CULMINATION OF A DREAM
WITH A HAND-FORMED ALUMINIUM BODY AND A 427 UNDER THE HOOD, THIS COBRA IS THE TYPE OF CAR THAT DREAMS ARE MADE OF!
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