1962 AC Aceca Coupe 2.6 vs. 1957 Aston Martin DB MkIII

   
1962 AC Aceca Coupe 2.6 vs. 1957 Aston Martin DB MkIII - comparison test-review 2019 Olgun Kordal and Drive-My EN/UK

Life imitates art - the AC Aceca and Aston Martin DB MkIII are bound not only by their hatchbacks, but by the creator of 007 himself. Words Greg Macleman. Photography Olgun Kordal.


ACECA vs DB MkIII - Ian Fleming’s own AC takes on the Aston his fictional secret agent drove on paper


From the moment an Aston Martin DB5 first flashed across cinema screens in 1964, both car and maker became indelibly associated with the James Bond franchise. But while the DB5 was the vehicle that bound the two in popular culture, Bond’s enduring relationship with Newport Pagnell stretched back rather further, to a time when 007 existed only on the pages of Ian Fleming’s novels.


Olgun Kordal / AC Aceca 2.6 vs. Aston Martin DB MkIII - comparison test-review
AC Aceca 2.6 vs. Aston Martin DB MkIII - comparison test-review

The earliest James Bond story, Casino Royale, was published in 1953, and in it Fleming’s lead man reflected the life of its creator: from his schooling at Eton and a decorated career as a Naval Intelligence officer to a deep love of all things automotive. That enthusiasm first manifested itself with a 1930 Bentley 4½ Litre ‘Blower’, but it wasn’t until 1959’s Goldfinger that Bond’s choice of transport made the transition from scene furniture to fully fledged character. When the film was released, its automotive star was to become an icon; but for the five years between the novel and the picture, however, the father of all Bond cars could have been very different.

Fleming presented the world of James Bond as a more polished and exciting version of his own, including exploits in the wartime casinos of Estoril and his love of golf; the sands of his own life became pearls with each keystroke. In Goldfinger, Fleming immortalised local Royal St George’s Golf Club pro Alfred Whiting as caddy Alfred Blacking at ‘Royal St Marks’, scene of Bond’s showdown with Auric Goldfinger; the arch villain borrowed his name from Ernö Goldfinger, a Modernist architect whose work Fleming despised and who sued the writer before settling out of court. And while Bond was issued a ‘battleship grey Aston Martin DB III’ in the book, just a few years later its author would take delivery of perhaps its closest rival: this very AC Aceca.

‘With the roofline raised and rear crossbracing removed, the transition from DB2 to DB MkIII was a product of evolution rather than revolution’

Though the Aceca beat the DB MkIII to showrooms by a year, the Aston’s lineage goes back to the Frank Freeley-penned DB2 of 1950 and the early David Brown era. The DB2 had been transformed by the time Fleming started Goldfinger: first to the more practical four-seat, Vantage-powered DB2/4 in ’1953; then a MkII redesign that in ’1955 brought vestigial fins, new tail-lights and a more attractive front wheelarch swage line; and finally, in ’1957, to the MkIII spec that would play a starring role in his novel.

The transition from DB2 to DB2/4 offered the greatest changes, with the roofline raised and rear cross-bracing removed to accommodate two extra passengers, while a redesign of the rear window gave access to the luggage compartment. It was retained for the final iteration, the MkIII’s body being a product of evolution rather than revolution and most notable for its grille. Heavily altered in the image of the DB3S racer, it has influenced every Aston since.

Beneath the aluminium body lay a sturdy chassis and a much-revised version of the WO Bentley-designed DB2/4 ‘six’, reworked by Tadek Marek with a new block, crank, intake and exhaust manifolds. Power was up from 140bhp to 162 (or 178bhp with twin exhausts, as here), while Girling front disc brakes were later standardised. The cabin featured an all-new fascia, which laid the instruments in front of the driver for the first time.

