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AC Car factory plan in Bridgeport hits bump in the road

Although AC Cars didn't move into a Bridgeport factory last month as planned, that hasn't dimmed some of the anticipation and excitement among potential workers and parts suppliers who hope to work for the company sometime this year.

Since Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced in November that AC Cars would open a factory in Bridgeport, the Connecticut Post has continued to field e-mails from readers looking for jobs with the company and parts suppliers that want to sell the company equipment and components. Inquiries were referred to the company's Web site.

AC Cars is Britain's oldest carmaker and is most famous for producing the Ace and, with Ford and Carroll Shelby, the Cobra. The company plans to build the Mamba, MKVI and the Ace in the old Armstrong factory on Knowlton Street. The state is offering to provide a $1.5 million low-interest loan to the company to help outfit the factory.

The company and its Bridgeport partners originally projected a February start date for the venture, but now say it's more likely to happen in April.

That shouldn't be a shock to anyone because even in November, Rick Torres, the Bridgeport-businessman who is leading the group of local investors that own the factory, said it can take time to get the project going.

"We're proceeding forward," Torres said. That sentiment was echoed by the state Department of Economic and Community Development, which is finishing the due diligence process required before the state can issue a bond for the project.

Torres said the factory's heating system has been upgraded and other work is continuing, but meeting environmental regulations governing the factories makes it a slower and more difficult process than he would like.

AC Cars has also signed an agreement with a marketing firm for the new cars it will build in Bridgeport and sell nationwide, according to Torres.

The company also told The New York Times that it has created a plan to bring its cars to market sooner than later.

AC will begin by selling rolling chassis cars without motors — to vendors who would then install the engines and sell them to customers.

Critics of the deal said AC's plan to manufacture autos in Bridgeport was too aggressive because the company would have to spend millions to have its cars tested and crashed by independent labs before getting the necessary permits to be a full auto-assembly plant.

Torres said the company will be able to sell its vehicles while going through the tests and eventually install the motors in Bridgeport.

DECD spokesman Jim Watson said his agency is continuing to talk with the company and there is nothing to indicate that the deal will not go forward.

AC Cars is an international company that went through some tough financial times in the late 1990s and early this decade before opening a factory in Malta, where it is producing cars.

Torres was defensive about questions regarding the future of the deal. He blamed the Post and other publications for raising what he called unnecessary questions about AC Cars' past, which delayed the project as the DECD looked into those deals.

For his part though, Torres remains as anxious as job hunters in the area for the opening of AC's factory for a number of reasons, but mostly because it will mean the realization of a vision he has for Bridgeport.

Torres sees a Park City teeming with potential and straining to be great and he hopes that landing a "jewel" like AC Cars will drive that point home to everyone and serve as the first step in a rebirth of the city.

For information on AC Cars, visit www.acautomotive.info.

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