AC Ace Roadster: The Rosetta Stone of Sports Cars?
Is it possible the a car with nary 100 horsepower could be at the nexus of two of the most important sports cars of all time? Years before Carroll Shelby would help build a car for the sole purpose of beating Ferrari, he used a Ferrari-inspired car to build one of his most iconic creations.
The first vehicle that Enzo Ferrari created under his own eponymous marque was the 125 S (or 125 Sport). It was built only in 1947 and only two were created. This vehicle led to the development of the 166 S, also known as the 166 Barchetta (pronounced “Bark-etta”). It was a simple yet attractive design, underpinned by an impressive little 2.0-liter V12 engine. This car was instrumental in the early success of Ferrari, and helped create the romanticized image of the Italian Roadster.
Imitation is often called the greatest form of flattery, and as the 166 became well known, it began to “influence” the rest of the roadster industry. Production of the 166 concluded in 1953, at which point Ferrari changed the motoring world with the 250. But that was not the end of the 166’s legacy.
The AC Ace arrived on the scene in 1953, conveniently the last year of production of the 166, and the similarities are apparent. The Ace was slightly larger in length and wheelbase, but the general formula was the same. The front styling was heavily influenced by the 166, however the rear fenders had a very British sensibility to them, with a hint of Jaguar XK120.
Under the hood of the Ace was a 2.0-liter I6 that made a scant 100 horsepower. That was just shy of the 110 made by the 166’s similarly sized V12. In 1954, a Bristol 2.0-liter I6 was offered that featured downdraft carburetors and an output of 120-hp.
In 1961, the 2.6-liter “Rudspeed” I6 arrived. The engine came out of a Ford Zephyr and was tuned by Ken Rudd, making 170 horsepower. This was also the year that the production of the Bristol engine came to a close. It was at this time that Carroll Shelby approached AC’s owner, Charles Hurlock, about building an AC roadster, based on the Ace, but fitted with American power. Shelby brought over Ford’s lovable (and tunable) 289 V8 and the rest is history.
Through the years, the engines would grow and so would the Ace body to accommodate the larger powerplants, revised suspension, bigger brakes, and larger tires. But it all started with the plucky AC Ace, making it the crossroads of both Ferrari and Shelby, two of the most iconic personalities in the motoring world.