‘Ello, guvs. It’s time for another paddle-less trip up the proverbial creek that is Britain’s overflowing carmaker graveyard. We’ve seen everything from toff-carriages and prol-mobiles, but for this fourth edition, there’s a definite theme: Anglo-American “hybrids,” i.e. English cars with American engines. We already touched upon this category in the Gordon-Keeble chapter, but this time, let’s really immerse ourselves in wood, leather and burbling V8s, starting with AC.
AC is not short for air-con, but go tell Google that. What a pain it is to search for anything with just two letters to guide you (that means you too, DB). Never mind. Auto-Carriers (AC) was founded in 1903, though the company was really started two years before by engineer John Weller as one of De Dion-Bouton’s London agents and repair shops. AC originally made three-wheeled cargo haulers; a passenger version was soon introduced and AC graduated to four wheels in 1913.
In 1919, AC launched a completely new model, the Six (16/44) which had a daring all-alloy 6-cyl. engine that would become AC’s main stock-in-trade for, it seemed, millennia. Designed by John Weller, the AC’s OHC six was initially a 1.5 litre producing 44 hp, but soon grew to 1991cc and remained in production, without significant changes, for the next four decades.
In the ‘20s and ‘30s, AC started to foster a more sporting reputation, though their output remained small. The usual AC client was an owner-driver, wealthy but discerning and keen on performance. Think Alvis in Britain, Salmson in France, BMW in Germany or Lancia in Italy.
After the Second World War, AC continued with their 6-cyl. models, rejuvenating the styling and nomenclature as the AC 2-litre. The 2-litre’s chassis was still rather primitive, with leaf-sprung solid axles front and back, as well as hydro-mechanical brakes. All relatively middle-of-the-road for a low-production British car debuting in 1947 – this was no Invicta…
The body – initially a two-door saloon, soon followed by a drop-top, a tourer and a four-door saloon – looked more modern than most competitors’, but underneath was just as wood-framed and conservative as an Alvis or a Lea-Francis. Sales were far from brisk, but respectable enough for AC to start diversifying their production a bit.
Harking back to their humble beginnings, AC introduced a three-wheeler called the Petite in 1952. It had a single cylinder 350cc Villiers engine and was a success, by AC’s standards. AC developed the design from the Invacar, which they were making under a government contract since the immediate post-war. Invacars were built by various firms, including AC themselves, for the British government to dole out to folks who needed them – a scheme that lasted through to the ‘70s. In terms of units made, the Petite and Invacar trikes were undoubtedly AC’s greatest hit. But in terms of image, they could do a lot better. And they did.
In 1953, the AC Ace arrived. The Ace had been developed by racer John Tojeiro and powered with either Lea-Francis or Bristol engines. Its tubular-frame chassis and independent front / de Dion rear suspension were a big leap forward for AC, who bought the design and installed their venerable 6-cyl., which barely had 100 hp to spare, under the bonnet. The Ace would come to be the definitive AC in the eyes of many, but it was clear to AC from the start that they needed an engine worthy of the new chassis.
In 1954, a fastback (hatchback?) coupé version – bizarrely named Aceca – was introduced and AC started to hunt around for a suitable power source. They soon reverted to Tojeiro’s original plans and struck a deal with Bristol for their 125 hp BMW-derived 2-litre 6-cyl. to equip the Ace / Aceca, as an extra cost option, from 1956.
The old 2-litre saloon was finally pensioned off as AC embraced their newfound hard-core sports car image to the full. The Ace / Aceca, whether powered by AC or Bristol mills, garnered a fair amount of good publicity and enabled the small firm to envisage launching a new model.
This turned out to be the Greyhound, premiered in 1959. The new AC was somewhat related to the Ace, but its body was now all-metal, its wheelbase lengthened to accommodate a rear seat and its interior was far better appointed to justify its price. The suspension switched to coils all around and semi-trailing arms at the rear; front disc brakes were fitted as standard. The geriatric AC 6-cyl. was still available, but most clients preferred the 2.0 litre (125 hp) or 2.2 litre (105 hp) Bristol engines.
Unfortunately, the Greyhound was extremely expensive. Not quite as much as a Bristol, but too close for comfort. Aston Martin’s DB4 was much better in every respect, which didn’t help matters. The Greyhound was something of a dead end: only around 80 were made when AC nixed the model in 1963. Fortunately for AC, by the time that door closed, a window was opening onto the jackpot that was the American market.
