Name Gary Southee
From Hawkhurst, Kent
First classic Reliant Scimitar SE5a
Dream classic AC 2 Litre drophead or a Jaguar XK120
Best trip I love journeys around Suffolk and France
A TRIUMPH FOR THAMES DITTON
I have been fiddling with cars since my teens. A Mini gained an MG 1100 engine, an Anglia 105E was fitted with a 1500GT motor and, as I got older, a Scimitar was given a Rover V8 and flip-front, while a Land-Rover Series III also got a V8. Then I had kids and got sensible.
Later came a Toyota Celica GT and a Dodge Dakota truck, which was quick and loud. Then there was a Minion Jackal, a replica in the style of a ’34 Riley. That gained a 3.9-litre Rover V8 as well as Jaguar independent rear suspension. It weighs 740kg and produces 225bhp.
I’m now much older, but more sensible? My current cars are both alloy-bodied, separate-chassis, leafsprung beauties. The first is a 1949 AC 2 Litre saloon and the other is an 88in Land-Rover SIIA with a V8. One cruiser, one bruiser. While looking for a classic to replace the Minion, I decided upon something not needing much work, just routine maintenance. I looked at Riley RMs and Alvis TA21s but couldn’t find anything inspiring. Then, while surfing the internet, I spotted the AC. It belonged to an engineer who had owned it for 14 years. I viewed it, went on a long test drive and all seemed good so the deal was done. I then drove it 150 miles home, no problem.
The car had received a full body restoration in the late 1980s, been garaged since, and came with loads of history and pictures. It had been raced and rallied during the ’50s and had clocked up 106,000 miles. It had been given an engine rebuild in 1965 at a cost of £140, six pistons costing only £21. I’m not sure what that would buy nowadays.
It seems that because the AC had not been used much – 12,000 miles in 14 years – the head gasket had corroded and it subsequently blew. That meant a new copper replacement (£160), plus lots of blood, sweat and tears to get the head off and back on. I got great assistance from members of the AC Owners’ Club forum, though, one of whom wrote the book on the 2 Litre.
All seemed well, but 200 miles later the gasket had blown again. It appears that the copper item is not up to the job, so an alternative was sourced from Robin Woolmer (www.ac-project.co.uk), who builds modern versions of the AC engine that are VSCC compliant. Made from superior composite material, it has a special beading and reinforced liner bridge; more expensive but worth it. This time I was up to speed, so the head was off and the gasket replaced within a day.
Dog in back and wife in passenger seat, it was off to France for a trouble-free two-week tour. Everywhere we went, the AC was admired and sometimes I would find people standing next to it for a photo. I also took part in the 2016 London New Year’s Day parade, the old girl getting lots of praise. Since then, there have been a couple of drives to Suffolk plus another trip to France. The AC gets regular use (unless the roads are salty) and always has people asking what it is. It is a great driving car, smooth and, for its age, is relatively quick. Unfortunately, after 4000 miles in 14 months the engine has developed serious problems and a rebuild will be £10-14k.
Ouch! For now, I’m replacing it with a Triumph ‘six’ at far lesser cost than repairing the AC unit. It will be ready for 2017 to celebrate the model’s 70th anniversary. The Land-Rover came about because I needed a runabout in the meantime. ‘Olive’ is a different sort of thing – a bit bumpy but lots of fun.
I think the AC is an underrated and much-maligned car. It’s lovely to drive, with a nice leather and wood cocoon for a cabin. It’s rare, too: I understand that fewer than 60 are on the road. In my eyes it is a good-looking design, and without the 2 Litre the Ace and Cobra may never have come about. Keep an eye out for me in Kent and Suffolk.
‘It had clocked up some 106,000 miles and been given an engine rebuild in 1965 at a cost of £140’ The car features a particularly graceful tail. Few people recognise this elegant nose. A proud Southee with two faithful friends. AC ‘six’ is to be replaced with Triumph unit. Alongside the Somme in northern France.
The AC pauses for a photo in the mediaeval village of Saint-Valery-sur-Somme during a trouble-free excursion to France.