The Ace roadster and companion Aceca were AC's first proper cars. Although tiny AC of Thames Ditton (near London) had built up a fine reputation by the early Fifties, it had developed a very staid image. Reason: its products were hopelessly behind the times. For example, its existing 2.0-liter car retained old-fashioned beam-axle front suspension, and the firm’s light-alloy six-cylinder engine dated back to 1919. AC owners Charles and Derek Hurlock were desperately looking for inspiration and a new model. Fortunately for us, they found both in the AC Ace and Aceca.
The result was AC’s sudden transformation into a successful sports-car builder, though it happened almost by chance. On a “friend of a friend” basis, the hand-built Tojeiro, a British racing sports car, was demonstrated to the Hurlocks, who promptly bought up the production rights and began making a road car of it. In fact, they tried two Tojeiros, one with a race-tuned Lea-Francis engine, the other with a 2.0-liter Bristol unit.>
The basis of the Tojeiro design was a simple ladder-style chassis built up of large diameter tubes and with wishbone and transverse-leaf-spring independent suspension front and rear. The race cars were graced with sleek two-seat “barchetta” bodies unashamedly modelled on those of the most recent racing Ferraris. What attracted the Hurlocks to the Tojeiro design was that little investment would be needed to tool up for chassis production, while the body could easily be produced at AC’s own coachbuilding facility.
By using an evolution of the ancient 2.0-liter six and a Moss gearbox, the Hurlocks were able to transform the racing Tojeiro into a relatively civilized roadgoing sports car. The project came together with astonishing speed.
The deal wasn’t hatched until the summer of 1953, yet the prototype, called AC Ace, was displayed at the London Motor Show in October and deliveries began the following year. The only real changes made in that frenzied development period were raising the original headlamp position (to meet international regulations for minimum height) and abandoning rack-and-pinion steering for a cam-gear system.
AC’s light-alloy overhead-cam engine, which had a mere 40 horsepower at 3000 rpm when introduced, was persuaded to produce 85 bhp at 4500 rpm for the AC Ace, enough to give the graceful new car a top speed of 103 mph. In the next few years, this remarkable old soldier would be tuned even more, to 90 bhp in 1955, and finally to 102 bhp in 1958.
With the open two-seater in production (later to become even more famous as the basis of the Shelby Cobra), AC decided to produce a fastback coupe version. This was the AC Aceca, its name, like Ace, revived from a famous AC of the Thirties. Revealed in late 1954 and in production by mid-1955, the AC Aceca, naturally enough, looked rather like Ferrari’s contemporary 166 and 212 models, a happy coincidence.
Once the AC Ace and AC Aceca were established, AC was up to building five cars a week. The chassis soon had such a good reputation that there were persistent demands for more power. With the AC engine near the end of its development life, alternative power had to be found, and AC eventually “bought in” the ex-BMW Bristol engine (see Ace- and Aceca-Bristol).
Nevertheless, and in spite of in-house competition from other derivatives, the AC-engined Ace and Aceca sold steadily until the autumn of 1963, by which time Thames Ditton was preoccupied with building engineless Cobras for Carroll Shelby in California.
Both models improved along the way. Front disc brakes were fitted from 1956-57, at which time an electrically actuated overdrive became optional. Later, the old Moss gearbox was dropped in favor of Triumph TR3A gears inside a case of AC’s own design. As a halfway measure between the two body types, a detachable hardtop was also made available for the AC Ace.