After Bristol quit making engines in 1961, some AC cars received triple-carb 2.6 litre Ford Zephyr 6-cyl. specially tuned by Ruddspeed. Concurrently, a small miracle was happening with the Ace. The little roadster was quite a performer on the racetrack, particularly with the Bristol engine. Carroll Shelby, who had just won Le Mans in an Aston Martin, checked out the little roadster and liked what he saw.
The Ace’s chassis was as sturdy as its pretty body was light, so soon the idea emerged to marry these with a big American engine. The exact paternity of said idea, in the Ace’s case, is open to question, but one thing is for sure: AC, Shelby and Ford V8s were always in the picture. In 1962, AC produced a beefed-up Ace chassis with front disc brakes and Shelby placed a Ford V8 260 (4.3 litre) between the front wheels and called it Cobra. The car was then displayed and demonstrated around the US, where it made a significant impact.
In late 1963, AC stopped producing any other car than the Ace – and finally ditched their old OHC engine, as well – to make the AC Cobra’s chassis and body, both being progressively modified to cope with the much wider wheels being used in these V8 monsters.
Said V8 became the famous 289 (4.7 litre) with the Cobra Mk II, churning out 270 hp an propelling the diminutive AC to speeds in excess of 120 mph. In 1965, Shelby managed to shoehorn a 427 c.i. (7 litre) V8 into the Cobra Mk III, producing a 425 hp car that could rival Ferrari in almost every way but the price. Demand was high and the Thames Ditton factory’s order book was running over. But somehow, AC had become a sort of subcontractor for Shelby and Ford. There were few European sales, as many in the Old World felt the Ace’s increasingly outlandish performance did not match its looks.
AC needed a new car they could market as a proper AC, whatever that still meant. In late 1964, a Cobra chassis was shipped over to Ghia and provided with a typically Italian body. This car was exhibited around Europe in early 1965 – AC were keen to gauge whether something like this would pique anybody’s interest. It seems the concept was viewed positively, but the execution was perhaps not what AC were looking for, so another Cobra chassis, this time slightly lengthened, went to Italy.
In October 1965, a new prototype two-seater convertible with a sumptuous Frua-designed body was shown at the Earl’s Court Motor Show. It would be AC’s answer to the Euro-American hybrids that proliferated in the ‘60s – fast, luxurious and stylish machines made for the happy few. Despite the advert above, the production car was not named 427, as the Ford 427 was soon ditched for the similarly-sized (but less expensive) 428, so the new car soon became known as the AC 428. Production was slow to start during 1966, as the Motor Show car really was just a prototype.
The AC 428 coupé arrived in 1967, when all these Euro-American hybrids were in full bloom – the Flower V8-Power era, if you will. This was also the era of the British Invasion and Carnaby Street, when the country’s many celebrities were flaunting their newfound wealth on the latest automotive toys. John Lennon bought an Iso that year, while Paul McCartney drove a DB6 – as did Mick Jagger. Ginger Baker fell for the charms of the Jensen FF; fashion icon Twiggy (among others) went for the Miura. Peter Sellers, a notorious petrolhead, had both a Ghibli and a Ferrari 275, along with probably most of the other cars in the table further down.
The AC 428, for its part, was favoured by Keith Moon, drummer of The Who, who owned a white coupé. The actual 1965 prototype drop-top even featured as Tara King’s ride (pictured above) in several episodes of the 6th season of The Avengers (the TV show, not the neverending Marvel franchise), broadcast in 1968-69. So let’s look at the AC 428 in its proper context, i.e. great big powerful cars of the late ‘60s.
The AC 428 was expensive. You could buy two Jaguar E-Types for the price of the AC and still have a few quid left over; the standard Jensen Interceptor (absent here) cost about £3800. Sure, the Italian exotics were even dearer, but they also had highly sophisticated engines and gorgeous looks. The AC was Italian-suited as well – like many cars on this list, but perhaps not by the best tailor in town. In terms of raw power, the Ford 428 engine was pretty awesome, but you could trump it with a heavy Olds Toronado (which was just as exotic in the UK as the DB6 was in the US).
Why did the 428 cost as much as a decent-sized house? Because, in no small part, AC got their bodies made in Italy. They would ship chassis down to Pietro Frua, who subcontracted the body-making to the lowest bidder among the Peninsula’s many second-tier coachbuilders. The cars then went back to Thames Ditton for additional detailing, finishing and tuning. This was a punishingly long and expensive production method, as others (e.g. PininFarina’s Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, Ghia’s Imperial limos or Vignale’s Triumph Italia) found out earlier.
