Single ownership for more than 54 years
1956 AC Ace Bristol Sports Two Seater
Chassis no. BEX 175
Engine no. 514
*l,971cc Bristol six-cylinder
*Original matched numbers Ace Bristol
*Imported new to U.S.
*Single ownership for more than 50 years
*Less than 38,000 miles from new
*Eligible for California Mille, Tour Auto, Le Mans Classic and other events
*'Time-warp' original interior
'Of them all, the Ace was the truest sports car: it could be used for daily commuting or for high-speed long-distance touring, but it could also be driven to a race meeting, campaigned with distinction, and driven home again - even if that race was the Le Mans 24 Hours.' - AC Heritage, Simon Taylor & Peter Burn.
The success of Cliff Davis's Tojeiro sports racer prompted AC Cars to put the design into production in 1954 as the Ace. The Davis car's pretty Ferrari 166-inspired barchetta bodywork was retained, as was John Tojeiro's twin-tube ladder frame chassis and Cooper-influenced all-independent suspension, but the power unit was AC's own venerable, 2-litre, long-stroke six. This overhead-camshaft engine originated in 1919 and with a modest 80bhp (later 100bhp) on tap, endowed the Ace with respectable, if not outstanding, performance.
In 1955 AC added a hardtop version - the fastback-styled Aceca - and both models became available from '56 with the more-powerful (up to 130bhp) Bristol six-cylinder engine. The l,971cc Bristol six was based on that of the pre-war BMW 328, which featured an ingenious cylinder head designed by Rudolf Schleicher that incorporated hemispherical combustion chambers and inclined valves without recourse to overhead or twin camshafts. Instead, the earlier BMW Type 319 engine's single block-mounted camshaft and pushrod valve actuation were retained, thus avoiding an expensive redesign. Two rocker shafts were employed, one situated above each bank of valves, giving the engine an external appearance almost indistinguishable from that of a twin-overhead-cam design. Downdraught inlet ports contributed to the motor's deep breathing, and its tune-ability made it a popular choice for British racing car constructors, most notably Cooper, during the 1950s. Externally, Bristol's clone of the BMW motor differed little from the German original, the most obvious difference being the adoption of SU, rather than Solex, carburetors part way through production. The most significant changes made by the Bristol designers were metallurgical; their utilization of the highest quality materials contributing to greatly increased engine life.
The combination of a fine-handling chassis and a decent power-to-weight ratio - in Bristol-engined form the car could touch 120mph - helped the Ace to numerous successes in production sports car racing, arguably its finest achievement being a first-in-class and seventh overall finish at Le Mans in 1959.
AC Ace Bristol Registrar Tony Bancroft has confirmed that BEX 175 left the factory on March 17, 1956 and was sold new to Bill Woodbury of Valley Stream, Long Island, NY. It was then as now in black paint scheme with white leather interior. It can be assumed that delivery of this car was received in the Summer of 1956 to Woodbury.
According to Jonathan Stein's book 'British Sports Cars in America 1946-1981', Woodbury was an early distributor for these cars in this country, under the company name A.C. Imports. Both in '56 and '57, partnering with Joe 'Hap' Dressel, Woodbury campaigned another imported AC Ace at the Sebring 12 hour race.
In our researches, the former owner has confirmed that Joe Dressel and Bill Woodbury were friends and that he got to know them after they recognized his driving potential behind the wheel of a Morgan Plus Four. He recalls that they all went to Sebring in 1957, Dressel, Woodbury, John and Evelyn Mull and he and they took four A.C. cars with them, but received fewer entries than they'd wanted. Although he recalls this distinctive black car being at Sebring and serving as a 'practice mule' it was not campaigned in the race. This does account for its having a race number light on the trunk lid and leather hood strap, but is not something that is documented in print.
Shortly after Sebring he signed up for his Basic Training and the car slipped his mind. But, by September '57, when he returned from training to the Dressel's shop in Arlington, VA, this car was still for sale and he promptly purchased it. He would keep the car for the next five decades.
Early on he recalls taking the car to an NHRA meeting in Salina, KA only to be beaten by a Healey 100S, so the car was clearly actively campaigned, but not excessively. An old repair to the block is understood to date from this period, caused by a lack of anti-freeze. A secondary, racing windshield which comes with the car is also thought to have been used in this period. While he went in the army the car was left unused and after he was married and his family grew, use of the A.C. was impractical, owing to its having 'no heater or defrosters', so it was laid up properly for more than 20 years. In the last 10 years, it was decided to return the car to the road and to have some fun with it, the engine was gone through and the car received fresh paint in its original scheme at a local shop. In March 2011, the car was part of the Shelby Retrospective at the Antique Automobile Club of America in Hershey, PA.
Throughout its life these long periods of inactivity have accounted for a modest mileage which is in the 37,000s. This figure is also not specifically documented, but to judge from the condition of the interior, pedals etc. this seems entirely credible. It retains its original engine, though the cylinder head bears the number '703' and must have been changed at some point. Otherwise the car can be considered substantially original, even to the chassis number being stamped in the hood hinge.
Undeniably beautiful, the genus of the Shelby Cobra yet with more subtle lines, Ace Bristol cars have grown steadily in popularity owing to their wide ranging eligibility for historic events. With its early production date of '56, this car has the potential to be used on retrospective events such as the California Mille, and in Europe the Tour Auto and Le Mans Classic, together with a multitude of circuit race meetings including the Goodwood Revival.