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In October 2006 we were contacted by a customer with regard to building a Hawk Cars AC Ace replica on his behalf. As official Hawk Cars build agents we were delighted to agree to the build, so the relevant orders were placed and we were given our deadline .... 21st March 2007! This is going to be a tight schedule as we not only have to build, and paint the car, but we also have to SVA and register it.

Not helping our task is the fact that this car will be slightly different to a standard AC Ace as it will be powered by a 2.5 litre straight six fuel injected BMW engine. Changing the powerplant and drivetrain in any car is often a time consuming exercise as it can have knock on effects on all sorts of unforseen things, and this one is going to be no exception.

You can follow the progress of this project here .....

Body / Chassis Delivery ...
... and a lot of bits!
Not much happened in December, except the kit was delivered to our workshop. Everyone, including the customer, was pushing for a 2006 delivery to us, so our first task was to sort through all the bits we received and generate a list of missing parts. With such a comprehensive kit, and with a very short delivery deadline, it was inevitable that some parts would be short, but we were pleased to find the list was very small, and none of the missing parts would actually hold us up at all. Keeping track of the parts is vital in any car build, and particularly in this case as some are coming from Hawk Cars, some are being supplied by ourselves, and some are being supplied by the customer.

Luckily we were able to source the engine and gearbox before the chassis was made, so we delivered it to Hawk so that they could carry out the necessary chassis modifications and manufacture the necessary bracketry to accept the engine and gearbox at the same time as making the chassis. This cost a bit of time during the chassis manufacture but will save a huge amount of time later on.

Front Suspension Fitted (N/S)
Front Suspension Fitted (O/S)
Engine/Gearbox Fitted
Front Manifold Doesn't Fit
One of the first jobs to do was to fit the suspension. This car has the Hawk seperate wishbone front suspension, with 4-pot brakes, which was remarkably easy to assemble and fit, albeit it needed doing with care and patience. At the moment everything is loosely fitted as until the car is sitting at its final ride height we can't finally tighten the suspension bushes. We recieved a reconditioned rear axle and new leaf springs with the car, and re-conditioned the rear brakes ourselves, complete with new cylinders and shoes.

We had thought that we'd have to continue working on the car on axle stands at this point as although we had the wheels and tyres we had no spinners to hold them on with, but they arrived in the post the next morning so we now had a rolling chassis.

The next job was to remove the body from the chassis and install the engine. Although the tape measure said the engine would fit in through the bonnet we didn't want to take the risk. We had already stripped and cleaned the engine, and fitted a new head gasket and clutch, so it was ready for installation and dropped in very easily. Hawk had done an excellent job on the mountings. We did however notice that the standard BMW exhaust manifold had no chance of fitting so we're going to get a custom tubular manifold made from stainless steel.

Bodyshell Refitted
Perfect Fit in the Engine Bay
Dashboard Fitted
Seatbelt Mounts Fitted
The wiring on the BMW engine all exits the engine at the rear of the cylinder head, so our plan is to pass it through the bulkhead and situate the ECU etc, behind the dashboard inside the car. This will make an extremely tidy and uncluttered engine bay, as well as protecting the electronics from the elements.

With the engine and gearbox fitted, the next job was to re-fit the bodyshell, and finally bolt it into place. The chassis comes from Hawk with the body pre-fitted, so all the holes were drilled already and it was a simple case of dropping the body back onto the chassis. Some of the bolts originally supplied are shipping bolts so they were replaced with high tensile items with nyloc nuts. The engine sits really nicely in the engine bay and no body modifications are required, which we're really please about!

With the bodyshell re-fitted we set about fitting some of the more major items, starting with the dashboard. This fitted perfectly as it came from Hawk Cars with no modifications required, and once it was in place we could position the steering column. The steering column can't be positioned prior to this as it is the dashboard that determines it's lateral location.We also assembled and fitted the pedal box at this stage. The pedal box on this car is a bespoke item, utilising three master cylinders, one for the clutch and two (one each) for the front and rear brakes, complete with a Tilton biasing bar. This went together quite easily although we did have to open out the pre-machined holes for the cylinders as they were about 2mm too small in diameter for the cylinders supplied.

Next we fitted the SVA compliant seat belt mounting. This consists of an extremely strong steel frame that sits in front of the rear bulkhead which is bolted through the chassis from underneath and braces back through the bulkhead into mountings in the rear chassis rails on the boot floor. The seat belt straps are supported and guided through some very smart machined stainless steel brackets which bolt to this framework.

Pedal Box Fitted
ECU Mounted
Lower Steering Column Locater
Custom Exhaust Manifold
With the engine and engine harness fitted, we next made up a mounting plate to hold all the engine electrics. The mounting plate is a simple plywood sheet bolted to the passengers footwell bulkhead on which we've mounted the ECU and engine relays. Later, when all the wiring is completed, it will be covered by removable plywood sheet which will be carpeted as the rest of the interior. This will ensure the electrics are totally protected from the elements.

