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Reasonably priced and eccentric AC that's fun and accessible.
(Editors note: even though the AC 3000ME was never available in the U.S. we thought our readers might like to see what is available on the other side of the pond.)
Although it wears the hallowed AC badge and was produced in minuscule numbers, the 3000ME remains a mere footnote in the marque’s history. Instead of commanding six-figure prices, it has struggled to breach the £10k barrier. But is this justified – after all, it sports concept car styling and packs all the dynamic idiosyncrasies that a challenging driver’s car should.
Looking at the AC 3000ME today, it is easy to appreciate the bold styling and accessible oily bits, and come to the conclusion that the market has these cars seriously undervalued. But part of the ME’s problem lay in its over-long gestation period – and an inflated launch price tag. At £13,300 in 1980 it competed with the Lotus Esprit, but its Essex V6 packed only 138bhp.
Enthusiasts drooled over the original 1972 Diablo concept, and excited themselves at the prospect of buying a showroom version. They rushed to put down deposits – only to have to wait until the car entered production at the end of 1978, and then join the waiting list…
It continued to be made at Thames Ditton until 1984, when it was transferred to AC Scotland. It continued there until the following year, and in total 106 were built.
Terry Webb (above), prolific collector and AC 3000ME expert, considers these cars to be undervalued: ‘It’s still possible to pick up a project from around £6000. But the term “project” doesn’t mean that it’s a basket case, and you’ll be surprised at what you can get for this money.’
Of course, the ME is a complex car, and it pays to get the best you can afford once you have decided to buy: ‘Despite being such a small-volume car, a concours-standard example is surprisingly cheap. £14,000 tops would be your budget, unless it’s really special. But the one-offs such as PanterAmerica’s turbocharged Shelby four-cylinder model and the Ghia-bodied concept car have long since been spoken for.’ Despite the 90%-plus survival rate of these cars, they rarely come up for sale, so be prepared to wait a long time if you want something special.
IN A NUTSHELL
Despite being a bespoke car, the AC 3000ME shares much of its under-the-skin engineering with more humble machinery. The engine, for example, is straight from the Capri, but just about all parts come from the Ford or Triumph stable – so availability isn’t really a problem. Terry identifies only supply of the wheelbearings and the AC-designed gearbox as causes for concern (both will require remanufactured parts, available through the AC Owners’ Club).
The body is glassfibre, and not susceptible to Lotus-style paint cracking, so any repairs can be performed by a competent body shop. Underneath is a different matter, though, and the steel tub is susceptible to corrosion if used regularly. Giveaways are the bottom wishbone mounts on the front subframe, and this is easily inspected. In addition, check where the fuel tank is seated on the chassis crossmembers, as this is also a rot spot.
You’ll find the Ford V6 simple to work on and the engine bay spacious. Carbs can suffer fuel starvation under hard cornering so are sometimes repositioned to sit longitudinally rather than laterally. The gearbox has its own oil supply, and drive is supplied via a Reynold Triplex chain. If that’s quiet, then you know it’s in good order. Gearbox bearings can show signs of wear from around 80,000 miles, so make sure there’s no transmission whine.
Inside, there’s a choice between leather and cloth, but both will show signs of wear on the outside edge of the driver’s seat squab with regular use. Repair on both is straightforward. The sill carpet can suffer similarly. Finally, look for water ingress behind the seats caused by poor body/chassis sealing – it’s an easy fix.
Here’s an AC that will turn heads for an entirely different reason to your average Cobra. The Ford V6 doesn’t deliver stunning performance, but the 3000ME’s striking looks and intricately sculpted flanks allow the 1970s car to carve its own niche.
Although it suffered from well-documented handling foibles when new, the 3000ME can be tamed with some simple adjustments to the rear suspension toe-out. As for its performance, if you really want to go faster, there are plenty of options designed to extract more grunt out of the Essex engine.
However, a well-sorted AC 3000ME is a delightful car to drive as it is. In the summer you can pop out the roof panel, enjoy not seeing any other examples on the road, and bask in the knowledge that nearly every model built remains in existence. Club and specialist back-up is excellent.
As for those all-important future values, it’s safe to say that they’re going to be heading in the right direction – although it remains to be seen just how quick that process will be.
AC Owners’ Club +44 (0)1904 793563www.acownersclub.co.uk AC 3000ME website and forum www.ac3000me.com AC 3000ME Registrar Bryan Spooner+44 (0)1572 737281 Spares provider Brian Eacott+44 (0)20 8397 8472