I have occasionally speculated that the AC Ace is the most popular car design that most North Americans have never heard of. Most people know the Ford/Shelby Cobra, but many of those same people probably have not heard of the AC Ace. Nor would they recognize it as an AC Ace even if they were looking right at it. This was the English car into which Carroll Shelby placed a 260 cubic inch V8 engine to create the Cobra. I saw a great example of the AC Ace at the Lime Rock Historic Festival in 2012. This car is featured in this post.
1957 AC Ace Bristol
AC had been making cars since before World War I. AC are the initials of the company’s original name, Auto-Carrier. Up until they made the AC Ace, I don’t think that it is unfair to say that AC made some rather uninspiring cars. Then in 1953, an English privateer racer, Cliff Davis, was racing a car designed and built by race car builder, John Tojeiro. Two brothers, William and Charles Hurlock, who were the heads of AC, saw this car, were very much impressed, and decided to produce it on a small scale. They built an initial run of 100 cars and unveiled the AC Ace at the 1953 London Motor Show.
The AC Ace Finished 2nd In The 2-Liter Class At Le Mans in 1957
In 1957 an AC Ace driven by Ken Rudd and Peter Bolton finished 10th Overall and 2nd in the 2-liter class at the 24-hour race at Le Mans. In the 2.0 liter class the AC Ace finished behind the Ferrari of Lucien Bianchi/Georges Harris and 21 laps ahead of the 3rd place Maserati A6GCS of Georges Guyet/Michel Parsy.
The AC Ace in that race had front disc brakes fitted on the car for the first time. After the race, front disk brakes were available as an option. Looking carefully at the photo below and comparing the brakes visible through the wire wheels, it appears that this car has front disk brakes with rear drum brakes.
From The Side The AC Ace Influence On The Cobra Is Clear
The styling of the car prepared by John Tojeiro was very much based on the Ferrari 166 MM that won the 1949 Le Mans race. The images below from Winston Goodfellow’s book “Ferrari, Road and Racing”, show the Ferrari 166 MM Barchetta for comparison.
1949 Ferrari 166 MM Barchetta
It’s hard to argue about basing a car design on the Ferrari 166. It is a very good-looking car. The AC Ace is the link between Ferrari and Cobra.
1949 Ferrari 166 MM Barchetta
In addition to taking the exterior design from Ferrari, the engine in this particular car came from BMW. The engine is called a Bristol engine, but in fact it is a BMW engine. It is the engine that BMW had in the BMW 328 that won the 1940 Mille Miglia. After World War II, plans for the engine were seized by the Brits from BMW as part of war reparations. Bristol began to build the engines based on these reparations plans and called them Bristols.
The inline six-cylinder 2.0 liter Bristol engine was added as an option in 1955. Prior to that AC used a six-cylinder 2.0 liter engine of its own design, sometimes referred to as the “light-six”, that produced 86 horsepower. For the 1956 model year, AC began to offer the 2.0 liter Bristol engine as an option which produced 120 horsepower.
The 2.0 Liter Side Cam Bristol Engine
The side cam design of the 2.0 liter Bristol engine gives it the appearance of a twin-cam engine. The Bristol engine would power the AC Ace to a top speed of about 120 miles per hour. The 0 to 60 miles per hour time was about 9.1 seconds for the AC Ace Bristol.
Underneath The Body Is A Tube Frame With Four-Wheel Independent Suspension
In addition to the light weight Carroll Shelby was attracted to the tube frame design with four-wheel independent suspension. The light weight was due to both the tube frame and the aluminum body panels.
The AC Ace Is Almost Indistinguishable From The Cobra In This View
AC also built a coupe version of the AC Ace called the AC Aceca. The AC Aceca is a very nice looking design – much nicer than the roadsters with merely a hardtop. The AC Aceca was first produced in 1955.
A Very Attractive Interior
Over the years from 1953 to 1964, AC built about 700 AC Aces and about 320 AC Acecas. Considering the total time period, it can be seen that this was a low production car. It is said that AC did not make any money on any of these cars.
The AC Ace Was A Luxury Touring Car
The 1957 AC Ace Bristol sold for $5,549. For comparison the Jaguar XK-140 roadster sold for $3,645 and the Mercedes-Benz 300SL $7,295. Therefore the AC Ace with the Bristol engine was priced in the middle of those two performance cars, but it was not an inexpensive car.
As can be seen the AC Ace was already a very impressive car before Carroll Shelby put a Ford V8 under the hood.