“Open Chequebook” Cobra Restoration Brings £1.7 Million

by Andrew Newton
28 May 2024 3 min read
“Open Chequebook” Cobra Restoration Brings £1.7 Million
Photos courtesy Mecum Auctions

Any real-deal AC Cobra is valuable. And even more so when it’s a later big-block, especially when there’s an actual 427 under the hood – as opposed to the tamer 428s installed in some “427” Cobras at Shelby American. A Cobra with its original drivetrain and body is better still, and one that was never cut up or modified in period is really special.

If it has been given a no-expense-spared restoration, you essentially get this car: CSX3200. At £1.7M, it was the most expensive car at Mecum’s massive auction in Indianapolis, Indiana, and it brought quite exactly its condition #1 (concours) value in the Hagerty Price Guide.

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The Cobra story is a famous one: little British roadster + Carroll Shelby + Ford V8 = race-winning performance icon, etc.

1966 AC Cobra 427 profile

But not all Cobras were created equal, and the market doesn’t treat them the same, either. The short(ish) version is that the earlier Cobras, powered by 260-cubic-inch V-8s, are worth the least. Next on the ladder are the 289-powered cars, the earliest of which came with a worm and sector (W&S) steering system. Shelby eventually modified the 289 model with better rack and pinion (R&P) steering. R&P is worth more than W&S.

In 1965, the big-block cars came along with a new 4-inch tube chassis and, at first, Ford’s exotic 427 cubic-inch (7-litre) FE V-8. Then, Shelby built a batch of cars with the cheaper, longer-stroke, less racy 428 Police Interceptor engine, although the badge still said 427. Finally, for the last few dozen cars, a real 427 went back in. Of the big-block Cobras, 428s are worth less than 427s, and most valuable of all are the Competition and Semi-Competition (S/C) 427s. Good race history impacts value, of course, as does condition. Some Cobras led hard lives, got wrecked, swapped engines, or were cut up for modifications, so originality matters a lot as well.

Per the World Registry of Cobras & GT40s, the Cobra sold at Indy this year – CSX3200 – is the last of the initial run of 100 street 427 Cobras before the switch to 428s. Its 427 “centre oiler” engine came with two 4-barrel carburettors and was mated to a toploader four-speed manual. The bodywork has the wide rear hips associated with big-block Cobras, but it came without the roll bar, hood scoop, or side exhaust as found on the race-oriented 427s, which are the ones most copied in countless Cobra replicas.

CSX3200’s original purchase price was $6183 (£2210). In transit to its first owner, though, it reportedly suffered damage to multiple body panels and a broken wind wing, although the cause was “unknown.” Its damage claim was $86.61. It also sold in 1984 for $27,000 (£19,500), according to the registry, and by 1995 had racked up just 16,000 miles.

In more recent years, a collector bought it and had it restored by Legendary Motorcars, highlighted in the video below.

The restorers “basically had an open chequebook to do this,” as the owner wanted a perfect 427 Cobra, but he also wanted to use as many of the original pieces as possible, down to the original rivets. He left the original leather on the seats alone as well, because it was so well-preserved. Since the car has the somewhat rare distinction of never being modified, it currently has its unmolested original aluminium body on top of its original chassis, drivetrain, and rear end. The 18,078 miles showing on the odometer are even represented as the actual mileage.

Mecum Indy is a 9-day car auction, but CSX3200 took less than 4 minutes on the block to be the most expensive car of the week. Given all the above, you can’t say this little Cobra didn’t deserve it.

1966 AC Cobra 427 rear

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  • Norman Stothard says:

    Great to see history on AC COBRA don’t see very few now.

  • Matty B says:

    Who doesn’t have a soft spot for a Cobra? I’m not sure I’d want to own one but I imagine it would be a real thrill to drive. That was a really good video and he seemed to explain everything about them in great detail. Personally I think every classic car is unique in that it has it’s own history, it’s own story to tell, whether it’s totally original or has been modified, provided the modifications are done correctly/tastefully. People like to make cars individual and so it’s hard to find one that’s completely original, particularly where parts are no longer available so it has to be modified to keep it on the road.

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