A Guide to Buying a Cobra 289 replica

1. Which Kit / Manufacturer ? New Kit or Pre-assembled Car ?

2. Authenticity ?

3. Which Engine ?

4. Which Gearbox ?

5. Which Front Suspension / Front Brakes ?

6. Which Rear Suspension / Rear Brakes ?

7. How much will I have to pay ?

1. Which Kit / Manufacturer ? New Kit or Pre-assembled Car ?

One of the first manufacturers of Cobra replicas was BRA, who only offered a "slab-sided" 289 (and a 427) from their base in the North of England. After a short period of ownership by Sheridan Bowie (when the kits were sold as Tylers), the company was sold a number of years ago to Paul Stannard in North England. To the best of my knowledge, Paul has not produced any kits or got the BRA through the stringent SVA test in the UK yet, so it is now only possible to buy a secondhand (pre-assembled) BRA.

Gerry Hawkridge (one of the first BRA customers) went on to join the management of the company, and then left BRA when he wanted to improve the kit even further. He is still manufacturing 289 replicas as Hawk from his base in South-East England - both "slab-sided" and FIA versions of the 289 (which are available either new or secondhand), plus the aluminium-bodied Kirkham 289 and 427 range.

Aurora produced a 289 "slab-side" in Canada, based on the Ford Mustang mechanicals, the owners club exists http://www.auroracobra.org

ACE have got round the complicated laws of registering new kit cars in France by manufacturing their own chassis, and fitting a Hawk bodyshell onto it - so it can be considered as a Hawk, and is available new or secondhand.

TPS offered a 289 "slab-side" in Switzerland, using an H&S 80mm diameter tubular chassis with a BRA bodyshell - a mixture between the Hawk and BRA kits, but are now only available secondhand.

KD offer a 289 "slab-side" kit car, but the build quality of their demonstrator could be better.

2. Authenticity / Will anyone realise that I have bought a Kit Car ?

It is generally accepted that the Hawk / ACE kits are the most authentic, since the attention to detail is very high. The chassis is a good copy of the 3" tubular chassis used by AC on the original Ace / Aceca / Cobra 260 / Cobra 289, which allows the bodyshell to also follow the lines of the original Cobra 260 / 289 very closely indeed. Hawks are often mistaken for AC Cobras, even when parked alongside the real McCoy (and by AC Owners !!).

The box chassis of the BRA was much cheaper to manufacture, and is probably stronger than the tubular chassis of the Hawk, but required the lower door sills to flare outwards to clear the girder, rather than flow smoothly under the side of the car. There are other areas of the car that are not quite true to the original, but these will only be spotted by a well-trained eye, and most people will boldly state that the BRA is an original AC (especially if parked amongst a collection of 427s !!)

The Aurora was the right shape - but it still looked significantly better than the Fox Mustang.

The TPS falls into the same category as the BRA, since it shares the same slightly-flawed bodyshell.

3. Which Engine ?

Shelby initially wanted to build a sports car using the Chevrolet 351 (5.7 litre) V8, but GM turned him down, since they didn't want a rival to their Corvette. His second choice was to merge the AC Ace with the Buick Fireball 221 (3.5 litre) engine (later purchased by Rover, and still used today in Land and Range Rovers, TVRs, Morgans, etc.), but Buick wanted money for their engines. Hence Shelby "chose" the new Ford 260 (4.2 litre) - later to become the 289 (4.7 litre), 302 (5.0 litre) and 351 (5.7 litre) engines - in 1962, because Ford supplied them free of charge (as a test bed, before they released the engines in their new sports car, the Mustang 289 in 1964).

Hence the purist will chose the heavy cast-iron Ford 289 V8 (or the optically identical, but more readily available 302 / 351 versions), but the all-alloy Rover V8 engine (over 110 kgs lighter than the Ford) should not be rejected, since this is available in sizes from 3.5 up to 6.0 litres.

And NO, no matter how highly tuned or good the engine is, a Ford Sierra Cosworth Turbo, Scorpio Cosworth 24V V6, Cortina 1.3 or whatever does NOT belong in a Cobra replica. Leave them in their donor cars, or better still, fit them in a Seven replica.

