A phased change over from the Moss rear axle to the ENV unit took place during 1948/49. Chassis prefix changed from "L" to "EL" to indicate the ENV axle was fitted. Some earlier cars subsequently had the ENV axle installed.
By 1949, production was in full swing at a rate of about 5 cars per week. This was a far higher rate than pre-war production figures. This might explain why body frames were panelled by outside contractors (according to the better researched books/articles). A case of demand out-stripping the AC factory's capacity? Admittedly, AC's brochures claimed that bodies were made in-house. The wooden frames were definitely constructed by AC's craftsmen. A clue to the truth might lie in the wording of the door-step plates. Most of these state "Coachwork by AC Cars Ltd.", but from about 1953, the words "Coachwork by" were dropped. So maybe the later Saloons were panelled by contractors?
Detail alterations appeared year by year. Around 1948/49, louvres were added to the front inner-wings to aid the flow of engine cooling air. In late 1948, the windscreen design was changed to the more familiar arrangement with a chrome-plated brass frame. By autumn 1949 (somewhere around chassis EL1200), the side lamps (Lucas 461/1A) and stop/tail lamps (Lucas ST461), both with flat lenses, were replaced with the more modern Lucas L488 style lamps. The tubular mountings were omitted from the wings for these later lights.
In late 1949, the front brakes changed from "Hydrastatic" (self-adjusting), to more conventional leading shoe brakes.
There were more changes for 1950: The Girling lever-arm rear dampers, were replaced with tubular units early in 1950 (from chassis EL1307). This entailed installing a sub-frame to mount them. Many earlier cars were then modified to this later specification. The old lever-arm dampers are referred to as "single acting" in almost all literature relating to this AC, but the original owners' manual states that they were "double acting or in certain cases differential acting when less resistance is offered to the compression than to the recoil of road springs". Opening rear side windows were introduced for improved ventilation (from chassis EL1318). Around mid 1950 (chassis EL1403), saloons started to appear with 6.70 x 16 tyres, rather than the original 5.50 x 17 ones (although some export cars including drop-heads had this change earlier). In September 1950, adjustable vents at each side of the scuttle were added. Another small change was an increase in the number of demisting vents in the bonnet, from 2 to 3 on each side.
A few small changes under the bonnet appeared around this time: Different types of control-boxes with separate fuse boxes; horn relay added; different windtone horns; fuel filter was moved higher up, which meant that you could disconnect it without the entire contents of the fuel tank spurting out!
In early 1951, pistons were changed from Specialloid to Wellworthy, and engine numbers received a "W" suffix. This change increased compression ratio from 6.5 to 6.75 to 1. In late 1951 (from engine UMB1802-W), Metalastik crankshaft dampers appeared on the front of AC's engines, to replace the fly-wheel damper. 1952 saw another change in the braking system, when the rears became hydraulic (from chassis EH1807). Chassis pre-fix changed to "EH" to indicate this.
Inside the car, the dials and switches followed fashion and changed to a cream colour (from black) around 1950/51. Rear ash-trays moved from the seat backrests to the side trim panels. The gear-knob and stick also varied in style. The seat styling changed around 1953/54 to horizontal ribbing.
4 Door Saloon and a new DHC
For the 1953 model year, two new versions of the 2 Litre were launched. One was an improved drop-head coupé. Improvements included much more window area, both side and rearwards. There was a larger boot, achieved by removing the fuel tank, and fitting two smaller tanks under the front wings. Sadly, this never made it passed the prototype stage. The other new model was the 4 door saloon. These models coincided with further detail changes such as a thin chrome-plated quarter-light surround. This had a conventional opening quarter-light with a latch, rather than the lovely knob/gear controlled original. The boot lid was made wider. In 1953, Buckland Tourers ceased production, but AC built a few of their own version that year, known as the AC 2 Litre Sports Tourer.
As AC Ace and Aceca production got established, fittings from these models started to appear on the later saloons, such as tail-lamps and dials/gauges.
At least two Saloons received major modifications. One had swing-axle IFS, having previously competed in a number of rallies. Another Saloon had the chassis frame altered so that it swept over the rear axle (possibly from new?).
One of the works cars entered a few rallies, driven by Derek Hurlock (later to become AC Cars chairman), but no outright or class victories that I know of. A few Saloons and Bucklands were also entered in rallies (including Monte Carlo) and races by their private owners, but in some instances, errors by the crews put paid to any chances of a good finishing place. The only race appearance worthy of note was the Touring Car race at Silverstone in 1952, when a well used example of a Saloon came 2nd in the 2 litre class. It was beaten by a new Bristol, although it did see off other Bristols, Jowett Javelins, and Riley 2.5 entrants, among others. Overall victory in those days was more about sheer horsepower, but I think it is reasonable to suggest that the AC 2 Litre did not get a full opportunity to show its paces within saloon/touring car competition?
By 1952, the inevitable happened and the basic price for the 2 Litre Saloon topped the £1000 mark, and this meant a very large rise in purchase tax. Total price for the 2 door saloon then became £1600. The newly launched 4 door saloon cost £1725; 2 Litre Sports Tourer £1796; Drop-head Coupé (new version) £1750. It was still cheaper than the Alvis 3 Litre, the new Armstrong Siddeley models, Jaguar Mark VII and Lea Francis. But it was more expensive than the Rover P4 and the larger offerings from Citroen, Ford and Wolseley. Production declined in 1952 to about 140 cars, against the preceding 3 years which saw about 270 per year. By 1954, the Ace was in production, quickly followed by the Aceca, and production of the Saloons tapered off. It became available only to order, and very few were made after 1955. Most of the final cars were 4 door saloons, except for the last two, registered in 1958, which were 2 door cars. The final chassis was number EH2095, making a production run of 1296 chassis.
Increasing competition came in the form of mass produced cars featuring stressed body panels. That is, thin steel panels contributed to the stiffness of the car's structure, allowing the traditional chassis under-frame to be progressively dispensed with. Although early development had a firm eye upon light weight and high stiffness, the same could be achieved by more modern designs of separate chassis. The over-riding reason for stressed panel cars was, and is, cost-effectiveness for volume production. The volume of car sales in the UK increased 10 fold over the following 30 years. Customers could now get medium to large saloon cars for much less money, and the days of hand-built quality saloons was largely over. In many respects, the coach-built car is a superior product, but the price could never get near enough to the competition. The only prospects for small specialists like AC, was to concentrate on niche markets for high quality sports cars...
The AC 2 Litre helped to make AC much more widely known, particularly in the UK and Australia. It wasn't the Cobra that put AC on the map! The 2 Litre showed off what AC did best: Making fine quality, luxurious cars that are enjoyed both by those who simply like cars, and those with an eye for high quality and attention to detail. All this was achieved in a very elegant and attractive 'package' that managed to be distinctive at the same time. It looks good, sounds goods and feels good (either to touch, or to drive!).
Sources of Reference for this article
I've been researching this model of car for so many years, that many of the sources of information are only a blur! The Library section of this website gives a list of the archive books and articles I have consulted. I should also mention John Mclellan, author of various books and magazine articles over the years. Plus Leo Archibald, author of "AC 2 Litre Saloons and Buckland Sports Cars" (Veloce - 2002).
<< Page 3