• Nov 12, 2010
In Which We Learn Not To Judge A Book By Its (Very Familiar) Cover

2012 Iconic AC Roadster – Click above for high-res image gallery

We admit it – we nearly got it wrong. But can you blame us? We've seen dozens – nay, hundreds of Shelby Cobra homages and outright knockoffs over the years, and while many of them have offered road-bludgeoning performance, precious few have been high-quality efforts, and fewer still brought something new to the table. So when images of the Iconic AC Roadster first hit our inboxes along with blustery talk of 800+ horsepower and a massive price tag, we didn't pay much attention. Here was yet another Cobra replica whose biggest innovation appeared to be a set of awkward looking head- and taillamps. Why bother?

And then we drove it. And oddly, just as importantly, we took a peek beneath its skin, only to realize that the car's familiar shape is something of a Trojan horse whose familiar striping job masks a shocking amount of cutting-edge technology.

Continue reading to find out what changed our minds.

Photos copyright ©2010 Chris Paukert / AOL

First off, make what you will of the controversial lighting design, but on the whole, allow us to say that pictures fail to do the Iconic AC Roadster justice. Its profile may be overly familiar, but peeling back the carbon fiber skin on the prototype we drove reveals a stunning assembly of custom CNC-milled parts, clever engineering solutions and the sort of high quality finishes that you almost never see in a production car. From the super-sanitary steel chassis with carbon-fiber tub, to the purpose-built steering box, to the pushrod-actuated inboard shocks, this, friends, is a machinist's pornucopia. Intakes in the belly pan suck air from the high pressure area behind the front wheels and neatly vent out near the rear wheels to help cool the brakes. The work-of-art suspension control arms are rifle-drilled so that brake fluid can run inside of them. Special aeronautics-grade 12-point fasteners are everywhere, and in addition to looking cooler than your typical bolt or screwhead, they're designed to maximize surface area for the even distribution of torquing force.

With the possible exception of the Aston Martin One-77, we can't recall the last time we saw a production-intent car with metalwork this impressive. It might have been the Ford GT40 – and we're not talking about the 2005-2006 Blue Oval supercar, we're thinking of the even better looking 2002 'GT40 Concept' that inspired the production model. That car kept us up at night. There's a reason for this comingling of feelings, of course – the folks behind the Iconic AC Roadster were also responsible for a fair bit of work on Ford's Camilo Pardo-designed GT40 showcar, along with 2005's Shelby GR-1 coupe concept.

2012 Iconic AC Roadster side view2012 Iconic AC Roadster front view2012 Iconic AC Roadster side view

Open the dainty looking door, climb over the sill (taking care not to accidentally brand your calves on the massive side pipes), cinch yourself down in the racing bucket with the five-point harness, and take stock of your surroundings. You look out over a small windshield that itself stands proud of a buckboard-simple instrument panel save some surprisingly snazzy gauge faces and a large central information screen (more on this later).

On second thought, you probably haven't so much as entertained opening the driver's door yet, as you're still gawking slack-jawed at what's under the clamshell hood. We can't blame you. A myriad of clever details may threaten to spirit your eyes away from the engine, but don't let them – the Ford SVO-sourced 7.0-liter overhead-valve V8 is worth savoring. Specially assembled for Iconic by famed NASCAR engine builder Ernie Elliot, there's plenty to look at. A simple crate motor wouldn't suit the spirit of the project, so Iconic has designed its own cross-ram fuel injectors, bespoke intakes and specified their own state of tune to realize 825 horsepower and 660 pound-feet of torque. We know guys who pull horse trailers that would give their firstborns for a heavy-duty truck with that kind of power. Slotting that much brute force in a 2,400-pound chassis is clearly a recipe for the diabolical.

2012 Iconic AC Roadster interior2012 Iconic AC Roadster seats2012 Iconic AC Roadster gauges2012 Iconic AC Roadster shifter

And it is. Even though our time with the AC Roadster was brief and hemmed-in on a vast autocross course at Ford's Dearborn Proving Grounds, it's clear that this is a vicious, blunt force trauma piece of kit. Iconic says that the 0-60 sprint should take less than three seconds, and top speed is pegged at over 200 mph – impressive for a car that appears to have the cD of a school bus with its windows open. We didn't really get to open the Roadster's taps all the way during our drive, and to be honest, we'd be hesitant to do so without more familiarization. This car would still be preposterously quick with half the power, and there are no electronic bacon-saving devices – no traction or stability control and no anti-lock supervision for the 14-inch carbon-ceramic Brembos. Hell, not only aren't power steering or brakes on the spec sheet, there isn't even a vestigial roof. It's just you, 825 horsepower and a hellaciously wide set of meats crammed into a 98-inch wheelbase.

It is at this point that we need to address footwear – not the car's, yours. If you've got flat, wide feet like your author's size 10s, the extremely narrow, slightly offset pedal box is likely to be a problem. For the record, the Roadster rolls on 275/35 18-inch front and 325/30 19-inch rear Goodyear Eagle F1 run-flats.

