It’s one of the prettiest sportscars ever made yet there’s very little about the Ace Ace that’s original or unique, from an engineering or styling point of view. Indeed, when you analyse it, the Ace is a hotch-potch of design cues from earlier sportscars, not least some of the earliest Ferraris. But who cares, when the end result looks this good?
Designed by Lionel Leonard over a chassis created by John Tojeiro, the Ace started out as a special in the early 1950s. When it was shown to AC in 1953, the company knew the car was just what it needed. Power would come from the all-alloy overhead-cam straight-six introduced by AC as long ago as 1919.
With independent suspension front and rear, a choice of smooth six-cylinder engines and light, accurate steering the Ace is a delight to drive and it’s beautifully built too. Throw in those ultra-pretty looks and there’s no reason not to buy one of these charismatic ACs, assuming your pockets are deep enough.
Which one to buy?
It’s not that long since you could buy an Ace without having to sell an organ or two first. Those days are now gone as collectors have latched on to the AC with a vengeance and values have shot up accordingly (see prices below). The result is that an increasing number of owners are investing significant amounts of cash in bringing their cars up to standard, so it’s easier to find a good one but you need to pin down exactly what it is that you’re getting.
All Aces are basically the same but there were numerous variations on the theme. The AC and Ford engines are very flexible (with 223 and 37 built respectively) but if you want a more free-revving powerplant seek out one of the Bristol-powered Aces; 463 were made. However, while the Bristol engine is sweeter than the other two, it doesn’t offer the same low-down torque; the peak is at 4500rpm compared with the 2000rpm of the Zephyr unit.
Originality is important to most Ace buyers and owners, so check that you’re getting what you think you’re getting. An AE chassis number should have an AC engine; AEX means it’s left-hand drive. A Bristol-engined car will have a BE or BEX chassis number while RS denotes a Ford straight-six.
Performance and specs
Engine 1971cc, six-cylinder
Power 125bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque 122lb ft @ 4500rpm
Top speed 117mph
Gearbox Four-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
Weight 762 kg
• The aluminium bodywork gets dented easily but repairs tend to be straightforward (if not necessarily cheap) as there aren’t many box sections so everything is visible.
• The steel chassis is more of a problem as it corrodes and is easily damaged in a crash. Look for cracks next to the front spring tower welds, wishbone mountings can tear away from the diff casing and the rear shock absorber top mountings can shear off.
• The earliest Ace straight-sixes came with white-metal bearings and are given away by their UMB or UMC engine number. A CL number denotes an AC engine with shell bearings.
• The AC engine can suffer from silt accumulating in the block, leading to localised overheating then head gasket failure. Water pumps also fail as the bearing runs in water, accelerating wear. The alloy cylinder block can also crack, but can usually be welded up.
• The central crankshaft bearings in the Zephyr engine are a weakness. They allow vibration leading to crankshaft failure, but can be strengthened, so ask if any such work has already been done.
• Expect oil pressure of at least 55-60psi at 3000rpm on a healthy engine, with 25-30psi at tickover once the engine is up to temperature.
• There are numerous greasing points which need attention every 500-1,000 miles without fail. If the suspension isn’t lubricated frequently, rapid wear is guaranteed, leading to vague handling.
• Moss (AC) and Bristol gearboxes are devoid of synchromesh on first, but the Ford ‘box has it. Any Ace transmission should be pleasant to use and quiet in operation. If you can find a car with overdrive that’ll be a bonus; it’s a desirable extra that makes for much more relaxed cruising.
• If there’s any sign of backlash in the diff there’s a good chance that catastrophic failure isn’t far away. If in doubt, get an expert view.
• Standard fare was a steering box although a few cars have been converted to a rack-and-pinion set-up, which can make a car ineligible for some competitive events. Everything should feel sharp; any sloppiness suggests the box has worn although it could also be wear in any of the six track rod ends and central fulcrum bush.
• All of the electrics are proprietary so if anything is lost, damaged or doesn’t work you should be able to replace it easily enough – and cheaply in most cases.
• The leather-trimmed seats age well. If they’re damaged it’s easy enough to get them retrimmed, but don’t be too keen to take this route if they’re just showing patina.
1953: The Ace is shown at the Earls Court motor show.
1954: The first production cars are delivered to their owners.
1955: Power is increased to 90bhp thanks to the fitment of shell bearings, which takes the rev limit from 4500rpm to 5000rpm.
1956: The Bristol 2.0-litre straight-six from the 405 is now an option, and from March, rubber-bushed wishbones are fitted.
1957: The boot is shortened.
1959: The Moss gearbox is replaced by an AC unit with TR gears.
1960: The last AC-engined Ace is built.
1961: The Ford Zephyr 2.6-litre straight-six becomes an option. It’s offered with power outputs ranging between 120bhp and 170bhp.
1963: The last Ace is built.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
Ace prices have risen very sharply over the last 10 years, putting them into top end collector territory. Original AC-engined cars start from around £100,000, although you might be able to find a car in need of a full restoration for closer to £60,000. Nice examples tend to be worth closer to £150,000, although the very best can go for £195,000.
Bristol-engined models are even more expensive, with the best of these costing upwards of £250,000. The rarest Ace is the RS 2.6, although a slightly less thoroughbred (but tuned up) Ford engine means values are around the same as equivalent Ace-Bristol engines
Words: Richard Dredge