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1956 AC Ace-Bristol – ‘5 BPG’ – The property of Tony Bancroft – AC Ace author, expert, & former AC Ace registrar
- Modified from new by the Bristol ‘works’ with engine and suspension upgrades for competition use
- Once fitted with six-port head & labelled the ‘fastest’ AC Ace competing in the UK
- ‘5 BPG’ was raced continually from 1956 to 1965 with numerous victories at circuits including Goodwood, Brands Hatch, Montlhèry, Oulton Park, & Silverstone
- Sympathetically restored by Brooklands Motor Company & painted in the original colour of Light Dynasty Blue with Red trim
- Accompanied by a wealth of original parts including rare six-port head & the most expansive history dossier
- An unrepeatable opportunity to acquire the most decorated & successful Ace-Bristol in the UK directly from AC authority, Tony Bancroft
Chassis BE 212 was completed at Thames Ditton in Light Dynasty Blue with Red trim on 15th September 1956 and collected by Ian Smith of Yorkshire for his 21st birthday. Smith had the Bristol ‘works’ carry out several modifications to the engine and it is believed that ‘BE 212’ was the only privately owned Ace to receive these upgrades. Bristols did not feel the engine was receiving sufficient air and so fitted a different induction system which incorporated a large air scoop on the bonnet, air straighteners, ported head, and different pistons. The Bristols engine dyno reputedly recorded a figure of 145 bhp which was noted by Tony Crook at the time. Smith clearly had ambitions for his Ace as he chose to uprate the suspension with stiffer Koni examples, the bodywork was adjusted to include side vents and radiator cowl, front brake discs were added, and a steel bar fitted above the stacked leaves to act as an anti-roll bar!
Often entered under the banner of Team Triple ‘S’- a team of Austin Healey racers who subsequently moved onto other marques, Smith and his modified Ace proved to be extremely competitive with Smith recording two very successful seasons of motor racing with the car, initially competing in hill climbs before moving on to circuits. In April ’58, Smith would claim his first of many victories whilst driving at Full Sutton, Yorkshire in the Daily Mirror Trophy Race. In monsoon conditions, Smith and the Ace put on an extraordinary display and claimed victory against amongst others, Peter Sutcliffe driving a Frazer Nash Le Mans and one Jim Clark driving a Porsche Super - under the entry of Border Reivers.
Road registered ‘5 BPG’, Smith would campaign the AC at circuits across the country including, Goodwood, Brands Hatch, Oulton Park, Snetterton, Silverstone, Mallory Park, and even straying into Europe to race at Montlhèry. Naturally, as one did in this period, Smith would drive the Ace on the road to and from events.
In 1959, ‘5 BPG’ was acquired by one of Smith’s fellow competitors, Sid Larvin from Hull who failed to impress with the Ace so quickly moved it on to Edgar Wadsworth who was also racing a Healey Elliott and Denzel at the time. Wadsworth was again disappointed by its performance and so asked motor trader friend, John Brown to sell it for him. Barry Harpin who had had some results driving a Lotus Six and Eleven became the next person to compete courtesy of his father who bought the Ace. The Harpin’s were confident that through their contacts of local tuning wizard – Bill Crossland and AC Ace tuner, John Mitchell, that they would be able to unlock the potential they had seen when the car was owned by Smith but unfortunately this was to no avail. Harpin Senior had bought several cars with Peter Bolton - who became a works driver for AC at Le Mans driving Cobras - and so disposed of ‘5 BPG’ with Bolton. All three of these owners concluded that the Ace had been de-tuned by Smith when he sold it, it would take Bolton to discover the truth – the engine had a cracked piston…
Bolton’s of Leeds were agents for both AC and Bristol, so it was of no surprise when they completely overhauled the engine and installed a six-port head with twin Solex carburettors purchased from renowned tinkerer, Bob Gerard. Boasting some 160+ bhp and with many in the paddock claiming Bolton was running the Ace on fuel enhanced with methanol, it was now that ‘5 BPG’ would enter a renaissance period. It would be in Bolton’s ownership that the driver’s seat was upgraded to a ‘Contour Six’ item by Microcell – finished in red to match the passenger seat with a grey tweed insert. Bolton would claim an astonishing thirty-one victories from thirty-four race starts and would remain unbeaten by another Ace for some five years! In the same vein that Smith used the Ace, Bolton would drive ‘5 BPG’ regularly on the road with many of his friends’ recounting tales of ‘exciting’ journeys as passengers around Yorkshire.