2012 Iconic AC Roadster engine

As you'd expect of a car with this much power, the clutch is seriously heavy but quite progressive. Fittingly, the six-speed Tremec manual (with its own custom bellhousing – natch) requires a firm hand but finds the gears faithfully.

To reinforce the Iconic's "manly man" credentials, brakes go without vacuum assist and require big effort as a result. Those accustomed to vintage Cobras and/or race cars will probably not have an issue accounting for the footwell's tight confines and unservoed binders, but for those used to driving modern automobiles, the three pedals are clustered so close together that it's frighteningly easy to grab part of the accelerator as you bear down hard on the brakes. Ask us how we know. Officials we spoke with are aware of the design issue and admit that they are looking to implement a fix before the car goes into production next year.

2012 Iconic AC Roadster headlight2012 Iconic AC Roadster wheel detail2012 Iconic AC Roadster taillight2012 Iconic AC Roadster rear diffuser

Negotiate the pedal situation, however, and you're unlikely to have any other qualms with the Roadster's performance. The soundtrack is intoxicatingly belligerent, the seats supportive, the thrust relentless, and the unassisted steering racecar quick. As we were unfamiliar with both car and course, we were glad that Iconic had pro shoe Terry Borcheller on hand to show us the right way to whip through the cones and take us out on Ford's big oval at speed. Borcheller, a Grand-Am Daytona Prototype champ and winner of the 24 Hours of Daytona 24 (twice) and 12 Hours of Sebring, has been one of Iconic's main test drivers and knows the car's performance envelope about as well as anyone. It goes without saying that in his hands, the car's performance eclipses just about anything we can think of. Having a power-to-weight ratio that humbles the Bugatti Veyron will do that sort of thing.

But hang on – didn't we allude to the car having some surprisingly high technology underneath? Indeed we did – and here's where things get a little weird. Despite shying away from any sort of skill-enhancing electronic driver's aids, the AC Roadster still packs a ton of Silicon Valley firepower in the form of VEEDIMS – Virtual Electrical Electronic Devise Interface Management System. Cumbersome acronym aside, VEEDIMS can best be thought of as an electronics architecture that streamlines a vehicle's various wiring harnesses and hydraulic systems into a single power and data Ethernet cable.

2012 Iconic AC Roadster pedals2012 Iconic AC Roadster rear suspension detail2012 Iconic AC Roadster engine detail2012 Iconic AC Roadster chassis plaque

Not only does this mean that just about everything is by-wire in this car – from the gauges to the buttons on the dashboard to the motorized gas door – it also means that remote diagnostics and repairs can be effected wirelessly through the internet. On a cutaway model, officials showed us how it's possible to access the vehicle's data logging system to not only check on potential problems and maintenance needs, but also to examine trackday data. As a party trick, it's possible to replay laps on the car's systems in real time, complete with the color-changing needles dancing along on the fussy-faced gauges. Just about everything is accessible from the screen on the dashboard or the owner's smart phone, and the car functions as a wireless hotspot, too.

Between all of the custom machined parts, the high-dollar engine and the VEEDIMS technology, it becomes quite clear why Iconic plans to ask nearly $500,000 for each AC Roadster – this, even though they plan to switch from a carbon fiber body to less costly aluminum. And despite the prodigious price tag, there's so much high-quality work here that we suspect Iconic will still lose money on each example it builds at its Livonia, Michigan facility – even if the company finds homes for all 100 examples they're hoping to sell beginning next year.

2012 Iconic AC Roadster rear 3/4 view

When we mention this thought to Iconic's officials, they don't blanche – but they don't object, either. In fact, they seem remarkably unconcerned either way. That may be because VEEDIMS alone has the potential to yield big money through deals with OEMs both within and beyond the car industry. Of course, we like to think it's because those holding the purse strings recognize that sometimes, it's necessary to lose money to bring a work of art into the world. And that's precisely what the AC Roadster is – a barking mad bit of rolling sculpture that bridges both the past and future of the performance automobile.

Still, we can't help but suspect that others will make the same mistake we almost did and judge this car by its cover, or worse, view it as some sort of anachronistic carbon-fiber record player on account of its decades-old form factor. Iconic admits they're toying with the idea of an altogether more modern coupe bodystyle for their next project, and we can't help but feel that a unique 21st century design might be the way to go. One thing's for sure – we won't be so quick to dismiss Iconic the next time they hit our inbox.

Photos copyright ©2010 Chris Paukert / AOL

I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.

    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      Just gonna go ahead and skip 2011 I see..
      • 4 Years Ago
      That's idle rich!
      • 4 Years Ago
      The shot from head on looks like a 4-eyed startled guppy. The car is not my cup of tea but you have to admire the construction details.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Do I see a BMW Z4 in there?
      • 4 Years Ago
      Don't likes: dash, instruments, steering wheel, tail lights and head lights..

      Do likes : engine details
        • 4 Years Ago
        yah, i could pash on the instruments as well. the daisys dont do it.

        the solstice lighting looks good. maybe not as good as the original but if you are updating it, it does a good job. no worries there.

        fix the pedals and knock off a 0 on the price and we are in business
      • 4 Years Ago
      Yep, it's official, I am literally drooling like a dog begging for bacon.

