British sports car specialist AC is back and teaming up with fabled Italian coachbuilder Zagato to create the new AC 378 GT Zagato, the first all-new AC for some time.
The company has had an on-off relationship for much of the past decade, with production switched abroad, management changes and a confusing product line-up.
But new management has been installed and are hoping to make a fist of AC Cars, one of the world's oldest car brands.
AC 378 GT Zagato: the 2012 Geneva launch
The surprise new car at Geneva is an £89,990 supercar to be sold in the UK and Germany, where it will retail for €109,990. The only problem is, the AC 378 GT Zagato didn't arrive in time at Palexpo for press day after an altercation with Customs. Woops. It should be in situ on the AC stand next to Infiniti by Wednesday 7 March.
The svelte new coupe packs GM's 6.2-litre V8 under the hood, tuned here to make 434bhp in the lightweight 378 GT Zagato.
If the design looks familiar that's because Zagato previewed this car as the Perana in 2009. It's not the first time AC Cars has looked to Italy for design inspiration: the AC Ace Bristol Zagato of the 1950s and AC Frua of the 1960s were both penned by Zagato.
The new management at AC plans further developments with Zagato, including a limited run of AC Ace Bristol Zagatosand, this summer, the reintroduction of the AC Ace Classic, a kind of junior Cobra to be sold for less than £50,000 in the UK.
So who's behind the new AC Cars?
A new management team has assumed control of AC Cars, chaired by a very British-sounding General Sir Jeremy Mackenzie, 'GCB, OBE, DL, former Deputy Supreme Allied Command NATO Europe, Governor of the Royal Hospital Chelsea and Aide de Camp General to HM The Queen - and also a dedicated AC enthusiast. '
Phew. Sounds like just the sort of chap to give AC some focus. CAR met him on the AC stand at Geneva and he tells us he's here for the long-term, with a plan to switch some production to the same factory in South Africa which made Lee Noble's cars (see picture of the Zagato above).
'Geneva 2012 marks a new beginning for the AC brand,' said Mackenzie. 'The company has suffered from a series of false starts in recent years but at the root of those has always been the lack of a proper manufacturing base. Now, that it has entered into joint ventures with manufacturing entities with strong track records in producing cars which share the iconic AC pedigree, all that is firmly in the past.
'Our board is committed to building the brand globally, starting with sales in the UK and parts of Europe but expanding across a whole series of markets where AC is associated with the best there is in sports car design and manufacture.'
Alan Lubinksy is still on board the management team; Mackenzie credited him with saving the company from closure over the past decade. 'He's just stuck with it through the ups and downs,' he said.
What else is with AC at Geneva?
Alongside the 378 GT Zagato is a variety of Cobra-inspired sports cars such as the MkII Classic Aluminium, a MKII Classic and an AC MkVI.
The new team is building the older cars at the AC Heritage Centre at Brooklands in Surrey, UK, using the original bucks, while the newer cars will be assembled in Germany and South Africa