. Cobra Ranch Historical Automotive Blog: Featuring Wally Wyss

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A.C. 2.6 Zephyr - The Missing Link in Cobra's Evolution

By Wallace Wyss

Perfect for European roads, or delivering US Mail

     You would expect a Cobra club official to be an expert on Cobras. but in 2012 a Mustang magazine published an article by a Cobra club official where he once again perpetuated the time-worn myth that Carroll Shelby adapted the A.C. Ace Bristol to make the Cobra.  In point of fact the first Cobra 260 was actually built using a later A.C. model than the Bristol, this one a “long nose” lower hoodline design that came stock with an inline Ford six called the 2.6 or A.C. Zephyr.
     A.C., one of the oldest automakers, had been making cars before WWII. After the war, they returned to the market with a rather boring line of cars in 1947.  It wasn’t until they ran across the specials built by John Tojiero that they became an exciting company. Tojiero had built at least two cars for private customers that were more or less “imitations” of Ferrari 166 barchetta styling boasting a light ladder type tubular frame and an  all-independent transverse leaf spring suspension. Powerplants varied, including at least one with an MG engine.
     A.C. saw that this independent car builder had captured something marketable and licensed the design from Tojiero to create the production A.C. Ace of 1953. At first it had their own ancient engine—a 100-hp. overhead cam six that went back to just after WWI.    They also had a hardtop coupe version, or fastback if you want to call it that, from 1954 -- the Aceca hard top coupé.  It was mildly popular but they knew their engine was too old hat. A car that looks so sporty should be faster.  Finally they  were able to source a lively two-liter inline six from Bristol, a firm that had made airplanes, such as the Beaufighter, during the war.  Actually that engine was based on a German design from BMW.

Pebble Beach 2012
The A.C. Bristol began to be produced in ’56, rated at 120 bhp (89 kW) with 3 downdraft carburetors . That was mated to a four-speed manual. That moved the 0–60 mph (0–100 km/h) time from the 11 seconds of the A.C.-engined version down to the nine second range. Overdrive was available from 1956 and front disc brakes were on the option list from 1957, although they were later standard.

     A key figure in the acceptance of the 2.6 Zephyr version was A.C. dealer Ken Rudd who offered several versions of tune from "mild to wild" as it were. It used three Weber or SU carburetors and either a 'Mays' or a cast iron head. He got the 0-60 mph time down to  8.1 seconds. and the top speed moved up to 130 mph.  It was about that time—in 1961-- that race driver Carroll Shelby, having voluntarily retired from racing due to a congenital heart ailment, found out that Bristol engines were no longer going to be available to A.C. as Bristol was putting Chrysler V8s in their luxury cars and didn’t need the six any more. Shelby was aware of the newer existence of the  2.6 Zephyr but didn’t think that would cut it as far as saving the Ace—not when you could stuff in an American V8 and make a real tire-burner!
     So the rest is history—Cobra history. A.C. did gamily keep the A.C. 2.6 in production until 1962 until they determined the Texan's car would be popular but the demands for Cobras soon ruled the 2.6 Zephyr A.C. out of production after only 37 roadsters, and eight Aceca coupes,  had been built. There were also 13 built with Rudd’s “Stage 5 tuning” and 18 built with an overdrive trans, and only one built with a headers instead of the heavy cast iron exhaust manifold.

 Note the lack of Cobra like flares on the 2.6
    So it is that, at events like Pebble Beach concours in 2012, the appearance of a couple  A.C. Zephyr 2.6 roadsters saw confusion on the faces of Cobra fans. What was this—a Cobra-styled car built before the first A.C. Cobra?
   Say it ain't so, Joe.

   But it is. A car  whose existence had almost been  shoved under the rug (including by this author’s, in his first Cobra book done 37 years ago…since corrected in his latest book)
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss wrote SHELBY: The Man, the Cars, the Legend, of which the second edition is now available (Iconografix 1-800-289-3504)

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