History of AC Cobra Cars

AC is the oldest British car manufacturer with continuous production since 1901. The marque has enormous prestige and an extraordinary history – seemingly more fiction than fact. It all started in 1901 when John Weller set up a small engineering workshop in south London to build motorcars. He was backed by a wealthy tradesman named John Portwine. By 1903 John Weller had designed and built his first cars. There were two engine options a twin cylinder 10hp and a 4 cylinder 20hp. These were displayed at the 1903 British Motor Show. “The Autocar” of 6th June reported, “We foresee a brilliant future for the Weller car and its talented designer.” How right they were.

By 1904 the business was named Autocar & Accessories Limited and started production of a small delivery vehicle called the Autocarrier. It had a 5.6 hp air- cooled single cylinder engine and was, in fact, a tricycle. It was very successful and by the following year had found a number of buyers including two famous London stores, Maple & Co and Dickens & Jones. The Goodyear Tyre Co also had one for delivering new wheels and tyres to wealthy car owners. The Autocarrier was soon a common sight on the streets of London and it was considered a “must have” by any commercial business that wished to be seen as fashionable. One company ran a fleet of over seventy. In 1907 a passenger version was introduced called the Sociable.

The August 1910 edition of “Motor Cycling” showed the Autocarrier adapted for military purposes and the 25th London Cycle Regiment was equipped with these vehicles. A number of Autocarriers had Maxim guns mounted on special bodywork whilst others were adapted as ammunition transporters. The Autocarrier was chosen by the British Army because of its “reliability, lusty performance and manoeuvrability”. Such was the increase in production that in 1911 AC moved to larger premises in Thames Ditton, Surrey some 16 miles from the center of London. The Autocarrier’s simple, sturdy and practical design ensured its production until 1915. It was at Thames Ditton that Weller designed the first production four-wheel car. By the start of the First World War, AC’s efforts were concentrated on the manufacture of shells and fuses, though the odd vehicle was still made.

For the first time in 1915 the abbreviation AC was used and in November of that year a new company was formed, Autocarriers Limited. This business acquired Autocar & Accessories with Weller and Portwine as directors. In 1918 full production of the two-seater four cylinder commenced and the car was sold for around £255 ($1020). These new AC’s were immediately successful in competition, particularly in hill climbs and trials such as the Land’s End.

1921 saw the opening of showrooms and offices in London’s Regent Street and the AC board of directors was joined by the famous English racing driver of that era, S.F.Edge. Weller and Portwine resigned and Edge became Chairman of the new company, AC Cars Limited. The new ACs were sporting in character with amazing performance and had stylish bodies in a good range of colors. This was the start of a very successful period for AC on both the ordinary motoring and sporting fronts. Soon the company had a new slogan: “The First Light Six – and still the best”.

In 1922 came one of AC’s greatest sporting achievements. A special AC record-breaker driven by J.A.Joyce, using the 16 valve 4-cylinder engine, shattered the One Hour record at an average speed just in excess of 100mph with a fastest lap of 104.85mph. This took place at one of the most famous British racetracks, Brooklands, which was only a few miles from the AC factory.

During the next six years more models were introduced, seven in total. These ranged from the Aceca two-seater coupé to a long wheelbase coach built saloon. The output of AC’s six-cylinder engine was increased from 40 to 56bhp. By 1928 the AC Car Company was one of Great Britain’s largest automobile manufacturers.

Then came 1929 and with it the Wall Street Crash and world economic recession. Like many other manufacturing companies of this period, AC went into voluntary liquidation.

1930 saw the acquisition of the AC Car Company by William and Charles Hurlock. Initially no new cars were built but servicing facilities were provided for existing owners. Following pressure from satisfied customers, the brothers decided that there was a market for limited production hand made cars. Throughout the ‘30s the AC six-cylinder engine served faithfully and achieved tremendous results in the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) and Monte Carlo rallies. New showrooms were acquired in Park Lane, London and once again the AC Car Company was both stable and prosperous. 1931 saw the name Ace used for the first time. Two years later four new cars were entered in the RAC rally and all of them took prizes. A four-seater sports driven by Miss Kitty Brunel took an outright win, Charles Hurlock finished fourth and his brother, William was sixth. Mrs G Daniel finished seventh and took first prize in the Concours d’Elegance.

source: www.automotivearticles.com, from article titled: "The History of AC Cars", by Anthony Matthews