And AC never did manage to launch any variants, sticking with the strict two-seater, despite Frua’s efforts to attempt something a tad bigger, based on a Monteverdi design that had fallen through. This project, along with a revamped front end for the 428 drop-top, did not reach production. AC literally sold about one 428 per month: only 80-odd cars were made during the 1966-73 production run. Luckily, there were still some Invacars to make, so Thames Ditton kept the lights on.
The writing was on the wall for the hybrids by the early ‘70s. AC were ready to try out something a little different, something more in tune with the spirit of the times. It so happened that someone else had already made the car AC were looking to build: the Bohanna-Stables Diablo, unveiled in 1972, was a GRP-bodied mid-engined sports coupé that had little chance of being developed further. Just like they had done with the Ace, AC swooped in, bought the rights to the car and set their engineers on the prototype.
The Austin Maxi engine of the Diablo was traded for a 3-litre Ford Essex V6 and a 5-speed gearbox was devised, along with many other changes. The resulting AC 3000 ME was more or less ready, by late 1973, to take over from the 428, at least as far as AC were concerned. Unfortunately, the world had changed somewhat: performance cars were now subject to extensive European safety norms. It was getting mighty complicated to make sports cars the old-fashioned way.
The 3000 ME entered a long period of development hell, not unlike the contemporary De Lorean. The car was not up to scratch safety-wise, which led to a complex redesign of the chassis. The crash-test hurdle was finally overcome by 1976, but now there were other issues at play with suppliers. Finally, the phantom AC was re-introduced in 1979 – right on cue for the second Oil Shock.
By this time, AC had begun to slip from most people’s memory banks. And it would have taken a real die-hard AC fanboi to prefer the AC 3000 ME over the Lotus Esprit or the BMW M1. At £12,700 a pop in 1983, the 3000 ME was certainly in that ball-park. And they never left it, either: AC were unable to export their cars.
Notwithstanding this impending fiasco, Ford-owned Ghia designed their own interpretation of the new AC in 1981. After all, its design was already 10 years old, so something more in tune with the ‘80s zeitgeist would have been welcome. Alas, the Ghia special remained singular and AC stayed the course with their strangely-styled 3000 ME. Some potential clients wondered whether a different engine might be used, such as the Ford Cologne V6. Double alas, AC had designed the gearbox to mate with the Essex exclusively.
The Thames Ditton factory produced around 50 cars before the receivers were called in 1984. A group of Scottish investors took over and made about 30 additional 3000 MEs, but the game was up by 1986. Ford bought the remains of AC and planned to make a completely new factory for their R&D, hopefully while keeping the marque alive as part of a joint-venture with Autokraft, who had bought the tooling for the Cobra a few years earlier.
So AC’s prodigal son came back home in the late ‘80s, even as original ’60s Cobra prices were skyrocketing. But the Cobra had never really disappeared: since AC stopped production back in 1969, a slew of replicas of the iconic sports car were made by various concerns. And it seemed the market was fine with these, for the most part – so AC returned to Cobra production themselves for a while with the Mk IV, now powered by a 4.9 litre Ford V8. About 500 were made in ten years – competing, oddly enough, with Cobras made by Carroll Shelby himself in the early ‘90s, as well as dozens of copycats of dubious quality from all corners of the globe. To this day, a trickle of AC Cobras is still made, but not always hailing from southern England and sometimes using (blasphemy of blasphemies) Corvette V8s.
Ford did not let AC go gentle into that good night quite yet. Surprisingly, a completely new Ace did appear in the mid-‘90s. It was dubbed AC Ace Brooklands V8 and sported the Mustang’s 5.0. Alas yet again, not unlike the 3000 ME, this AC was a short-lived reappearance of the marque, which Ford sold off in 1996. Production paused for a while, then recommenced as another investor picked up the baton: the Brooklands name was dropped and an Aceca coupé version was launched, but AC dropped the whole affair soon. Altogether, about 60 cars sold from 1993 to 2000. AC continued making Cobras, folded again in 2002, and again in 2007, but never quite managed to find a final resting place within Britain’s crowded cemetery of automotive marques.
AC is the Schrödinger’s cat of the car world. It’s difficult to say whether the marque is alive or dead. They went bust at least six times and had several dry spells, starting in 1929-32 when no ACs were made. This happened again from 1940 to 1946 (easily forgiven), from 1974 to 1979, from 1986 to 1993, from 1996 to 1998 and again for most of the present century. The Thames Ditton works are long gone, yet an entity called AC Cars still exists, allegedly. Deadly Sins? Well, if the darn thing can’t be killed, how “Deadly” could those sins be?
