If you're going to design a sports car, you could do worse than going back to the classics and AC Cars has done just that with the unveiling of its Zagato AC 378 GT at the Geneva Motor Show. It's a rolling tribute to not only 111 years of the AC Cars marque, but also its Anglo-Italian heritage and its long relationship with the Zagato design group going back to the AC Ace Zagato of 1957. The supercar, which will be sold in the UK for GBP89,990 (approx US$140,870) and Germany for EUR109,990 (US$144,970), is also part of AC Cars' relaunch on the European market as a specialized car maker after a decade of false starts.
AC Cars isn't the largest of car makers, but it does have a long history going back to its first 20 bhp touring car. In the past century, AC Cars have built a wide rang of specialized vehicles from high-powered sports cars to petrol-powered invalid carriages. Though a small company, it's also had a big impact. An AC Cobra, which was produced by AC for the car designer Carroll Shelby in 1962, was caught by the authorities during a test run doing 196 mph (315 kph). This incident is commonly blamed for the introduction of the 70 mph (110 kph) speed limit in Britain.
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In 1957, AC Cars began its long relationship with the Zagato design group, famous for its work with companies like Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia, Abarth, Ferrari, Aston Martin and Bristol. Their first collaboration was the AC Ace Zagato coupe. This performance car with its distinct blend of aggressive and elegant styling came 10th at Le Mans that year and served as the inspiration for the Zagato AC 378 GT - a link between the relaunched AC Cars marque and its glory days.
The relaunch is an attempt by Al Lubinsky, the current owner, to put behind nearly twenty years of rough sailing that saw AC Cars go into receivership, pass through a number of hands and bitter battles for ownership as well as a disastrous attempt to move production to Malta in 1995 that resulted in accusations and counter-accusations flying between the company and the Maltese government. Lubinsky's plan is to relaunch the marque through three cars built by three different companies in three countries - one in Britain, one in Germany and the Zagato AC 378 GT in South Africa.
The whole project is under the chairmanship of a man with the frighteningly respectable name of General Sir Jeremy Mackenzie, GCB, OBE, DL, former Deputy Supreme Allied Command NATO Europe, Governor of the Royal Hospital Chelsea and Aide de Camp General to Her Majesty the Queen.
Unfortunately, despite all of this, AC Motors still suffers its share of bad luck. At the recent press unveiling of the Zagato AC 378 GT at the Geneva Motor Show, a customs problem in Britain made the car late for its own party. This is a pity because the Zagato AC 378 GT is most definitely a Zagato, which shouldn't be surprising because it started out life in 2009 as the Zagato Perana.
The Zagato heritage of the Zagato AC 378 GT is there at a glance. It has the same long, dynamic curves defined by sharp edges and a heavily-raked windscreen. There's the grill with the look of a surprised catfish, the headlamps that look like they're getting ready to leap out in front of the car, and it even has the trademark "double bubble" roof that harks back to the days when Zagato introduced it to make room for drivers wearing crash helmets. The whole thing has a lean, hungry, powerful look that would be breathtaking if it weren't for the bonnet and side vents that look as if the designer suddenly went mad at the last minute.
Under the carbon composite bodywork is a steel-tube frame and a 6.2 liter V8 engine cranking out 434 bhp. This shoots it from 0 to 60 mph (100 kph) in less than four seconds. Top speed still isn't public, but with a power to weight ratio of 292.55 bhp/ton (220.48 kW/tonne), it isn't going to be spending too much time getting passed on the motorway.
The result of two-years intense testing, ten pre-production cars have already been completed and AC Cars says that they are currently developing a roadster version that will take its design cues from the Shelby's AC Cobra. The first deliveries of the Zagato AC 378 GT are expected in mid-2012.View gallery - 16 images