Britain's Greatest Car Manufacturer - AC Cars
The first in our series looking at the greatest British car manufacturers is AC Cars.
History of AC Cars
Founded in 1901, West Norwood, London. You can now find AC Cars at their headquarters in Thames Ditton, Surrey. AC Cars have become one of the most historic and exciting sports car brands not just in the UK but worldwide.
For more than a century of AC Cars have been writing chapters in sports car history, providing exhilarating cars that have been handbuilt built with exceptional quality.
This legacy began in a small London workshop when John Weller began following his passion for building cars, courtesy of funding from John Portwine, a wealthy businessman.
The Original AC Cars
The original AC cars only came in two configurations, a twin-cylinder 10 horsepower and a four-cylinder 20 horsepower variant, a far cry from the 750+ BHP models available today.
By 1904, Weller’s business had become Autocar & Accessories Limited and began to produce a small delivery vehicle called the Autocarrier. The Autocarrier was hugely successful and seen as a must-have for businesses on the streets of London.
Contribution to the War
1907 brought with it the introduction of the Sociable, a passenger version of the popular Autocarrier and soon the Autocarrier would be re-purposed as a military vehicle for the 25th London Cyclist Regiment.
Praised for its reliability, performance and manoeuvrability, the British Army used fleets of them which were either mounted with guns or used as ammunition carriers.
World War II would later go on to cease production of the cars once more and production was shifted towards firefighting equipment, aircraft parts, radar vans, flamethrowers, guns and sights.
The Formation of AC
Following the formation of Autocarriers Limited and the acquisition of Autocar & Accessories, the abbreviation AC was born. The full production of two-seaters, four-cylinder AC cars soon began, becoming an immediate success and it wasn't long before the new ACs would become even sportier, boast even better performance and look even more stylish.
In 1922, AC made history by becoming the first car with a 1500cc engine to cover 100 miles in one hour, achieving the feat at Brooklands raceway.
AC Car Company soon became one of Britain’s largest automobile manufacturers but the stock market crash of 1929 affected the company badly and AC was forced into voluntary liquidation.
After the Depression, the company was bought out and solely focused its attention on service facilities for existing owners. These owners soon began to pressure the company into beginning to produce cars again and this is exactly what happened, in the form of limited production of handbuilt cars. These cars would go on to re-establish the brand and earn plaudits at the Monte Carlo and RAC rallies.
Fast forward to 1953 and The Ace, an open two-seater sports car which captured the hearts of sporting motorists and made its mark in British club competitions. A fantastic car which enthusiasts could race on the weekends but still use in everyday life.
"A rare gem among great British sports cars, the AC Ace offers real style and excellent handling." - Tony Dron's review of the AC Ace
Soon after, a certain Carroll Shelby would team up with AC and Ford to create one of the fastest and most brutal sports cars of all time. The AC Cobra.
"I’ve driven cars on the rev counter, the speedo, even the temperature gauge, but never on a noise meter."
By 1963, the Cobra had continued to improve and at the time the 427 AC Cobra was listed as the fastest production car in the world, an accolade it held for many years.
In 1964 on the unrestricted M1 motorway, an AC Cobra reached speeds of over 180 mph stunning onlookers, engineers and most notably, the British Government. This lead to British Parliament eventually imposing a 70 mph speed limit on British motorways and two-lane roads.
“I remember the engine being so strong. It kept pulling and pulling and I quickly hit 6500rpm and it simply wouldn’t go any higher. I knew that I was totally flat out — probably helped because the road was nice and level.” - Jack Sears recalling his feat with the Cobra.
Trivia -The AC Cobra would go on to win the World Sports Car Championship in 1965 and further cement it's placed as one of the greatest sports cars of its era.
Next in the Series
Certainly, a company with a rich and interesting history but are AC Britain's Greatest? More to come on The Journal and definitely some very tough competition to come, starting with none other than Aston Martin.