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THE HERITAGE OF Carroll Shelby’s fire-breathing 427 Cobra starts with a lithe British sports car, the A.C. Ace, and then moves to Ol’ Shel’s Fairlane V-8 conversion, the AC-Ford Cobra. Today, let’s celebrate the Pre-Cobra. Tomorrow, we’ll do the same with the Ur-Cobra. Tidbits on both are gleaned from R&Ts of more than a half century ago.
In October 1956, R&T described the A.C. Ace as a “very modern sports car from one of Britain’s oldest auto makers.” And, indeed, the company’s first product, in 1908, was the three-wheel Autocarrier. In 1911, the firm became Autocarriers Ltd. and adopted the AC emblem. In 1922, it changed names again to A.C. Cars Ltd, with the punctuation appearing on and off over the years.
R&T noted the A.C. Ace was first exhibited at the 1953 London Show. On the other hand, its 1991-cc inline-six dated back to shortly after World War I, with the A.C. Light Six sedan featuring an original version of this single-overhead-camshaft engine design by the firm’s John Weller. The Ace’s 4-speed was the classic Moss gearbox, as fitted to Jaguars and Morgans.
The car’s chassis was designed by Portuguese-born John Tojeiro, who had been brought to his mother’s England in 1920. The Ace was one of his earlier efforts, along with a 1952 Tojeiro-MG, both influenced spiritually by the Ferrari 212 Touring Barchetta.
Bodywork was aluminum, with a tad of wood superstructure here and there; it was British, after all. R&T testers noted, “There also appears to be very little sound insulation, and, although the engine is smooth running, there is no denying that there is a certain amount of engine and gearbox noise, especially with top and side curtains in place.”
Top and side curtains? In California? Only in the interest of extensive evaluation, of course.
The Ace chassis consisted of two 3-in. tubes aligned longitudinally, with independent suspension all around by means of transverse leaf springs and conventional double-A-arms. Drum brakes were fitted, albeit the advanced Al-Fin variety known for iron liners in lightweight finned aluminum drums.
Performance was brisk by standards of the period, 0 to 60 mph accomplished in 11.0 seconds, for example. Top speed was just a touch over the century, with a best run of 103.4 mph.
R&T said of the Ace’s handling, “… the feel is near-perfect, and the manner in which this car corners even over rough surfaces and under power, is almost uncanny. There is neither under nor oversteer up to the squeal limit at which time the rear end breaks away easily and controllably.”
The $4495 Ace was not inexpensive back then. In 1956, a Triumph TR-3 went for $2599; a Ford Fairlane Sunliner convertible that year, for $2455.
The word Fairlane has relevance in tomorrow’s tale of the Ur-Cobra. The original Cobra was Fairlane-powered too. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017