One of the most influential and widely imitated classic sports car designs ever is that of the AC Ace roadster—although, of course, much of the world associates its appearance with the later Shelby Cobra derivative, which resulted when the Ace received Ford V8 power and a Carroll Shelby performance makeover in 1962. The original Ace was itself a derivative. It all began with a one-off sports racer designed by John Tojeiro for driver Cliff Davis in 1952. From the very first, everyone seemed taken with the styling of the Tojeiro Special, which was overtly patterned after the era’s Ferrari 166 Barchetta. By 1953, rights to the Tojeiro design had been acquired by AC Cars Ltd. of Thames Ditton, near London. Within a year, a new AC Ace based on the car appeared. The 1954 Ace evidenced some differences from the Tojeiro Special—most notably in the placement of its headlamps. Built on a twin-tube ladder-frame chassis featuring transverse leaf springs and 4-wheel independent suspension, the Ace was a competitive sports racer in the late 1950s. Annual Le Mans efforts between 1957 and 1959 cumulated in a 7th overall showing, and a first-in-class win for the marque in 1959. AC Ace Registrar Tim Isles has kindly confirmed that this Ace left the factory on February 20, 1958, and was originally finished with red paintwork. It left the U.K. bound for the East Coast of the United States, and its first ownership was in Maryland. Its interior was in black leather, which quite possibly remains in the car, as it appears to never have been fully restored. The car retains its original 6-cylinder engine, backed by a 4-speed manual gearbox. The vendor recently discovered the Ace in Philadelphia, PA, where it had languished in storage for 35 years. Its now-deceased prior owner is believed to have obtained the car in Ohio in 1972. The Ace was treated to a complete mechanical going-over in 2010, documented by copies of receipts totaling more than $37,000. Work completed includes an overhaul of the original engine, complete renewal of the brakes, and a new exhaust system. New radial tires were also installed. The vendor states the Ace “drives and runs superbly,” and notes that it is eligible for vintage racing. A design classic in its purity of purpose and simplicity of line, this rarely offered AC Ace represents a great opportunity for the discerning collector.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1958 AC Ace Roadster
Number Produced:220
Original List Price:$3,200
Tune Up Cost:$300
Chassis Number Location:Plate on right side of firewall (and stamped in various other places on chassis)
Engine Number Location:Plate on cam cover
Alternatives:1954 Swallow Doretti 1955 Arnolt-Bristol 1956 Austin-Healey 100/6

This car, lot 326, sold for $188,500, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Collectors’ Motorcars and Automobilia in Greenwich, CT, on June 5, 2011.

It’s lovely to see a car “lost” for so long be disinterred for all to enjoy. A plus for stateside enthusiasts is the “AEX” on the chassis number, which means it’s an original left-hand-drive car (“AE” is the designation for right-handers). Although it’s been mechanically gone through, there appear to be a few cosmetic issues—a case of not quite done yet. Certainly the motor is clean and tidy with no leaks, but the body doesn’t appear to be fully finished. Remember, though, these cars were hand-built—like a proper pair of shoes—so none of them are quite identical.

The doors appear to fit well, but in some lights the right side of the body seems to bulge out to meet at the bottom. Aside from that, even though it looks a little rough in some areas, it does at least appear mostly symmetrical. The bumpers were off the car, leaving holes in the body, but the car’s stance is pleasing on black wires with correct tall tires. And, given that it’s been stored all those years, the interior is almost certainly original and worth preserving.
Rising along with Shelby Cobras

AC Ace prices have enjoyed a massive hike in their homeland over the past three years, to the point that the best cars (almost invariably Bristol-engined) routinely approach $300,000. That’s partly because they have been dragged behind the rise of the Cobra, which currently costs around twice the price of a middling Ace.

These cars are also eminently suitable for historic motorsport, especially the high-end events, such as Tour Auto, that Europeans love so. These are a mixture of race and rally, with comfortable hotel stops every night, where everyone can feel jolly important and pretend they’re real race drivers (even though there are usually some real retired race jokers in the pack).

But these, and other race events, do not usually feature AC-powered cars, which are the weediest of the bunch in terms of performance. This takes us back to our subject car’s engine, however clean, dry and tidy. The Weller-designed AC 2-liter straight six, with its cam chain at the rear of the block, was launched in 1919. Even in its ultimate 90-horsepower form in the Ace, this engine is a bit asthmatic and hard to make go.

The Bristol “Six” replacement engine, with its pushrods ingeniously arranged to allow hemi chambers, affords the Ace much more performance—even in basic 125-horsepower form (though some were only 105) and is much more tunable. However, these motors are prone to cracking their castings, and it costs at least $15k for a rebuilt replacement.

The best performers—and cheapest to tune (because it’s a Dagenham pushrod engine) with up to 170 horsepower—are the 2.5-liter Ford-engined cars, which also have a Cobra-like nose and grille, but only 37 of those were built.

Low horsepower, great handling

Although the horsepower numbers look small, remember these cars weigh 840 kg (1,851 pounds), and offer sublime, driftable handling when equipped with the right, narrow tires. This is why quite a few folk prefer them to the Shelby Cobra, which is a meatier beast in every respect. Also, if you turn up at the pumps in an Ace, there’s only a slim chance that people will ask if it’s a replica.

Although the AC-engined Ace is at the bottom of the pack, it’s a pedigree pack. With limited supplies, even these early cars passed the £100k ($160k) mark around 2009, and they have continued to rise.

So, in today’s market, this price looked about right for a decent, usable car, which this example surely is—or will be soon. This one looked as if it had some cosmetic needs, meaning it’ll probably cost nearer $220k by the time it is ready to go. Notwithstanding that, I’d call this slightly well sold, though to an astute buyer with an eye on the future the sums must have surely stacked up in the right direction.

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

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