ACED IT

Af­ter years of search­ing, Kevin Kivlochan found his per­fect AC Ace. Trou­ble was, it hadn’t turned a wheel for more than 40 years. We take the freshly re­stored racer back to the scene of its Fifties suc­cesses

Classic Cars (UK) - - AC Ace Bristol - Words IVAN OSTROFF Pho­tog­ra­phy LAURENS PAR­SONS

When Kevin Kivlochan told me he’d bought an AC Ace, I knew it would be some­thing spe­cial. Later, when he called to say it was fin­ished and ready to be driven, but that he’d left it un­painted in its nat­u­ral alu­minium, I had my doubts.

But they were mis­placed. The car is ut­terly stun­ning. With its pow­er­ful twin spot­lamps an­gled out­wards in or­der to pro­vide a good light spread in the dark­est cor­ners of Le Mans, it looks ex­actly what it is – a proper no-non­sense Fifties com­pe­ti­tion car. And given that it achieved sev­eral podi­ums in pe­riod at the Chateau Imp­ney hill climb, we’ve taken it back there for our test-drive.

Be­fore I climb in, I have a peek un­der the bonnet. I’m greeted by a trans­verse leaf spring, a pair of match­ing three-branch ex­haust man­i­folds, and the open in­takes of three down­draught Solex car­bu­ret­tors perched in a row on top of that leg­endary jewel of a mo­tor – the Bris­tol straight-six. Sim­ply en­gi­neer­ing art­work.

I lift the hinged alu­minium latch that links the front and side el­e­ments of the wrap­around per­spex wind­screen, reach in­side to pull the re­lease cord, open the feath­er­weight door and climb in. I lower my­self into the pe­riod-style alu­minium bucket seat, spe­cially con­structed by DK En­gi­neer­ing and trimmed in hide by RW Rac­ing Ser­vices to match the pas­sen­ger’s seat. The big wood-rim steer­ing wheel has in­struc­tions dymo-taped on to one of the drilled alu­minium spokes. They read ‘60kph 2nd 3500rpm’ and ‘80kph 3rd 3500rpm’ re­spec­tively, en­abling Kevin to re­spect the pit lane and safety car speed lim­its at Le Mans. The 6000rpm tachome­ter red­lines at 5500, although Kevin says the en­gine is built to take 6200 in anger. Fol­low­ing his in­struc­tions, I twist the red cut-out switch to ‘on’, flick the fuel pump switch, turn the key, lis­ten for a few mo­ments while the fuel finds its way up front, then push the starter but­ton. Bris­tol sixes al­ways sound good; the ex­haust has a muted but spir­ited bark. I wait and watch the gauges for a few mo­ments while all six pots promptly set­tle into a smooth idle.

Kevin is a lot taller than me, so I sit low in the cock­pit and can just about reach the con­trols. The gear­lever tow­ers from the trans­mis­sion tun­nel, a feel­ing ex­ag­ger­ated by the elon­gated alu­minium knob at the top of the stick. The clutch feels heavy but the gear­lever slots eas­ily into first which, to my sur­prise, is syn­chromeshed. Mov­ing off cau­tiously, the worm-and-roller steer­ing feels heavy ini­tially but it soon light­ens up once the Ace is in mo­tion.

First time out, I want to get a feel for the car so I’m slow and care­ful. The ra­tios seem per­fectly matched to the power and torque of the en­gine, which is re­mark­ably smooth. Af­ter the left­hander I pass the Chateau on my right and gen­tly pop the Ace into third. There’s a switch on the lever to ac­ti­vate a J-type over­drive on third and top gear, fit­ted for long, fast cir­cuits like Le Mans. Out of cu­rios­ity, I en­gage it and the over­drive slips in seam­lessly. But it’s too high, so I knock it off, drop into sec­ond for the course’s most chal­leng­ing bend, then give it a blast up the hill.

