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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 victory.
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.
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