The success of Cliff Davis’s Tojeiro sports racer prompted AC Cars to put the design into production in 1954 as the Ace. The Davis car’s pretty Ferrari 166-inspired barchetta bodywork was retained, as was John Tojeiro’s twin-tube ladder frame chassis and Cooper-influenced all-independent suspension, but the power unit was AC’s own venerable, 2-liter, long-stroke six. This single-overhead-camshaft engine originated in 1919 and with a modest 80bhp (later 100bhp) on tap, endowed the Ace with respectable performance.
The AC Ace first appeared at Earls Court in 1953 and epitomised a new era of British post-war sports car production. The owners of AC, Charles and Derek Hurlock, along with AC agent, Ken Rudd, transformed the company’s reputation by taking a racing special and putting it into production, with notable stylistic influences from Italian sports cars of the era. The result was a car that delivered both on the road, and particularly on the track thanks to the input of racing chassis designer John Tojeiro. The Ace boasted all-round independent suspension by transverse springs (the first British sports car to do so), ensuring superb handling with minimal body roll and plenty of feedback. Such was the success of the Ace chassis, it became the foundation for the mighty Shelby Cobras with over three times the power of the original 105bhp, Weller designed, six-cylinder engine. The outdated AC unit eventually made way for the more refined Bristol straight-six, which had evolved from the pre-war BMW 328. The Bristol engine was far more suited to racing, as demonstrated with some success by Cooper, and in its standard form developed 128bhp at 6000rpm. Consequently, it is the Bristol-engined Ace that is most sought after by collectors.
The combination of a fine-handling chassis and a decent power-to-weight ratio helped the Ace to numerous successes in production sports car racing; arguably its finest achievement being a first-in-class and seventh overall finish at Le Mans in 1959. Indeed, its basic soundness and versatility were reflected in the fact that relatively few major changes were found necessary when the Ace was endowed with Ford V8 power to create the legendary Cobra.
BEX249 was delivered new, finished in Ivory with a Black Interior, in January 1957 to a Major James K Cockrell of Virginia in the United States. Cockrell entered the car into the SCCA National Championship race at the Cumberland racetrack in Maryland, Ohio. The race was won by Carroll Shelby in a Maserati 300S, with Briggs Cunningham a close second in a Jaguar D-Type. Cockrell was later deployed to Germany and prepared the car for ADAC races in Trier and Wiesbaden in the Spring of 1958. The motor fitted was deemed uncompetitive, so a new Bristol motor (100C687) was fitted before entering the championship, the same engine which is fitted to this day.
Cockrell went on to win the 1958 German Championship in the 2 Litre category, and was nominated by the ADAC to enter the Ace into the AvD Nurburgring 1000 Kilometers race on 7th June 1959. Cockrell unfortunately did not finish the race due to an accident, ultimately the 1000 Kilometers was won by Stirling Moss in an Aston Martin DBR1 with Phil Hill and Tony Brooks coming in second and third respectively, both driving Ferrari 250 Testarossas.
After the race the AC Ace was returned by Cockrell to his army base, who in a rather distressed state at his result in the 1000 Kilometers agreed to sell the car to another U.S. soldier by the name of Francis Gigliotti. Mr. Gigliotti stored the car for many years, gathering parts to restore the Ace, eventually taking the car back to the United States when he returned many years later. In 2006, whilst Mr. Gigliotti was still alive, the Ace passed hands to a Mr. Stangl who undertook a huge restoration to the condition you see the car in today. Our vendor purchased the car from Mr. Stangl and have kept it in dry conditions and used very lightly ever since.
There are very few opportunities to purchase an AC Ace that has raced against the greats of motor racing’s Golden Era of the 1950s, and in this incredible car we have just such an opportunity.