Josh Bryan ©2021, courtesy of RM Sotheby’s
AC often seemed doomed to being left in the lurch by events not of its own making, yet each time, the Hurlock family’s company demonstrated a resilience largely unprecedented in automobile history. Several of these “snatched from the jaws of defeat” moments are reflected in the collection of Jim Feldman, including this 1968 AC 428 Spider with coachwork by Frua. The emergence of big-block 7-liter engines in the Chevy Corvette rendered the original leaf-spring, small-block Cobra obsolescent. Designing a successor robust enough to cope with Ford’s 427-cid V8 “side-oiler” was beyond the artisanal techniques of Thames Ditton. It was not, however, much more than an exercise for the engineers at Ford in Dearborn. So AC took the resulting 427 Cobra’s robust coil spring-and-wishbone independent suspension chassis, added six inches to its wheelbase, and sent it to Pietro Frua in Italy to be clothed with a luxury-coupe body; a Spider followed shortly. Power came from the same Ford 428 big-block V8 engine rated at 335 horsepower used in the majority of “427” Cobras. The body, which resembled Frua’s Maserati Mistral and Monteverdi GT, was attractively developed and refined. There was a minimum of chrome decoration, and the shape relied upon smooth, flowing lines. Somewhat surprisingly, one of the more-difficult aspects of any car (and particularly a Spider), the rear three-quarter, is one of the AC 428’s most attractive. This AC 428 Spider is one of some 81 built, of which only 30 are Spiders. Its first owner was Grand Prix privateer Rob Walker, heir to the Johnny Walker whisky fortune and long-term entrant for Stirling Moss. Walker knew a thing or two about performance cars and could have anything he wanted. He chose CF14 and is shown accepting delivery from Derek Hurlock in a factory photograph reproduced in the March 2008 issue of Classic & Sports Car. The 428 Ford drives through a strengthened Ford C6 3-speed automatic transmission to a limited-slip differential. Finished in bright red (a color change from original), it has black leather upholstery, a black cloth top and chrome wire wheels. The engine was replaced long ago (perhaps at AC), and a subsequent owner installed air conditioning. Displayed at Pebble Beach in 1990, it took second in class, then scored class wins in 1991 at the Hillsborough and Forest Grove Concours d’Elegance. There were a number of transatlantic combinations during the 1960s and 1970s from the likes of Monteverdi, Jensen and Iso, but none of them can claim the heritage of the AC 428 with its Cobra 427 base and beautiful Frua coachwork. Neither can any claim Stirling Moss’s race team owner Rob Walker as its first owner.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1968 AC 428 Spider by Frua
Years Produced:1965–73
Number Produced:81
SCM Valuation:$185,000
Tune Up Cost:$300
Chassis Number Location:Plate on firewall
Engine Number Location:Plate on firewall
Club Info:AC Owners Club
Alternatives:1965–74 Iso Grifo, 1966–72 Intermeccanica Italia, 1966–76 Jensen Interceptor
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 308, sold for $302,000, including buyer’s premium, at RM Sotheby’s Monterey, CA, auction on August 14, 2021.

I was 12 when I went on my first overseas trip, to London. My mother, who often indulged my love of cars because she was a fan herself, bought me a copy of that year’s annual new-model survey, likely from Autocar or Motor, a lengthy compendium of cars mostly unavailable in the U.S. Not all those products were noteworthy, of course, but there was one page that I kept coming back to: The AC 428.

Here was a lithe, sinewy coupe, whose long wheelbase and narrow body section was accented by massive wheelwells that reached nearly up to its beltline. The action shot in the article showed its haunches compressed into the automotive equivalent of a snarl, tearing up a gravel road with pebbles flying. What could be more attractive than this combination of sexy styling with the ample brawn of a large American V8?

The Italian job

The idea of blending exotic Italian coachwork with cheap American propulsion wasn’t really a new idea when the first wave of Italo-American “hybrids” emerged in the early 1960s. Its origins can perhaps be traced to the chance meeting in 1949 between Donald Healey and Nash-Kelvinator boss George Mason aboard the Queen Elizabeth. This ultimately resulted in the second-generation, Pinin Farina-styled Nash-Healey three years later.

In the meantime, Chrysler farmed out concept-car construction to Ghia to reduce costs, Hudson commissioned Touring to build a limited run of Italias, and Briggs Cunningham turned to Vignale to body his C3 coupe and roadster.

What really set the ball rolling, though, was the introduction of Chevrolet and Ford small-block V8s, starting with Chevrolet in 1955. These engines offered automotive entrepreneurs cheap, reliable and robust propulsion without the millions required to develop and tool their own powerplants. These transatlantic hookups eventually expanded to include the Gordon-Keeble in 1960 and Iso’s Rivolta in 1962, both styled by Bertone. Later came Frank Reisner’s Intermeccanica Italia.

A Cobra by any other name

The same concept was, of course, being exploited further north by AC and Carroll Shelby, though without the Italian coachwork. Despite the modest success of the first small-block Cobras, the thundering 1965 big-block Mark III foundered just two years after launch. The 427 Cobra was a victim of increasing costs, shrinking demand and looming U.S. regulations. In search of a Cobra counterpart, AC briefly flirted with an in-house alternative, the MA-200, but opted instead to leverage the Ford-developed Mark III chassis and update the Cobra’s coachwork.

Assisted by Swiss racing driver and AC importer Hubert Patthey, AC chief Derek Hurlock initially considered Bertone. But due to capacity issues, he turned to Frua instead. In the summer of 1965, they developed a convertible prototype in time for the Earl’s Court show later that year. This was no doubt assisted by Frua’s prior development of the quite similar Maserati Mistral.

The combination of Frua’s styling with the lazy Ford big block made for an alluring combination, albeit one that was never fully refined by tiny AC. “No skill or courage is needed to reel off 0–100 mph runs in 16 seconds or so,” wrote Car in March 1969. “You just stick the central lever in D and press the throttle to the floor.”

Yet despite all the power on tap and the benefits of the Mark III’s independent rear suspension, the AC 428’s shortcomings were all too apparent: poor wind sealing at the doors, loss of oil pressure due to inadequate engine cooling and tremendous heat in the cockpit from the massive engine. Owners soon discovered that rust was also a persistent issue.

A new benchmark?

Our subject car comes from the noted Oregon AC collector Jim Feldman, who has owned no fewer than four 428s. As one of only 30 convertibles built, the car is already exclusive enough, but it has an added pedigree of first owner Rob Walker. Feldman’s Spider has benefited from attention to the 428’s specific technical issues, including improved engine cooling as well as aftermarket air conditioning. (Feldman notes that it is only partially successful in overcoming the 428’s prodigious footwell heat buildup.)

That helps explain why, at $302,000, this convertible may have set a high-water mark for 428 sales. With so few cars built — and relatively few sales to judge pricing trends — it’s difficult to come up with a logical valuation for these especially rare cars. A 1971 coupe previously in the Feldman collection sold for $173,600 on the same weekend as the convertible. Its substantially lower price reinforces the maxim that when the top goes down, the price goes up.

It also indicates that despite their shared mechanical DNA, AC 428s have yet to enjoy the exponential run-up in values of their Cobra counterparts. (This fact is not lost on several 428 owners who reverse-engineered their cars back into Cobras.) Perhaps they never will. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)

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