A.C. Motorcars

by Walt Herip

In 1904 as Autocars & Accessories (AC) when John Weller joined forces with financial backer John Portwine, a wealthy butcher, to produce three wheeled delivery vehicles for commercial use and is the oldest Britain car marque founded in Britain. AC built its first three-wheeled passenger car in 1911 which lead to the 1913 introduction of the “Rolls Royce of light cars,” its first four-wheel vehicle. By the early 1920s AC established a solid reputation as an automobile manufacture through competitive events and the records set in European competitions. The company name was changed to 'AC (Acedes) Cars Limited' in 1927. Despite its success, AC found itself in deep financial deep dept in 1929 and the company went into receivership, the manufacturing plant was closed leaving only the service department continuing to operate. Within a year two brothers, William Hurlock and Charles Hurlock, took charge of the company continuing to provide only servicing.

The Classic era for AC begins when William and Charles decided to resume production with a more specialized manufacturing operation, advertising their cars as: ‘Tailor-made at the Savile Row of Motordom.’ By 1933 a greatly improved car was being produced that featured a rear under-slung chassis that provided a low center of gravity. The under-slung chassis allowed AC to build solid competition cars with very appealing bodylines and in very small numbers. Each car AC built was tailored to fit each individual customer’s exact requirements. As a result of this made-to-order buyer specific manufacturing approach, no two AC's built during the 1930s are identical.

The cars AC built during 'The Saville Row of Motordom' period included drop-head coupes, pillar-less saloons, fixed-head and short chassis models. These high quality AC vehicles have excellent attention to detail including pedals that pivot at the heads with the AC logo; wire mesh lined the insides of the fenders to prevent slush splashing onto the body; triple SU carburetors as standard equipment with an Arnott super-charger as an option; and additional silencers mounted on the exhaust manifold. By 1936 nearly all of the AC body styles were updated yearly. Refinements also included improvements to the interior including more room in the passenger compartment. The AC of the period sported power output between 60 and 80 bhp for the triple SU carburetor models and 90bhp for those models fitted with the optional Arnott super-charger.

In 1937, having proven success with its competition cars in Europe at Brooklands, Brighton, and the Monte Carlo Rally, AC launched exports to the USA. These 90mph 16/80 AC sports models were quickly nicknamed 'The Flea' as they sported a wheelbase of 8 feet 10 inches and weighed only 2226 pounds. The longer AC chassis in production at the time was 9 inches longer at 9 feet 7 inches. Powered by a water-cooled 2-liter six-cylinder with overhead valves operated by a single camshaft the engine that produced 80 horsepower. AC produced a total of forty-four AC 16/80 cars from 1936 to 1940 when production was halted as World War Two began. The last pre-war AC was delivered in June 1940, after which the factory was fully involved with war production.