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American AC Cobra killer is back

2009-10-12 08:02
If you think seminal American performance cars, the names always start with a C, now don’t they? Corvette, Camaro and Cobra, right?

Well, there is one name which has faded into obscurity with the fullness of time – Cheetah.

Back in the 1960s, when the Anglo-British V8 Cobra was pummelling racetracks with stunning success, one Bill Thomas believed he could build a superior driving machine.

The car Bill built was a radical. It featured a tubular chassis, 6.2l V8 engine (front-engined yet mounted way behind the fore axle) and was cloaked in amazingly original bodywork.

Side pipes obviously a bit of a legal issues nowdays. Rear mounted fuel tank keeps the mind wonderfully focused when it comes time to quell the oversteer - you don't want to hit a wall backwards in one of these...

The supercar that almost was...

Thomas christened the car Cheetah, and was convinced it had the capability to take down the dominant 427 AC Cobras of the time.

Unfortunately, initial teething problems, a parts embargo (vanquishing mechanical support for the production run) and, finally, a workshop fire scuttled the Cheetah project.

Only 29 Cheetahs were ever completed – rendering them highly collectible footnotes to America’s performance car heritage.

Arresting shape is almost un-American in proportion. Check how far back those air filters sprout out of the bonnet - the V8 is nearly in your lap when you're driving...Gearbox output bolts directly into the rear diff.

Rises again...

Four decades late,r an Arizona company has taken Bill’s original drawings and is faithfully reconstructing turnkey Cheetahs, staying as true to the original cars as possible, for contemporary collectors.

The Cheetah continuation collectible is not a replica, as it shadows the original car flawlessly in terms of design detail.

These "continuation" Cheetahs carry Bill’s signature of approval on an official certificate too – something Carroll Shelby, for instance, does not hand out to each and any AC Cobra replica manufacturer…

In terms of specification, the car features a full tubular chassis, with the car suspended independently at each wheel corner by coil-over dampers, featuring trailing arms holding a tubular wishbone in place.

Surfacing, which remains outlandish even by today’s supercar standards, is fibreglass.

Those American muscle car wheels are classically styled Torg-thrust items (rolling BF Goodrich rubber, unsurprisingly).

Classic 350-cube power with Lotus Elise humbling lightness?

Mounted nearly midships is GM's venerable 5.7ll four-bolt main bearing V8, which drives a four-speed Muncie manual transmission.

The engine breathes through beautifully machined racing headers, fed by two oversized air filters which jut out of from the bonnet surfacing via elaborately sized cut outs.

In short, even after all these years, the Cheetah still looks fantastic.

Classic 350-cube Chevy block is cooled by a contemporary Corvette-sourced radiator.

Performance is of the ludicrous variety - even by the swiftest of modern standards.

Despite its American roots the Cheetah is almost dainty in terms of mass and weighs only 703kg. Tally up the 5.7ll V8’s 320-or-so kilowatts and you can class straight-line performance as supercar humbling.

Back in the day, one of Bill’s original Cheetahs ran a 346km/h top speed at Daytona.

We estimate it must have been an absolutely frightening prospect, considering the Cheetah’s 2.28m wheelbase should herald a neurotically nervous car – even more so at speed.

If you want one of these epic pieces of American automotive history, they're on order for just under $90 000 a piece.


Inside Wheels24

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