History of AC Cars
The new AC Cobra GT Roadster makes its global premiere in London.
Hosted at the world-famous Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, just 25 miles from where the company was first established, the state-of-the- art roadster wowed customers and assembled VIPs as the all-new design was unveiled for the first time.
The first photos of the new AC Cobra GT Roadster are published in early March, 2023. The all-new, and exclusive high-performance model is the return of one of motoring’s most famous names. With a clean sheet design, it’s a cutting-edge modern sports car yet remains faithful to the spirit of the original car from the 1960s.
AC Cars celebrates its 120th birthday with 12 special editions of its recently announced AC Cobra Superblower. The quickest road-going production AC Cobra ever built, powered by a 580 bhp supercharged V8 engine, the limited run of cars feature a distinctive livery inspired by the illustrious company’s racing heritage.
Despite the effects of the global pandemic over the last 12 months, AC Cars continues to develop, manufacture, and deliver cars for its global customers. This includes both petrol powered cars, as well as the first generation of production electric vehicles.
AC Cars reveals the new AC Cobra 140 Charter Edition, which uses the 2.3-litre Ford engine as found in the celebrated Mustang.
The company also unveils its long-developed electric vehicles for the first time, and showcases models including the AC Cobra Series 1 electric.
To match this acceleration in the introduction of new models, AC Cars’ team grows to increase the company’s depth of experience and knowledge. At the same time the development of new models continues along with investment in new powertrain technology and moving production of the iconic roadster back to Europe.
David Conza becomes an investor in AC Cars and is appointed as COO in December, working with Alan Lubinsky who has headed the company since 1994, to help shape the future direction of the famous British marque. A new chassis design concept is begun, allowing improved performance and handling while retaining the famous design of the AC Cobra.
The first pre-production electric vehicles are assembled and trialled. Combining AC Car’s traditional skills with cutting-edge technology, they herald a new chapter in the company’s development of vehicles.
The AC Cobra 378 is announced, based on the design of the original Cobra MkIV, available with a choice of two 6.2-litre V8 engines: a naturally aspirated one producing 440bhp, or a supercharged one with 550bhp.
The AC Cobra MkI 260 Legacy Edition is revealed, with just nine new, aluminium-bodied AC Cobras to be produced in the UK as part of a highly limited edition. Each will be built under exact 1962 specifications and celebrate the company’s continued use of traditional materials and crafting techniques.
Research and development continue into the engineering of all-electric models, based on a bespoke AC Cars’ platform that uses the best components and technology available, ensuring that the brand’s cars retain their personality and performance.
AC Cars develops and produces the AC 378 GT Zagato. Using a 6.2-litre, 437 bhp engine, it retains the traditional front engine, rear-wheel-drive configuration while its bodywork is styled by Zagato – the famed Italian automotive design house and coachbuilder.
As one of the oldest and most prestigious automotive brands, AC Cars celebrates its 110th birthday at the Geneva International Motor Show by unveiling its latest model.
The concept of AC Cars’ first all-electric models is considered, and the feasibility of a lightweight, electrically powered roadster assessed.
Bringing two legendary British automotive companies together, the AC Cobra 212 S/C saw AC Car’s famous roadster fitted with a 3.5-litre Lotus V8 twin turbo engine.
The star of the company’s stand at the British International Motor Show at the NEC, Birmingham that year, the 350 bhp car was named in the tradition of earlier AC Cobras by quoting the cubic inch capacity of the engine.
Although only two were made, it was believed to be one of the faster accelerating cars available at the time, with a 0-60mph time of around 4.0 seconds. The AC 212 S/C weighed roughly 900 kg, largely due to the use of the pioneering carbon-fibre bodywork originally developed for the AC Cobra Mark IV CRS along with the lightweight but powerful Lotus engine.
The AC Cobra Mark IV CRS is launched at the London Motor Show.
While the MkIII Cobra is going to become one of the most copied cars in the motor industry, newer models from AC fail to achieve similar success. Frua of Turin designs a new steel body for the Cobra chassis, named the AC428. With bodies imported from Italy AC builds 29 convertibles and 51 fastbacks up to 1973 when production ceased. By 1986 The Thames Ditton factory was sold for redevelopment.
First introduced at the 1973 London Motor Show, the five-speed AC 3000 ME was a mid-engine sports car produced between 1979 and 1985. It had a GRP body around a platform chassis with front and rear subframes.
In the racing world the Cobra is winning everything in the USA, while in the European tracks the Cobra can not compete on the fast straights with the likes of Ferrari. In 1965 six Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupes are produced on an AC built chassis with a singular purpose: to beat Ferrari in the GT class.
