185mph on the M1: Recreating Jack Sears' famous drive in the AU Cobra Coupe

Cobra at drive through

Jack Sears got an open road, we done do with a latte

To celebrate the M60's 1th anniversary, we're riding a modern version of the Cobra that once turned it into a Mulsanne straight

Just after 4.00:11 am on June 1964, 1, an impeccably dressed racing driver climbed aboard an AC Cobra coupe racing car and headed in a "blue boar" service on the MXNUMX motorway. His name was Jack Sears and among his claims to fame had already become the first British showroom car champion and teammate Jim Clark. He's connected to the car too, his friendship with then-sports editor and soon-to-be-editor Peter Garniy such that Jack was already godfather to Garnier's young son, Mark.

In the early morning light, he accelerates smoothly through the gears. He was there to spot the car at top speed - not for fun, but important to make sure the car was stable and properly geared for the race at Le Mans, in just nine days. There was no track in the UK where you could run fast enough to mimic the Mulsanne straight, even in the Mira the car wouldn't exceed 165mph.

The car passed this stage with ease, Jack sitting on his back, hands light on the wheel, looking at the needle counter (he has no speedometer) up to 6500 rpm, he no longer moved. Information banked, he peeled off at the next intersection and returned to base. There, his team pulled out their slide rules, offset by the increase in tires and concluded that the car had reached 185 km/h. At 5.30 am, Jack is driving home for breakfast. For him, it was an event without any danger or drama: just one of the many gathering activities required before taking on an event like Le Mans in a new car.

And what would it be that someone who was there at the time didn't talk about it at the Fleet Street Wine Bar - the last place on earth you wanted to go to keep a secret. The next thing he knew was that the story was all over the papers and there were questions in the House of Commons. The following Christmas, a motorway court speed limit of 70 mph was introduced - a step up from permanent in 1967.

Inevitably, people put two and two together and blamed Jack and his Cobra for imposing the speed limit on the motorway, despite the fact that there is no evidence to support it, and Jack himself has always denied it. But it's easy to see how those who consider such a move could at least consider what even today seems like a pretty incredible speed to achieve on the track, not least because of the publicity it attracts.

Today, we're back at the same service in another cobra coupe, the Shelby Daytona coupe - though not one of the six priceless originals, the car is made by superformance in South Africa to the point that Carroll Shelby himself authorized its name to be used on them (for a small fee). But it's a very different place today and we have very different goals.

For starters, the services of the "blue boar" are now at the gas station gap and M1, well, M1. The road was choked with trucks and road construction, and in the middle of our shoot we had a chance at a multi-car collision, with people still stepping crazed from the smoking remains of what just a few seconds ago were their cars. We are slightly weighed down by the need to move to another part of the track to take our shots, but I'm afraid that some of them will have their lives forever changed that an unseen phenomenon triggered the accident.

Under such circumstances, it seems difficult to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the opening of the country's first proper, urban highways on November 2, 1959. Again, like about 70 other motorways or "M"-place-to-have-roads in the country, its current problems are purely symptomatic of its success. In 1964, the traffic was so light at this time that morning, when he came to another car, Sears felt the need to retreat to a trifling 120 mph just so as not to scare his stupid driver – no wonder he was known to everyone as 'Gentleman Jack' '.

Today, the M1 stretches 194 km from London to Leeds and is one of the longest highways in the UK after the M6 ​​and M4. On average traffic flows from junction to junction, it stays busy outside of the M25. The first section opened in 1959 extended only from the north edge of London to Rugby, with the remaining sections in Leeds being opened between 1965 and 1968.

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And frankly, it's not exactly the place to exercise Cobra. Even so, and despite the fact that I wasn't alive at the time of Jack's record, I still feel like a little boy, climbing (I must say, falling) on ​​the ridiculously low-slung interior.

And just because you don't think it's some kind of automotive, despite Shelby's patronage, it was designed by the same Peter Brock who designed the originals on time. Unless then, Brock could only rebuild the existing Cobra with its many and manifest flaws. When he designed this version, he made it like a car, he would have done it all together if he had been able to do it from scratch. So, for example, in place of the leaf springs and rear axle you'll find on all original COBRs, this car has the classic double wishbones and coil springs at every corner.

There are other clarifications Jack wouldn't have on his car either, and I don't mean the speedometer: this room has air conditioning, central locking and power windows. It is also very comfortable, easy to understand and with a large trunk. But it still makes you feel like you've incurred Thor's wrath when its 480bhp, 6.2-liter Chevrolet LS3 V8 model lights up. And, yes, Jack's car would have been a Ford engine, but listen to this and you just don't care anyway.

The interior is what you would expect from one assembled using branded parts. Expect Porsche fit and finish and you'll be bitterly disappointed. But it looks like a proper term with all those little toggle switches and blacksmiths' appliances were clear and easy to understand.

