How do you replace an iconic sports car? This was the problem that AC Cars in Great Britain faced in the mid-1960s. The small brand became known for the Ace and the Aceca, which served as the basis for the Cobra developed by Carroll Shelby. The latter drove numerous race victories all over the world. But at some point the time of every good design is over and a successor model is needed. This was also the case at AC. The tried and tested chassis of the Cobra Mark III was lengthened slightly by 15 centimeters to provide more space in the interior. V8 engines continued to be sourced from the partnership with Ford. Initially, 287 kW/390 hp was available from seven liters of displacement. After a few examples, the displacement increased by 17 cc, although output dropped to 257 kW/349 hp. The aim was to produce a luxurious sports car in response to Jensen, Aston Martin and Bristol, which were now offering equivalent vehicles in the UK.
Design by Pietro Frua
Unlike previous models, AC Cars consistently handed over the styling of the new vehicle to Italian experts. Previously, in-house designers had created an open prototype called the MA-200, but it wasn’t well received by the management. After first asking Bertone, the decision was finally made to go with Pietro Frua’s design office. A contract was signed in April 1965. Just six months later, the first prototype of the AC 428 made its debut as a two-seater Convertible at the London International Motor Exhibition. A year and a half later, in March 1967, the Fastback coupé version also appeared at the Geneva Motor Show. At first glance, both were reminiscent of other vehicles from Frua, such as the Monteverdi 375 High Speed or the Maserati Mistral. In fact, some details of the MA-200 were retained. Depending on the customer’s wishes, the installed chrome bumpers and the positions of the turn signals as well as the arrangement of the buttons and switches inside varied.
Production from 1966 to 1973
The first examples of the AC 428 were delivered to dealers from the end of 1966. These were still exclusively only Convertibles. The Fastback coupé appeared about half a year later. Due to the complicated production process, the sales prices were significantly higher than those of the Ace and Aceca. They were on par with those of Aston Martin. Roll-ready chassis went from AC Cars in Thames Ditton by rail freight to Italy, where Frua produced the bodies and put them on the chassis. The cars then went back to England by rail for final assembly. In addition to body and interior colors, customers also had a choice between a four-speed manual transmission and a three-speed automatic, the latter being ordered more frequently. Production ended in the summer of 1973, mainly due to the collapse of the sports car market in the wake of the oil crisis. However, no one even at AC was probably angry about this halt in production.
AC 428 Convertible at RM Sotheby’s
Up to this time only between 49 and 51 Fastback coupés and 29 or 30 Convertibles (depending upon source) had been built. In addition, there were three cars with unspecified special bodies. A total of 61 cars left production with RHD configuration. Correspondingly, these vehicles rarely appear on the market these days. It is therefore all the more astonishing that both RM Sotheby’s and Bonhams are offering an AC 428 as part of Monterey Car Week in August. At RM Sotheby’s, the red Convertible from 1968 from our first image gallery is available for purchase. The first owner was Rob Walker, who ran a Grand Prix racing team in the 1950s and 1960s and who was a heir to the whiskey maker Johnny Walker. Over the years, this car received a repaint to the red still visible today, a replacement engine and retrofitted air conditioning. For several years, this AC was part of the collection of Jim Feldman.
AC 428 Fastback at Bonhams
Bonhams also offers an AC 428, a Fastback from 1971. In this later model one can discover various changes especially in the interior. Nothing is known about the early years of this car. In 1985 an export from Switzerland via the seaport Antwerp in Belgium to Portland/Oregon took place. There the car ended up in the garage of Jim Feldman, the gentleman who also owned the red Convertible above. In 1997, he sold the silver coupé to the current owner, who had first seen it in the Feldman Collection back in 1985. Thanks to an extensive body, interior and technical refresh carried out in 2015, the 428 is in great shape today. The car comes with extensive documentation including literature, photographs and invoices, as well as a rare original brochure. At the auction on August 13, Bonhams expects a hammer price of between US$ 150,000 and US$ 200,000. RM Sotheby’s hasn’t yet given an asking price for the Convertible.
Bilder: RM Sotheby’s, Josh Bryan, Bonhams