first shelby cobra

Who built the first Cobra, and where?

AK Miller in Cobra
Ak Miller

No question that Carroll Shelby “invented” the Cobra sports car with the idea of installing a V8 Ford engine in an English AC Chassis, but he wasn’t the first to actually do it!  If we forget the name Cobra, which defines this question, we have to acknowledge the first man to put a Ford V8 in an AC chassis to go racing.  Famed California “Hot Rodder” Ak Miller had completed the project with an AC-Bristol sports car (same chassis that would be delivered to Shelby months later) he’d acquired to run on the dry lakes east of Los Angeles well over a year before Shelby put his deal together with Ford and AC to build his cars in limited production.

Ed Hugus
Ed Hugus

What’s even more interesting is that Shelby didn’t actually do the first Ford V8 installation in an AC supplied chassis. At the beginning, Shelby had no facilities or even a talented fabricator/mechanic to do the job. Instead, Shelby made a deal with well experienced eastern foreign car importer Ed Hugus to be his partner in the Cobra project. Shelby offered Hugus the distribution for his cars in the Eastern US (Shelby had not yet “invented the name Cobra”) in exchange for doing the initial installation and sales.

CSX 001, the first Cobra sold by Ed Hugus.

Hugus completed the job on chassis number CSX 001. This chassis was sent to Ed Hugus, purely by chance, as no one was looking at chassis numbers on AC’s first shipment of two cars to America. Hugus had “built” and sold CSX 001, the first “Shelby” weeks before Shelby had received his first chassis, CSX 000, when we moved into Dean Moon’s small shop in California.

Cobra in Dean's shop
CSX 000 in Dean Moon’s shop.

Once Shelby had completed this first car (and come up with the Cobra name) he painted it bright yellow and sent it to the NY auto-show to be displayed on the Ford stand. He got enough orders from that initial showing to take up all of AC’s initial production. At that point there simply “weren’t enough cars to fill Hugus’ orders” so the handshake “partnership” was dissolved and Shelby continued on by himself.

15 thoughts on “Who built the first Cobra, and where?

  1. Hi Peter, great Info. on the early history and creation. I’ve moved to Calif., but please let me know when your open house will be [if not already past]. I don’t look at my e-mail too often. If possible I would make it a point to combine a trip with other business in LV.

    Regards, E.G.

  2. Dear Mr. Brock,

    Thank you for your continuing contribution to capturing automotive history and in particular the Shelby world. My area of interest is the early conversion of the Ace in the UK before exportation. It was you that directed me to the Canadian small block truck engine that was used in that mock-up and road test before the Fairlane 260 was available, It was also you that shed light on John Tojeiro’s use of pre-war, Fiat designed leaf springs which were adapted to his ladder frame. Bringing this technology forward to achieve a world championship is a super human feat by any standard. I vote that you receive an Honorary Doctorate in Automotive Design! A builder is now finishing my FFR Type 65 Coupe (in my tax bracket) which I plan to show at your open house this year,
    Best regards, Deane CB

    1. Hello Dean…so cool that you are building your own Daytona. It’ll be a car that commands presence anywhere you go! Look forward to seeing you at our open house. Peter Brock

  3. Interesting that the rears on the “Cobra Kit Special” appear to be snows. Better traction on the dry lake, perhaps? I guess this was before speed ratings were a thing for tires.

    Great article.

    1. Looks to me like that photo was taken at the 1964 Pike’s Peak Hillclimb. A.K. Miller’s car consisted of an Ace-Bristol chassis, Ford V8 and Devin body.

  4. Hi, Peter! Thanks for this great historical tidbit. Got a question about Cobra styling: To my eye, the 260/289 Cobra’s face is so much more attractive than any AC Bristol I’ve ever seen. Do you have any idea how/when the design of the nose evolved from the look of the AC Bristol?

    1. AC had started fitting the Ford Zephyr engine to the Ace due to supply of Bristol engines drying up, and Alan Turner, AC’s designer, took a spare grille from an AC Greyhound, turned it upside-down, lowered the bonnet(hood)line, and reprofiled the front to the shape that later graced the Cobra.

    2. The lovely tapered nose made its debut on the AC Ace 2.6 “Zephyr”. The body grew fender flares when it evolved into the Cobra.

    3. Hi Edd….There was one model from AC called the “Ace” that came just after the Bristol engined car and before the first Cobra. The Ace body style (designed internally at AC) was adapted for the first Cobras. Thanks for your interest and good questions! Peter Brock

  5. This is the kind of factual information true “car folks” love to have when discussions come up.
    What fabulous insight!!

  6. Thanks, Pete. I worked with Ak Miller for several years when I was in charge of Ford’s Muscle Parts program. Being a modest guy, Ak never mentioned building the first AC/Ford. Ak was a real innovator, but not well known outside the Hot Rod world (early turbo charging, propane induction, Mexican Road Races, etc.)

    Don Coleman

  7. Be fun to try and track how many deals Shelby tried to make before one clicked. For sure he tried GM on engines before Ford. Among the chassis makers in England he tried were Aston Martin, Cooper, and Austin Healy.
    Wild alternate future – what if Cooper had had the capacity to supply the number of cars Shelby wanted(?) – the Cobra would have been a mid-rear car!
    There was the Cooper based King Cobra but that’s a differehnt story.

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