Although a lot of people (not just car enthusiasts) take a liking to the AC, there is a tendency for them to assume that its more practical attributes must be inferior to modern cars simply because of its age. To clear up this fallacy, and to give you an insight into why AC 2 Litre motoring is so satisfying, I've compiled my own list of pros and cons for this model of car. And it is not just an old versus new comparison, because the AC is special, and brings both good taste and good design.
Controls and switches:
1 - Brake and clutch pedals feature pivotted alloy heads that adjust to the angle of your foot. Being smooth alloy, you can slide your foot until it is centred on the pedal, but your foot won't slide right off, because there are rubber grommets top and bottom.
2 - Like many cars of its day, the light switch (head, side and tail) is shaped so that it is obvious both visually and by touch, what lights are switched on at any time. Most car light switches fail to give this vital information, and the modern way is to add more (unnecessary) warning lights.
3 - Minor switches all differ in appearance so that there is no confusion over which is which.
4 - The indicator switch follows the old common sense design. It points right when turning right, left when turning left, and clicks firmly into its central position when not in use. The modern obsession with getting every switch at your finger-tips, seems to have lost the plot in easy to use controls.
5 - A full set of dials warn you of impending trouble, rather than the pathetic practice of warning lights that tell you it has already gone wrong! Oil pressure, water temperature and ammeter, in addition to the fuel gauge.
6 - The thin rimmed spring spoked steering wheel is easy to see through to view dials and switches.
7 - The colour of the switches contrast with the dashboard so that you can actually see and find them! Whoever thought of having black switches on a black dashboard must be the same dozy muffin who created the same feature on audio hi-fi equipment!
8 - The handbrake is positioned well forwards allowing the front seats to make full use of the car's width. Many cars seem to have huge central consoles to waste valuable space in the centre.
9 - The steering column can be adjusted for length. With it pulled back, it might permit some degree of crash protection that is generally lacking from old style long steering columns?
10 - The steering wheel can be adusted for height above the seat cushion, to clear your thighs, although it requires a pair of spanners to do this.
11 - Quarter-light windows are opened by rotating a knob that operates via a gear system. It is very neat and handy.
12 - Droplight windows in the doors are opened with a quick action window-winder. It is well engineered and thus easier to use than similar ones on most other cars, and considerably safer than electric windows (death-traps in accidents).
1 - There is no problem of internal reflections inside such an upright windscreen.
2 - The widest part of the car is across the front wings, and these are on full view of the driver. This makes road positioning and judging narrow gaps an easy task.
3 - The B-pillar does not extend up to the roof, meaning that when you look over your right shoulder (RHD cars), you have a full field of vision.
4 - The rear hinged doors allow easy and gracefull entry and exit. The reason for doors being hinged this way is to make it easier to swing your legs out/in. It has nothing to do with the size of A and B pillars, as is sometimes claimed (the AC does not have a full B pillar).
5 - The door-step is very handy when having a picnic. It comes in useful when pouring drinks from a flask (or whatever).
6 - Passengers often prefer the rear seat because it is high up and gives a grandstand view passed front seat occupants, and over the bonnet. The pillarless body style gives a panoramic view via the side windows.
7 - Screen pillars (A posts) obstruct one's view less than on many cars of the 21st century.
8 - Front seat cushions slope upwards more than on many cars, providing good support for one's thighs.
1 - Beautiful quality wool cloth for headlinings and other trim.
2 - Solid walnut dashboard, door cappings and window surrounds. This differs from the more common walnut veneer which can give a more artificial look (depending on how well it's done), made worse if it has been given too much polish and shine.
3 - Flock spraying the front shelf and the inside of the boot, provides a velvet-like finish with a silky feel.
4 - Velvet pile carpets and draft excluders for that high quality feel and look.
5 - Leather for seats and side trims.
6 - Surprisingly, 'plastic' for steering wheel rim and gear-knob, but with an attractive marbled finish.
7 - A well concealed fold-away central arm-rest for the back seat.
8 - Lots of headroom, leg room and knee room and shoulder room too.
9 - Quiet interior thanks to wood frame, use of aluminium for body and engine, non independent suspension, and old style tyre tread patterns.
10 - A lovely aroma of leather, walnut and fine cloth, to complete the travelling experience.
11 - A comfortable ride, but with very little roll on corners and no wallowing on bumpy roads. Unlike many modern cars with light-weight wheels, the AC soaks up the finer roughness of road surfaces to avoid any harshness.