The Aceca traces its design to the open-topped Ace of 1953 – itself inspired by Ferrari’s 166 Barchetta. Built on a lightweight tubular chassis with aluminium body panels and wood-framed doors, like the Aston the Aceca featured a hatchbackstyle rear. The most notable changes through its nine-year production life revolved around its powerplant. Early Acecas left Thames Ditton with AC’s aged 2-litre ohc straight-six, but from ’56 cars could be specified with Bristol’s more powerful 120bhp ‘six’. When that eventually became unavailable, in ’61 it was replaced by the Ford 2.6-litre from the Zephyr, breathed on by Ruddspeed and available in five states of tune. Entry-level cars featured a lightly reworked iron head, while as much as 170bhp was coaxed from the humble unit in top trim thanks to a trick Raymond Mays alloy head mated to triple Weber carbs. Meanwhile, the Ace had attracted the attention of Carroll Shelby, and the looming shadow of the forthcoming Cobra meant that just eight Ruddspeed Acecas were built; Fleming took delivery of chassis RS5506 in August 1967.

Despite their similarities, there’s no escaping the fact that the Aston is the bigger machine, its higher bonnet and roofline contributing to a comparatively agricultural look. Both share a striking resemblance in profile, with a similar rear window treatment flowing into groundbreaking hatchback tails, but it’s the delicate AC that appears the better resolved thanks to its finer, slightly upturned wings and the perfect proportions of its smaller side windows.

At a glance, the Aston and AC are like a Hollywood actress alongside her stunt double, but their true characters come to the fore once the cameras are rolling. Show the DB MkIII a twisting country lane and it defaults to pootleto- the-pub mode, muscle memory from a lifetime of easy living settling the speedo at a comfortable 45mph. It bumbles along on a swell of torque, cruising gently with just the merest tickle of the accelerator. Even at these speeds there’s a characteristic steering dead spot in which the wheels seem to chart their own course; it demands constant input, and you saw softly at the wheel like an actor in a back-projection car chase. When the 2.9-litre ‘six’ requires you to swap cogs, the action is effortless and the delicate lever contrasts with the scale of the car.

Ask more of the DB and it responds willingly, the sonorous Lagonda-derived engine urging the big coupé onward. Straight-line speed is respectable, with 60mph coming up in a little more than 9 secs from standstill and terminal velocity reached at a whisker under 120mph, but as the pace increases the characterful foibles that enchanted at lower speeds become challenges. The steering feels slightly wayward, which, combined with the Aston’s 1270kg weight (some 250kg greater than the AC), makes cornering quickly something of an act of faith. The DB can be hustled, but doing so focuses the mind more than you might expect – particularly on narrow lanes with unpredictable camber.

Unlike the Aston’s antiquated – albeit coil-sprung – live rear axle, the Aceca boasts all-independent suspension with its transverse leaf springs in effect creating a double-wishbone set-up all round. Show the AC the same stretch of asphalt and it will strain at the leash, each press of the accelerator met with a roar from its triple SU carbs and a glorious straight-six howl that sets the hairs on your neck on end. It’s quicker and more free-revving than the DB, while the four-speed Jaguar-derived Moss ’box is a delight (Ford’s would have been unable to cope with the extra power Ken Rudd teased from the Zephyr motor). Where the Aston’s change is genteel the AC’s is muscular, with a positive action that ‘thacks’ with the satisfaction of snapping closed a Zippo. Paired with a heavy clutch, full-blooded launches are irresistible – so too is reining in your right foot as the needle climbs the dial to the soundtrack of that magnificent engine.

The Aceca’s bite matches its bark, proving hugely accomplished at tackling winding roads. It might not be as agile or fleet of foot as an Ace, but the difference is negligible compared to the gulf that separates it from the DB. The Aceca is lighter, stiffer and more direct, and every inch the driver’s car – particularly in Ruddspeed trim. Typical of all Acecas, the suspension is firm, and while the ride can suffer over broken surfaces it comes into its own when pressing on. The longer you spend in the AC, the greater the gusto with which you hurl it into corners, each time proving equal to the task. It has stacks of grip and all the poise of a racer, its direct and accurate steering inspiring confidence to press harder. As we pull into the car park, hot engines ticking as they cool, it’s difficult to imagine not reaching for the AC’s keys given the choice, such is the thrill and theatre of driving it quickly.

For a public whose recent memory was still swimming with wartime rationing and biting austerity, James Bond provided a welcome flight of fancy – a ticket to a world of luxury and excess that they could only imagine; the swashbuckling spy known for a love of shaken Martinis and sharp suits was destined to take the wheel of the glamorous Aston Martin. Away from the world of secret agents, high rollers and international intrigue, however, Fleming found himself drawn to this understated and supremely capable Aceca – and it’s easy to understand why.


