Introducing my car
An AC 2 Litre Saloon. Chassis number EL1192, original engine number UMB1194, body number 354. Registered on the 19th August 1949. Paint colour, a light green known as "National Grey"! The lucky owner lived in Leicester, and by 1954 it passed to another owner in the same neighbourhood.
In 1962, EL1192 turned up for sale at a garage in Cosby, Leicestershire, complete with a reconditioned engine number UMB1276W/D. This fine car caught the attention of my Dad, who liked it, but considered it too large. The salesman persuaded him to take it home to show my Mum who loved the shape, the distinctive colour, the smooth music of the engine sound, and the luxurious interior. The deal was done and £180 changed hands.
I was born in January 1966, and so this AC was the car that I started to grow up with. From the earliest possible age, I was a keen artist, and drew the AC more than anything else. As the years went on, the AC was used less and less, until 1974 when it failed its MoT test and Dad could not obtain spares. 17 inch tyres were the biggest problem. A temporary laying up of the car, eventually turned into a long term lay-up. Thankfully, my Dad decided to keep the car for me ready for when I grew up. So many people regret selling off a car they should have kept. Not in this story!
In 1982, when I was 16, I got the car out of the garage, coaxed it into running again, and began a semi-restoration that would last 3 years. There were definite reasons why I did not attempt a full restoration: Firstly, the AC was in remarkably sound condition, with an excellent chassis, and only localised wood rot. Secondly, as a teenager, I had no experience of restoration, let alone such a challenging one, and I knew my abilities were limited. Thirdly, the working conditions at home were not so much difficult as almost impossible! At my parents' home, I had to roll the car out of our single garage to work on it. I had no work bench, insufficient tools, and very little money, was hampered by the weather, passers-by and inquisitive cats! The garage doors were hanging off and falling apart (when the bottoms fell out, cats and squirrels had free access to the garage). My Dad filled the house, workshop and garage with junk until one could not move, hence me working outside. The driveway was unsurfaced, so dust blew around, hampering my painting and mechanical repairs. The driveway was also a sun-trap and blisteringly hot in summer.
Back in Action
From 1985 to 1990 I ran the AC on the road... well on and off! It was a huge amount of fun. This is the sort of car that is sheer pleasure to drive in slowly or briskly, or travel in as a passenger. Even the most unimpressed of onlookers were totally won over after a ride in it. Ladies with no interest in cars commented on the luxury and comfort and the sweet sounding engine. The grandstand view that they could have from the rear seat. The superb over-bonnet view that has to seen to be fully appreciated (just remember to watch the road ahead if driving!). The excellent directional stability and handling. It might have been running on 5.5" wide cross-ply tyres, but its road-holding was good enough to see off modern Cortinas and Escorts (okay, maybe not RS Escorts!). This really was a car that made the journey the highlight of any outing.
A major low-light was my attempt to get the temperature gauge working during 1986. It is effectively a long brass tubular thermometer filled with ether, and a failed solder joint had allowed the contents to escape. I consulted local friend (and owner of a 1935 AC 4 seater), to confirm that ether is used and how to refill the tube, plus safety considerations. Please note that ether is highly volatile and flammable, so avoid any kind of spark such as static from clothes, or sparks from switches, etc.! Also, the fumes are dangerous, so it is best used outside when refilling, and the bottle opening covered up as much as possible (partly for safety, and partly to stop it from evaporating away). Unfortunately, one of my local chemists at that time, not only refused to sell me ether for this use, but insisted that it was too dangerous to be used in such a gauge. Not possible, said he. I was treated like a trouble-maker (and me the most polite and quietly spoken young chap you could ever meet!) and nothing seemed to persuade him. Shortly afterwards, we had an autumn heat-wave and the engine over-heated (oh *@~##***!!!). I learned that other local classic car owners had purchased said substance alright. My Dad then boasted that he could buy the ether from the same shop without trouble... and he did! Draw your own conclusions!
In 1987, a day's outing to North Yorkshire showed that the AC is quite practical. 390 miles in one day, including several 1 in 5 gradients, driving along country lanes, a city centre on a Saturday night, and cruising the trunk roads. 50 to 60mph cruising kept fuel consumption down to 27mpg for the day. Return leg of journey averaged over 50mph despite never exceeding 60, and then negotiating Leicester city centre.
The only really hair-raising moment experienced was while driving around the hills near Bridgnorth. Descending a very long and winding hill, I was followed by a Ford Escort. When that car started to back off, I thought that driver must know something I didn't about this road, so I slowed a little too. The gentle sweeping right-hand curve, turned into a nasty tight bend, with the hillside giving it a very severe adverse camber. Too late to write my will, I gave the most gentle of pressure on the brake, and the rear end side-stepped for a moment with a howl of tyres. Immediate release of brake, and the car lived up to form, and was straight back on course again. The Escort motorist caught up at some roadworks further down the road, no doubt wondering how I survived!
Earlier that year (1987), I had an enjoyable encounter with a splendid Frazer-Nash LeMans Replica. I was driving to the annual Ragley Hall hillclimb (ACOC) and timed my journey to arrive after the start, to avoid getting in the way of arriving competitors. But during my journey, a Frazer-Nash came up behind rapidly, on its way to the event, and evidently running late. Unfortunately, we were on a main A road that was fairly narrow, winding, hilly and bumpy, with continuous oncoming traffic and nowhere for me to pull in and let the fellow pass. So I did what any self-respecting AC driver would do, and drove as fast as possible! With no knowledge of that road, I was caught out by a very sharp (2nd gear) left-hander at the bottom of a descent, which produced some brake fade. When the on-coming traffic finally cleared, I twitched the steering to the left, and the F-N gent shot passed with a wave. Although both of our cars have 2 litre 6 cylinder engines, the Bristol engine in the F-N was probably rated at about 130bhp and the car only weighs around 625kgs, or less than half that of the AC. From the records of the Ragley event, it was probably Bill Roberts at the wheel.
A major highlight was entering a parade of ACs around Silverstone's club circuit in 1989. Trying to keep up with Aces, Cobras, and 3000MEs was certainly fun. While my car was no match for them on the straights, it held on to them on every bend.
There was more fun during a journey that took me via Coventry. After missing my exit on the outer ring road, I got caught up in a parade of old cars along a road lined with spectators. I had to almost run down a marshall to escape!
More highlights were provided by attending club gatherings. Usually only 1 or 2 saloons would be in attendance, but just to see another one (when I was so used to thinking of my car as unique) is rather like finding a long lost twin. It seems unreal, and one has to examine the other car for detail differences, and being an AC, there always are differences. Many of the nice ladies and gents who drew up in impressive high performance modern ACs, were very friendly and intrigued at the dedication (or madness, perhaps?!) involved with working on a coach-built car.
White steam behind, means trouble ahead!
One occasion when the AC embarrassed itself by failing, saw the head gasket giving up the struggle. Travelling home trailing steam, I stopped at a petrol station to top up the coolant. I watched as the water level in the radiator dropped before my very eyes. Where was it going to? It then poured out of the 3 air-filters! A bit dangerous, considering the petrol floating atop the water.
I removed the old head gasket a few days later, and for almost a whacking £80, took ownership of a sheet of cardboard that looked vaguely like the required replacement! I'm only half joking. The asbestos inner layer had been substituted with mill-board, and some of the copper fittings were, well... not fitted! By 1990, this was leaking. Admittedly, the cylinder-block was also at fault due to an old repair that was less than satisfactory. A small end had also been tapping away, and the number 6 piston was in a poor state. Finances were becoming tight again, so engine repairs had to be put off.
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