What happens next is history: the team lead by the legendary Bob Bondurant beats Ferrari and wins the Sports Car World Championship. That victorious 1965 Shelby Daytona Coupe would go on to break the record for the most expensive American car to ever roll across an auction block in back in 2009 for $7.25 million.
In 1964 AC are ready to re-enter Le Mans with a special ‘Le Mans’ Coupe. The Le Mans Coupe is built especially for the race using the Cobra chassis and a 289 engine. Test-run are necessary but British racetracks can’t cope with sustained runs over 160 mph, and the newly-completed M1 highway, instead, seems perfect for it. At 4:30 a.m. here’s a Cobra speeding along at 183 mph. The following year saw the introduction of the 70 mph limit.
After finishing 7th in Le Mans 1963, the Cobra continues to improve, from the original MK1, 260 (4.2 ltr) through the 289 (4.6 ltr) up to the impressive and legendary 427 S/C (Street Competition) with its larger 4” diameter chassis tubes to handle the immense torque of the 7.0 ltr V8 engine which produced over 500 hp.
At the time the Guinness Book of Records lists the 427 AC Cobra as the fastest production car in the world, a title it would hold for many years.
Sponsored by The Sunday Times and managed by Stirling Moss, AC built two bespoke AC Cobras for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was the first time the AC Cobra would compete in the famous French endurance race.
One was entered by AC Cars itself, with drivers Ninian Sanderson and Peter Bolton behind the wheel, while the other came from Ed Hugus, who had run the car’s race development in America, sharing the drive with Brit Peter Jopp.
The cars competing were in fact the Mk 2 version of the car, fitted with the larger 4.7-litre (289cu in) engine. This meant that it was better suited to the challenges of the fast La Sarthe circuit.
To also help out pace rivals, the AC factory in Thames Ditton, England, introduced some distinctive features, including streamlined aluminium hardtop roofs to improve aerodynamics and increase top speed along the famous Mulsanne Straight.
The race started well for both cars, but there were moments of high drama. Around four and a half hours into the race an oil slick left by a damaged Aston Martin caused Sanderson a series of spins, but luckily he hit nothing and was able to carry on.
The sister car was not so lucky, and engine trouble ten hours in meant that Hugus and Joop had to retire early.
Despite strong competition, from far more experience race teams, AC Cars triumphed and the AC Cobra of British duo Ninian Sanderson and Peter Bolton finished first in class and seventh overall.
For this first race the AC Cobra proved a tough customer, covering 2592 miles at an average speed of 108mph and touching 160mph on the Mulsanne Straight. It also managed to finish some 27 laps ahead of its nearest rival in its class.
Here started the legend of the AC Cobra as a force to be reckoned with on the racetrack.
By the early 1960s, Ford is trying to find a car that could beat the Corvette and develops a new lightweight V8 engine for that purpose. In 1961 Carroll Shelby, having noticed the racing success of the AC Ace from 1957, negotiates with AC Cars the design and manufacture of a vehicle to be powered by the new engine.
Shelby and AC Cars shoe-horn a 4.2 ltr V8 engine into the Ace, the AC Cobra is born. Commencing 20th June 1963 AC Cars manufactures approximately 1’000 cars and ships them to the USA where the engines are fitted. A number of cars are built with similar specification for the European market.
The Cobra is an instant success. AC Cars produces all the chassis in the UK until the end of the collaboration with its American partner in 1968, then would continue to make the original Cobra on its own to this day.
The AC ACE continues its racing successes and in 1957 an AC Ace Bristol finished 10th overall at Le Mans and in 1958 finished 8th and 9th. In 1959 an AC Ace finished 7th overall, 1st in the GT2.0 ltr class.
Again diversification raised its head and in 1957 it saw the successful negotiation of another manufacturing contract, this time with the Government to produce the Invacar, over 1200 were produced and were a common sight on the road for many years. This era also saw the manufacture of the 3 and 4 wheeled Petite.
A coupe version of the AC Ace is launched at the London Motor show in 1954, the AC Aceca.
The AC Ace is launched. It’s a revolutionary car for its time, both in terms of styling and its 3” tubular ladder chassis design. It quickly gains the respect of racing enthusiasts as a private owner could race it on the weekend and still use it for everyday motoring.
After the WWII the company only survived due to the diversification. This included the manufacturer of golf trolleys called ‘Bagboys’ and most notably and surprisingly the success in manufacturing the electric trains used to carry holiday makers along the pier at Southend on Sea, all 34 carriages were entirely built by AC. These trains would run up until the late ‘70’s. One of te 5 rail cars from AC is currently on display at the Colne Valley rail museum.
