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AC Frua. The automatic GT based on the AC Cobra

In need of a luxurious GT after the racing success of the rabid AC Cobra, the British company relied on Pietro Frua for the design and on Ford for the engine and automatic transmission. However, poor cost planning and the fact of having an identity in a no man's land weighed down on this spectacular model that only reached 80 units counting fastback and spider versions.

It 2021 AC Cars celebrates 121 years of history. A figure that establishes the company as one of the most outstanding car firms on the British scene. Having built from tricycles to sports cars like the Ace. The lightweight roadster that served as the basis for Carrol Shelby's AC Cobra, being the first successful hybrid with a powerful American engine and light European short wheelbase chassis. An international collaboration that has occurred more times in the history of AC. In fact, at the moment its most interesting model is the 378 GT Zagato.

A berlinetta presented last 2012 at the Geneva Motor Show, which combines the potential of a 8-liter V6 engine from the Corvette with the personality of a body designed by the Milanese Zagato. Transoceanic mixture coordinated by a British firm that already did the same in 1966 with the presentation of AC Frua. The model that was the brand's attempt to enter the segment of the great GT of the moment. Offered in both coupe and spider versions until the end of production in 1973.

A hybrid between a British chassis, an Italian body designed by Pietro Frua and an engine from Ford that did not finish due to its high manufacturing costs. In fact, only 80 units were assembled, of which about 65 have survived. Quite a respectable figure, even more so if we consider that some of these AC Frua have served as donors of pieces for the much more famous and valued AC Cobra. The roadster without which the appearance of this GT is not understood, which is possibly the most Americanized European sports car of that time due to details such as its automatic transmission.

AC FRUA. A LITTLE NERVOUS ENGINE FOR AN AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION

Raised to the category of automotive myth, the history of the AC Cobra is well known. However, the funny thing is that it was spurred on by the Corvette. The General Motors sports car that Carrol Shelby wanted to sweep on the circuits, for which proposed to install a Ford V8 on the light and handy base of an AC Ace. Thus, a successful formula was born based on mixing the power of one part with the dynamic capabilities of the other. However, the curious thing is that when an approved version for the street was available, it was a commercial failure.

Far from having the success that it enjoys today as a classic, the 427 AC Cobra 1966 barely interested the market. In fact, it took Carrol Shelby quite a bit of effort to get rid of the 31 units he offered to the public. That is why AC learned its lesson. Internalizing that a vehicle as brutal as the Cobra was exceptional on the circuits. But not very interesting for those buyers who also want to ride on the road. So things, those of AC realized that the right thing to do would be to sell a refined GT on the basis of a Cobra.

Idea that gives birth to AC Frua. Which is based on the elongated chassis of a Cobra Mark III on which is mounted an elegant body and a comfortable Ford C6 automatic transmission. An important piece of information, as it already gives clues about how AC thought the Frua would behave. In a calm way, not at all nervous and perfectly adapted to enjoy long trips on roads without curves. Something that is also seen in the settings of the Ford V8 428ci engine, which gives its maximum power of 345CV at only 3400 rpm. In short, the AC Frua was born to be a GT that is as fast as it is smooth and calm in its driving.

PIETRO FRUA AND FORD ENGINES. A MIX WITH THE AMERICAN MARKET IN MIND

Pietro Frua was not only one of the leading Italian car designers, but also a seasoned businessman. For this reason, seeing the end of the Second World War near, he bought a bombed factory in 1944 to build what would be his bodywork company in peacetime. However, it is also true that he had a certain desire to excessively maximize the profitability of his designs. Characteristic that led to certain repetitions put to shoehorn, such as the similarity between the Glas 3000 and the Maserati Quattroporte. But also the evident similarity between the Maserati Mistral from 1963 and our protagonist: the AC Frua from 1966. And that's not to mention the front end of the Iso Grifo, almost equally replicated in the prototypes designed for BMW in the late sixties.

However, the quality of his designs makes Pietro Frua easily forgiven for everything. And, even though they are not as stylish as Pininfarina's or as personal as Zagato's, the truth is that any model thought by Frua has elegance. Something that is seen in both the spider and fastback versions of the AC Frua. Which mounted during its first months the Ford FE 427 engine. Quickly replaced in 1967 by the more powerful FE 428. A huge 7-liter engine that, together with the steel body instead of aluminum, did not weigh as high as one would expect, leaving the scale at 1416 kilos.

This made the AC Frua a very high performance GT, but weighed down by delays in deliveries and high production costs. All this due to the difficulty of sending the chassis to Italy to incorporate the bodywork and then wait for its return. In addition, the truth is that the automatic transmission gave it a too American character. Fact that placed it in a very marginal place in the market. Since the Americans, if they bought a European car, they wanted it with all the consequences. And it is that for comfortable automatic vehicles they already had theirs.

However, from AC Frua they remain for history a 0 to 100 in less than six seconds and a 0 to 160 in about fourteen. Data for which it is understood that it is now a highly valued classic, the protagonist of an imminent auction of Bonhams.

Photographs: Bonhams / Zagato / AC

What do you think?

Miguel Sánchez

Written by Miguel Sánchez

Through the news from La Escudería, we will travel the winding roads of Maranello listening to the roar of the Italian V12; We will travel Route66 in search of the power of the great American engines; we will get lost in the narrow English lanes tracking the elegance of their sports cars; We will speed up the braking in the curves of the Monte Carlo Rally and we will even get dusty in a garage while rescuing lost jewels.

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