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AC Cars

AC Cars Group Ltd. is a British specialist car manufacturing company and one of the oldest independent car marques in Britain. Based in Weybridge, Surrey (see also British motor industry).

History

In 1903 Weller Brothers in West Norwood, London, planned to produce an advanced 20hp car. This looked economically unviable so their financial backer John Portwine proposed a simpler 3 wheeled vehicle. Autocars and Accessories was founded to make this in 1904. This company became Autocarriers Ltd in 1911 using the 'AC' logo. The company moved to Thames Ditton, Surrey in 1911 and grew into a substantial car manufacturer. S F Edge, who had been behind Napier, joined the board in 1921 and in 1922 both John Weller and John Portwine left.

In 1922 the name changed again to A.C. Cars Ltd. Edge bought the company outright for £135,000 in 1927 and re-registered it as AC (Acédès) Ltd but sales, which had been falling, continued to decline. In 1930 production ceased and the company was sold to the Hurlock family who ran a successful haulage business. They wanted the factory as a warehouse but allowed the service side of AC to continue.

A single car was made for William Hurlock in 1930. He agreed to a very limited production restarting mainly using components left over from previous models. Agreement was reached with Standard to supply new chassis and in 1932 a new range of cars was launched. Production remained on a small scale until the outbreak of war in 1939.

Production of cars restarted in 1947 with the 2 litre and with a large contract with the government to make glass fibre bodied single seat invalid carriages with BSA engines. These continued to be made until 1976 and were an important source of revenue to the company. They also built an aluminium bodied three wheeled microcar, the Petite.

In 1953 the firm began production of the AC Ace, a lightweight chassis with either the now rather old AC 2 litre engine or the 135 bhp Bristol six-cylinder engine, the latter being known as Ace-Bristols. The car raced at Le Mans in 1957 and 1958. When the company lost access to the Bristol engine in 1959 Ford Zephyr engines were used with the highest tuned version giving 170bhp and a 125mph top speed. In 1962 AC was approached by Carroll Shelby to use a Ford V8 in the Ace chassis, producing the AC Cobra. The Cobra was a dangerously over-powered roadster, and is commonly blamed for the introduction of the 70 mph limit on British motorways. Although a major factor in the decision, after being caught doing 196 mph during a test run1, a recent spate of accidents in foggy conditions also helped the introduction of the limit2.

1999 AC Cobra 427

The Cobra name was sold to the Ford Motor Company by Carroll Shelby in 1965.

At the 1973 London Motor Show a completely new car was shown, the mid engined ME3000 with Ford V6 3 litre engine and ACs own gearbox. Problems in development meant sales did not start until 1979 but the company was again struggling and it was sold in 1984 to David McDonald who opened a new factory in Hillington, Glasgow and registered the company as A.C. (Scotland).

The original A.C. company was sold in 1987 to Ford and a company called CP Autokraft owned by Brian Angliss, who had continued making Cobras at Brooklands, Surrey. The company was sold again in 1996 to Pride Automotive and was rescued from administration, as AC Car Group Ltd, and continued car production. Later the factory was sold and slimmed down and later opened up in Frimley in 2001. There the activity was concentrated on repairs, restorations and the production of the MkII and MkIII 289 and 427 FIA Roadster. In October 2004 the factory in Frimley closed down and was moved to Guildford.

In 2005, AC Cars relocated to Malta and announced plans for expansion. The first new vehicle chassis was shipped in May. A new company, AC Cars Manufacturing (USA), has plans to begin operations in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 2006. The factory to be used is the same Maple Street building used by Armstrong Electric to build early automobiles in 1885.

Post War Mechanical details

ACs were available with two body styles and two engine/transmission combinations (in addition to the microcar). The body styles were the Ace roadster and the Aceca coupé. All bodies were aluminum.

These engines each had about two liters displacement, but different bores, strokes and powers. The best known engine is the Bristol, the design for which was taken from BMW during or after World War II, and which was built by Bristol Cars for its own cars, and sold to AC. This had two sets of push-rods and two sets of rocker-arms opening the exhaust valves to allow a cross flow "hemi" combustion chamber in a compact space.

The other engine was AC's own single overhead camshaft product dating back to the 1920's, which had a longer stroke and less power but was cheaper and lighter, putting the car in direct competition with Porsche. It is difficult to guess why the rear-heavy Porsche has been the more successful of the two.

Road & Track reported on a satisfactory Chevrolet V8 conversion before the Ford "Cobra" V8 version appeared.

The rear suspension was independent with upper and lower leaf springs, like the front of a Panhard. This was changed when the Ford V8 was used.