On my way back down I no­tice a straight-line vague­ness that I’d ex­pect from a steer­ing box of this pe­riod, but once it’s loaded up and the rub­ber is bit­ing, the am­bi­gu­ity is gone. In fact af­ter a cou­ple of runs, I find that re­lax­ing my grip on the wheel am­pli­fies the sen­sa­tions; feed­back wasn’t lost on-cen­tre, it was merely sub­dued. I se­lect top gear to test flex­i­bil­ity – the revs spool up tur­bine-smoothly and the torque is such that it will even pull from an in­di­cated 30mph. Rather amaz­ing for a car built for the track.

Af­ter just a cou­ple of runs I’m into the Ace’s groove, rev­el­ling in the cam change around 3500-4000rpm. The 1971cc Bmw-de­rived six might not spin up like mod­ern over­head-camshaft screamer, but rasps ad­dic­tively as 140lb ft of torque smoothly joins the party. Feel­ing con­fi­dent, I start to en­joy the way the car grips in cor­ners and how con­sis­tently pro­gres­sive and strong the front disc/rear drum brake set-up feels. This time, as the round­about looms, I don’t rely on the syn­chro­mesh but heel-and-toe as I drop down from third into sec­ond and I boot it round to the right. I can’t re­sist smil­ing as the tail slides and I flick the wheel to the left to gather it up. What a cracker to drive this is.

It’s hard to re­sist com­par­ing the Ace’s han­dling to that of its big brother, the Co­bra. In a well-sorted rac­ing Co­bra you ex­pe­ri­ence some in­ten­tion­ally in­duced on-limit un­der­steer, but drive with a jus­ti­fied fear that it will bite you with snap over­steer at any given op­por­tu­nity. By com­par­i­son the Ace turns in ac­cu­rately and, thanks to the anti-roll bars at both ends that Kevin had spe­cially de­vel­oped by rac­ing dy­nam­i­cist Nigel Rees, it set­tles calmly into a four-wheel drift – an elu­sive sce­nario in any Co­bra. The Ace never feels in­tim­i­dat­ing; the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is more com­pa­ra­ble to its ear­li­est an­ces­tor, the orig­i­nal To­jeiro Bris­tol ‘LOY 500’, than its ven­omous ul­ti­mate evo­lu­tion.

Although set up for the track, this Ace’s spring rates are so good that the ride is com­fort­able even on ru­ral coun­try roads. Kevin al­ways fan­cied own­ing an AC Ace Bris­tol, and had been look­ing for the right car for 12 years. Even­tu­ally, his pa­tience was rewarded.

Dur­ing his search, he got to know Victor and Rosie Yates, who owned three ACS – an Aceca, a Grey­hound and this Ace Bris­tol, chas­sis BE 232. The last-named had spent the first year of its life as a fac­tory de­vel­op­ment car reg­is­tered to AC Cars of Thames Dit­ton, and was fit­ted with a spe­cial light­weight alu­minium body. It was also raced in the own­er­ship of its first two pri­vate own­ers – Geoff Wil­son and a lim­ited com­pany named Power Main­te­nance Ser­vice. Dur­ing this time Wil­son and Vic Hassall scored many wins and fastest laps at venues such as Good­wood, Mal­lory Park, Shel­s­ley Walsh, Prescott and Chateau Imp­ney. In Au­gust 1965 the AC was bought by Victor Yates, who noted a unique gear­lever guard that stopped re­verse be­ing er­ro­neously se­lected – thought to be a works de­vel­op­ment mod­i­fi­ca­tion for Le Mans.

Sadly, Victor be­came al­most blind over time and was there­fore no longer able to use his cars. When he passed away, his widow Rosie ini­tially felt too emo­tion­ally at­tached to his cars to let them go. Af­ter a year or so, she de­cided it was time and of­fered Kevin first re­fusal on the Ace.