The next few items to tackle were some of the more time consuming jobs that the fitment of a BMW engine had complicated, namely, the exhaust manifold and steering linkages. We'd already roughly positioned the steering column, but we were a bit concerned about the method of locating the lower end of the column (it's simply located through a hole in the drivers footwell bulkhead) and when we discovered that the steering column extensions wanted to pass directly through the engines timing chain tensioner we had to drop it half an inch, which was impossible with the original locating method. We therefore made a lower locating bracket from mild steel which bolts to the bulkhead with stainless button head bolts. It looks the part and provides a much more positive location.

With the steering system completed, we could now make the exhaust manifold. To simplify matters slightly we purchased a pair of stainless manifolds to replace the original cast items as we already knew the rear manifold could be fitted un-modified. The front manifold then had the original tubes cut from it, new items made to clear the engine mounting, and then had the original downpipe flange re-welded to it. This took several days to get right but looks spot on now its finished.

Wiper Motor Mounted
Wipers and De-Misters
Fuel Tank Fitted
Fuel Filler Fitted
Another job which took a lot more time than the end result suggests it should have done was fitting the fuel tank. Ultimately the fuel tank is held in place by four bolts with two steel straps, but as there are no datums to position the mountings from we had to position the tank, mark one hole, remove the tank, drill the hole, refit the tank, fit one bolt through the hole we'd just drilled, then repeat for the other three bolts. In the end we managed to fit the tank such that the filler neck only had to be moved forwards by 1/2mm to get a perfect alignment so that, and the fitting of the filler neck, is now another job off of the list, although we still need to modify the fuel piping to the tank slightly as it is designed for a carburettor engine and has no provision for a return pipe from an injection system. To make it look a bit prettier when you open the boot we covered the front face of the tank with an aluminium sheet.

The next item to tackle was the wiring. The kit comes with a comprehensive wiring loom seperated into three main sections, the engine bay loom, the dash loom, and the rear loom, and this should have made fitting it a very simple task but as we're using a different engine pretty much everything in the engine bay loom was either in the wrong place or duplicated by the BMW loom so our first task was to lay the engine bay loom out on the floor, identify all the spurs and then strip the loom back to remove all the wires we didn't need. Once that was done we mounted the relays and fuse box to give us a starting location and then worked forwards, lengthening / shortening the relevant wires as we went along to give us the perfect layout for our engine bay. This allowed us to run the main loom section underneath the bonnet aperture return to completely hide it from view, with just one visible 'drop' to the chassis which is just behind the radiator and totally innocuous. We also stripped back the front light wiring (which is in the same loom) and continued it forwards under the bonnet reveal and above the top of the radiator mountings so it could remain hidden. This took nearly two days but the result is an extremely tidy and virtually completely hidden installation.

Relays and Fuses Fitted
Fans and Horns Fitted
Knit one, Pearl one !
Dashboard Wiring
The dash loom is effectively the 'heart' of the wiring, with everything spurring off of it, and consequently there are a LOT of wires here! This was compounded on our build by the fact that we'd run the engine wiring through the bulkhead into the dash void and effectively doubled the amount of wiring that needs to be crammed into this space. Some time needed to be spent planning how to get all this wiring to look neat and tidy, and therefore reliable, but in the end it all just about fitted in. We waded through numerous publications trying to find a definitive spec for the instrument layout but couldn't find any consistency so in the end we just went for what felt right. This wasn't helped by the fact that on the loom all the switchgear comes off of one spur and all the instruments come off of another spur but on the dash they are all intermingled, so some more time was spent shortening/lengthening various wires to get as neat a layout as possible. Once the windscreen and everything else in this area is fitted we'll make up some bracketry to tie everything to to keep it safe and secure.

With all the front end wiring completed we finished a couple of other tasks, like the throttle pedal installation, the clutch pipework, the main battery cables etc, and then made a 2mm aluminium plate to cover the bulkhead and tidy everything up. The plate is made in two halves and sandwiches around the engine loom grommets to hold them neatly and securely in place. The two aluminium plates that sit on top of the footwell voids lip up behind the bulkhead plate to make a tidy finish. In hindsight this is a job that would have been a lot easier to do whilst the body was off of the car, or at least before the engine was fitted, but the end result looks superb.

