The ex-Arnold Burton, RAC, Alpine and Tulip Rally 1957 AC Ace-Bristol Roadster Registration no. 1947 U Chassis no. BE321 Engine no. 100D 658
'Of them all, the Ace was the truest sports car: it could be used for daily commuting or 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, 2.0-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 1,971cc Bristol six was based on that of the pre-war BMW 328, which featured an ingenious cylinder head, designed by Rudolf Schleicher, incorporating 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, carburettors part way through production. The most significant changes made by the Bristol designers were metallurgical, their utilisation 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, meant 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. Indeed, its basic soundness and versatility were reflected in the fact that relatively few major changes were deemed necessary when the Ace was endowed with Ford V8 power to create the legendary Cobra.
This Bristol-engined Ace was first owned by Mr Arnold Burton, who acquired the car on 26th July 1957 and competed with it in national and international events over a three-year period. The Ace achieved three first places (one in class) and a third in sprints and rallies during 1957 and in 1958 was entered in the RAC Rally where it finished, the Tulip Rally where it was disqualified, and the Alpine Rally where it rolled! '1947 U' was repaired in time to compete the following year, entering the Tulip and Alpine Rallies again.
An article in an ACOC journal entitled 'The Northern Aces' recalls its period history in more detail as follows: 'About this time Arnold Burton from Wetherby had bought a new Ace-Bristol, 1947 U, and did a number of local meetings... in March 1958 he took part in the RAC Rally. Arnold's next event was the Tulip Rally but he was disqualified for missing a secret control due to a delay in repairing a broken shock absorber. In the middle of July they set off for the Alpine and were going very well in it when, with his brother Raymond driving, they failed to negotiate a corner and turned over, rolling several times down the hill. Miraculously they were unhurt apart from several large bruises. The car was later completely rebuilt at the factory and it also had disc brakes and overdrive fitted.'
Subsequent owners are listed as M Billingham, I Webb, Mike Crouch, Count John de Salis, P Jaye, Robert Matthews of Bridgwater, Somerset and finally Sir Antony Pilkington, who acquired the car in January 1993. Upon acquisition the car had a thorough drive train overhaul and rebuild by Campion Motor Services of Stoke-on-Trent. Bills for the aforementioned work are on file. In 1994 the Bristol engine (the car's original) was stripped and rebuilt by Tony Byford of Racing Car Restorations of Chiseldon, Swindon. Driving the Ace, Sir Antony competed in the AC Owners Club's 50th Anniversary Race at Donington Park in June 1999 and had taken part in other events prior to that.
'1947 U' is finished in red with black interior, the paintwork (an older application) being in generally good order though displaying some minor cosmetic blemishes such as star cracks, paint chips and a few isolated minor dents to the body. The interior trim and upholstery look more recent and are in commensurately better condition.
Freshly MoT'd and running well, this extensively campaigned and well-documented AC Ace comes with a comprehensive history file containing the aforementioned bills, a quantity of old tax discs and 19 expired MoT certificates dating back to February 1992 when the mileage was recorded as 00091 (it is currently reading circa 5,762).
Aces with such a rich national and international competition history rarely come to market. This example can boast these key aspects, but also originality and a continuous and well respected provenance. This example is ready to be used and eligible for numerous historic events.