Gleaming silver coachwork and natty red leather interior aside, the Ace looks like a very well-sorted example – and so it proves. Owned by keen historic racer Gavin Henderson, and prepared by leading AC Ace specialist Patrick Blakeney-Edwards of Blakeney Motorsport, this sports car sits confidently on its fat 5.50x16 Dunlop racing tires. The roundels give away its racing intent and it usually wears a smaller racing aero screen, but the Ace is also a fast road car and appears fully dressed with its full windscreen in place, Dunlop racing tires not withstanding.
With the beautiful styling and a John Tojeiro-designed chassis, the first AC Ace was seen at the Earls Court Motor Show in 1953, powered by the venerable 2-liter, six-cylinder AC engine and Moss gearbox. With the styling cleaned up by AC man Alan Turner, the model received a more powerful motor in 1955 – the 125bhp Bristol-developed BMW 328 2-liter six-cylinder – and improved Bristol four-speed transmission. Racing driver Ken Rudd took early delivery of an Ace Bristol and won its first race at Goodwood. Thereafter Aces were the cars to beat, with a 10th place at Le Mans in 1957. When the supply of Bristol engines dried up, Ken Rudd of Ruddspeed supplied heavily modified Ford 2.6-liter engines tuned to deliver around 170bhp: 37 were completed.
But the Bristol-engined Aces are the most desirable because they have the most complete racing history, and this example is actively campaigned today. As with the earlier Frazer Nash, the Ace is small but perfectly formed. It makes you realise how big modern cars have become. The styling is pure elegance yet functional. There is nothing superfluous about the car and everything is neatly resolved. Henderson’s Ace has the most beautiful cabin even though the bucket seats are a tight fit. The large wood-rimmed steering wheel has no discernible slop and the clutch pedal is firm. The straight-six, now 170bhp, sounds alive and powerful from idle, while the shift movement is quite wide across the gate but selects first positively. Weighing just 850kg, the AC accelerates strongly yet the engine prefers to have some revs on the dial. When 3000rpm arrives the little six-cylinder comes on cam and hardens. You have to keep your throttle inputs clean because the engine reacts so quickly.
On the move the Ace feels well tied down and firmly sprung. The Bristol gearshift is slow but positive, and soon you are moving along at serious speed. The drum brakes initially feel quite soft but as soon as they warm up they begin to bite effectively. Aces are fitted with worm-and-peg steering which, it must be said, is not normally the sharpest. In this car the system feels a little dead at first, but without any of the usual slop, yet when steering into a corner the direction can be controlled with accuracy and the wheel does not load up excessively or try to self-centre.
On flowing country roads the AC Ace is in its element. It sings along and is totally predictable thanks to its rigid chassis. It is hard to imagine that it dates from 1957. The transverse leaf springs with lower wishbones allow good suspension movement to soak up the undulations, and the faster you drive it, the better it gets. It must be an absolute joy on a racetrack and that’s why this rare and beautiful AC Ace Bristol now commands a value of more than £200,000. It is quite simply one of the best 1950s sports cars ever.
Specialist Patrick Blakeney-Edwards of Blakeney Motorsport has restored and race-prepared countless AC Aces, and he is clearly up to speed with everything about the cars: ‘These Aces were good from the start, being properly engineered and built. With the Bristol connection, aircraft levels of engineering were introduced. The engines are of a very high standard and were highly tuned for the time. For road cars it is just a matter of replacing tired components and making sure the engines are balanced and correctly assembled.
‘Racing engines can produce 170bhp, which requires a stronger bottom end and higher compression. We leave most ancillaries pretty standard but find there is a further 4-6bhp available by removing the air filters and tweaking the carbs. Some people find these Solexes difficult to rebuild, but we have ours done by Carburettor Exchange and it does a great job,’ says Blakeney-Edwards.
‘You can achieve a bit more torque by lengthening the primary pipes on the exhaust, but we tend to run with a largely standard set-up,’ he adds.
‘One modification the Ace needs is proper bracing of the steering box, which makes a huge difference to the steering. That, plus a fresh steering pivot bush. And, of course, the complicated suspension needs to be in good order and Koni dampers fitted.’
Engine: 1971cc Bristol straight-six, OHV, triple Solex carburetors
Power: 170bhp @ 6500rpm
Torque: 130lb ft @ 4500rpm
Transmission: Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Suspension: Front and rear: independent by transverse leaf springs with lower wishbones
Brakes: Finned drums
Performance: Top speed - 130mph; 0-60mph 7.5sec