|DIARY OF A LEGEND – THE AC CARS STORY|
AC Cars: The Early Years
It all started back in 1901 when John Weller set up a small workshop in London to support his passion of building cars. Weller’s funding for the endeavor came from a wealthy businessman named John Portwine and by 1903, the first cars went from concept to reality. Back in those days, there were only two engine options for Weller’s unique car: a twin-cylinder 10 horsepower and a four-cylinder 20 horsepower configuration. They were first unveiled at the 1903 British Motor Show, where the most notable comment was "We foresee a brilliant future for the Weller 'Autocar' and it's talented designer."
Autocar Becomes Autocarrier
In 1904, Weller’s business became Autocar & Accessories Limited, and began to produce of a small delivery vehicle called the Autocarrier. It had a 5.6hp air-cooled single-cylinder engine and was actually a tricycle by its design. The Autocarrier was a tremendous success and quickly found prominence in two London stores: Maple & Co. and Dickens & Jones. Goodyear Tires also had one for delivering new wheels and tires to wealthy car owners. Within a year, the Autocarrier was familiar on the streets of London and was considered a "must have" by any company that wanted to be portrayed as fashionable or cutting edge. In fact, one company had a fleet of more than 70 Autocarriers.
Autocarrier becomes AC: A legend is born
For the first time in 1915, the abbreviation AC was used, and in November of that year a new company was formed called Autocarriers Limited. The new company also acquired Autocar & Accessories keeping Weller and Portwine as directors. In 1918, full production of a two-seater, four cylinder AC car began and was sold for $1,020. These new ACs were immediately successful in competition, particularly in hill climbs and trials. 1921 saw the opening of new showrooms and offices on London’s Regent Street and the AC board of directors was joined by the famous English racing driver of the era, Selwyn Francis Edge, who was named Chairman of the newly named company, AC Cars Limited after Weller and Portwine resigned for irreconcilable differences. The new ACs proved to be very sporty and boasted amazing performance, stylish bodies, and several colors. The engine was a straight-six configuration utilizing aluminum pistons, aluminum cylinder block and sump with a chain driven overhead camshaft, four valves per cylinder and twin spark plugs per cylinder. Initially the engine’s capacity was 1477 cubic centimeters and produced 40hp. This was the start of a very successful time for AC from a sales and marketing standpoint. Soon the company had a new slogan: "The First Light Six – and still the best."
AC Firsts: History Unfolds
In 1922, AC made history by becoming the first car with a 1500cc engine to cover 100 miles in one hour at the famous Brooklands raceway. J.A. Joyce, piloting a specially prepared 16 valve four-cylinder AC, posted a record distance of 104.85 miles within the hour at Brooklands, which was only a few miles from the AC factory. In 1924, Tom Gillett using AC’s predominant light-six power set a new 24-hour record at over 82mph and in 1926, Victor Bruce and William Brunell scored the first Monte Carlo Rally for a British built car. A year later Bruce and his wife Joyce, covered 1,500 miles in nine days while in France.
The Rise of the AC Ace
During the next six years, AC introduced seven new models. They ranged from the Aceca, a two-seater coupe, to a long wheelbase coach built saloon. The output of AC’s six-cylinder engine was also improved from 40 to 56hp and by 1928; the AC Car Company was one of Great Britain’s largest automobile manufacturer. However, that success was short-lived due to the stock market crash of 1929, which forced the world into economic recession and AC into voluntary liquidation.
AC Comes to the USA
By 1937, AC cars were being exported to North America for the first time, however this ceased shortly with the inception of World War II and production was quickly geared towards the manufacture of firefighting equipment, aircraft parts, radar vans, flame throwers, guns and sights.
AC Cobra: The Shelby Years
Over the next year, AC Cars pressed on with its usual production schedule until a historic moment happened in 1961 when Carroll Shelby entered into negotiations with AC Cars. Backed by Ford, Shelby proposed the installation of a large 4.2-liter V8 in the current lightweight AC Ace. Built by AC Cars, the fusion of brute American horsepower and British aesthetics resulted in the AC Cobra, one of the fastest and most brutal sports car of all times.
AC Setting World Records
In 1964, the AC Cobra caused a huge uproar that would prove to be a benchmark for AC Cars and the AC trademark in general. In late ‘64, during a test session prior to Le Mans on the unrestricted M1 motorway, an AC Cobra reached speeds of nearly 183 mph stunning onlookers and engineers. The achievement was noted by the British House of Commons and proved so complex that British Parliament would eventually impose a 70 mph speed limit on British motorways and two lane highways. The testing achievement saw one of the two AC Cobras entered at Le Mans become the first British entry to finish. In 1965, the AC Cobra won the World Sports Car Championship and was on its way to become the most notable supercar of its era.
AC Ace Becomes the AC Mk IV
1985 proved to be another landmark year with the re-introduction into North America of the AC MkIV. This AC had a 305 V8 engine that met 50 State EPA and DOT Federal Regulations and was based on the original Cobra tooling. By 1986, most of the major automotive manufacturers were buying up niche sports car companies and Ford followed suit by entering into a joint venture with Autokraft to obtain controlling interest of AC Cars from the Hurlock family. Two years later in 1988, production was moved to a new purpose built factory sited within the old historic Brooklands racetrack complex, the scene of so many achievements by AC competition cars more than 60 years earlier.
AC During the 90’s
1990 saw the production of the lightweight version AC MkIV and the following year a new pre-production AC Ace was constructed by Autokraft with body design by International Automotive Design. The new AC Ace featured current specs completed with an electric hood, air conditioning, electric windows, aluminum body and a stainless steel chassis.
AC Turns 100 Years Old
In 2001, AC Cars turned 100 and relocated to Albany Park, Frimley, Surrey. Shortly after, a new model was developed aptly named the AC MKV. It featured a carbon fiber body mounted on the original design steel ladder chassis and was equipped with a Ford 340hp fuel injected V8 paired to a five-speed manual transmission. The AC MKV was produced in Malta until 2007.
The AC story is truly unique and has inspired England and America for more than 50 years. The AC Cobra has become an automotive icon.