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185mph on the M1: Recreating Jack Sears’ famous drive in an AC Cobra Coupe

Which also meant that, on the M1, it felt like what Thomas Hardy once referred to as a ‘netted lion’, except he was talking about a person. I have to keep reminding myself that this story is about the motorway, with the car being used for the purpose of pleasingly relevant illustration. But it’s no good – I’m much more interested in this machine than the clogged road on which I must drive it, so it is just as well that the photographic brief requires endless sprints between junctions, at which there are plenty of side roads and roundabouts on which to indulge my inner Jack. It rides ridiculously well, though were this my car, I’d stiffen its adjustable Ohlins dampers a bit to provide a little more body control. I’d prefer more steering feel too.

Just once I get a clear run up the slip road and, for perhaps no more than a couple of seconds, I’m foot down, engine bellowing and ready to do 185mph all over again. But of course I don’t: my licence is my livelihood and I’m not Jack Sears.

I head back to Watford Gap at the 70mph limit in whose imposition he said he played no part, and thought what it would be like to be back in those quieter, more innocent times. Even when armed with a Cobra, today the M1 is a bore at best, an ordeal at worst. Sixty years ago, it must have seemed like the most exciting road in the country.

Driving a ‘real’ Daytona Cobra

There are only six originals, all worth many millions, but there are some built more recently that are, in all important regards, mechanically indistinguishable. At the time, the reason for the coupé body was to gain the top speed over the aerodynamic breeze block that was the original Cobra. Without a single extra horsepower, the Daytona Coupés went 30mph faster down the Mulsanne Straight.

But there was another benefit: the way the body was attached to the chassis added considerable rigidity, which transformed the handling. I’ve been lucky enough to drive both, back to back, and while the normal race-prepped Cobra was inexact and unnerving to drive as I had read they all were, the Daytona handled beautifully well – not delicate like its great rival the Ferrari 250GTO, but consistent, trustworthy and great fun.

The result took the Cobra from a car that wouldn’t (and frequently didn’t) see which way a GTO went on a race track to one that trounced the GTOs at Le Mans in 1964 and the following year won the GT category of the World Sports Car championship. This was the first globally recognised international racing championship ever to be won by an American car.

, 185mph on the M1: Recreating Jack Sears’ famous drive in an AC Cobra Coupe
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Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !

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