AC Cobra 378 Superblower MkIV 2021 review – another V8 Cobra, but with a GM heart this time
With nearly 600bhp from its supercharged V8, this is the most powerful production Cobra ever. Hold on to your hat!
There are definitely faster, more sensible, less impractical sports cars on which you could spend just £500 less than one hundred and thirty thousand pounds. But there can be few cars on this earth that meet with such universal approval from the general public as you rumble past with your hair (or what’s left of it) being blasted this way and that by the wind.
And there aren’t many sports cars that sound like the new AC Cobra 378 Superblower MkIV either, or which will make you feel so uncaringly good about life when you’re behind the wheel. Especially if the sun happens to be shining and, just for a moment, you allow yourself to forget about all the rubbish that’s going on in the world right now.
So although it’s an acquired taste, and at this kind of money is also very much a toy for the exceedingly well heeled, there really is nothing quite like the Superblower, and there are a great many different reasons why.
For starters, it’s the only official, bona fide Cobra you can buy, except for the regular 378, also from AC, which we drove and were impressed by in 2018 (evo 254). So although there are a lot of perfectly decent Cobra replicas around, some of which are very good to drive, only this one is the real deal.
Secondly, it is quite exquisitely well made, with incredible paint quality and a sense of craftsmanship that runs deep throughout the car, nose to tail, door to door. It’s better made than it was before to be honest, build processes having been ‘significantly improved during the last three years’ according to AC’s owner Alan Lubinsky, having started from an already strong base.
Thirdly, this one has a supercharger attached to its 6.2-litre GM-sourced ‘LSA’ V8 engine, so it goes like the proverbial you-know-what when you find the right road on which to put your foot down, seemingly from any revs in the first five of its six gears. This test car also has a pair of side exhausts, a system made for AC by Falcon in Norfolk, who complete the sign-off work on all of AC’s cars when they arrive in the UK, having been part-assembled in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. It costs an additional £3500 and is worth every penny – once you’ve learned how to disembark without singeing your calves in the process.
Although the senses of drama and excitement were already vivid in the regular 440bhp 378 Cobra, adding a supercharger and then allowing the whole lot to breathe through all-but-unsilenced exhausts, the end of one of which is no more than two feet away from your right ear, well, let’s just say it enhances the driving experience somewhat. By a factor of around 11 if you open the taps at anything approaching full steam and get the horizon firing itself towards you via the not-very-good-at-being-a-windscreen windscreen.
So what kind of power and performance are we talking about here? In the era of the hypercar, the Superblower’s outputs of ‘580-600bhp’ and ‘between 550 and 600lb ft’ might not sound all that earth-shattering, but in a car that weighs only a couple of crisp packets more than 1100kg, these kinds of numbers mean the acceleration is not exactly for the faint of heart. Zero to 60mph is in the very low threes because, apart from anything else, the Cobra has a quite astonishing amount of traction – always has had thanks to its relatively soft but highly effective rear suspension and, in this case, a set of fat Avon CR6ZZ rear tyres. Just guessing (so not quoting) I’d say it could also reach 100mph in well under seven seconds. So it’s quick by just about any standards, and of course feels approximately twice as fast as it actually is.
The Superblower uses the same Tremec T56 gearbox as the regular 378, with the same ratios, and is likewise equipped with a limited-slip differential. Yet despite the generous outputs, only if you give it absolutely everything in first gear will it break traction when leaving the line on a dry road. (The photo you see here of it smoking its tyres required some fairly major gymnastics with throttle and clutch to achieve.) If you just drive away gently-ish in first then nail it, the tail merely squats dramatically and you go, with no wheelspin whatsoever. At the same time you’ll generate an awful lot of raw acceleration plus an almighty crack of sound as you disappear up the road.
The gearshift is light and unusually good for a T56. The ride is also surprisingly decent, the suspension soft but not to a point where the car lacks body control. It achieves a good balance between ride refinement and suspension control, without too much roll when you lean on it, either. It’s a set-up that feels like it’s taken a great deal of time and effort to perfect, which is where Falcon’s other main contribution has occurred: a core team of engineers, some of whom used to work just around the corner at Lotus, now fine tune the cars to a much more detailed degree, working with individual owners to get their cars exactly how they want them. As a result, each car now ‘feels much more bespoke’ according to Lubinsky.
Even the steering has got better, feeling more cohesive since our last outing in the regular 378 model, and it was already not bad at all. Gone is the old rack, replaced by a fractionally slower but more modern VW Polo steering system, along with some of that car’s higher-quality interior bits and bobs, including its indicator stalks. And if you think Polo stalks don’t deserve a place in a 50-grand sports car, let alone one that costs £130k and comes from AC, think again. They look good and work perfectly well, managing to gel nicely within the rest of the distinctly retro interior.
But the best thing of all about the Superblower is not that it looks and sounds a million dollars, or that it goes like stink in a straight line (highly welcome though these factors undoubtedly are). It’s that it drives well, too, drives properly. Like a well-sorted sports car that might be from a different era dynamically, yes, but one which is actually pretty damn good to drive all in its own right, even beside the most contemporary sports cars from 2021.
There are no excuses required for this car, in other words. It stops well, despite not having anti-lock brakes. It steers well. It rides comfortably. It handles.
True, the driving position is from yesteryear, the active safety features are non-existent, the cabin is snug for two people to put it mildly, and the roof is nowhere beside the electrically powered pieces of street theatre you’ll find in modern two-seaters from Porsche, McLaren, Mercedes or Ferrari.
But not one of them, not even a Ferrari, will make you feel as good as the Cobra Superblower does, hood down, throttle wide open, side exhausts on full reheat on a bright, sunny summer’s day. And that’s priceless, with or without the VW Polo indicator stalks.