, are appreciating nicely and offering much the same driving thrills. His comments are in boxes.

AC Cobra Mk. IV at the factory

AC Cobra Mk. IVs at the factory

John Sadler shared many photos of the AC Autokraft factory from many years ago. Unless otherwise noted all photos here are his.

Wyss: When the Mk. IV was starting out was it called the Mk.IV?

Gagnon: No, they were called “Cobra” MKIV until Ford was part of the cars in 1986. Cobra was not permitted in US however outside the US was accepted as Ford owned the rights.

Wyss: Who (names) formally approached US dealers with the news the car was available for US sale?

Gagnon: Upon inception the Ford Motor company (Edsel and Henry) wanted to do this with Angliss. Rumor was that Angliss and Ford wives were sorority sisters thus a greater connection than an idea alone. These cars were made in the UK then shipped to USA and purchased through Ford dealerships, not via other means.

Wyss: Were the Mk.IVs shipped to the US engineless and engines installed there?

Gagnon: Some came without engines from the UK but the vast majority were given 5.0L, transaxle and a few other variants for regulatory and DOT compliance for Ford’s dealership network. These cars were completely running when they left UK. The big block cars were a whole different story, more of a component purchase through importation.

AC Mk IVs at the Silverstone Track

AC Mk IVs at the Silverstone Track

John Sadler comments: My understanding is that the cars came from AC with engines. Ford HO FI 302s were being installed however a number of cars had the intake FI system removed and replaced with a carburetor.

Attaching a picture of factory discarded FI systems, stack of them on the floor.

AC Cobra Mk IV Scrapped FI Systems

AC Cobra Mk IV Scrapped EFI Systems

AC Cobra Mk IV Engine

Here is what the EFI system looks like installed on an AC Cobra Mk IV Engine – photo by Mike Gulett

Wyss: Was a company in the US started to install the engines and distribute the cars? What was that company called and where was it?

Gagnon: Cars were sent from AC AutoKraft fully running except for the few rollers which were getting motors installed later that would have been impossible to get DOT compliance on. I’d have to look but I remember there was no certified Ford installer. Every 75th or so 5.0L and transmission was shipped to the UK for this application alone.

Wyss: Did any member of the Ford family such as Edsel Ford II, help get the joint venture to import the cars going? Did he buy one himself?

Gagnon: YES!, I was told this by the engineer directly responsible at Ford that pushed all DOT compliance and the 5.0L + 5-speeds that Henry and Edsel wanted this to happen. Henry was near his end but Edsel was a go forward. Remember, in this time period auto manufacturers were buying small boutique car manufacturers to give flare and a touch of specialty. The Fords interest started around 1983-1984 I am told, took till late 1985 to get the board of directors on board when Ford money started to come into the factory. The board said that this was a crazy idea and it was a “no”, that was until Ford presented each member of the board with an AC MKIV, then they got it and the rest is history.

Sadler adds: I heard that to get the Deuce (Henry Ford II) interested in AC Brian (Angliss) arranged to have a Mark IV parked in front of Henry II’s UK home.
Upon seeing the AC Henry said we should invest in that. When I bought my AC Mk IV it was my understanding that Ford Co. was financially invested.

Approximately ten years ago a group of AC friends got together in Palm Springs. Bill Ford was driving by in a AC Mark IV and stopped to chat with the group,

Wyss: Following news of the Mk. IVs in CAR magazine at the time I recall that Angliss and Shelby fought it out with angry words in successive issues of CAR magazine over Angliss’ right to produce them. Was Shelby’s point that he owned the Cobra shape?

Gagnon: There are a few different stories but CS (Carroll Shelby) did see this as his design and car, this was never held up. BTW Carroll was after everyone for these cars as he wanted money, that too is documented elsewhere. I did read that CS did agree that Angliss did a great job on these, just did not approve of the design as it was his.

Wyss: Were they recognized as AC cars in the US?

Sadler: The AC Mk IV was produced legally using the AC trademark. Law states that Mk IV is an AC, not a kit, replica or continuation.

Wyss: Wasn’t there some Lightweight versions? What’s the specs of that vs. the regular ones?

Gagnon: Yes, there were originally 12 that were exact to MKIII builds however as Ford became part of this process, lightweight cars, were MKIV with modified dash and still had the MKIV snout and bumpers. There were expectations at that point so true MKIII type cars were not permitted until very late in the series post Ford participation when Angliss was holding on to his dream and needed to sell these cars without Ford support thus more of a roller versus running car replicating exactly a MKIII 427 car.

Wyss: Didn’t Angliss promise a limited edition of Lightweights (say 25) but then made another set because of demand?

