1957 AC Ace Bristol at HandH Imperial War Museum auction

1957 AC Ace Bristol at HandH Imperial War Museum auction

ESTIMATE:  £220,000 - £260,000
Registration No:OSU 187
Chassis No:BEX349

- The St Lucian Ace, supplied new to the right-hand drive market of St Lucia in the Carribean
- Uprated in period for competition usage including a Cooper Bristol BS1 MK3 race engine, aeroscreen and additional steering box brace etc.
- Repatriated to the UK in 1989 and treated to a thorough 'chassis up' restoration
- Current family ownership since 1999 during which time it was repainted in its original Svecia Red and enjoyed at the 2002 Tunis Retro Grand Prix, Rally de Paris, Vernasca Hillclimb, Ollon Villars Hillclimb and Aintree Revival etc.

Introduced in October 1953, the AC Ace was essentially a reworked version of 'LOY 500' the striking John Tojeiro-designed sports racer with which motor trader Cliff Davis had notched up six wins and four seconds that season (in addition to placing ninth overall at the Goodwood Nine-Hours). Lured into collaboration with the Thames Ditton manufacturer by the promise of a £5 per car royalty fee (capped at £500), Tojeiro ensured that the new model's ladder-framed tubular chassis enjoyed the same handling prowess as its competition forebear by equipping it with all-round independent transverse-leaf suspension. Styled after 'LOY 500' (itself modelled on the Carrozzeria Touring clad Ferrari 166 MM Barchettas), the Ace was arguably even more handsome. Initially powered by AC's own 1991cc OHC engine, the availability from February 1956 onwards of another straight-six in the guise of Bristol's tuneable 1971cc unit gave the aluminium bodied sports car a welcome boost in both sales and performance. Upgraded with optional Girling front disc brakes in 1957, Ace Bristols achieved considerable success at Le Mans (1957: 10th o/a & 2nd i/c, 1958: 8th o/a & 2nd i/c, 1959: 7th o/a & 1st i/c) as well as dominating the Sports Car Club of America's production championship for classes E (1957-1959), D (1960) and C (1961). Phased out during 1962, just 466 AC Ace Bristols are thought to have left the Thames Ditton factory. 

Any AC Ace Bristol is a desirable car. Truly wonderful to drive and eligible for some of the world's greatest motoring events, the model has long been treasured by the cognoscenti. However, BEX349 remains unique among its siblings. The only AC Ace to have been supplied new to the right-hand drive market of St Lucia in the British West Indies (unless we have misread the Factory Records reproduced in Rinsey Mills' authoritative tome `AC Six-Cylinder Sports Cars In Detail'), it left the Works on 17th September 1957 bound for Peter & Co; an import /export business and coal supplier to the shipping industry. On the face of it, a 120mph sports car seems an odd choice for the inhabitant of a Caribbean island occupying just 238 square miles unless of course he / she was interested in competition. Popular among racers in North and South America, no fewer than five AC Ace Bristols contested the Venezuelan Sports Car Grand Prix on November 3rd 1957 (the best placed car of Gutierrez / Deblin finishing 5th-in-class). Indeed, concessionaire Juan Fernandez ensured that Venezuela was one of AC's largest export destinations. 
Despite bearing numerous signs of past competition usage including a Bristol BS1 MK3 race engine as fitted to Cooper Bristol single-seaters etc, additional steering box brace, sleeved chassis tube (where it sits in proximity to the exhaust manifolds) and aeroscreen mounting holes, it is unknown whether BEX349 ever took to a South American circuit. Interestingly, page 92 of `Ace Bristol Racing - A Competition History' by John McLellan and Tony Bancroft shows a right-hand drive, Svecia Red car in the paddock at a SCCA meeting. It is probably pure coincidence but the ex-St Lucia machine was originally painted the same hue and is known to have spent time in America before being repatriated by well-known financier and car collector Michael Campbell Bowling during 1989. Treated to an extensive photographically documented `chassis up' restoration that same year, the AC subsequently participated in three Ecurie Ecosse Highland Tours, three RAC Norwich Union Rallies, the 1991 Tuscany Historic Tour and the 1993 RAC Nurburgring-Spa Historic Rally. Purchased by its next custodian, J.L.S. Maclay, via Sotheby's 15th July 1996 auction at the RAF's Hendon Museum, `OSU 187' was subsequently issued with a FIVA Identity Card. 

Entering the current family ownership twenty years ago, BEX349 is the last in a considerable line of AC Aces to pass through their hands. A driver of some note whose period exploits are mentioned in the McLellan and Bancroft book, the vendor's father had the two-seater stripped to bare aluminium and refinished in its initial Svecia Red livery (Campbell Bowling had preferred BRG). Retrimmed in Black leather with Red piping and benefiting from an engine overhaul at the hands of Mike Robinson during 1999-2000 too, the AC was granted a Historic Vehicle Identity Form by the FIA two years later. Enjoyed on various Continental sorties by the vendor and his father, usually as part of the TOPS Club Team, BEX349 came second behind Philippe Renault's Jaguar C-Type in the sportscar race at the 2002 Tunis Retro Grand Prix meeting and also contested the Rally de Paris, Vernasca Hillclimb, Ollon-Villars Hillclimb and Aintree Revival. Kept in a temperature-controlled environment but little used over the past five / six years, the Ace Bristol is only now available due to other commitments. 

Starting readily upon inspection, the two-seater is expected to possess a fresh MOT certificate by the time of sale. As a drum braked machine, `OSU 187' can be entered for more historic racing events / series than a later disc braked example. Pre-1958 Ace Bristols are potentially eligible for the Mille Miglia Storica, Le Mans Classic, Goodwood Revival and a host of other Blue Ribband events. BEX349 should reward more detailed research into its past but even without such digging it remains a compelling prospect. Offered for sale with manual, original AC brochure, AC Owners' Club Dating Letter, restoration photos, FIVA Identity Card (expired), FIA HVIF (expired) and sundry other paperwork.

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