Courtesy of H&H

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1957 AC Ace Bristol
Years Produced:1953–63
Number Produced:732 (all types)
Original List Price:$4,495
SCM Valuation:$342,000
Tune Up Cost:$200
Distributor Caps:$27.75 (£22.20)
Chassis Number Location:On plate under hood on left footwell bin, last three digits repeated on door and trunk hinges
Engine Number Location:Plate on rocker cover; stamped in engine casting
Club Info:AC Owners’ Club
Alternatives:1948–53 Ferrari 166/195/212 Barchetta, 1953–55 Maserati A6GCS/54/2000, 1962–63 AC Cobra Mk 1
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 99, sold for $280,951 (£223,167), including buyer’s premium, at H&H’s Imperial War Museum, Duxford, U.K., auction on June 19, 2019.

Aces came in three flavors: The first, from 1953, got power from AC’s own 1,991-cc, OHC straight 6 — an ancient unit with cam drive at the back of the block, devised at the end of World War I. These have AE chassis numbers — or AEX for export — are usually left-hand drive, and 229 were made.

From 1956, the ACE got the more powerful Bristol engine — a cross-pushrod 1,971-cc 6-cylinder with clever Hemi combustion chambers, itself copied from a pre-war BMW unit. These cars carry chassis numbers BE and BEX, and 466 were built.

The final version, from 1961 on, had the 2.6-liter (2,553-cc) Ford pushrod 6-cylinder with up to 170 bhp and a sleeker snout — and a smaller grille. This car was the precursor to the styling of the Shelby Cobra. Only 37 of these were made, with numbers prefixed RS.

A total of 732 of all types were built. Prices ascend with development, the ACs being the cheapest and the Bristols and Fords collecting the most money.

Many AC Aces were cross-pollinated, modified or even made into Cobras.

A long, interesting history

The chassis number tells us that our subject car was originally a Bristol-engined export car. A notice at the auction pointed out that the AC Owners’ Club says the car was originally left-hand drive, even though it was the only Ace exported to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, which is a right-hand-drive market that drives on the left — as God intended.

According to the auction catalog, BEX349 left Thames Ditton on September 17, 1957, bound for Peter & Co., an import/export business and coal supplier to the shipping industry. It’s possible, though unconfirmed, that it was one of the five AC Ace Bristols that ran in the Venezuelan Sports Car Grand Prix on November 3, 1957.

Either way, our subject Ace didn’t stay in the Caribbean long, as it was soon in the U.S. The original engine 687D was lost at some point, and it now runs a BS1 Mk3 numbered 140, said to be from a racing Cooper Bristol. The sale-room notice explained that evidence had come to light that it may have been fitted with a Ford V6 (although surely a V8 sounds more likely) while in the U.S.

Lots of mods

Repatriated to the U.K. in 1989, the car appears to be what it says it is, and the door hinges are still stamped with the chassis number.

Engine swaps are not unusual, and what’s more important is that the car wears the correct type, which this one does — visually, at least. Aces originally used the 100 D2 unit.

Other than that, the car has had quite a history, having been converted to right-hand drive at some point. Various details point to earlier competition use, such as an additional steering-box brace, sleeving over the chassis tube under the exhaust headers, and there are holes for mounting a windscreen.

It now has the appropriate add-ons for competition such as electrical cutouts, extinguisher and under-bonnet catch tanks.

Restored on its return to the U.K. (presumably when it became RHD), it ran in three Ecurie Ecosse Highland Tours, three RAC Norwich Union Rallies, the 1991 Tuscany Historic Tour and the 1993 RAC Nürburgring-Spa Historic Rally.

It was sold at Sotheby’s July 15, 1996, auction at the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon, and in this ownership color-changed back to its original red, after which it continued to run in road, rally and touring events over the next 20 years.

The engine was rebuilt in 1999 and now wears a modern spin-off oil filter. The 12,673 miles recorded might well be since restoration.

Well sold, but….

It sold well, though hammered slightly behind the lower estimate, which is normal at Euro auctions these days because the catalog generally lags behind the market.

That’s mostly down to owners having an inflated idea of their cars’ worth and expecting too much, while auction houses don’t want to argue too hard and potentially lose their business.

I’d say a lower estimate of £220k ($272,247) for a Bristol Ace without its original engine was right — about two years ago.

This sale contrasts with a recently restored, near perfect and technically more desirable 1955 Ace, originally with AC power but retrofitted in 1962 with a Ruddspeed 2.6 Ford and disc brakes that sold at Goodwood on July 5, a couple of weeks later than this car. This car was let go for an unspecified-but-low price, believed to be around $195,000.

Why? Maybe nobody was in the market for a mongrel at Goodwood when all eyes were on the ex-Mansell Williams FW14B.

Our subject car has drum brakes, so it is eligible for more historic racing events than a later, disc-braked example.

The Mille Miglia Storica, Le Mans Classic and Goodwood Revival fall within our subject car’s remit, so competition eligibility — and proven finishes — likely made the difference here. The 1955 car at Goodwood could be put back to original, but it wouldn’t be as competitive as a Bristol-engined car — and is a much nicer prospect on the road with Ford power and discs.

Horses for courses… ♦

Comments are closed.