The Deadliest Sin of the bunch was the unfortunate 3000 ME. It was a brave effort, but neither well-timed nor well-born, it was destined to fail. And it caused the Hurlock family to sell their controlling share after having led AC since 1930. The Hurlock era were AC’s glory days, when the marque stood for quality and sporting prowess. It’s a great shame that the Shelby / Ford involvement skewed things to breaking point, but then AC were always a minuscule player on the automotive scene. And neither Shelby nor Ford could be blamed for the misfire of the 3000 ME, which took place long after the Cobra. Speaking of which, the Cobra might also qualify as a Deadly Sin – it was so successful that it became the most copied sports car ever, and became an albatross around AC’s neck. On the other hand, without the Cobra, it is doubtful that AC would have survived past the mid-‘60s…
Nowadays, AC’s existence remains a matter of some debate. There are occasional murmurs of a new AC to be launched imminently – as a super-exclusive supercar, usually – with various far-fetched backers from unlikely origins. One of the latest plans was to build a factory in Malta to make a Zagato-bodied coupé, using South African-made components and a Ford engine. At least that last element seems rooted in reality, but otherwise, it’s unlikely that AC will make a return to a dealer near you.
Curbside Classic: 1986 AC 3000ME – Optimism, With A V6, by Roger Carr
CC Capsule: Monday Morning Rarities – Cobra Daily Driver, by JohnH875
eBay Find: 1963 AC Shelby Cobra 260 – Yes. Yes it is., by Geraldo Solis
CC Capsule: Shelby Cobra 427 Replica – An Accessory To Mischief?, by Joseph Dennis
Curbside Credibility: Is This a Real Cobra?, by Mike Butts
* * *
European Deadly Sins series
French DS 1 (Hotchkiss, Panhard, Citroën) — French DS 2 (Bugatti, Facel-Vega, Monica)
French DS 3 (Berliet, Salmson, Delahaye) — French DS 4 (Simca, Talbot, Matra)
British DS 1 (Jowett, Armstrong Siddeley, Daimler) — British DS 2 (Alvis, Lagonda, Gordon-Keeble)
British DS 3 (Invicta, Standard, Reliant)
German DS 1 (BMW, Borgward, Glas) — German DS 2 (Neckar, DKW, NSU)
Italian DS 1 (Autobianchi, Iso, Lancia) — Italian DS 2 (Isotta Fraschini, ASA, De Tomaso)
Other DS 1 (Minerva-Impéria, Monteverdi, DAF)
Thanks for walking us through the convoluted AC story. If a company has to be known for a single “greatest hit”, it could do worse than AC had with the Cobra. My favorites are the earlier 289 Cobras. To me they maintain that classic British Roadster look without looking like a musclebound bodybuilder.
That 428 roadster bears an uncanny resemblance to the Triumph Spitfire in its general shape and some of its detailing.
I recall reading a number of years ago that in maybe the 90s Shelby tried to use some assigned-but-unbuilt serial numbers in an attempt to build cars to to comply with the minimal regulation in effect in the 1960s. As I recall the U S Government ‘splained that it doesn’t work that way.
I see what you mean about the Spitfire, but the real dead ringer is the Maserati Mistral. Makes sense, since Frua designed that and the AC roundabout the same time…
AC’s hometown of Thames Ditton in Surrey isn’t the first place you’d think to build motor cars – an ancient Thameside village with winding streets and largely inhabited by prosperous London commuters.
The good news is that the original AC works still stands, and here it is, complete with commemorative plaques on the wall. It’s part of a small clutch of workshops that largely focused on the maritime trade. Today they probably house ad agencies and the like.
The white building beyond is an agreeable riverside pub, and just around the corner live my in-laws, who are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary today!
This total stranger wishes your in-laws a very happy anniversary.
Very nice history lesson of a brand seldom seen, I did spot a post war sedan in Hobart TAS in the hospital parking lot looking all the world like a daily driver but none since that I can recall in the wild, tupperware Cobre replicas are around in reasonable numbers but they all ape the 427 model not the smaller engined cars which were nicer looking, Someone in Auckland had a replica 289 race car built to the exact spec Shelby himself raced it features polished alloy bodywork and does see track time,
Dead British brands well theres a wide variety to choose from this will be an interesting series.
Weird, that claim of being the Safest car in the World!
