AC Cobra GT Roadster makes global premiere in London, May 2023AC Cobra GT Roadster makes global premiere in London, May 2023


Luxury used car dealership Clive Sutton loses High Court case over manufacturer’s use of AC Cobra name

  • AC Cars retains UK trademark of AC Cobra name for automobiles, cars and sports cars
  • Legal challenge by car dealership Clive Sutton dismissed by High Court
  • Counterclaim was lodged after AC Cars defended its trademark over import of cars by dealer
  • Judge rejects claims that AC Cobra trademark was invalid and should be revoked for non-use
  • But Clive Sutton responds with counter-allegations

Time 8:29 am, August 11, 2023

Luxury and performance used car dealer Clive Sutton has had its High Court case against AC Cars over the AC Cobra name thrown out.

The London-based dealership brought a counterclaim action against Acedes Holdings LLC and AC Cars – Britain’s oldest active vehicle maker – over AC Cars’ UK-registered AC Cobra trademark, challenging its right to use it.

It stemmed from a dispute originally brought by Acedes Holdings and AC Cars in May 2022 relating to Clive Sutton importing ‘imitation’ models from the USA in 2021 and 2022 and advertising them as Cobras, said AC Cars.

However, Clive Sutton refers to these models as continuation and replica cars.

Clive Sutton Ltd had said that AC Cars’ trademark of the AC Cobra name was invalid because of Ford Motor Company’s claimed prior rights as well as non-use by AC Cars, and a claim of infringement by Acedes Holdings and a subsidiary was withdrawn just before the case went to court.

Donington Park-based AC Cars said that from December 2021 until April 2022, Clive Sutton advertised imitation cars as 1965 Cobras, which were in fact recently manufactured cars made in South Africa with the bodies exported to the USA for the engines to be installed.

These cars were then registered in the USA as kit cars in the year of the car that they represented – which is legal in the USA.

However, UK rules state that all cars must be registered in the year in which they were manufactured. If any vehicle is imported as a historic vehicle, different rules apply in terms of certification, VAT and duty.

Clive Sutton – which was supported during the High Court action by Carroll Shelby Licensing Inc and Superformance LLC, both of the USA – had sought to have the AC Cobra trademark removed from the trademarks register, but Judge Richard Hacon dismissed the case.

Following the ruling, AC Cars said that as the legitimate owner of the AC Cobra brand in the UK for all cars, it will continue to fiercely protect the authenticity of genuine AC-badged cars, as well as the investment made by its customers.

AC Cars chief executive David Conza said: ‘We are delighted with the judgment, as it vindicates our desire and commitment to protecting our trademarks and intellectual property, and not to allow imitators of our products to benefit from our heritage.

‘However, more importantly, we are protecting our customers who own genuine AC Cobra cars.

‘We have invested heavily in the development of new products, including the recently announced AC Cobra GT Roadster, and there will be other models following this car.’

However, a spokesman for Clive Sutton told Car Dealer today that in June this year, Acedes Holdings and a subsidiary withdrew a claim of trademark infringement just before the case went to trial, having earlier tried to seek an injunction stopping Clive Sutton from using the Shelby Cobra sign.

In addition, the UK’s Intellectual Property Office decided that Acedes’ UK-registered designs were invalid and were to be revoked.

The spokesman added that as part of the infringement proceedings, Acedes Holdings would have had to prove it was the successor in title to AC Cars but did not do so.

He said Clive Sutton remained the only authorised importer of continuation and replica Shelby Cobra cars in the UK, adding that they were the only Cobra cars to be made under licence by Ford and Carroll Shelby Licensing.

In response, AC Cars told Car Dealer its release was published in line with the High Court judgment and that it would not comment on any statements made by Clive Sutton.

It added that Clive Sutton Ltd should contact its (Clive Sutton’s) lawyers if needed.

The AC Cobra GT Roadster, pictured at top, made its global premiere in London in April and is priced from £240,000.

AC Cars was established by the Weller Brothers in 1901 and is now Britain’s oldest active vehicle manufacturer.

The company produced its first vehicle in 1903, with the Autocarrier introduced a year later, from which the name AC was later derived.

This story was originally published at 8.29am and updated at 3.49pm on 11th August with Clive Sutton’s comments and AC Cars’ response to that. It was further updated at 3.07pm on 14th August with additional information from Clive Sutton.

John Bowman's avatar

John has been with Car Dealer since 2013 after spending 25 years in the newspaper industry as a reporter then a sub-editor/assistant chief sub-editor on regional and national titles. John is chief sub-editor in the editorial department, working on Car Dealer, as well as handling social media.

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