Both cars feature sidehinged hatchbacks – the AC’s larger rear window and Aston’s higher roof the main distinguishers, plus the DB’s ‘cathedral’ lights. Similarities continued to the interior. Below: this Aceca’s Stage 2 ‘six’. has 167bhp. Above: AC offers the more engaging drive. DB2/4 featured an all-new dash. Below: WO Bentley-designed ‘six’ was heavily revised by Tadek Marek. Above: familiar profile.


Thanks to Redline Engineering (www.redlineclassiccars.co.uk)



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Read 387 times Last modified on Sunday, 06 October 2019 16:53

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Formerly the property of James Bond creator, Ian Fleming

1962 AC Aceca Coupe
Registration no. 6649 TU
Chassis no. RS5506
Engine no. S251773E
Footnotes

The success of Cliff Davis' Tojeiro sports-racer prompted AC Cars to put the design into production in 1954 as the Ace. The Davis car's pretty Ferrari 166-inspired barchetta bodywork was retained, as was John Tojeiro's twin-tube ladder frame chassis and Cooper-influenced all-independent suspension, but the power unit was AC's own venerable, 2.0-litre, long-stroke six. This overhead-camshaft engine originated in 1919 and with a modest 80bhp (later 100bhp) on tap, endowed the Ace with respectable, if not outstanding, performance. A hardtop version - the fastback-styled Aceca coupé - debuted at the Earls Court Motor Show in 1954. The Aceca's hatchback body was constructed in hand-formed aluminium over a tubular steel framework, while the tubular chassis was more substantially built than the Ace's. To reduce noise levels within the cabin, AC mounted all major components on rubber bushes. The result was a well-engineered, light in weight and extremely pretty GT car in the best AC tradition.

Very few alterations were made to the Aceca during its production life apart from a change of engines. For the 1956 season the more-powerful (up to 130bhp) Bristol six-cylinder engine became available and thus equipped the Aceca could touch 120mph, its combination of a fine-handling chassis and a decent power-to-weight ratio making for delightful motoring. With AC's own engine at the end of its development and the Bristol six about to cease production, AC turned to Ford power in 1961. Ken Rudd, a long time Ace enthusiast and Ford tuning specialist, was recruited to proved modified versions of the 2.6-litre Ford Zephyr/Zodiac six-cylinder engine, which was available in different states of tune ranging from 120 to 170bhp. Only eight Ruddspeed Acecas and 37 similarly powered Aces were produced before AC turned to Ford V8 power for the Carroll Shelby-inspired Cobra.

Chassis number 'RS5506' is one of only six surviving Ford-powered Acecas. A matching numbers car, it is recorded as leaving the Thames Ditton factory on 14th August 1962 for delivery to Mr Fleming, who registered it as '9181 ML' on the 17th of that month. Co-incidentally, that same year Ian Fleming completed 'The Spy Who Loved Me', the 10th of the 14 books in the James Bond series. The Aceca passed to a Dr Webster in 1963 and then to Brian Gell in 1967 with a registration change to 'AC 4'. In 1973 the car went to a collector in Holland, Harry van Bakel, returning to the UK in 1987 and acquiring its current registration '6649 TU'.

The Aceca was ordered from the factory with Ruddspeed's 'Stage II' conversion incorporating larger inlet/exhaust valves, lightweight pistons and triple 1½" SU carburettors mounted on a Barwell inlet manifold. Other specification highlights include a Moss four-speed overdrive gearbox, servo-assisted disc/drum brakes, twin electric fans, heater and a radio, the latter converted to FM reception. We are advised that the body has been refurbished recently, with all corroded alloy removed from the 'B' posts and new metal let-in wherever necessary prior to repainting, and the engine's block and cylinder head rebuilt.

'6649 TU' completed the Rome-Liège-Rome Rally in 2002 and has a current FIVA identity document. Finished in dark blue with re-carpeted original red leather interior, the car is offered with original buff logbook, current road fund licence, MoT to July 2011, Swansea V5 and an extensive history file of correspondence and other detailed documentation.

Antonio Ghini
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