1 - Aluminium alloy for body panelling. This is thick enough on the wings to allow their shape to provide the required rigidity, with no framework.
2 - Brass used for fittings such as window frames, door hinges, badges, etc.
3 - Pre-war style girder chassis and beam axles may often be derided, but they are very durable and can take a lot of punishment. Lower stiffness is sufficient for the chassis of a beam axle car (compared to independently sprung vehicles), and this flexibility absorbs impacts better. The axles are not as delicate as some IFS and IRS systems in use. These days, cars seem to be written off by insurers ("totalled") just for colliding with a hedgehog!
4 - Durable wheels and tyres. In the 20th century, I would not have been aware of this point, but the early 21st century trend has been for fashionable alloy wheels with low profile tyres. These are vulnerable to damage, expensive to renew, and give a harsher ride.
5 - The very large doors close beautifully with a re-assuring "clunk" that confirms that all is well made.
6 - Panel fit and alignment is of a high standard, as one might expect from a high quality hand-built vehicle.
7 - Brass fittings add to the air of quality when one looks under the bonnet. Brass caps and other parts for the 3 carburettors and also a brass screw cap for the radiator (no longer found on most ACs).
1 - Access hatches provided for rear spring bolts, rear dampers, speedo connection, fuel gauge sender unit and gearbox dipstick. Easy access to most engine auxiliaries, axle and steering greasing points.
2 - The spare wheel is stored in its own compartment below the boot.
3 - A good quality jack is supplied which is safer to use than cheaper jacks supplied to a great many cars.
4 - Other tools are included with the car, mostly fitted neatly into a tool-tray in the boot-lid.
5 - The engine oil filler is large enough to avoid spills when topping up.
1 - One of the most beautiful over-bonnet views of any car!
2 - An exceptionally smooth running, and sounding, engine. I've sometimes heard it referred to as sounding like a gas turbine, it is so smooth.
3 - An engine that starts within a split second.
4 - No choke to fiddle with. The AC has an auxiliary cold-start carburettor.
5 - Taught suspension, and controls that give plenty of feedback, make the driving experience much more involving and rewarding than many cars.
6 - Soothing whining sounds from the gears in the gearbox and engine - before the days when engineers eliminated such sounds which then allowed all the more irritating noises in cars to become audible!
7 - Quick steering, geared for rapid response.
8 - Lots of feel and feedback through the steering. None of that awful feeling that one is steering via rubber rods!
10 - A gear shift that slides solidly into each gear as though pushed around a chunky gate. There is never any doubt whether or not it's in gear... or which gear it is in.
11 - Brakes with lots of feel, and heavy enough to be able to judge the limit of tyre adhesion. This might be a "con" point if you dislike heavy brakes.
12 - Little body roll, helping to make the car stable during rapid changes in direction.
13 - High levels of cornering grip even on thin cross-ply tyres.
14 - Impressive stopping power from lower speed ranges, that match modern cars on radial tyres. Respectable braking from higher speeds. That is, good for an old car, although not a match for disc-braked cars above about 50mph.
15 - Despite its low-slung appearance, the AC has good ground clearance for tackling moderately rough terrain. 7.5 inches under the front axle, and 8.5 inches under the body/chassis.
1 - The windows (especially side windows) are well clear of occupants' heads and thus less likely to cause injury in the event of a crash. More modern raked back windscreens started to raise this issue some years ago, and I seem to recall that legislation intervened. Yet manufacturers seem determined to find new ways of making cars less safe, and now side windows tend to be raked in towards the roof and thus closer to one's head.
2 - Similar to above, except that it is the generous amount of head-room that makes collision between one's head and the roof less likely.
3 - The AC has a low centre of gravity, despite having good ground clearance. I had a row with my lecturer over this topic, for unitary contruction versus separate chassis back in 1991. From the 1930s onwards, a lot of cars with separate chassis were low slung, and this is certainly true of the postwar AC. The chassis is heavy, and the body is lightweight ash and aluminium alloy. As well as improving handling and roadholding, it reduces the risk of rolling the car over.
4 - The earlier AC 2 Litres have a windscreen wiper control that has a manual over-ride. If the motor fails, then you can move the wipers manually by turning the control knob. The wipers also parked off the screen to improve forward visibility. The later self-parking wipers, park on the screen and have cranked wiper-arms to keep the blades parallel to the screen frame.
