Simanaitis Says

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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.

“In an effort to achieve Italianate simplicity, designers have virtually eliminated ornamental trim.” This and the following A.C. Ace photos and insights from R&T, October 1956.

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 Ace’s 2.0-liter sohc inline-six produced 90 hp at 4500 rpm.

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.”

Don’t try this at home, kids. We’re professionals. (And I’m not sure why the Ace is on the wrong side of the solid line.

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,, 2017

5 comments on “THE PRE-COBRA

  1. Michael Rubin
    April 18, 2017

    Always liked these but they were out of reach then and they’re really out of reach now. As for Moss boxes…the Morgan is much easier to drive with a Ford Sierra five speed with working synchromesh and an overdrive 5th gear. No longer hear honking behind me when the Morgan wouldn’t get into first after the light turned green.

  2. Frank Barrett
    April 18, 2017

    Dennis, come to Boulder, and I’ll give you a tour of the Shelby American Collection, which includes a Bristol-engined Ace. We also see them every year on the Colorado Grand.

  3. francis cusack
    April 25, 2017

    Dennis, that Bristol engine Frank mentions may be an interesting subject for one of your future articles. I believe it was based on a pre-war BMW engine (as in the 328?), that was in turn based on an Austin Seven engine from the 20’s. Seems like a case of the Germans taking some good English engine technology and selling it back to them.

  4. simanaitissays
    April 25, 2017

    Hi, Francis,
    See, my celebration of the Arnolt-Bristol. Agreed, I love that engine, especially its cross-head lateral pushrods. By the way, features the Austin Seven. I recall the Dixi was a German Seven, built under license. I hadn’t heard the 328’s engine (and hence the Bristol’s) was derived from the Seven’s. I’m tempted to say what they had in common was round cylinders and pistons that went up and down…. I must learn more about this.

  5. David Rees
    April 28, 2017

    Gimme all the R&T road test results you have – can’t get enough of ’em.

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