March 21, 2023

Classic Wheels Spotlight: 1966 Shelby AC Cobra

Bob Rubens 1966 Shelby AC Cobra is a true American exotic

Photos by Steve Rubens - 1966 Shelby AC Cobra Front

While lots of folks have heard of the legendary AC Cobra, even more, have never seen a real one. There are probably 10 times as many Cobra kit cars out there as the authentic ones. Even more rare are the handful of original-owner cars. For the sake of tipping the scales in favor of knowledge – here is a real one that Bob Rubens has owned for 50 years!

Carroll Shelby produced the AC Cobra after he bought the rights from the little British sports car company named AC Bristol. AC actually began business as a wheelchair builder. I hope that was not the backup plan for owners who got reckless driving their AC Bristol, which offered considerably less horsepower before Shelby got a hold of them.

Shelby built Cobras from 1962 to 1967. The iconic lines of this aluminum-bodied car are immediately recognizable, however, each one is unique (more on that later). Some were 265 cubic-inch V8s, and many more were 289c.i. V8s. The bad boy on the block was definitely the 427c.i. ‘side-oiler’ big block rated at 450 horsepower. That is the version Bob Rubens owns and it’s the one you see here.

Photos by Steve Rubens - 1966 Shelby AC Cobra Rear

A ‘side oiler’ assures the engine will be lubricated under racing conditions, as opposed to pushing oil through all the nooks and crannies directly from the oil pan. Tuned and tweaked, these stealthy snakes hissed with enough striking power that Corvettes cowered on tracks back in the day.

There are very few American cars considered “exotic” but this AC Cobra is one of the few. Just as a diamond is nothing but a greatly valued polished stone, when Rubens bought this car all those years ago it was not for investment purposes. He is true to his hot rodding roots and big block seat-of-the-pants torque. Whatever this car’s value, it merely means only what someone is willing to pay, however, this one is not for sale.

The flimsy aluminum AC bodies were shipped to Shelby in his desolate airport hangar shop in Southern California in the early 1960s. He started putting the little cars together with American iron and even gave General Motors the first chance to supply drivetrains, which they declined because they did not want to detract from their sporty flagship the Corvette.

Photos by Steve Rubens - 1966 Shelby AC Cobra Interior

Carol threw his fishing line in the Ford pool, they bit, and the rest is history, sort of.

Shelby, a long-time racer and enthusiast had an ultimate goal in mind with these cars, to knock Ferrari off its lofty pedestal. Shelby, not always diplomatic, didn’t have a problem expressing that to Enzo Ferrari. The race was the game and the prize was their name. It was the Yanks against the Italians and underdog Shelby sprung like the venom-spitting snake he’d concocted. He and his little car became world champions.

The Cobra was known for sprinting from zero to 100 mph and back to zero in just 13.8 seconds. A feat garnered today only by $300,000-plus supercars. Originally sold for about $6,700, these Cobras were considered very pricey, especially when you got no radio or roll-up windows. The plastic sliding side windows are called side curtains. Between the various engine options and minor variations of the body like fender flares, each AC Cobra was unique.

Photos by Steve Rubens - 1966 Shelby AC Cobra Engine

I had the frightening pleasure to drive this car last summer. With the oversized steering wheel and unique shifter arm that, due to the transmission location, comes up from behind the driver, these cars were very different.

As you might imagine, stabbing 450-plus horsepower in a 2200-pound car is a pure delight. Large brakes on lightweight aluminum wheels tug you back to reality like poison hitting its prey. Pedal controls are close enough that you better break out your fireproof shoes. Carol Shelby claims that the Cobra’s name came to him in a dream. This real 427 AC Cobra is definitely a dream and classic set of wheels.