The Early Years: John Weller and the Evolution of Auto Carriers, Ltd
The history of the most iconic sports car of all time deserves to be remembered in all of its glory. So, let’s begin with John Weller, an innovative designer and inventor born on November 28, 1877 in Peckham, a district of south-east London, England. John Weller, at the age of 23, formed Weller Brothers Engineering of West Norwood, London in 1900. the general enge and his brothers specialized in the repair and manufacture of motor cars and motor cycles. These innovators founded what would become Britain’s oldest vehicle manufacturer still in business today. In order to raise enough money to concentrate on automobile production the Weller brothers partnered with John Portwine, proprietor of London and Suburban Meat Stores, in 1902 to form Weller Bros, Ltd. The 20 hp Weller Touring Car was unveiled at the Crystal Palace Motor Show in 1903 and was well received by journalists.
In 1904, the company changed its name to Autocar and Accessories, Ltd and production was focused on a three wheel commercial delivery vehicle known as the Autocarrier. The Autocarrier was a tremendous commercial success for the young company and became a common delivery vehicle for firms in London and beyond. In fact, it is reported that The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company had a fleet of just under 100 Autocarriers assigned to tire delivery. The success of the Autocarrier led to yet another name change for the company in 1907 to Autocarriers, Ltd at which time the appreviation “AC” as a logo was first introduced.
In 1911, Auto-Carriers, Ltd., moved into the Ferry Works facility in Thames Ditton, a suburban village in the Elbridge borough of Surrey, England just outside of Greater London. This would be company’s location for the next 70 years. The First World War forced a suspension of automobile production while the factory focused on the manufacture of artillery shells for the war effort. By the end of the decade, the Treaty of Versailles was signed and John Weller could get back to designing automobiles and began working on a new engine he would call The Light Six. The Light Six was an straight 6 aluminium block with aluminium pistons and sump. The engine had 4 valves and dual spark plugs per cylinder, chain driven overhead camshaft and a patented spring slipper chain tensioner. The initial design in 1919 was 1,477 cc generating 40 hp, but over the 44 years the engine was produced, capacity swelled to 1,991 cc generating 105 hp.
The Light Six allowed the company to begin working on sport models and enter the world of racing. Selwyn Edge, prominent British business man and race car driver, joined the company as Governing Director in 1921 and gained full control by 1922, shortening the name to AC Cars, Ltd during a reorganization. Edge recognized the publicity value of auto racing and wanted to compete with the rest of Europe. J.A. Joyce was hired to drive for the AC marque and began setting records in 1923 at the Brighton National Speed Trials by becoming the first driver to cover 100 miles in 1 hour with an engine under 1,500 cc. In 1924, Tomas Gillett recorded a new twenty-four-hour record for AC by driving 1,949 miles and an average speed of 83 mph. Even more impressive, Hon V.A. Bruce and his co-driver William Brunell captured the first Monte Carlo Rally victory for a British car company in 1926. Production increased and over a span of six years, AC Cars began producing 7 different models and had become one of Britain’s largest and most prominent automobile manufactures.
The era of Selwyn Edge ended with the economic collapse of 1929. The Great Depression was felt around the world led to the demise of many car companies, including AC, which was forced into bankruptcy in 1930. During this period of liquidation, William and Charles Hurlock purchased the AC factory and hired the remaining staff in order to service existing vehicles. By 1933, AC was back on track with five models showcased at the London Motor Show. Things were looking up for the British automaker until the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany on September 1, 1939. Once again, the AC factory was transformed to help with the war effort until 1945. Ingenuity and diversification allowed AC to survive after the war and it wasn’t long until innovation started again.
At the 1953 London Motor Show, the AC Ace debuted as one of England’s first post-war sports cars. The Hurlock brothers had teamed up with John Tojeiro, Vin Davison and Eric Gray to produce a production version of John’s 1952 Tojeiro Bristol Special. The original AC Ace cars still utilized The Light Six engine designed 34 years earlier. 220 examples were produced with the Weller designed 2 liter engine, but in 1956 the Ace was upgraded to a Bristol engine based off a prewar BMW 328 design that was acquired as war reparations. Not only did the new engine provide more power (130 bhp @ 4750 rpm), but front disc brakes were now offered and the Moss gearbox had been replaced with a custom setup featuring Triumph TR3A gears. Now, it was time to showcase the new Ace-Bristol setup on the race track:
- 1957 – 10th Overall, 2nd in the S2.0 Class at Le Mans
- 1957 – 1st, 2nd & 3rd in the SCCA EP Class Championship
- 1958 – 8th Overall, 2nd in the S2.0 Class at Le Mans
- 1958 – 1st in the GT2.0 Class at Sebring
- 1958 – 1st, 2nd & 3rd in the SCCA EP Class Championship
- 1959 – 1st in the GT2.0 Class at Le Mans
- 1959 – 1st in the GT2.0 Class at Sebring
- 1959 – 1st, 2nd & 3rd in the SCCA EP Class Championship
- 1960 – 1st & 2nd in the SCCA DP Class Championship
- 1961 – 1st in the GT2.0 Class at Le Mans
- 1961 – 1st in the SCCA CP Class Championship