Britain's oldest independent car marque -
AC, celebrated 100 years of production in 2001.
The AC Story
John Weller and
his friend John Portwine (a London butcher, whose business is still in family
hands and trading in Covent Garden today) had a vision for a new motor car at
the beginning of the last century. Weller was an innovative engineer and inventor
and set up in partnership with three of his brothers as motor engineers, repairers
and manufacturers of both cars and motor cycles. Weller Bros. were appointed
as repair agents for De Dion et Bouton vehicles and commenced manufacturing
vehicles to their own design.
On the 8 March
1901, they started producing cars and actively advertising their products. Preliminary
work also commenced on what was to become the '20 H.P. Weller Touring Car'.
By 1902, when Weller
Bros. was appointed Official Repairer to the Automobile Club, it was becoming
apparent that the business needed additional working capital and John Portwine,
who with his brothers operated at least eight butchers shops in London, provided
the additional working capital required. Thus in 1902, Weller Bros. Ltd was
formed with the four Weller brothers and Portwine as both shareholders and directors.
This Company then entered into an Agreement with the original Weller Bros. to
buy the business for £1,700. This was to include all stock, debts, goodwill
and existing orders. The brothers were paid out in shares whilst Portwine injected
cash to provide the additional working capital required to expand the business.
At the Automobile
Show staged at Crystal Palace in January 1903, Weller Bros. Ltd exhibited both
a 10 H.P. and a 20 H.P. Weller Touring Car. Within a year, it was decided to
go into production with a three wheel commercial vehicle, the 'AutoCarrier'
(from which the 'AC' name was derived) and thus in 1904 the business became
Autocars and Accessories Ltd. The AutoCarrier was a great success and initial
purchasers included Boots the Chemist, Selfridges, Associated Newspapers, Carr's
Biscuits and Great Western Railway as well as many others. By 1909, the name
had become Autocarriers Ltd and the logo that we know today was being used.
In 1911 the company moved to the famous premises in Thames Ditton.
During the First
World War AC concentrated on the production of shells and fuses but after the
War, in 1918, a two-seat, four cylinder car costing £225 entered production.
By 1922 AC's competition
achievements were of increasing importance but it was setting the record for
the first car in history to cover 100 miles in one hour which was their proudest
By 1928 AC was
one of Britain's largest car makers, producing seven different models in total
but in 1930, following the economic troubles which beset every branch of industry
and commerce, the Hurlock family purchased AC. In 1933 four AC's entered in
the RAC Rally took prizes and soon after exports to North American began.
In the Second World
War AC's facilities were turned over to military production but by 1950 five
cars a week from the two litre family were being produced. Very soon afterwards,
the legendary light weight AC Ace made its first appearance.
The Aceca coupe
was launched at the London Motor Show in 1954 and in both 1957 and 1958 AC cars
finished well up the leader board in the Le Mans classic endurance race.
1962 saw the creation
of the ultimate classic - the AC Cobra. Made by shoehorning a large US Ford
V8 into the lightweight AC Ace body, the result was a motoring icon - unmatched
to this day. A year later the AC Cobra was embroiled in scandal when it raced
along the then brand new M1 motorway at a speed not too far short of 200 mph.
This exploit directly resulted in the 70 mph limit still in force to this day.
The AC Cobra went on to win many plaudits - including winning The Sports Car
Championship in 1965.