If you were to look back over the stories of certain bespoke car manufacturers, you'd struggle to find a company with a more storied-and tumultuous-history as that of Auto Carriers Ltd., perhaps better known as AC Cars, one of the oldest independent car makers from Britain. Founded in 1901, the company quickly made a name for itself for building high quality, sprightly open-top two seaters, known particularly for models such as the 16/80 and er, the Southend Pier Railway cars.
However, AC really started to hit their stride in 1953, with the release of the Ace, an extremely fetching and sporty roadster which proved extremely popular for the company. Outfitted with a capable but rather dated AC six-cylinder 100 bhp engine, the Ace wasn't that bad of a runner either, however the engine was eventually phased out with the introduction of a more punchy and more powerful Bristol unit in 1956. Soon though, life for the Ace and indeed its parent company were to change entirely, and it would catapult the little sports car into the history books.
Bristol were in the process of discontinuing the engine that powered the Ace when Charles Hurlock, owner of AC, was approached by none other than the petrolhead's prophet, Carroll Shelby, who wanted to use the Ace chassis to lay the platform for a huge Ford V8. In doing so, the humble AC Ace was transformed into the fire-spitting AC Cobra. When the Cobra hit its peak with the Cobra 427, a mighty 410 bhp was now squeezed under the bonnet, compared to the now rather forlorn 100 bhp that featured under the bonnet of the first Ace.
Naturally, as the Cobra was now a bona fide speed machine, the car was blamed (along with a few others) for the implementation of the 70mph speed limit in the UK. This didn't stop the Cobra though, and it managed to claim the title of the fastest production car in the world in 1964, the same year that the Ford team won the GT class at Le Mans with their now-famous 289 engine, later used in the Shelby GT350.
However, while AC in this form managed to soldier on until the 1980s, by then the game was up and their bank account was dry. The company was divided up and the name became dormant, until it was picked up again by a Cobra restoration company, Autokraft, who pledged to keep the storied name going.
The new AC Ace
The original 1993 model
The original replacement for the Ace was in fact christened the Brooklands Ace and was first launched in 1993. Outfitted with a 5.0 litre Ford engine from the original AC Cobra, but sporting a more streamlined and advanced aluminium body and a respectable 225 bhp. Early tests found it to be a capable machine, with a great ride and handling along with performance pedigree, however not even the best suspension system in the world could save the Brooklands Ace's parent company from their financial woes, and the company folded in 1996, leaving only 46 examples of the original Ace, as AC Cars themselves went into receivership. However, this wouldn't be the last time we had heard of the Ace, as 1997 would show...
AC resurfaced in 1997, under new ownership and with plans to steam ahead with the new Ace. Under new owners, the Ace (with the Brooklands name eventually dropped) was redesigned and re-engineered before a relaunch at the London Motor Show in 1997. At Earl's Court, the public were greeted with a facelifted Ace, with a redesigned nose, the most notable changes being to the bonnet, grille, headlights, as well as a new interior and suspension system.
While the motoring press praised the Ace at launch, the general car-buying public weren't so dazzled by the Ace's charm, and found it on the ugly side compared to other sports cars released in the same year. Other critics thought the Ace to be lazily copying the styling cues of the Ferrari Maranello or the Aston Martin DB7. Despite boasting a new expanded engine lineup, with two new supercharged variants of the Ford V8 engine, producing 320 and 251 bhp, the Ace (and the relaunched Aceca, which proved to be even less popular) couldn't flip AC's fortunes, and the name disappeared, and didn't reappear until 2002. But what exactly went wrong?
AC Ace- what went wrong?
I think the problem with the Ace was that due to the monumental success of the original Ace and Cobra, they simply didn't have a hope of reviving such a hallowed name successfully. In my opinion, what AC should have done when given a new lease of life was scrap the Ace name, and instead devised a new model with the resources. Any model that continues on a legendary name is going to have to be brilliant, and while the Ace was a capable machine, it simply had too much history resting on its shoulders and crumbled under the strain. A great idea, but unfortunately doomed in the end.
And that's a wrap! Thanks so much for reading, I really appreciate it. Cheers, and I'll see yoiu in the next article!