1957 AC Bristol
Year of manufacture1957
Engine number100D781 (see text)
Number of seats2
1957 AC Ace-Bristol Roadster
Registration no. BEX 387
Engine no. 100D781 (see text)
'Of them all, the Ace was the truest sports car: it could be used for daily commuting or for high-speed long-distance touring, but it could also be driven to a race meeting, campaigned with distinction, and driven home again - even if that race was the Le Mans 24 Hours.' - AC Heritage, Simon Taylor & Peter Burn.
The success of Cliff Davis's Tojeiro sports racer prompted AC Cars to put the design into production in 1954 as the Ace. The Davis car's pretty Ferrari 166-inspired barchetta bodywork was retained, as was John Tojeiro's twin-tube ladder frame chassis and Cooper-influenced all-independent suspension, but the power unit was AC's own venerable, 2.0-litre, long-stroke six. This overhead-camshaft engine originated in 1919 and with a modest 80bhp (later 100bhp) on tap, endowed the Ace with respectable, if not outstanding, performance.
In 1955 AC added a hardtop version - the fastback-styled Aceca - and both models became available from '56 with the more-powerful (up to 130bhp) Bristol six-cylinder engine, giving the car a level of power that was more in keeping with the capabilities of its excellent chassis. The l,971cc Bristol six was based on that of the pre-war BMW 328, which featured an ingenious cylinder head, designed by Rudolf Schleicher, incorporating hemispherical combustion chambers and inclined valves without recourse to overhead, or twin, camshafts. Instead, the earlier BMW Type 319 engine's single block-mounted camshaft and pushrod valve actuation were retained, thus avoiding an expensive redesign. Two rocker shafts were employed, one situated above each bank of valves, giving the engine an external appearance almost indistinguishable from that of a twin-overhead-cam design. Downdraft inlet ports contributed to the motor's deep breathing, and its tune-ability made it a popular choice for British racing car constructors, most notably Cooper, during the 1950s. Externally, Bristol's clone of the BMW motor differed little from the German original, the most obvious difference being the adoption of SU, rather than Solex, carburettors part way through production. The most significant changes made by the Bristol designers were metallurgical; their utilisation of the highest quality materials contributing to greatly increased engine life.
The combination of a fine-handling chassis and a decent power-to-weight ratio - in Bristol-engined form the car could touch 120mph - helped the Ace to numerous successes in production sports car racing. In the USA, the AC Bristol won the Sports Car Club of America's E Production Class Championship in 1957, 1958 and 1959, but arguably its finest achievement was a 1st-in-class and 7th overall finish at Le Mans in '59. Indeed, its basic soundness and versatility were reflected in the fact that relatively few major changes were found necessary when the Ace was endowed with Ford V8 power to create the legendary Cobra. Only 466 were built with the Bristol power plant between 1956 and 1962, and unlike the Cobra, the Ace Bristol is eligible for the world's most prestigious events including Le Mans Classic, Italian and Californian Mille Miglia, Monterey Historics and others.
According to the AC Registry, this left-hand drive car left the factory on 20th December 1957 destined for AC Imports Inc in the USA. 'BEX 387' was originally finished in Svecia red with black leather interior, and was fitted with front disc brakes. The first owner was Mr Pierre Mion, a pioneering sports car enthusiast who was involved in American road racing in the early post-war years. Pierre Mion started racing stock cars when he was 18 and then switched to motorcycles for five seasons. In 1957 he returned to cars and by 1959 was an experienced racer. He purchased 'BEX 387' new from Frank Pohanka's Sports Motors with the intention of having a serious crack at the championship. By the middle of May he was already 3rd and by the beginning of September his 32 points were enough to give him the SCCA EP championship for 1959. Three or four races were run between engine overhauls and the original engine, number '100D733', was replaced by '100D781'. Although the championship was his, Pierre raced the car at the Watkins Glen Sports Car Grand Prix and came 2nd. That season he was 2nd at Danville (Virginia), 3rd at Cumberland, 2nd at Bridgehampton, 2nd at Thompson, 1st at Montgomery and 2nd at Watkins Glen.
In the early spring of 1960, Pierre put the car up for sale: 'AC Bristol 1959. SCCA E Production National Championship car in 1959. Perfect condition. 4,900 Miles. Ready for road or track.' It was bought by Henry Mergner, who was keen for Pierre to continue racing the car even though Ace Bristols had been moved up to Class DP for 1960 season due to their dominance of EP. At Danville early in the season, he rolled the Ace at around 80 mph during practice but still came 2nd in the race. In the middle of the season he replaced 'BEX 387' with another Ace Bristol, finishing 4th in the D Production category.
In the late 1980s, 'BEX 387' was purchased by a collector in Barcelona, Spain and has remained in that lovely city until now. It is unmolested; the interior is in very nice condition, with fresh black leather and matching carpets that are 'as new'. The dashboard gauges and controls are likewise in very nice condition throughout and the steering wheel is new. The engine compartment is clean and detailed, and although not prepared to show standards is impressively clean. 'BEX 387' has proven to be an enjoyable weekend touring car, having been used on few non-competitive rallies, and is presented in good running order. This is an excellent opportunity to acquire a wonderfully sorted AC Bristol roadster with extensively documented in-period competition history, which has been featured in countless books on the marque.