5 - Earlier AC 2 Litres have mechanical rear brakes and hydraulic brakes at the front, providing the equivalent of a dual-circuit hydraulic system in terms of safety. However, some dual-circuit master cylinders on other cars seem to lack durability, which offsets their safety credentials.
6- Wood frame: Although the AC was not designed with specific crash worthiness in mind (I assume), the use of ash timber and birch plywood has definite advantages over thin sheet steel construction. Firstly, it has (typically) double or more the strength-to-weight ratio of mild steel. Secondly, it does not yield. The reason that crash victims get trapped in their vehicles is that the metal bodies yield and deform in a plastic, rather than elastic, way. Thirdly, ash is springy and will absorb impacts, while steel unitary contruction is by nature highly rigid. Fourthly, wood is an excellent heat insulator and so in the event of a fire, there is less risk to occupants from heat transfer (and it is not a fire risk in itself, as is sometimes thought).
7 - A good quality Bevelift jack is supplied with the AC, to make jacking the car up a safer process than for many cheaper vehicles. However, one must still not get under a car even with such a good jack. Always support it on good axle stands, or blocks with a wide and stable base.
8 - Good ground clearance means that you won't lose control over a rough road due to grounding. You also won't bash or scrape the body when the car's front overhang passes over a kerb during maneouvring.
9 - Heavy-duty tubed tyres and durable pressed steel wheels. This used to the norm, but in the early 21st century, it has become a major benefit. The modern trend has been for alloy wheels and low-profile tyres, more as a fashion accessory than being of any practical value on the road. As many owners have discovered, these modern wheels are very easily damaged and expensive to replace or repair. The latter approach may be risky. Tyres may be one area that has developed a long way since the 1940s, but the old crossplies retain some versatility for varying road conditions, and durability against a few knocks.
10 - Aerodynamically, the AC has very good directional stability. Apart from being a long vehicle, it has most of its side area towards the rear. That produces the same effect as a tail-fin which helps to keep the car pointing in the direction it is travelling in. Modern front-wheel drive cars also achieve this by having a forward weight bias, as the aerodynamics is related to the centre of gravity position.
1 - The AC has spring steel bumpers. A great many cars in later years had bumpers that were as prone to damage as the bodywork they were supposed to be protecting. Nowadays, cheap plastic "bumpers" just fall off at the first sign of trouble, although they do an important job of reducing pedestrian injuries.
2 - The dynamo is gear driven and so it is not affected by drive-belt troubles or inefficiency.
3 - Windscreen demisting is achieved in a very simple way: Louvres in the bonnet direct warm air from the engine bay onto the windscreen. When you return to the carpark on a frosty night, the AC will be the only one with a clear screen!
4 - Patented splash/stone guards are fitted under each wing. These prevent muddy water from rebounding from under the wings and messing up the outer paintwork. They also act as stone guards so that the alloy wings don't get dented from the underside. So, when the local council has laid a road surface with excessive amounts of loose stone chips, the AC won't get grit-blasted.
5 - The quick release fuel filler-cap is a nice touch, and handy too (although not secure against thieves unless you can obtain the lockable version).
6 - The AC copes well with snow, ice and other low adhesion conditions, thanks to a slight rearward weight bias with rear wheel drive. This is usually preferable to front wheel drive, since weight transfers towards the rear when travelling up hill or when accelerating. In the 1960s, AC owners used to say that the last cars to get stuck in the snow were Minis and ACs.
7 - The AC copes well with flood water. The front end is high enough not to create a bow-wave, unless the water is exceptionally deep. Ground clearance to the body/chassis is about 8.5 inches (23cm), and the engine's ignition system and cooling fan are quite high above ground level. There is an entertaining account of an AC driven through a large flood in the 1969 Bulletin of the ACOC.
Controls and switches:
1 - The dipper-switch for the headlights is a floor-mount push-button. It is not positioned well for convenient use by either one's toe or heel.
1 - There is no space to the left of the clutch pedal (on right-hand drive cars) to rest one's left foot.
2 - Seat back-rests are not tall enough to give shoulder support - at least for tall drivers.
3 - Even with the steering wheel adjusted for maximum clearance for one's thighs, there may be insufficient room for some drivers.
4 - The bootlid is hinged along its lower edge, making it less convenient to load and unload luggage. Not that you can fit much luggage into the boot!
5 - Adjustment, fore and aft, of the front seats is limited to only about 4 inches (10cm).
1 - The windscreen wipers are like many of the period. Single speed, slow and too small.