The old thick red paint had pro­tected the body, but af­ter sit­ting dor­mant in a barn for 40 years it needed an en­gine re­build, new gear­box, new wire wheels, new sus­pen­sion and a new hand­brake assem­bly. Luck­ily, though, most

Thanks to: Good­wood Re­vival (good­wood.com), Chateau Imp­ney, Droitwich Spa (chateau-imp­ney.com) other items were sal­vage­able – even the bumpers and fuel filler cap, which needed nei­ther chang­ing nor re-chroming. Body and chas­sis work was en­trusted to ex-ac em­ployee Lawrence Kett of G&A Fab­ri­ca­tions in Wal­ton-on-thames. The en­gine, gear­box and dif­fer­en­tial were re­built by Ian Nuthall at In­rac­ing. Once all the var­i­ous com­po­nents were re­stored, the puz­zle was re­assem­bled by Thun­der Road Cars in Cheshunt. RW Rac­ing of Brack­ley sub­se­quently fit­ted the com­po­nents nec­es­sary for his­toric rac­ing.

Purists will no doubt no­tice the vents cut into the front wings. It was al­ways Kevin’s aim to race the car at the Le Mans Clas­sic, and since the AC Ace that ran in pe­riod with a cut-down wind­screen also had wing vents, the French reg­u­la­tory body in­sisted that be­cause Kevin’s car had the for­mer, it must also run with the lat­ter. Kevin’s main con­cern was that the car should not be over­restored and that orig­i­nal patina should be main­tained where pos­si­ble, so it can be seen that the car is the gen­uine ar­ti­cle. This is one of the rea­sons why he de­cided to leave the car in un­painted alu­minium. An­other is sim­ply that he thinks it looks great. I agree.

In 2016 Kevin ful­filled a dream when he took his Ace to the Le Mans Clas­sic, un­til the cylin­der head gas­ket failed dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing. He man­aged to bor­row a spare from An­gela Lowe, owner of an­other Bris­tol-en­gined Ace. Mark Richard­son, An­gela’s me­chanic, of­fered to help Kevin change it but nei­ther he, nor Kevin’s me­chanic Neil, had the cor­rect tools. ‘There was noth­ing else to do but go to the bar and get com­pletely ham­mered,’ says Kevin. ‘But in the morn­ing, I saw sense. This was Le Mans – I couldn’t just give up. I saw Pa­trick Blak­eney Ed­wards – who has a com­pany spe­cial­is­ing in Bris­tol-en­gined Frazer Nashes – scoff­ing cham­pagne and oys­ters. I ap­proached him for help, but he couldn’t spare any me­chan­ics. As I turned to walk away he said, “Oh sod it, I’m bored any­way. I’ll do it my­self”.’

Pa­trick, his co-racer Steve Brooks, and Keith Les­siter of the Bris­tol Own­ers’ Club rolled up their sleeves and got stuck in, joined by fel­low Ace owner Mike Har­ri­son. There are 14 cylin­der head re­tain­ing bolts on the Bris­tol en­gine and most are in­ac­ces­si­ble with­out the cor­rect span­ner. Steve took an an­gle grinder to a spare span­ner and be­gan re­shap­ing it un­til it was able to move a tiny amount against each flat sur­face. Slowly but surely, they re­moved ev­ery head bolt. Af­ter five hours Pa­trick and Steve had to leave as their own race was about to be­gin. Kevin and Mike worked for a fur­ther five hours. ‘Mike is my hero,’ says Kevin. ‘When the head even­tu­ally went back on we had no torque wrench, so we had to make do with a bar on the end of the span­ner.’

Kevin started his first race from the pit lane in 53rd spot. Re­mark­ably, the car lasted the race and he fin­ished in 32nd place at 3.30am. Pa­trick and Steve found Kevin to con­grat­u­late him, and he bought them a beer to thank them. Later that morn­ing, Kev started his sec­ond race from 32nd spot, and fin­ished 26th over­all and third in class. All in all, a ter­rific achieve­ment.

At last Septem­ber’s Good­wood Re­vival Kevin was able to make up five places in the rather wet La­vant Cup race be­cause of the car’s ex­cel­lent han­dling bal­ance, ul­ti­mately fin­ish­ing eighth.

Over Christ­mas, Kevin re­ceived a phone call. It was Rosie Yates, Victor’s widow. ‘I love what you’ve done with the car,’ she said. ‘Vic would have been proud.’

‘The head gas­ket failed dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing – but this was Le Mans, I couldn’t just give up...’

Wing vents and cut-down wind­screen mod­i­fi­ca­tions were made for the Le Mans Clas­sic

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