With a secondhand Rover V8 engine, the points to look out for are
a) has the oil been changed regularly ? The engines are very prone to huge sludge build-ups (easily checked by removing either of the rocker covers), unless the oil is changed at 5000 mile intervals. The oil pressure is usually alarmingly low (20 psi when warm at 3000 rpm, 30 psi when cold) - unless a stronger spring has been fitted to the bypass valve in the oil pump housing - because a high-volume low-pressure principle is employed.
b) oil leaks - the rubber seal aound the distributor shaft often leaks, the oil will then collect in the dip next to the locking bolt and securing plate, but this seal is easily replaced. The older (P5, P6) Rover engines used a rope seal on the timing cover at the front end of the crankshaft (behind the pulley), which tends to spray oil out from underneath and it then collects along the sump. Depending on the block, it may be possible to fit a timing cover from a later Rover (with the pressed-in rubber seal) to solve this problem. Also, underneath the inlet manifold gasket (originally aluminium, now coated in a black teflon-like material) there are rubber gaskets that sit in the bridge of the V at the front and rear end of the engine - unless copious quantities of sealant have been applied around these gaskets, the oil will find a way past them, and then collects either on top of the inlet manifold gasket, in the small recess at the top of the flywheel bell housing, or in the dip alongside the distributor at the front of the engine. The earlier cork rocker cover gaskets usually seal well until the first time that the covers are removed - replace them with the later, more expensive rubber gaskets, and you will be able to remove and replace the rocker covers as often as you like, without introducing any leaks. The sump gasket is prone to sliding out of alignment as the sump is offered up and bolted to the bottom of the engine, but this can be resolved by sticking it in place with gasket sealant before fitment to the engine.

4. Which Gearbox ?

This will largely be determined by your choice of engine.
Those with a Ford engine will usually have a T-5 (4-speed) manual gearbox. The later T-45 5-speed manual gearboxes tend to jump out of fourth gear (especially after a change down from fifth) when they are getting a bit tired.
Those with the Rover engine will usually have a 5-speed gearbox - either the LT77 (SD1), possibly in the Vitesse version (with its stronger bearings and higher fifth gear ratio) or the later and stronger R380 version. A rare alternative is the MGB 4-speed gearbox with Laycock overdrive, but this will require a modified flywheel bellhousing to mate up with the Rover engine (which will probably have to be modified to allow the MGB starter motor and flywheel to be used).

The Rover 5-speed gearbox should be checked for weak synchromesh on third gear (try changing down from fourth into third gear at about 80 mph), and may be reluctant to select first gear when cold - eased by replacing the EP80 gearbox oil with ATF (automatic transmission fluid), or better still, Castrol SQF.

5. Which Front Suspension / Front Brakes ?

This is also largely determined by the choice of kit.
The Aurora is the exception, using the Ford Mustang front suspension and brakes - big, heavy and solid.
The other kits favour the MGB suspension - and although this is more than adequate for an MGB, most Cobra 289 replicas will probably have a lot more power and performance than even an MGB V8, so there are a number of improvements that can easily be made here. At the very least, the Armstrong lever-arm shock absorbers should be replaced by a telescopic conversion kit (such as those offered by Spax or Moss Brothers), which allows easily adjustable shock absorbers to be fitted. Ideally, the complete front suspension should be replaced by the unit developed by Gerry Hawkridge and NG cars (based on the MGR V8 suspension system) - this has castor and camber adjustment, plus easily adjustable ride height and shock absorbers, to allow you to find the ideal setup for the road and/or track use. Don't forget to replace the standard MGB 1/2" front anti-roll bar with either a 5/8" or 3/4" unit.

The MGB front brakes should also be uprated, even for road use. The least that should be done is the upgrade to MGB V8 specification - the V8 calipers are very hard to find and expensive, but they are identical to those used on the Triumph 2000 / 2500, which are much more readily and cheaply available. The MGB V8 brake discs and pads are not much more expensive than the standard MGB items. Assuming that you have got the 15" wire wheels, you will be able to fit 302mm diameter EBC discs and Wilwood Dynalite four-pot calipers, which in combination with EBC Green, Red or Yellow brake pads will be more than adequate to stop even the fastest Cobra 289 in a very short distance, even after repeatedly heavy braking on any track day (I know, I do this regularly and for fun !!).

6. Which Rear Suspension / Rear Brakes ?

This is also largely determined by the choice of kit.
The Aurora is the exception, using the Ford Mustang live rear axle, suspension and brakes - big, heavy and solid.
The BRA can only accept the MGB / MGB V8 / MGC live rear axle with longitudinal leaf springs (although Gerry Hawkridge keeps promising to make a kit to fit the Jaguar independant rear suspension to the BRA). The axle ratios chosen (determined by the crown wheel and pinion fitted in the differential) will noticeably affect the acceleration and fuel consumption - the MGB axle usually has a 3.7:1 (manual) or 3.9:1 (automatic) ratio, which will give tremendous acceleration throughout the gears, but higher engine speeds when cruising, and hence higher fuel consumption. The MGC rear axle is a good compromise with its 3.3:1 ratio (and five studs securing the brake drum, instead of the four studs of the MGB axles), and the MGB V8 has a 3.07:1 ratio - ideal for covering long distances on fast back-roads or motorways, also saving expensive petrol, but unless powered by a Rover 4.6, this ratio will probably be too high-geared, and acceleration will suffer as a result (or you will spend your life changing down through the gears, which defeats the point of having a torquey V8 in the first place !!).
As with the front suspension, the MGB Armstrong lever-arm rear shock absorbers should be replaced with an adjustable telescopic kit (such as the Spax), and a recommended upgrade is to fit harder polyurethane mounting bushes for the springs, plus replacement of the 5-leaf springs with stiffer 6-leaf competition springs. A panhard rod should also be fitted, to virtually eliminate axle tramp under acceleration or braking on uneven surfaces.
Stopping power is usually provided by the drum brakes of the MGB, or perhaps the slightly uprated MGC drums (smaller shoes are fitted). However, it is possible to upgrade the rear drum brakes to discs, using Ford Sierra calipers.
The Hawk can accept either the MGB / MGB V8 / MGC live rear axle with longitudinal leaf springs (see BRA above), or the Jaguar independant rear suspension with inboard disc brakes. Although the Jaguar suspension provides a smoother ride and more grip than the live rear axle option, when the limit of adhesion is exceeded, it is much less predictable and more difficult to catch the car, so especially on track days, the live axle suspension provides a more controllable source of entertainment (and closer handling characteristics to an original AC Cobra).