1 - Boot (trunk) space is very limited by modern standards. Just big enough for a picnic!
2 - Ventilation is limited to opening droplight and quarterlight windows on cars up to 1950. During 1950, improvements were made by introducing opening side windows to allow air to flow out, and then front ventilators to help air to enter the car.
3 - A lot of heat enters the front of the passenger compartment. Much of this comes from the silencers mounted on the right-hand side of the engine, heating the under-bonnet air, which then finds its way passed the bulkhead and floor-boards. It therefore helps to make sure that air cannot get in from the engine bay. Insulation of the exhaust system may also help, although fabric insulation can pose a fire risk if it soaks up any oil.
4 - The sun-visors are too small to be fully effective.
5 - At the same time as the sun shines through the windscreen, it also reflects off the bonnet into the driver's eyes.
1 - Some of the inner panelling construction looks rather home-made and cobbled together without much design work.
2 - The quality of the plywood for the floor panels is inferior to that used in the body frame.
3 - Some of the minor components of the wooden body frame are a slack fit in their joints, suggesting that some of the construction was hurried.
4 - Use of aluminium and steel in contact with each other, causes corrosion to the former material. This problem can be found at the wing-bolt joints and also where the wire-mesh stone/splash guards are bolted under the wings.
5 - Splashing from the battery causes corrosion of the alloy bulkhead, despite the use of a lead tray under the battery.
1 - Access to the rear axle is limited due to the under-slung chassis (although this is offset by the inclusion of small access hatches).
2 - Some greasing points need attention every 500 miles, and others every 1,000 miles, and this regime should be followed.
3 - Earlier Girling Hydrastatic front brakes are more prone to seizure, require greater pedal force, and the pairs of shoes wear unevenly, compared to the later twin-leading shoe brakes. I have read that the uneven wear theory is a fallacy, but it happens in real life.
1 - Rear axle hop can limit one's speed over bumpy, winding roads.
2 - The AC can be a handful when parking. Steering becomes heavy below walking-pace speeds, and the clutch is heavy too. The turning circle is about 40 feet, between kerbs, which is quite large.
1 - Although the wooden type of body frame is strong and springy, the roof frame is of very light construction and unlikely to offer protection in a roll over crash. Ironically, if it was to be reinforced to improve protection, it might actually increase the risk of rolling over in the first place. The AC's centre of gravity is low and it has a wide track. I know of no cases of an AC 2 Litre Saloon rolling over, although there was a case of a cow crash landing on the roof of one! The roof held its own, although it had a substantial dent where some of the framework had evidently broken.
2 - The wood frame also lacks a certain aspect of lateral strength. If you've ever seen roll cages built into competition cars, and observed a diagonal member running across the width of the car behind the driver, then that gives a clue as to what I mean.
3 - Like most very old cars, the steering column is not a collapsable one.
4 - The indicator switch might cause injury in a frontal crash.
5 - The back-rests of the front seats do not lock into place. That is: They hinge forwards freely.
6 - Fitting seatbelts can present a problem. AC used to recommend making and fitting a steel bracket to the door hinge pillar. It is also possible to attach the shoulder strap low down on the alloy cross-member that supports the front of the rear seat cushion. However, this approach effectively reduces the length of the belt and one also has to keep the belt adjusted tightly to prevent it from slipping off one's shoulder.
7 - Although the AC has good ground clearance, the tail end of the car is rather low. In addition to the risk of grounding, it also means that the bumper is too low to protect against someone else's front bumper. The optional over-riders reduce the latter problem, but reduce the rear ground clearance further.
1 - The alloy panelling on the main bodyshell dents easily if you lean against certain areas.
2 - When parked in the rain, water draining off the front end of the gutters, tends to run into the inside of the doors and drip onto the edge of the door pockets. A few ACs have their gutters extending down to the scuttle area, possibly as a solution to this problem, although I suspect this might increase wind buffeting noise when in motion?
3 - Drainage of water that gets in passed the bootlid is not well executed. It is caught by a large rubber gutter inside the boot, but then directed through holes in the boot-side panels where it drips onto the backs of the steel inner wings. Presumably this design was an after-thought once the bootlid seal failed to be fully effective?
4 - The front corners of the doors are quite low. This means that they may hit a pavement when opened if the car is leaning over on a heavily cambered road.
5 - The door-steps can form traps for stones (dropping from shoes as one enters) which then do damage when shutting the doors.