By 1933 AC is back at the London Motor Show with 5 cars on the stand. The following years would see many different body stylee, all were the epitome of the elegance of the ‘30’s. But the Second World War again required the factory to be transformed for the manufacture of fire fighting equipment, aircraft parts, radar vans, flame throwers, guns and sights.
The international recession takes its toll and in 1930 AC is forced into liquidation. William and Charles Hurlock, successful car and truck dealers in South London, buy AC for its factory and profitable servicing business with no initial intention to manufacture cars. Until William Hurlock wants a new car and uses available parts in store to build his own.
In 1926, the Hon. Victor Bruce became the first UK winner of the Monte Carlo Rally and the Mont des Mules hill climb. The following year, his wife Mildred Bruce borrowed an AC Six from Selwyn Edge and finished the Rally 6th out of 66 entrants, starting from John o’ Groats and driving 1,700 miles without sleeping.
Engaged in several car competitions, AC Cars leaves a mark in the world of motor racing. This historical photo shows the trophies won by AC Cars in the 1925 season.
Driven by Mr Joyce at Brooklands Circuit on 1st December 1922, a car with a 4-cylinder version of the Light Six engine becomes the first 1500cc car to cover 100 miles in 1 hour, with an average speed of 101.39 mph and a fastest lap of 104.85 mph. It shattered another four records along the way: flying half mile (16.66”, 108.4 mph), 2 miles (108.4 mph), 5 miles (104.16 mph), 10 miles (103.79 mph).
Racing driver Selwyn F. Edge buys shares in the company and is appointed Governing Director in 1921. Weller and Portwine resign within the year and AC Cars Ltd. is formed in 1922. Edge eventually puts Weller’s Light Six engine into production. The engine is ahead of its time and remains in production until 1963. Its patented spring slipper chain tensioner has since been used by many other manufacturers.
John Weller designs a new 6-cylinder, 2-litre engine, The Light Six, with an initial capacity of 1477 cc / 40 hp. This was later increased to 1991 cc / 105 hp.
The company’s reputation for quality, reliable, manoeuvrable vehicles leads to the 25th London Cyclist Regiment being equipped with modified AutoCarriers with mounted Maxim guns and others adapted as ammunition carriers. The War Office asks the Weller brothers to design and produce a prototype Light Armoured Car using the AC Light Car chassis.
Autocarriers Ltd. begins manufacturing its first four-wheel car, the 10 hp AC Light Car, but production is interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War.
The company moves from West Norwood to Ferry Works in Thames Ditton where it would stay for over 70 years.
In November 1907 the abbreviation AC was used for the first time and a new company Autocarriers Ltd was formed with Portwine and the Weller Brothers still as directors. The emblem of AC with letters in Art Nouveau style is still being used, with minor changes and refinements over time.
The success of the AutoCarrier leads to the design of a passenger vehicle based on the same design theme: the AC Passenger Machine – better known as The Sociable. It has an additional seat in place of the AutoCarrier’s cargo box and is also successful, remaining in production until 1915.
Within a year of the launch of the 20 hp Touring Car, another of John Weller’s inventions was to appear, it was decided to go into the production of a three-wheel commercial delivery vehicle.
This was to be called the Autocarrier (from which AC was later derived) and in 1904 the Company name changed to Autocar and Accessories Ltd.
John Weller presents his first car, the 20 hp Weller Touring Car, at the Crystal Palace Motor Show. John Portwine convinces him to design a compact three-wheeled commercial delivery vehicle.
John Portwine, a local butcher, becomes a shareholder in the newly-formed Weller Bros Ltd. His additional finance allows the company to move forward and for some of John Weller’s inventions to bear fruit.
The Weller brothers set up their company as engineers, repairers and manufacturers of motor cars and motor cycles in West Norwood, London. John Weller was an engineer and a prolific inventor.
The business grows fast and Weller Bros. is appointed Official Repairer for the Automobile Club.
Following his two years of work and continued investment in the company, AC Cars announces David Conza as CEO. Alan Lubinsky, who has led the sports car company for the last 26 years, remains Chairman as the legendary marque develops its next generation of sports cars.
60 years after the legend of the AC Cobra began, when the first factory-modified AC Ace chassis was shipped to the USA, this next chapter of the company starts with a focus on the future.
Retaining the unmistakable profile, but drawing to tomorrow’s production technology, David and his management team start preparing the marque’s new, state-of-the-art models but commit to continue manufacturing outstanding, classically styled vehicles.