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New Sportster Marks 100 Years Of Britain’s AC Cars

LONDON (dpa) – The best gifts are the ones you give yourself. Maybe that thought was running through the minds of management at British sportscar maker AC when they recently staged a 100th birthday celebratory bash for the company at Brooklands racing circuit.

The parents of the barnstorming Cobra roadster beamed lovingly at a prototype of a sporting coupe, the Mamba, which is due to make its debut next year.

Designed to bring the firm’s model range up to date, the Mamba will have a hard time following in the tyretracks of the Cobra, which is still in production albeit in small, bespoke numbers.

The AC company of Thames Ditton near London began making motor cars in 1901 when founders John Weller and John Portwine set up a workshop in the south of the capital. They presented two models, one with 10 horsepower and the other turning out twice as much, to the acclaim of the fledgling motoring press.

Journalists predicted an excellent future for the cars but a much more lasting impression was made by the Autocarrier of 1904, the initials of which (AC) gave the firm its name.

The three-wheeled Autocarrier, in passenger and cargo versions, was an instant success. Along the way it acquired a fourth wheel and went on to give sterling service to private and military customers. It was the model that made AC in the early days.

In the 1920s the focus was on passenger cars and AC’s four- cylinder offering notched up a sensational 104 miles an hour in testing. A series of car models followed, ranging from petite roadsters to a large estate car until the Great Depression and World War II brought AC to its knees.

In 1953 things began to look up. The Ace made its debut, a two seater in both open and closed versions which was also sold in the United States where it caught the eye of former racing driver Carroll Shelby.

With backing from the Ford Motor Company he reached a deal with AC cars and shoehorned a V-8 engine into the Ace. The legendary Cobra was born and with it “one of the fastest and most brutal sportscars of all time”, as motoring history recalls.

The Cobra, with its wildly flared arches and chrome rollover bar, not only became the basis for a series of sporting cars from the Mark IV up through to subsequent Ace model but it also laid the foundation for the new, red-blooded brute of a machine, the Mamba.

The Mamba carries on where the Cobra left off, inheriting its predecessor’s tubular frame which is now clothed with a carbon fibre bodyshell of retro lines, bordering on the baroque.

Forward impetus is provided by a Lotus V8 twin turbo of 3.5 litres developing 350 horsepower. With a kerb weight of around 1,250 kilos the Mamba should reach 100 kilometres an hour from a standing start in just under five seconds, AC says.

Customers can also specify a four-litre Ford of Australia engine, a six-cylinder job that has not been seen so far in Europe. It is available in a gas-powered LPG version and comes with automatic transmission as standard.

AC claims the Mamba is designed to be a “comfortable, everyday car” so it is not short on creature comforts either. A decent boot and a sumptious interior are standard while for the first time such “luxury” items as air con and electric windows have found their way into the cabin.

Needless to say the Mamba is not cheap: it costs around the same as a German Porsche, with prices starting at around 50,000 pounds sterling.

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