An AC Cobra At The Angola Grand Prix

In 1964 Bruce Ropner placed an order with AC Cars Ltd for a new AC Cobra. As he planned to use the car on the track as well as the road, he specified that it should have extended rear wheel arches and wider wheels. He collected his new Cobra (chassis number COB 6008) from the factory in Thames Ditton, Surrey and drove home; setting his stopwatch at Hyde Park Corner he covered the 220 miles from London to his north Yorkshire home in 2 hours 18 minutes driving on single carriageway roads.

An AC Cobra At The Angola Grand Prix

The AC took part in local events on track and in drag races, and driving duties were often shared with his friend Keith Schellenberg who, in 1965, became the car’s new owner. During the 1960s, after the summer season of events in Europe, it was traditional for professional and ‘gentlemen’ racing drivers to travel to the southern hemisphere where races were organised in places such as Australia, New Zealand and the African continent where the sun shone and the partying could begin. The government of the Portuguese colony of Angola was determined to be part of the motorsport scene, with its attendant publicity, and from 1959 began organising races on the streets of the Angolan capital Luanda. The 3-kilometre circuit was named Fortaleza (Fortress) after the town’s prominent Saint Michael Fortress that was built by the Portuguese in 1576. In 1962, the Angolan Grand Prix was announced, offering free transportation and good start money as well as a generous prize fund. The first race was held in December 1962 and was won by Lucien Bianchi driving a Ferrari 250 GTO that was entered by Ecurie Francorchamps, a Belgian team that sent three or four cars to the event each year.

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The Angolan Grand Prix grew in popularity despite the bumpy course that was noted for its unforgiving kerbs. A notable feature was a long straight that ran the length of the seaside promenade; crowds in excess of 100,000 people turned out to witness the spectacle. For Keith Schellenberg, and a handful of other European drivers, it offered the ideal opportunity to escape the British winter. He shipped his newly acquired Cobra to Africa despite the fact that the AC was unlikely to win since no less than seven Ferrari 250LM prototypes were entered, driven by professionals such as Herbert Muller and Pierre Dumay, along with the Ferrari 365 P2 of David Piper. Following the practice and qualifying sessions, Schellenberg and his Cobra secured tenth place on the starting grid.

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After 100-laps of the circuit, the 1965 Angolan Grand Prix was won by David Piper’s Ferrari with two 250LMs in second and third places; Schellenberg’s AC Cobra finished in tenth place. Sadly, the political situation in Angola was becoming increasingly unstable with nationalists attempting the destabilise the Portugese-backed government, resulting in the withdrawl of funding for future races. The Fortaleza circuit held a few small races after 1965 before, in 1975, independence was declared and the ensuing civil war saw it close forever.


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