Gagnon: Not that I know of, Angliss was a little like Shelby, you request and pay money and he would do anything you wanted. Some lightweights were exact to the MKIII and some were a hybrid if you will MKIII & MKIV.

Wyss: Is there an AC Mk.IV registrar who has published a booklet on SN? Where can we get this booklet?

Gagnon: I am that guy, the last round was via SAAC Registry which also includes 260, 289, 427, MKIV, GT40’s and KMS cars. The newest version will be made late this year exclusive to MKIV as SAAC has made each of the aforementioned their own book now for ease of publication.

AC Cobra Mk IV No. 334 and GT40P 1124 both Roso Corso

GT40P 1124 and AC Cobra Mk IV No. 334 both Rosso Corso

Wyss: When that fellow who bought the AC Cars Ltd. name made his replicas did he try to shut down the company Angliss owned?

Gagnon: AC Cars ended with Angliss in 1996 as Ford money was no longer available and these cars are expensive to make. AC Malta (and the person who bought the AC name) buys Superformance cars and retrofits…. Again, AC died as a manufacturer with Angliss and Ford’s participation circa 1996 and even today works with who they can as they have burnt many bridges over time.

Wyss: If one were to buy a used AC Mk. IV in England now could they import it to the US?

Gagnon: Yes, and visa versa as they are now more than 30 years old.

Wyss: Was there an AC Mk. V? Was that made by Angliss?

Gagon: Not that I know of by Angliss, that was later post 1996 AC Malta trying to revive as them as a replica since they were no longer anything but a company on paper and in an office.

Wyss: Does the AC Owners Club in the UK recognize the AC Mk. IV as a Cobra or AC car? Do they keep track of the SN?

Gagnon: Bob Langley heads UK. Yes they are AC Cars, not sure it’s a Cobra per se as most see the Cobra as a car from SAI.

Wyss: How many AC Mk. IVs were produced?

Gagnon: The SAAC Registry does show that there were 494, however not all numbers were used in the period. Exactly how many, well the ACOC (AC Owner’s Club–ED.) states 450 with specific destinations. I am sure like all these cars there are exceptions and cars that have been in storage for years.

There were at least 11 numbers not used, I also know that COB numbers were held in Angliss’ (founder of Autokraft–Ed,) possession so, at some point in time, as with AK numbers they will reappear especially as values increase.

I think its safe to say that there are between 450-480 cars made in the period of Angliss.

AC Cobra Mk. IVs at the factory

Expert craftsmen

Wyss: What about the Superformance cars? I think they are out-producing all the other replica Cobra makers combined? Do those cars undermine the value of the real AC Mk. IVs?

Gagnon: No, Superformance (SPF) are replicating great cars and manufacturing quality cars. Even today AC, when they pay their bills, get their cars from SPF as does Shelby American (under license) along with their own branded SPF cars. All their cars are fiberglass so there is nothing undermining about them as they are different and a separate car altogether.

I believe that Factory Five has made more Cobra replicas than SPF at this stage.

Wyss: What do you think of the Superformance Cobas compared to the AC’s or AC Mk. IV?

Sadler: I am familiar with the Superformance Cobra. My brother owns one.
They are well put together. Superformance has done an excellent job marketing these cars as their market continues to grow and the value of the cars increase.

I was bewildered for years at the low value of the Mark IV. The recent rise in value of the Mark IV may be due to the excellent work done by Superformance.

I read Wikipedia and find it factual except for the word continuation. I understand what they are trying to communicate, however I believe the Mark IV is an AC period.

The AC Mark IV was manufactured by a company that legally owned the AC trademark.

My belief is the car, the product, is an AC. Not a Replica, Kit Car, Cloner, Continuation, Run on, Copy of, Tribute, Representation, Repeat, Re-imagined, Duplicate, Facsimile, New range, Celebration or Honoring.

The Rolls Royce trademark was purchased by BMW. BMW produces a Rolls Royce. A new Rolls Royce is not a continuation, it is a Rolls Royce.

Wyss: Do any owners of AC Mk.IVs change the dashboard back to the switches that were on the Mk.I through Mk. III AC Cobras?

