New Zealand Classic Car - - CONTENTS - Words: Todd Wylie Pho­tos: Adam Croy / Si­mon Tip­pins

1966 AC CO­BRA

The good old Kiwi grapevine and our can-do at­ti­tude are un­de­ni­ably part of what’s helped to put New Zealand on the map. There’s not much that Ki­wis won’t try their hand at, and, through sheer de­ter­mi­na­tion, we gen­er­ally do a damn fine job of things. Of course, as the coun­try is just a thin sliver of land at the bot­tom of the globe, built on farm­ing, ev­ery­one knows ev­ery­one — or, at least, some­one who does. It’s a com­bi­na­tion of these fac­tors that is re­spon­si­ble for the ve­hi­cle you see here — a 1966 AC Co­bra.

The car is the culmination of a dream for re­tired farmer Hugh — a dream that took him three decades to see through to com­ple­tion. Why did it take so long when most Co­bra repli­cas take only a few years? Be­cause this is a 1966 AC Co­bra, not a 1966 AC Co­bra replica — the lack of that ex­tra ad­jec­tive be­ing a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in the car’s pres­tige, value, and her­itage.

String of Fords

Like most blue-blooded Kiwi farm­ing blokes, Hugh’s owned a string of Fords over the years — rang­ing from those handy around the pad­docks through to what’s now an eclec­tic col­lec­tion, with ve­hi­cles rang­ing across nearly a cen­tury in age.

Back in the 1980s, his de­sire to own a Ford­pow­ered Co­bra grew rapidly, to the point at which he kicked off a build with a 7.0-litre (427ci) side-oiler mo­tor. This en­gine had spent its pre­vi­ous years in a speed­boat and was just the ticket — or so Hugh thought. Sadly, it wasn’t un­til many years later that the sup­posed side-oiler was dis­cov­ered to be a mere top-oiler. By this time, though, the en­gine was in bits, and there was no way Hugh would walk away from it. In­stead, he pressed on, find­ing a re­place­ment forged crank and C6 trans­mis­sion on a trip to Christchurch in 1989. His friend Pete Wood­ward, from Woody’s Garage, then screwed the whole combo to­gether, sleev­ing one cylin­der in the process.

What with farm and fam­ily com­mit­ments, it wasn’t un­til the early 1990s that Hugh pur­chased a fi­bre­glass Co­bra replica body for the build to re­ally be­gin. Keep in mind that this was be­fore the days of the in­ter­net giv­ing in­for­ma­tion out at the press of a but­ton, so plenty of re­search had to be done the old-fash­ioned way — not just to track down a body but also to work out how to build a suit­able chas­sis. But, once the welder had been fired up and a few tubes stitched to­gether, the project took a very rapid turn.

“We got talk­ing to a guy who used to work for Shelby,” Hugh says, re­call­ing the mo­ment fate in­ter­vened in the build. “He said he’d get me a rolling chas­sis — no chas­sis num­bers, but it would be iden­ti­cal to the real thing.”

The switch to a pre-built chas­sis, rather than slav­ing away build­ing his own, was a no-brainer for Hugh, es­pe­cially when it came not just as bare rails but as a com­plete roller with brakes, diff, sus­pen­sion — the works.

A step be­yond

Like all orig­i­nal Co­bras, the diff was a Jaguar E-type– sourced Sal­is­bury item with the in­ter­nally mounted disc brakes moved out­wards. The front end is also ex­actly the same as those of the Co­bras that were raced so suc­cess­fully in the 1960s, us­ing tubu­lar arms and coilovers. The only change Hugh made along the way was, wisely, to add Wil­wood brake calipers.

Of course, with the change to a chas­sis that was far be­yond what was orig­i­nally in­tended, Hugh be­gan to fig­ure out what he’d need to do to make sure the body was also a step be­yond. It was then that he had a chance meet-and-greet with Si­mon Tip­pins. Be­ing a lover of Pommy cars, Si­mon clearly knew of AC Cars, which made the orig­i­nal Co­bra bod­ies, but, bet­ter than that, Si­mon — these days the pro­pri­etor of Cre­ative Me­tal­works — ac­tu­ally worked for AC, build­ing the bod­ies.

