Agonizingly pretty, the AC Ace catapulted the homespun Thames Ditton company into the automotive limelight, instantly earning it a reputation as makers of svelte sports cars for the tweedy English middle classes. Timelessly elegant, swift, poised, and mechanically uncomplicated, the Ace went on to form the platform for the legendary AC Cobra.
Clothed in a light alloy body and powered by a choice of AC’s own delicate UMB 2.0 unit, the hardier 2.0 Bristol 100D2 engine, or the lusty 2.6Ford Zephyr power plant, the Ace drove as well as it looked. Its shape has guaranteed the Ace a place in automotive annals. Chaste, uncluttered, and simple, it makes a Ferrari look top-heavy and clumsy. Purists argue that the Bristol-powered version is the real thoroughbred Ace, closest to its original inspiration, the Bristol-powered Tojeiro prototype of 1953.
The most handsome British roadster of its day, and as lovely as an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint, the Ace had an Italianate simplicity. Proof of the dictum that less is more, the Ace’s gently sweeping profile is a triumph of form over function.
Folding Plexiglas sidescreens helped to prevent turbulence in the cockpit at high speed.
The Ace had triple Solex carbs, push-rod overhead valve gear, a light alloy head, and a cast-iron crankcase.
The firing order of the Ace’s six cylinders was displayed on an engine plate.
Forward-hinged hood was locked by two chrome latches, opened by a small T-shaped key.
Shared by the BMW 328, the hemi-head 125 bhp 2-liter Bristol engine was offered as a performance conversion for the Ace.
Front discs were an option in 1957, but later standardized.
The Ace was simplicity itself —a box for the engine, a box for the people, and a box for the luggage. On the handling side, production cars used Bishop cam-andgear steering, which gave a turning circle of 36 ft (11 m) and required just two deft turns of the steering wheel lock-to-lock.
Steering wheel was shared with the Austin Healey and the Daimler SP Dart.
Known as Superleggera construction, a network of steel tubes was covered by aluminum panels, based on the outline of the 1949 Ferrari 122.
The Ace became one of AC’s most successful creations, with a huge proportion exported to America, where its character as an Englishman’s girl-catcher justified its price tag of a small house.
The Ace’s wide, toothy grin fed air into the large radiator that was shared by the AC two-liter sedan.
In pure British tradition, the Ace’s cockpit was stark, with gauges and switches haphazardly scattered across the dashboard. The two larger dials were a speedometer—with a clock inset into the dial—and a tachometer.
For diehards who always drove with the top down, a tonneau cover could be attached which kept your feet warm while your face froze.
Engines were placed well back and gave an 18 percent rearward bias to the weight distribution. Performance-wise, it helped— an Ace recorded an average of 97 mph (156 km/h) over 2,350 miles (3,781 km) at the 1957 Le Mans 24 Hours, the fastest ever for a Bristol-engined car.
Later Aces had a revised rear deck, with square taillights and a bigger trunk.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL AC Ace-Bristol (1956–61)
BODY STYLE Two-door, two-seater sports roadster.
CONSTRUCTION Space-frame chassis, light alloy body.
ENGINE Six-cylinder push-rod 1971cc.
POWER OUTPUT 105 bhp at 5000 rpm (optional high-performance tune 125 bhp at 5750 rpm).
TRANSMISSION Four-speed manual Bristol gearbox (optional overdrive).
SUSPENSION Independent front and rear with transverse leaf spring and lower wishbones.
BRAKES Front and rear drums. Front discs from 1957.
MAXIMUM SPEED 117 mph (188 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 9.1 sec
0–100 MPH (0–161 KM/H) 27.2 sec
A.F.C. 21.6 mpg (7.6 km/l)