When the original and 427 Cobra projects ended, Shelby produced Cobras with Mustang bodies and AC built its own American V8 engined cars.

For historical reference see also Allard.

Car Models

Type Engine Approx Production Year Notes
Autocarrier 648 cc single cylinder air cooled 1904-1910 Three wheeler with single wheel at rear. Initially made as goods carrier with driver behind the load. Passenger version from 1908 with driver and passenger side by side (2 seater) or driver behind (3 seater). Chain drive to rear wheel via 2 speed gearbox.
A.C. Sociable 648 cc single cylinder air cooled Possibly 1800 1910-1914
A.C. Ten 1096 cc four cylinder water cooled About 100 1913-1916 Engine made by Fivet of France. Transmission by Transaxle (combined rear axle and gearbox). Two seater and dickey or Sports two seater. Optional 1327 cc engine pre war, standard post war.
A.C. 12HP 1478/1992 cc four cylinder water cooled Approx 850 including 6 cylinder models to 1930 1920-1928 Engine made by Anzani or later Cubitt. Transmission by Transaxle. Two or four seater bodies.
A.C. Six (16/40, 16/56 and 16/66) 1478/1991 cc six cylinder water cooled Approx 850 including 12HP models to 1930 1920-1939 Engine made by A.C. Larger capacity from 1922. 16/66 had triple SU carburettors. Transmission by Transaxle. Two or four seater bodies.
A.C. Six (16/60, 16/70 and 16/90) 1991 cc six cylinder water cooled Approx 650 1930 to 1939 1936-1939 Engine made by A.C. 16/90 supercharged. Transmission by Transaxle. Longer and wider than previous Six.
A.C. 2 litre 1991 cc six cylinder water cooled Approx 1290 1947-1958 Engine made by A.C. Two and four door saloons, drophead coupé and tourer bodies.
A.C. Petite 350 cc single cylinder two stroke 1952-1958 Engine made by Villiers. Four speed gearbox. Three wheeler with single front wheel. Two/three seater.
A.C. Ace 1991/1971 cc six cylinder water cooled 689 1953-1964 Engine made by A.C. or Bristol (1971 cc) from 1956. Two seat aluminium open sports bodies.
A.C. Aceca 1991/1971/2553 cc six cylinder water cooled 357 1954-1963 Engine made by A.C., Bristol (1971 cc) from 1956 or Ford (2553 cc) from 1961. Front disc brakes from 1957. Two seat aluminium sports coupé bodies with hatchback.
A.C. Greyhound 1971/2216/2553 cc six cylinder water cooled 83 1959-1963 Engine from Bristol. Some might have the A.C. or Ford engine. All round coil suspension. Four seat saloon bodies.
A.C. Cobra 260/289/AC289 4261/4727 cc V8. 75/571/27 1962-1968 Engine made by Ford. Front disc brakes. AC289 had coil springs all round. Early cars had cam and peg steering, later ones rack and pinion. Two seat sports bodies.
A.C. Cobra 427/428 6997/4948 cc V8. 306 to 1966 1964-1966 1983-1990 Engine made by Ford. 400 bhp engine. 4948 cc Ford Mustang engine used when production restarted. Front disc brakes. Early cars had cam and peg steering, later ones rack and pinion. Two seat sports bodies.
A.C. 427/428 6997/7016 cc V8. 80 1965-1973 Engine made by Ford. 400 bhp engine. Front disc brakes. Manual or automatic transmission. Two seat open or coupé Italian built (Frua) bodies.
A.C. ME3000 2994 cc V6 cylinder. 106 1979-1985 Engine made by Ford. Mid engined. Five speed gearbox.
A.C. Ace 4601/4942 cc V8. 1996- Engine made by Ford. 4942 cc version supercharged.
A.C. Aceca 4601/4942 cc V8. 1998- Engine made by Ford. 4942 cc version supercharged. Four seat coupé version of the Ace. Chassis made in South Africa, bodies in Coventry.
A.C. Superblower 4601/4942/3506 cc V8. 1998- Engine made by Ford. 4942 cc version supercharged. 3506 cc made by Lotus optional from 2000. Aluminium bodied. Cheaper CRS (Carbon Road Series) from 1999. Built at Weybridge factory.
A.C. Mamba 4 litre in line six. 3.5 litre V8. 2006? Long delayed new car now promised for mid 2006. Six cylinder engine from Ford Australia. V8 from Lotus. LPG option on 6 cylinder cars. Two seat coupé with carbon fibre bodyshell on Ace chassis.

References

Notes

Link 1: The AC Story [1]

Link 2: When was the 70 mph motorway speed limit introduced in Britain? (www.speedlimit.org.uk) [2]