7. How much will I have to pay ? or, How Deep are Your Pockets ?

Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware). This page is only a list of my opinions and experiences as an enthusiastic Cobra 289 replica owner and driver of almost 10 years standing (or rather, sitting, but luckily not much pushing - I get Andrea to do that for me). However, you take this advice at your own risk, and all the usual precautions that apply to the purchase of any secondhand car are just as applicable for a replica, even if not specifically mentioned here. As always, the value of any specific car is really set by the buyer and the seller. If you know what you are getting and are willing to pay the price, then you are getting a good deal. If you don't know what you are getting, or don't know exactly why you are buying the car, then you can find yourself in trouble. And if you take my advice but are not happy, I am sorry, but you are on your own !

If you buy a new kit to assemble yourself, then at least you can build the car up to your individual specifications - which is what will determine the build cost (or vice versa). And the sense of achievement, if you manage to see the project through cannot easily be described in words - but beware, everyone underestimates the final cost, which will almost certainly be higher than the price realised if you need to sell the car later (not counting all the time that you will have invested).

The value of a used 289 replica depends on a number of factors, one of which is what people find most desirable. Some are looking for a very fast, agile car, while others are looking for a vehicle that would pass for an original AC Cobra, even when parked alongside the real McCoy. I suspect that everyone would like a car that ideally meets both of these and many other criteria.

The market price of secondhand (pre-assembled) 289 replicas varies wildly, so I can only give you a very rough guide here, based upon the prices that I know such cars have realised in the last two or three years.
In the UK, a secondhand BRA 289 "slab-side" with a basic Rover 3.5 litre engine should fetch just under 10,000. A similar specification Hawk 289 "slab-side" is likely to fetch closer to 14,000. Further up the scale, a high spec. BRA 289 (Rover 4.6 engine, uprated brakes and suspension, etc.) should sell for about 15,000, and a top flight Hawk 289 (Ford 302 / 351 engine, Jaguar IRS, uprated front brakes and suspension, etc.) should sell for about 22,000. The aluminium-bodied Kirkhams are almost on another planetary level, and I haven't heard of any such units reaching the secondhand market yet. The asking prices for original AC Cobra 289s rise rapidly from 90,000, largely dependant upon history and condition.
It is possible to convert a replica from right-hand-drive to left-hand-drive, but the cost is likely to be close to 3,000 (Euro 4500). A nice left-hand-drive TPS 289 recently fetched Euro 17050 ( 11,400) on http://www.ebay.de/ in Germany - but, most of the time, you get what you pay for.

My personal preference is for a car with extremely interesting (rather than ultimate) handling characteristics (which means a live rear axle and leaf springs, the typical configuration of almost all sports cars of the 1950s and 1960s), plus a torquey V8 engine and excellent brakes, so that I can enjoy it on track days, on fast runs over bumpy twisty country lanes, and whilst cruising on the motorway (to get to the track or twisty lanes), but with high gearing (so that I don't have to keep stopping at every second petrol station to refuel). I am much less concerned with how closely the car optically matches an original AC Cobra 289, hence a modified BRA 289 suits my purposes very well indeed (although even the shape of the BRA is sufficiently close to the original AC Cobra 289 to fool all but the real anoraks).
I'm not certain what the value of my BRA 289 is, and suspect that my estate will have to find out when they sell it, since I never intend to part with it. However, it has cost me 16,000 (Euro 24,000) to build it up to its current specification, and it would now cost 18,000 (Euro 27,000) to repeat this exercise from a basic BRA 289, so that should be its value (in September 2003) to anyone else. Round this up to 20,000 (Euro 30,000) and I might be persuaded to part with the beast !!

For further details of prices being asked for 289 replicas, check out the cars offered for sale on this web site