Some vaguely likeable ’30’s jobs, the utterly sweet ’50’s/’60’s Ace (the Zephyr-engine skinny-wheeled one in particular), an exciting fat-squatting Cobra with much more engine than car, Frua’s quite amateurish ruler-drawn 428’s – not to mention his Maserati Mistral co-equivalents – and on into those ME’s that just cause aesthetic headaches, it’s a history of great cobbledness.
Mind, as JPC said above, if you’ve to have a one-hit wonder, you would make it the Shelby Cobra (though I’d make it the Ace itself, not much fancying the fatted-cowness of the famous one).
The most minorist of corrections, the 289 is 4.7 litres. not 4.1.
You have met your own standards of greatness, T87, very fully, and cobbled together a great piece. Simply great stuff, (perhaps your new post-nominal – Dr T87, Sgfs?)
Ruler-drawn and amateurish, the Frua 428? Perhaps your new post-nominal ought to be Justy Baum, FFS!
I think you’ll find, if you adjust your set and/or visit an optometrist, that it is a nuanced and taut design that is anything but what you claim it to be. It has not the curvaceous bombast of, say, a Ferrari Dino, but it has no straight lines above the chassis. The same goes for the Mistral, which is indeed of the same essence. Not saying it’s they’re most beautiful cars of the ’60s, and Pietro Frua has had some off days, but the AC 428 and the Maserati Mistral are worthy efforts. I do agree about the 3000 ME, though — mish-mash, both visual and technical.
Thanks for the ci to cc correction. Quite right you are on that one — more of a numbers guy, perhaps? 🙂 — as well as Evan’s comment below. I’ll fix that.
Yes, well I flatter myself my eyesight is fine sans specs, until a child pointed out to me I was typing and swiping my indignant reply (and FFSing) on a book.
With glasses perched as prescribed, I see that I may have overstated my case (indeed, I can see the laptop) or have been thinking of bendable rulers, but I still don’t fancy the 428’s much. Too much car for the wheelbase, wheels too far under, chin pugnacious rather than pretty (and weirdly somehow looking as if pointing upwards, as if the car is bent at the firewall). The coupe IS bitsy – the rear side window appears to end after the rear wheel, for example.
However, over all, I must concede they do look better when viewed with vision.
In retrospect what could AC Cars have done differently in place of the 3000 ME?
I would expect a more straight forward front engine, rear wheel drive engine would have got it out the door faster, allowed engine updates, etc. Might have given them a few extra years of life.
One of your most astute queries, Mr Rebel. Tough to answer that one.
Something along the lines of what David is suggesting could have worked in the sort term. A Gilbern/Scimitar-like coupe / convertible — European 6-cyl. engine, GRP body, etc., but with more luxury, better styling and build quality, might have worked. The technical issues would have been easier to handle for such a small outfit.
Would agree with both yourself and David’s suggestion of a conventional sportscar, perhaps AC would have been better off remaining involved with Ford?
After all Jon Pressnell’s on Austin-Healey mentions that Henry Taylor of Ford’s Advanced Vehicles Operation unsuccessfully attempted to pitch to the Healeys of switching from Vauxhall to Ford engines and componentry during the development of what became the Austin-Healey, such as using the 2-litre Pinto, 2.6-litre Cologne V6 and even going as far as to forward the chassis layouts and drawings for the forthcoming mk3 Ford Cortina.
Perhaps AC would have benefited from adopting such an approach on top of using a Windsor Small Block V8 and Ghia styling, despite the Pinto and Cologne V6 engines being strangled of power by US emissions spec had they been sold in the US (pre 2.3-litre Pinto Turbo)?
That 1964 Ghia bodied AC! I keep looking at it and thinking ‘what if’?
“There are occasional murmurs of a new AC to be launched imminently – as a super-exclusive supercar, usually…”
No China-focused generic CUV yet? That’s almost surprising these days (are the new Borgwards still vaporware in Europe?)
Weren’t the first Cobras powered by the 260 Ford, or were those just considered prototypes?
Ah, bingo. I think you’re right, which accounts for the good Dr 87 saying 4.1 litres above (260 c.i. is pretty much that).
You’re absolutely right, thank you for spotting that!
Cobras started out with the 260, then went to 289 and 427. I’ll amend the text.
“AC is the Schrödinger’s cat of the car world. It’s difficult to say whether the marque is alive or dead.”
Hehehehe! What a great analogy! Thanks for the informative article on a marque only known to most of us because of their iconic Ace/Cobra.
Also thanks to Dr. Sheldon Cooper for putting Schrodinger’s cat into the lexicon.