Gagnon: A few, very few, the MKIV changes were initially part of the DOT compliance required by the US government. MKI and MKII were 260/289 cars and different all together. These MKIV cars were registered by SAAC so they were stand-alone as a car to avoid confusion with Shelby’s in any way as they are different. Basically the frame mods, gas tank position, bumpers, dash, edging of cockpit, steering wheels, steering mechanism, power assist brakes, windshield angle, side marker lights (Corvette), snout extension, weather sealing, gauges, interior light and emissions were all for US regulations and DOT. Remember these were the same regulations that also hampered Shelby in the 60’s and did lead to the death of the Cobra as we all know it. Remember that all Shelby’s were AC Cars but not all AC’s are Shelby’s. AC Cars made COB and COX cars which are not Shelby’s but legitimate cars, some even post 60’s. Remember Angliss was “Cobra Parts” and supplied parts and restored many original CSX cars before his Autokraft days and also past that of AC Cars.

AC Autokraft Entrance

AC Autokraft Entrance

Wyss: What about importing one from England now to the U.S.?

Sadler: No issues getting the car through customs. I did manage to import the car before the passive restraint rules came into being. Depending on your country’s rules these cars are now over 25 years old so should not be too difficult to import.

Wyss: This is what Wikipedia says about post-Shelby Cobras. Do you take any issue with any of it?

Gagnon: Of course not, it’s mostly accurate except for the post Angliss which is debatable. AC, post Angliss, was really a company that purchased cars from various vendors, sold them under a historically significant name. From what I know of the current ownership they are not considered to be a strong company with current manufacturers support “low” as they are cash poor and maybe difficult to deal with. When Ford came into play circa 1986 the Hurlock’s sold the company to Angliss/Ford and making it a legitimate manufacturer again and for all intent and purpose it was the last time that happened.

AC Cobra Mk. IV body buck

AC Cobra Mk. IV body buck

Wyss: In 2021 what do documented AC Mk. IVs go for?

Gagnon: Typically the three MKIV’s that I have seen change hands in the US in 2021 were $135,000-$155,000. Lightweight cars can see $200,000 or more but the higher marks still need to be proved out publicly. US market gets a little stronger than UK, not sure why? Keep in mind in the 90’s these cars were following CSX cars in value trends but leveled later and since have their ups and downs.

Wyss: In your opinion is an aluminum-bodied Mk. IV a good investment?

Gagnon: From a perspective of holding value, sure, as to cash investment to make a profit percent annually, time will tell as with any car. These were legitimate Ford products and sold through the dealership networks in the US, DOT compliant and well running cars. That means it’s part of Ford’s history and even Shelby’s as its considered to be a “variant of the Cobra” by SAAC and not a Shelby Cobra by any true definition. As with any fun car low production numbers, fun and hand-made typically means a great place to rest your hard earned cash over time. Best bet is buy what you like as if it goes up in value, it’s a win; if it goes down in value, you will still love the MKIV, each and every mile.

If you have comments or questions, you can post comments here or write directly to
Jeff Gagnon, AC MKIV Registrar, owner of car #1085 at GagnonJeffreyS@gmail.com.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of 18 car books and co-host of Autotalk, a show broadcast weekly on KUCR FM Riverside.

 
 
 

More photos by John Sadler are in the slideshow below.

My Car Quest editor Mike Gulett is the happy owner of AC Cobra Mk IV no. AK 1226, which with 435 miles was likely the lowest mileage example in existence when he acquired it in 2015. But not any more.

AC Cobra Mk IV

Photo by Mike Gulett

Brochures below supplied by Robert Krantz. Click on the images for a larger view.

AC Cobra Brochure

AC Cobra Brochure

AC Cobra Brochure

AC Cobra Brochure

AC Article Motor Trend 2-6

Summary
The AC Cobra Mk. IV - Establishing a Historical Reference
Article Name
The AC Cobra Mk. IV - Establishing a Historical Reference
Description
Jeff Gagnon the AC Cobra Mk. IV registrar for the Shelby American Automobile Club and John Sadler, the co-founder of Safir Cars in England answer questions from Wallace Wyss about the AC Cobra Mk. IV.
Author

Comments

  1. Jeffrey Gagnon says

    Its worth noting that early on in production when the 5.0 Mustang was still using a carb so were the MKIV. My car #1085 was still early enough to get the carb and it passed US DOT at the time. As Ford switched to the EFI so did the MKIV, it appears that AC may have changed some out for the UK perhaps?

    I was told by retired Ford engineers that the reason for the 5.0 was specifically for US emissions thus DOT comliance. That is why the delaer delivered cars were mainly the 5.0. There were a numbrer of special motors installed which can be read about in the MKIV Registry.

  2. What a great article, Wallace! I do love that these are real cars, totally comprehensively completed at AC rather than rollers. I’d be happy to own one.

  3. wallace wyss says

    I think the time to buy one is now because once they get established as “the one to own if you can’t get one of the original Shelby ones”, they will still go up

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