      I will take one, black, with gun-metal silver racing stripes.
        • 4 Years Ago
        If Iconic is planning to come out with a coupe, probably the 1963 Cougar II will be a good start.

        • 4 Years Ago
        Tim, your a tool, a big one
        • 4 Years Ago
        @Zamafir: Way to go with the rambling incoherent nonsense. Do yourself a favour and don't post comments when you're drunk.
        • 4 Years Ago
        you've got a point there, might be hard to even insure it given the tech specs., I think only the speciality ins. companies would deal with it. However, if I could have any 4 cars of my choice, this would be one.

        when I was a lot younger, a secretary where I was working had a used 356 Porsche (complements of her Hells Angel husband) I asked her what it cost and her answer was the classic...if you have to ask you probably can't even afford the insurance.
        • 4 Years Ago
        While its a nice car, has good attention to detail, I have one big complaint that it is easy to make a monster performing car with out any power assisted anything but it takes a lot more skill to engineer a car that is a monster that can wear a tuxedo. That is what sets the Veyron apart from any other super car.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @Carlos - well and it's faster and designed epiclly better. Difficult to drive for people with small shoe size (10s). Great, so your average 5'10" dude sporting 12+ won't be able to enjoy it. Talk about short sighted. Why build a 500k garage car that won't fit regular joes like a miata? And saddling I with such crappy tires, yeah, the devils in the details and the details reek.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I'll take one in satin black.

        Cause I would probably die driving one and satin black makes for a great looking coffin.
        • 4 Years Ago
        lets be real if any of us could afford to spend $500,000 on car it WOULD NOT BE THIS CAR. All of us would be going to the Ferrari, Lamborghini or Porsche dealership ASAP!
      • 4 Years Ago
      "Pornucopia"? Really?

      Anyway, I'm a big fan of the distributed control network... as long as it's standardized. My Volvo has a CANBUS in it that requires you to go to a Volvo dealer and plug it into VADIS to get at a lot of the internal settings. As a result, indies can't do things that require software... standardize the protocol over the Ethernet layer and we're in business.

      I'm not so impressed by the total lack of traction control on a vehicle with 660 freakin' lb-ft of torque. Sneeze and touch the Go pedal while in the wrong gear and you'll spin around into a semi or something. Scary!
      • 4 Years Ago
      Honestly, going with the Iconic Roadster theme and branded " AC"... I get the modern interpretation.

      BUT... THOSE LIGHTS. They could have closed in the headlights like they did and included a turn indicator in the pod, not a sweeping yellow nike esque swoosh.
      Then include a yellow side marker leg in the fender work.

      Then the Tail Lights..... Can you say stretched NEW BEETLE???

      Those two elements turn me off to such a beautifully crafted car that even a mother couldnt love if it came from with in. Sorry... its just that bad of a design flaw, that if it truly was ICONIC in its interpretation, they very well could have gone back to the drawing board and come out with some real creative lighting elements that gave a retro feel with new age technology attached.

      The rest of the car is fantastic, but $500K of engineering of motor work and chasis design doesnt mask the ugly duckly syndrome .
        • 4 Years Ago
        Yup, very impressive technically and detail wise, but kinda dorky looking, and have chrome steering wheels are all sorts of fromage, not to mention hot hot hot on a hot sunny day, when you would be driving this most often. Are the tail lights form another car or bespoke? Anybody?
      • 4 Years Ago
      Umm, yuck. If I wanted new-fangled I wouldn't be looking at a Cobra. Might as well get a Viper for much less. The Cobra's appeal to the soul of a sports car fanatic is in it's simplicity and rough edges. It's got curves in the profile that remind one of a well proportioned 50's swimsuit model, coupled with the ability to severely punish the driver who underestimates or disrespects the performance under that pretty skin.

      While I can appreciate the intentions of this builder, I just don't see Carrol Shelby approving (not that he has any say in what happens to his iconic interpretation of AC's original car anyway, anymore), and I doubt this would command one bit of respect at any meeting of Cobra owners, or classic sports car enthusiasts.

      This seems like Auto-Tuned and airbrushed Brittney Spears, while the original is more akin to Anne Margaret in her prime.
        • 4 Years Ago
        It's an 825hp lightweight topless sports car, what part of that wouldn't authentic or replica cobra owners like?
      • 4 Years Ago
      I've spent time in a Roush powered replica and THAT was terrifying, I can't even begin to think about what this car can do. There's something wildly visceral and unapologetic about these cars that makes them as charming as they are terrifying.
      • 4 Years Ago
      If we all had $500,000 to spend on a car we would not be checking autoblog for lambo pics, we would just be looking at our garage.
      • 4 Years Ago
      "whose familiar twin stripes mask a shocking amount of cutting-edge technology"

      I hate to be a killjoy, but there's only one stripe on that car (a Shelby has two). #corrections
        • 4 Years Ago
        Right you are. I wrote that passage without the benefit of having the pics nearby and indeed, the Iconic's strong visual correlation to the classic Cobra rolling around in my brain momentarily got the better of me. Corrected – thanks.
    • Load More Comments