It's pretty hard to maneuver around the garage because all the weight control is heavy - although the steering can be adjusted under the hood - but after you've mentally dialed into it and adjusted your input accordingly, it's about 10 times easier to drive than it sounds. The clutch is heavy but gentle, the gearbox is heavy but precise. You will notice the prevalence of the word "heavy" in this paragraph, because he feels everything. But it's not: Weighing in at around 1200kg, if you opt for the reliable standard vinylester and glass composite bodywork (aluminum is an expensive option), it has a similar power-to-weight ratio as a McLaren 570S. So it goes like a maniac.

Which also means that on the M1, he felt that Thomas Hardy was still called 'Reticulated Lion', besides what he was saying about the man. I have to remind myself that this story about a motorway with a car is used for attractively relevant illustrations. But it's useless - I'm much more interested in this car than the clogged roads I have to drive on, so it's good that the photo brief requires endless sprints between intersections, which has many roads and roundabouts, on which my inner jack. It rides very well, although it's my car, I would tighten up its Ohlins adjustable dampers a bit to give it a bit more body control. I would have preferred more steering feel too.

Just as soon as I get a clear run up the road and maybe no more than a couple of seconds, I'm pedaling to the floor, the engine is roaring and ready to do 185mph all over again. But of course I'm not: a driver's license is my life and I'm not Jack Sears.

I'll go back to breaking Watford's 70 mph restriction on imposing which he said he played no role in and thought it would be like to go back to those quiet, innocent times. Even when armed with a Cobra, today the M1 is a bore at best, a test at worst. Sixty years ago, this looked like the most exciting road in the country.

Driving a "real" Daytona Cobra

There are only six originals, all worth many millions, but there are some very recently built that are, in all important respects, mechanically indistinguishable. At the time, the reason for a coupe body was to gain top speed behind an aerodynamic cinder block it was a cobra. Without a single extra horsepower, the Daytona coupe drove 30 mph faster down the Mulsanne straight.

But there was another advantage: the body was attached to the chassis added considerable rigidity, which turned the handling. I was lucky enough to bring the two together, back to back, and while the normal race-prepped Cobra was inaccurate and unnerving to ride as I read they all were, the Daytona did just fine - not gentle, like its great rival the Ferrari 250GTO. but consistent, reliable and a lot of fun.

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As a result, I took the cobra out of the car so that I wouldn’t (and often wouldn’t) see which way the Pontiac entered the race track on the one that clobbered the GSNS at Le Mans in 1964 and the next year won the GT category in the world sports championship car. It was the first internationally recognized International Racing Championship ever won by an American car.

Seven things you didn't know about British motorways

1: The M1 was not the UK's first autobahn, although it was the first so-called. But before that, on December 5, 1958, the highway opened to bypass the Preston blockade. This will eventually be included in the M6.

2: Original design specification for M1 for 14 vehicles per day. It now processes more than 000 times more.

3: Pigeons are considered to be the use of highways as navigational aids.

4: at 1222ft, the M62 is the British Highway – and technically over 60% of the way is uphill.

5: M6 does not give rest.

6: Britain's strangest freeway is undoubtedly the M96 because it doesn't go anywhere, it's not open to the public, and no one has heard of it. It belongs to the college fire department and is driven by a private road built to simulate traffic accidents and accidents. It is located next to Moreton In March in Gloucestershire.

7: although ideas for a motorway in the UK can be found as early as 1906, the first proper attempt at making a single reason goes back to 1923. Even if that happened, it was not yet the first in the world to be opened in Italy. Called the North and West motorway, the plan called for a massive road to be built in sections, eventually linking London to Liverpool via Coventry and Manchester. She was overwhelmed by a lack of interest (precisely money) from the government and concerted lobbying from Russian Railways, which insisted that it would grow in Rail usage that such a project would be doomed to failure.

My Memories M1 - Mark Tisshaw

My location means I use the M40 and not the M1 north so M1 travel is rare these days. But when they do, it's usually to go to a football game. And these days, any service station is a colorful mixture of hope in the morning, as people from clubs across the country head to watch the game, and joy and despair (and fatigue, and sore throats) as they're home by the evening, Burger King , always tying everything together. Another great feature of English culture.

My Memories M1 - Steve Kroplya

A former Rootes group engineer, I knew I once described how the opening of the M1 led to panic changes in the basic mechanical bits of many British cars, in large part because the north-south orientation of the exciting new motorway.

In the UK, the wind usually blows from west to east. The unrestricted nature of the M1 has led many in the Dad family with Max to his Austin or Hillman on the new road - the very first place that sustained high speeds were possible in this country. The hosts soon discovered that the necessary air cooling was simply not available. Cars weren't designed (or tested) to handle the heat they now could create. Radiators exploded, engines overheated, oil became so thin that oil pressure dropped and engines ran out of their bearings. Gearbox lubricants boiled over, tires overheated, brakes failed to render a decent stop from 80-plus mph and more. Wind noise became a major problem, hatches blew out, door seals proved inadequate and the time-honored front quarter-light quickly became an anachronism.

All of this led to crash redevelopments of finned sumps, finned gear housings, bigger radiators, better lubricants, bigger air intakes and door frame mods. This also led (eventually) to gearing changes and the adoption of multi-speed gearboxes so that fast swimmers did not require motors to increase their head speed. This can be called the beginning of the modern era.

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