Si­mon’s met­al­work­ing abil­i­ties defy be­lief, and, given that and his his­tory with the cars, it didn’t take long for the two men to be­gin dis­cussing the project at hand. Need­less to say, as soon as Si­mon knew

that Hugh had an orig­i­nal chas­sis, the sug­ges­tion of build­ing an orig­i­nal body was made.

Un­like the count­less fi­bre­glass repli­cas now avail­able, the orig­i­nal bod­ies were crafted from aluminium — and any­one who’s ever worked with aluminium will tell you ex­actly how much of a night­mare it is to work. The big prob­lem is that the more you try to change its shape, the harder and less work­able the ma­te­rial be­comes — and the Co­bra body doesn’t have a sin­gle flat panel on it.

The process of build­ing the body was an ex­tremely time-con­sum­ing one, span­ning more than four years and in­ter­spersed with other projects. Be­fore any aluminium work could be­gin, a wire frame­work was cre­ated to give the body its shape. Si­mon had pre­vi­ously been in­volved in the re­pair of Ro­gan Hamp­son’s al­loy-bod­ied Co­bra, and mea­sure­ments from that car would come in handy along the way.

All up, six sheets of aluminium were used, and al­though, at a glance, it’s im­pos­si­ble to tell where the weld lines are, if you get right up close and take a ded­i­cated look, you can just see the oc­ca­sional line — all left there in­ten­tion­ally, of course.

Had the body been des­tined for paint, the fin­ish wouldn’t have needed to be as pre­cise. How­ever, as the de­sired raw fin­ish leaves the work­man­ship ex­posed, it had to be ab­so­lutely per­fect, and adding to the 1000 hours of met­al­work were a fur­ther 500 of pol­ish­ing to get the car to a mir­ror fin­ish. Un­for­tu­nately, the work is so well ex­e­cuted that some peo­ple sim­ply write

All up, six sheets of aluminium were used, and al­though, at a glance, it’s im­pos­si­ble to tell where the weld lines are

it off as be­ing a vinyl wrap, which, we can as­sure you, it’s not!

With the body com­plete and mounted to the chas­sis, the ve­hi­cle was re­turned to Hugh for the in­te­rior, and then passed on to Pete for the en­gine to be fit­ted. In­cluded in this work was fin­ish­ing off the min­i­mal­ist in­te­rior to Co­bra-cor­rect stan­dards, as well as get­ting the en­gine run­ning. Cus­tom head­ers and twin 2.5-inch ex­hausts help the en­gine to breathe, while a Hol­ley Street Avenger carb takes care of the air–fuel ra­tios. In­ter­est­ingly, the ex­hausts run be­low the car, rather than along the sides as they do on most Co­bras, but, as it’s built to MKI spec­i­fi­ca­tions, the fin­ish is ex­actly as it should be.

The in­ter­est­ing thing with the car, and one that’s got not only Hugh but oth­ers scratch­ing their heads, is that the chas­sis on which it is built, which sup­pos­edly had no num­ber on it, does in fact have a num­ber — a num­ber that’s fright­en­ingly close to that of one of the orig­i­nal Co­bras, a car which even the most in-depth searches by ex­perts around the globe can­not trace. So, al­though Hugh’s not mak­ing any claims, with a gen­uine chas­sis, a body built by one of the gen­uine crafts­men in the ex­act style of the orig­i­nals, and run­ning es­sen­tially the cor­rect driv­e­line — well, you do won­der about the pos­si­bil­ity that this may in fact count as the gen­uine, price­less, real deal!

Left: Min­i­mal­ist in­te­rior to Co­bra-cor­rect stan­dards

Be­low: Pre­ci­sion hand crafted body­work is ex­cep­tional

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