The History of AC's Brooklands Ace - (courtesy AC Owners Club)
WHEN BRIAN ANGLISS AND FORD acquired full control of AC Cars, efforts were made to extend and broaden the range of sports car production. This was the 1980s – a time of booming domestic economy and the age of flamboyant, high-powered and often outrageous car production by the likes of Ferrari (Testarossa and F40), Jaguar (XJ 220), Lamborghini (Countach and Diablo), Bugatti (EB110), and Porsche (959). The prestige middle ground was held by Porsche (928), Jaguar (XJ-S) and Mercedes (500SL).
AC’s move towards this elevated company was a totally new Ace – much later christened the Ace Brooklands to distinguish it from the delicate Ace sports car of the 1950s and 60s. This new Ace was designed by IAD in Worthing with the help of Len Bailey and was a much larger, purpose-built 2+2 monocoque construction with a heavy-duty and very rigid box girder chassis covered with swooping, curvaceous hand-rolled aluminium body panels. It was finished with sumptuous Connolly leather, heated Recaro seats and interior trim with bespoke colour schemes, a dark suede leather front facia top and burr wood centre console and dashboard panels. The first prototype, called Ace of Spades (after the emblem on the rear of the car), had a Targa-style cockpit and was powered by a 2.9-litre Ford Taurus V6 engine with permanent four-wheel-drive. Most of the brakes, rolling- and switchgear were from Ford, but the overall package was obviously aimed at the prestige market. The prototype was exhibited at the 1986 Birmingham Motor Show to much media interest and acclaim. This was the first time that a non-Ford project car had been allowed to be exhibited on the official Ford stand.
Development continued at AC under John Mitchell, but was very slow and expensive. The lack of power for this relatively heavy car, drained further by the four-wheel-drive transmission, meant that the second prototype which appeared in 1991 was given a Yamaha-tuned 3.0 litre Ford V6 power unit, a Borg Warner 5-speed manual (or Ford 4-speed auto) gearbox, Hardy Spicer propshaft and Salisbury limited-slip differential for rear-wheel-drive only, giving a near perfect 50:50 front: rear weight distribution. The chassis was now made from Cromweld CR321 stainless steel. Indeed, it was the first production car in the world with a stainless steel chassis. The front-end bodywork was re-styled and the cockpit altered to a conventional two-seater roadster body with manual soft-top. Unequal-length double wishbones front and rear with coaxial coil springs and gas dampers, power steering and air conditioning completed the package.
By this time the UK had fallen into recession and the sports car market had changed dramatically. AC had to revert to the cheap, tried and tested but somewhat heavy US Ford 302 cu. in. (5-litre) V8 fuel-injected power unit used in the Mk 1V Cobra, which produced 225 bhp in standard format. Further development was severely curtailed by the need to recoup some of the development costs, and it wasn’t until 1993 that the first Ace Brooklands began to roll off the production line. By now an electric hood mechanism had been adopted for the car, but the pop-up headlights had been abandoned. Most were customized for their purchasers with enhanced engine performance packages (260bhp as standard), higher spec. audio systems, wood-rim steering wheels, etc. Nevertheless, the labour-intensive methods in the factory and especially the hand-rolled aluminium body panels and huge, front-hinged bonnet were very expensive to manufacture, and it is rumoured that AC took a significant loss on every car made. Only 46 ( + 2 prototypes) of the origional design cars were made and sold between 1993 and 1996, by which time AC Cars and Autokraft had gone into receivership.
Of interest in the production run were the four cars sold to the Sultan of Brunei in 1995. They were designated “special build” with more powerful engines, sports automatic/overdrive gearboxes and numerous extras. A number of cars went abroad (Brunei - 5, Australia - 2, Saudi Arabia - 1, Germany - 1, Thailand - 1, South Africa - 1) but the majority stayed in the southern half of the UK, where they are still cared for and driven on a regular basis by a band of hopefuls who continue to brave the vagaries of the British weather. A number of the cars have had further engine power and suspension up-grades.
Many of the problems and niggles endured by owners still haven’t been completely resolved – under-engineered side window lift mechanisms, blistering paintwork, non-functional air-conditioning and hopeless air vent fan, to name but a few – but others have been addressed and, for most of us, the car has been fun and a joy to drive: which other AC sports car drivers may consider surprising, given the size of the Ace Brooklands. The steering is light and initially disconcertingly direct. but the turn-in is surprisingly sharp for a car of its size and weight. The body is very rigid and the ride an acceptable compromise between firmness and comfort. The intrepid driver can induce satisfying oversteer, which is then easily controllable. Driving along on a summer’s day certainly does turn heads, getting an admiring thumbs-up and “Nice car, mate” from young lads in the street, and enthusiastic queries in the petrol forecourt!
AC experimented with some superficial body design changes for the Motor Show car of 1995, but the chassis was converted back to the standard Ace body style and exported to South Africa, where it became the template for fibreglass body panel manufacture for AC Cars under Alan Lubinsky.
Ace production by AC Car Group Ltd under Alan Lubinsky’s leadership continued after 1998. These cars had altered body styling, retaining some aluminium body panels but with a restyled composite bonnet and bumper panels made in South Africa. Re-engineering of the chassis shed weight, and the cars were assembled in Coventry. Various power plants were available (the old 302 cu. in. Ford V8, a supercharged 4.6-litre Ford V8 or the 3.5-litre twin turbo Lotus V8). Prices had to rise significantly to halt the losses experienced by AC under Brian Angliss.
Unfortunately, when the final incarnation of the Ace first appeared into a shrinking market in 1998, press reviews were not very favourable. Up against very stiff competition from other well-established prestige sports car manufacturers in the same price bracket, the new Aces sold poorly and only a handful were completed, together with one or two fixed-head Aceca versions.