A brilliant analogy indeed – only Dr. T87 would have thought of that! 🙂
Thanks for your kind compliment, gentlemen.
I confess I cannot resist shoehorning far-fetched animal/scientific analogies into my texts. They make me salivate like Pavlov’s dog. Bazinga.
I remember reading in Road&Track in the ’80s, when Cobra replicas were just coming out, Shelby said he couldn’t understand why the hell anyone would want to reproduce a car that was 10 years old when he got a hold of it. I, too much prefer the earlier 260/289 version. Speaking of which, at the World of Speed car show on the 30th, there was an original, unrestored 1964 Cobra there, no ropes around it, anybody could walk right up to it, complete with all the dings and dents you expect in a 55 year old used car. Might have even been driven there.
Was the Aceca perhaps coined by a lazy manager fond of palindromes?
Would TVR qualify as Schrodinger’s kitten? Haven’t opened that box lately, but similar convolutions of state.
I love the 3000 for it’s obstinacy, but had I been capable at the time would not have bought one. They should have nodded toward a certain Lancia rally car a bit more.
The 3000ME looks a bit like a Fiat X1/9 on steroids, especially the earlier ones.
What a fascinating history — thanks for putting all the pieces together here.
AC had always been somewhat of a mystery to me — back in the 1980s or so, it seemed that AC was alternatingly referred to in the past-tense and present tense. They made phenomenal cars that were never actually seen except in replica form — and were those real AC’s or not? Who knew? And then the company would occasionally come out with a new model that was also never actually seen. This was all very confusing, and I confess to never having put all the pieces together until just now.
The Petite fascinates me. Post war, AC concentrated on high-end cars, except for this extremely low-end car that mysteriously sold somewhat well, but then vanished without a trace. And then AC went back to building high-end cars that no one bought. The Petite didn’t seem to harm the AC brand’s image, but at the same time, even given its relative success, it didn’t influence any future products. Here’s a Petite ad, with the most understated slogan ever: Made A Little Better Than It Need Be.
That’s right. The tag would appear to mean “it’s not very good, but probably a bit less crap than it could be.”
Probably something to do with profitability and production capacity. The Invacar stuck around because it was a government contract (=guaranteed income) but the retail Petite was in a competitive segment that started fading fast against the BMC Mini, so instead of cutting the price they cut and run.
AC quit making the Petite in 1957, so well before the Mini got going. However, it was probably hard to compete with Bond and Reliant – those were the trike kings.
But even then, I’m not sure why AC quit the three-wheeler market so soon. The Petite sold about 4000 units and was developed from a government-funded vehicle, so it must have made a profit. Perhaps the perceived harm / confusion to AC’s long-term image was a factor.
Tell me that someone over at Pontiac didn’t crib the shape of the 300ME for the Fiero.
Really helpful and well done, thx!
A few years ago I had the great good fortune to come across an AC 428 while strolling through an affluent part of west London. Second-tier stylist Frua may have been, but the AC’s gorgeous lines gave nothing away to any of its late 60s competitors.
Now let’s get things straight: Pietro Frua was a first-tier designer. One of the greats, no question. Maserati QP1, Monteverdi 375S, Glas 1700 and so on — the man was an artist.
However, the Carrozzeria Frua was a pretty small operation that outsourced a lot of their jobs to lesser Italian coachbuilders with little quality control, compared to the big boys (PF, Bertone, Vignale, etc.)
Even with my newly-discovered eyesight, I’m with Mr Russell.
No question Frua was prominent and did some really good stuff (the QP1 is a personal favourite), but there’s no Muira or Dino or anything considered top of the form. As an aside, we forget that Dinos and such are as good as they are due to overfamiliarity, and those tediously unending glorias – no, not those ones – to them, but if invented tomorrow, we’d know they deserve it. Frua did not produce such a design.
Not saying he wasn’t an artist, ofcourse he was, but “second-tier” is fair enough; perhaps upper-level second tier, but still not first.
I must in fairness add the caveat that I cannot recall ever seeing a 428 chop-top in the metal.
The Keith Moon Frua was previously owned by John Bonham, the drummer of Led Zeppelin, who bought it brand-new.
As to where the car is now – according to Dougal Butler’s biography of Moon, his extravagant driving style meant that the Frua was ultimately totaled, not without a series of minor accidents before that.
Also, Ringo Starr, The Beatles’ drummer, owned (and totaled) a grey Mercedes W112 with a black vinyl top, another car in the comparison here.