Sports car dream grows from tiny Acorn

Zach Siddiqui of Acorn Garage and MOT Centre in Fratton with staff. 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (142198-1)
Zach Siddiqui of Acorn Garage and MOT Centre in Fratton with staff. 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (142198-1)
Chloe Smith, Minister for the Constitution with, from left, Gosport BC returning officer Michael Lawther and council leader Cllr Mark Hook

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It was an iconic car that defined an era of motor design, but it faded away. But now a garage in Southsea is bringing the Cobra back to life. Claire French reports.

From the outside, it looks like a garage you would take your car to for an MoT test.

But inside, Acorn Garage and MoT Centre in Rodney Road, Milton, is poised to start a full-scale sports car production line.

In the coming weeks, the firm’s first car will be spray-painted and ready for test driving.

The first 6.2-litre engine, 450-brake horsepower convertible Cobra will be painted in ‘wet black’ when it is finished within the next few weeks.

Zack Siddiqui, owner of the garage, said his lifelong dream of building a car is almost complete.

By 2016, he hopes to be producing 50 Cobras a year, with a starting price of £70,000 each.

The Oman naval veteran explains: ‘I came to this country in 1990 and started by driving a taxi.

‘I started building on that with a fleet of cars and then built up my garage to repair the taxis.

‘It was always my dream to build my own car.

‘I had a picture on my desk or a car that I really wanted to build.

‘We had a guy come in from Spain who said he was looking for a job.

‘He was not very good at English.

‘We gave him one day to show us what he could do.

‘He did a really good job despite his lack of English.

‘I told him I had a team wanting to build a car and he said he could help.

‘He came in last November.

‘His enthusiasm is so infectious and I thought I could really use his help.

‘Since he joined, it has started snowballing.

‘In the last few months, we have nearly finished three cars from scratch.

‘It is a dream come true for me.’

The team is hoping to turn the garage into a ‘fully functioning car plant’ in the next few years.

‘I am so excited about this,’ said Zack.

‘I feel really good for the company that we are doing this.

‘I have got a great team and my staff have been here for eight to 10 years now.

‘We are exploring a totally different avenue for our business.’

Speaking about the decision to remake the Cobra car, he said: ‘It’s an iconic car.

‘All the petrol head enthusiasts love this model of car.

‘If you ask car enthusiasts what their favourite car is, many say the Cobra. It is very special.

‘We’re going to be employing local people and hopefully have a large team working on it once the production begins.

‘If we have to move to a bigger premises to make it work then so be it.

‘We are still in the early stages at the moment and have 12 staff working in the garage, eight of them on the cars.

‘It is a very exciting time for us.

‘I feel young when I’m working on the car. I have got so much energy for this project.

Fernando Simon, 24, who is from Guadalajara close to Madrid, has been working with cars since he was 18 ears old.

His enthusiasm is one of the reasons why Zack decided to start building the vehicles.

Fernando said: ‘I’ve come in November because I wanted to learn English and continue my work with cars. Cars are my life.

‘In Spain, I made track-based cars.

‘I’m very happy that the first car is nearly done.’

Another employee, Craig Edwards, 42, who lives in Cosham, has been working as garage manager for around five years.

‘It has been a lifetime ambition to build my own carhe said. ‘We are so involved in the industry so it is amazing to be part of this.

‘I have been here since the beginning and worked on cars all of my life.

‘My job is to make sure the parts on the car are working correctly and all the technology and data is working.’

The project is using the skills and manufacturing capabilities of local companies to ensure the car remains a local triumph.

Peter House, managing director of Deltair in Waterlooville which produces some parts for the car, said: ‘We are involved in making parts for the new cars using aerospace technology.

‘It is common now for us to produce aerospace products for cars.

‘We are able to make bespoke parts for marine and air and defence which can be adapted to use in cars.’

Cobra facts

- World-renowned race driver and legendary Cobra car builder Carroll Shelby frequently had ideas in the middle of the night and would forget them by morning, so he kept a pencil and paper by his bed. One morning he woke to find he’d written the word ‘Cobra.’

- Cobra cars have featured in blockbuster films such as Iron Man (2008), Knight Rider (2008), Blow (2001), Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003) and The Gumball Rally (1976.)

- This year, the Cobra Daytona became the first car considered to be a piece of American national heritage by the Library of Congress.

- The 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 Super Snake made history on January 21, 2007, fetching $5.5m at the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction, a world record price for an American car.