In May 1961, the AC had changed hands and was now being raced by John Rodgers from Sheffield. He too proved to be quick in the Ace and was beating all the competition – even scoring a surprising victory at Mallory Park against E-type protagonists, Robin Sturgess and Jack Lambert – no mean feat. John used the car as his daily transport and was once chased by the Police whilst out testing the Ace on the moors – he was not caught!
The following year, ‘5 BPG’ made its way south to next owner Rod Freeman of Enfield, Middlesex. Freeman asked his friend, David Alexander to race the car for him at Snetterton in March ’63 which had dramatic consequences. Sporting a flat windscreen with the hood up, Alexander ran wide at Riches corner and overturned the Ace being thrown through the roof – Autosport captured the moment of Alexander airborne, and the photo appeared on the front page of the Evening Standard newspaper. Fortunately for Alexander he walked away from the accident with mere cuts and bruises, quite remarkable.
In November 1963, a twenty-year-old student by the name of Gerry Bagshaw paid Freeman £175 for the Ace which remained in a sorry state following its Snetterton ‘off’. Bagshaw literally spent hundreds of hours with a rubber hammer beating out the metal bodywork to the best of his ability – the photos of which are very amusing. Arnott Racing Cars assisted Bagshaw with further improvements to the bodywork the following year and Gerry raced it from 1964 to 1965. In May 1966, Gerry acquired ‘39 PH’, the ex-Le Mans Willment Cobra that raced in 1963. With Bagshaw’s focus now on the Cobra, ‘5 BPG’ saw little use and by 1974 both the Ace and the Cobra had been sold to Ronald Stern. Bagshaw at this time removed the registration number ‘5 BPG’ and the Ace was reissued with the number ‘314 JGY’. Stern quickly sold on the Ace to Ken Rogers of Hertfordshire who took part in some races with the highlights being the 21 years of the Ace held at Silverstone and a historic race at Le Mans in 1978. Now looking a little tired, Rogers loaned the Ace to the museum at Spa Francorchamps where it was on display from 1985 to 2003.
In 2005, the Ace-Bristol would pass into the hands of then AC Ace registrar, Tony Bancroft. Bancroft had known ‘5 BPG’ since he was a boy as Ian Smith lived nearby and happened to work for the family’s textile business. Bancroft would often see the Ace being driven on the road and as a young motor racing enthusiast it was whilst it was used in competition that the car would make a large impression on Bancroft. It was decided to entrust the restoration of ‘5 BPG’ to Steve Gray and his team at Brooklands Motor Company (now part of AC Heritage) – many of which were original employees of AC Cars, Thames Ditton. With the body removed from the chassis and placed on a jig, it was worked on by two ex-AC panel beaters using an original AC body buck, the entire process was photographed and is documented in two albums. Making use of the cars original wing mirror, a colour match was made for the rare colour of Light Dynasty Blue and the Ace was duly painted this colour. Through Bancroft’s numerous AC connections, he was extremely fortunate to locate and acquire the original numbered cylinder head for ‘BE 212’ and reunite it with the original engine block. IN Racing (Ian Nuthall) then completely rebuilt the engine. Bancroft also proved successful in obtaining the original registration number ‘5 BPG’ from the DVLA and had the Ace re-registered with this number – which it still retains to this day.
Over the years and through the various changes in ownership a large amount of documentation has naturally accumulated for the Ace-Bristol, but it was not until Bancroft’s ownership that someone has really put it all together. Bancroft’s efforts are quite simply breath-taking – 12 history files charting the life of what must be the most raced and decorated Ace-Bristol in the UK. Held with high regard in the AC world, Bancroft carried out a tremendous amount of research on each owner and contacted them when it was possible, even driving ‘5 BPG’ to them so that they could be reunited. Seldom do we see it with competition cars, but there is an original programme / timing sheet for every race the Ace-Bristol took part in.
Bancroft and ‘5 BPG’ have completed over 60,000 miles together since the restoration was finished seventeen years ago and the Ace now oozes a wonderful charm. Sporting wing vents, side exhaust, aero screen, radiator cowl, bonnet intake and rare ‘Contour Six’ race seat – ‘5 BPG’ is without doubt the best-looking AC Ace.
UK road registered, taxes paid and available with hard top roof, hood & hood frame, full tonneau, side screens, various windscreens, original driver’s seat, and numerous mechanical parts. Regarded as having the greatest UK race history of any AC Ace, ‘5 BPG’ is available to be viewed in our SW London showroom.
Photo Credit: Riiko-Andre Nuud, Riiko Photo