A new era of AC that never was

The 378 GT could have been the beginning of AC’s modern-day reincarnation as a top-flight sports car manufacturer. Sadly, the stars didn’t align

AC is etched into automotive history for its contribution to the world of sports cars. The AC Ace famously served as the platform for the Shelby-engined Cobra that saw success on road and track. AC itself went into receivership in 1985, but in 2012 there was the potential for a full-blown rebirth of the iconic brand – headlined by a new sports car. This is the vision of a modern-day AC that never came to fruition.

More on iconic British manufacturers…

It all began with a beautiful Zagato-designed concept car at the 2009 Geneva Motor Show. Zagato has a proven track record when it comes to creating stunning-looking cars, but the Perana Z-One was a real head-turner. A long, pronounced bonnet led into a coupé silhouette, finished off with a blunt rear end.

The model was a collaboration between the Zagato and the Perana Performance Group, and it showed a lot of promise as a well priced sports car. Planned to cost around £50,000 and be limited to 999 examples, the Z-One was powered by a GM-sourced 6.2-litre V8 that punched out 434bhp. That’s a lot of bang for your buck, especially considering that it could dart from 0-62mph in under four seconds. A 50:50 weight distribution and ZF limited-slip differential suggested that the car had some serious potential through the bends, too.

Sadly, Perana struggled to sell the Z-One, with just 10 cars being built – but this is where AC comes in. After some tumultuous times, AC was again looking to offer the world a sports car with the kind of headline figures that would worry the establishment. By using the failed Perana Z-One as its base, AC could dramatically cut down on development time and costs. The South African-made model was rebranded and dubbed the AC 378 GT. Interestingly this wasn’t the first Zagato-bodied AC; that honour belongs to the Ace Bristol Zagato of the late 1950s.

This new AC would be aimed at purists, with no electronic driver aids to tame the 185mph sports car. Handsome, powerful and now carrying a historic name, could the 378 GT really be the AC revival fans had been waiting for?

In substance, yes – in reality, no. While the car ticked all of the above boxes, it was launched at a time when global economies were still suffering and people were being careful with their cash. The AC 378 GT was always intended as a limited-production model, but it also served as a commercial viability study for the continuation of such a machine. Ultimately just 15 cars were produced by the end of the project, with no further plans for more. The prototype AC 378 GT still exists today, and currently resides in Rodger Dudding’s collection at Studio 434 after it was bought at auction.

It’s a great shame that AC never got the full modern revival that it deserved. However, you can see echoes of the 378 GT’s design in the later Alfa Romeo TZ3 Stradale also penned by Zagato.

Classic Cars for Sale