AC Cars, of Thames Ditton in Surrey, has had a chequered career, facing liquidation several times during it's life. Perhaps some of the financial problems it has faced were due to their business methods.
After the war the company made it's name with a sparkling little sports car called the Ace. Numerous engine changes increased the speed of the car but despite a number of fairly minor racing successes it never quite set the world on fire. Sales began a steady decline; and then an American gentleman called Carroll Shelby come along with what seemed like an interesting proposition. The company would manufacture the car, less the engine; this would then be shipped over to the United States where a 4.2 litre V8 Ford engine, later replaced by a bigger 4.7 litre unit, would be fitted and the car completed. The result was the AC Cobra.
Imagine. You started with a finished, painted, fully trimmed car but it had no engine. You put it on a ship and sent it to the United States. The engine was then fitted, together with the transmission.The next stage however was putting right all the damage occurred during the passage across the Atlantic, and the work necessary to finish the car off. Add to that the delays caused by this long-winded process and it is clearly a very inefficient and costly way of creating a car.
This would not have mattered so much had the car being a great seller. It wasn't. Despite the fact that a very popular pop song, 'Hey Little Cobra' by a group called the Rip Chords made the name well-known it simply didn't sell in sufficient quantities to make it a commercial success, bearing in mind the unconventional way in which it was put together. AC had to have a new product.
Did they learn from past mistakes this time? No. They made the same awful errors only much worse.
The new car, to be christened the AC 428, was to be a grand tourer that was 100 percent AC owned. Basically it was to be a lengthened AC Cobra with Italian styling, and a huge seven litre V8 Ford engine was to be fitted, giving it a top speed of over 140 mph. So far so good; but this is where things began to get a little silly.
The idea was that the basic chassis was to be produced at Thames Ditton. It would then be shipped to Italy ( which at the time was suffering a great deal of industrial unrest) for the bodywork to be welded on at a tiny worshop owned by a designer/coachbuilder named Pietro Frua. It was then sent back to Thames Dalton for completion! Imagine the cost, disruption, delays, damage that all this created.
To add to all this, the finished car bore far more of a resemblance to another design of Frua's; the Maserati Mistral; that it perhaps should have done! It was even rumoured that some of the body panels were interchangeable. Maserati were, understandably, not happy and had the 428 been a commercial success, rather than an expensive flop, litigation might well have followed.
A combination of militant and strike prone Italian workers, transport delays, quality problems, and general incompetence led to soaring costs and delivery dates that were no more than fairytales. In the end a total of just 80 428s were made before the petrol crisis of 1973 made such large engined cars virtually unsaleable. What could have been a world beater was destroyed partly by inexplicable management decisions and sheer bad luck.