Having concluded that the original AC Shelby Cobra Roadster needed some more straight line speed in order to compete with the Ferrari 250 GT0’s at Le Mans both Shelby and AC set about building Coupé’s independently of one another in late 1963.
AC turned to Alan Turner to design their Cobra Coupé for the 1964 Le Mans 24 Hours. The less than complete car was taken to the Le Mans Test Weekend in April 1964 and Paul Bolton recorded the 27th fastest time in the 355 hp Coupé chassis #A98. Upon completion and with a spoiler fitted to help reduce lift the car was tested at the high speed MIRA test facility for which it proved to be too fast.
In order to test the cars top speed it was decided to go and test it on Britain’s M1 motorway at 4 am two weeks before the 1964 Le Mans 24 hours and both Jack Sears and Paul Bolton took turns at driving the car up a couple of junctions and returning at a time of day when there was no other traffic on the road.
Based on the revs used as reported by the drivers, axle ratio and tyre sizes the AC engineers calculated on their slide rules that the car had reached 185 mph.
One of the people present at the test was AC owner Derek
Hurlock’s nephew Tony Martin, who held an administrative position at the Sunday Times and spilled the beans to reporters with whom he worked later in the day.
Naturally the story was taken up and made front page news, however the incident did not contribute to the implementation of a blanket 70 mph on British Motorways in 1964 as a trial and made permanent in December 1965, as has become myth. The Ministry of Transport had been working on that legislation since far earlier in an effort to reduce death’s on Britain’s motorways which had been unrestricted since the first section of the Preston By Pass that was to become the M6 was opened in 1958.
#A98 was taken to Le Mans where it was qualified in 13th and gave the GT class winning Shelby Daytona Coupé designed by Pete Brock and driven by Dan Gurney and Bob Bondurant a good run for it’s money until fuel starvation intervened.
Foul play was suspected when newspaper was found in the petrol tank, after being told by their tyre supplier to not change their tyres Paul suffered a tyre failure on lap 77 which put him in hospital and caused a Ferrari avoiding the incident to leave the track which killed 3 spectators in an unauthorised spectating area.
It took an AC enthusiast 12 years to rebuild the wreck of #A98 into the condition seen here at Goodwood Revival in 2012.
Thanks for joining me on this “185 mph Motorway Test” edition of “Gettin’ a li’l psycho on tyres” I hope you will join me again tomorrow when I’ll be looking at a unique British built US entered vehicle that competed in the Le Mans 24 Hours. Don’t forget to come back now !