Dashboard finished and ready for trimming
Aluminium Bulkhead Plate
Post Pump Fuel Filter
High Pressure Fuel Pump
With the electrics pretty much completed and the engine almost ready to run we needed to tackle the fuel system. As mentioned before the car isn't designed for a fuel injected engine so we had to sort this area out ourselves. We purchased a pair of injection fuel filters (one pre-pump and one post-pump) and a 5 bar high flow injection pump and made up some bracketry to mount them under the floor beside the chassis rails. This will give us the maximum head of fuel into the pump. We made the main fuel lines from copper piping to keep the amount of rubber hosing down to a minimum and ran them through holes in the outriggers, p-clipped to the chassis rails for maximum protection. This was a particularly time consuming exercise but again, the end result justifies that time. There is an outlet in the top of the Hawk tank that is designed for a breather but we 're-allocated' that to the fuel return line and plan to modify the filler neck to provide adequate breathing. To try to prevent air entering the fuel line we modified the fuel sender unit so that there will still be 2 gallons of fuel in the tank when it reads empty on the gauge.

With that job out of the way the engine bay is almost complete. All we need to do now is fit the header tank and heater hoses, which are being custom made for the car, fit the windscreen washer bottle / motor and the air filter. We're really pleased with how neat and tidy the final installation looks.

Engine Bay Nearly Complete
Engine Bay Nearly Complete
Front Lights Fitted
SVA Compliant Rear Lights
With the car due to go for paint on the 5th of March we now needed to get the brightwork fitted so that all the necessary holes are cut / drilled prior to painting. The front lights are pretty much self explanatory, although there is no definitive location for the indicators, but the rear lights are much more of a pain. This is mainly due to SVA requirements as there is no way the Ace rear lights will pass SVA. We therefore fitted the rear lights that the car will eventually have, to ensure to holes are the right size, and then removed them and fitted a set of SVA compliant Landrover rear lights. They look hideous but fortunately they only need to be there for one day!

MARCH 2007
With all the brightwork completed we stripped everything back off of the car and it left for the paintshop on the 5th of March.

The paintwork was entrusted to REO Motors in Leicester, who had the car for the majority of March. REO have painstakingly removed every single ripple and pinprick from the gelcoat and trued up all the shutlines and flashlines. We got the car back on the 29th of March and the results are simply stunning.

Back from the Paint Shop
Back from the Paint Shop
Back from the Paint Shop
Back from the Paint Shop
With the car back in our hands its now time to finish the few jobs we didn't get a chance to complete before it left for the paintshop, like fit the exhaust system and the propshaft, and then we can finally fill it with fluids, fire it up and commence the final assembly and trim.

APRIL 2007
In every build, there are certain landmark moments that you look forward to, and one of the more major ones is starting the engine for the first time. On the 6th of April we had the exhaust and cooling systems finished and everything ready to go, so we put some petrol in the tank, primed the fuel system, turned the key and the engine burst into life first time and purred like a cat. Everything felt remarkably smooth and quiet with no obvious rattles, vibrations or dramas. The 6th of April was a good day!

The rest of April consisted of getting the car rebuilt with all its brightwork, and fitting the interior trim. Black leather was used for the dash and door-cards, porsche green leather for the seats and porsche green carpet for the floor carpets and transmission tunnel. The transmission tunnel was modified to move the flat area where the gear stick protrudes back about 4 inches to cater for the longer BMW gearbox.

Interior Trim Fitted
Interior Trim Fitted
Tonneau Cover Fitted
At this stage the car was still being built in 'SVA mode', hence the use of a Rover steering wheel and gear selector knob. These will be replaced with replica items at a later date. We've also fitted SVA compliant spinners, which will also be replaced with replica items post SVA.

MAY 2007
With the car pretty much finished a ridiculous amount of May was taken up with SVA and registration. On the morning of the SVA test it was literally chucking it down with rain and our plan to drive the car to the test wasn't looking like the best idea we'd ever had. Bearing in mind we'd never driven the car there was always going to be a multitude of problems that could have caught us out, but we hadn't anticipated the one that did. We'd got the brake biasing wrong! We drove the car out of the workshop, onto the main road, pressed the brakes for the first corner, and the rears locked up. Not only was this going to be an immediate SVA fail, it was also far to dangerous to even contemplate driving the car to the Derby test center in the inclement weather. We returned (slowly!) to the workshop to fix the problem, which only took about 10 minutes, but it was enough to put us far enough behind schedule that we now hit the rush hour traffic and we turned up at the test center 45 minutes late, and the examiner politely declined to test the car. This was a pain in that we had to book another test in 2 weeks time, but at least the car drove there and back faultlessly, so that was pleasing.

At the subsequent SVA test we had a small number of 'sillys' to sort out, and we had to fit a cat as there was no way we were going to convince the examiner that our shiny new BMW engine came out of a 1970 MGB!, but all in all they were minor items and the car sailed through the re-test a week later. We'd now put about 80 miles on the car and the suspension was settling nicely, but we'd noticed the front was lower than we would have liked, and we didn't want to risk coil-binding the front springs by jacking them up any more, so they were changed fron the original 300lb items to a more substantial 350lb pair. This improved things no end.

Registration was simple enough, although it took a long time as the Nottingham DVLA office wanted to inspect the car and the date they gave us was the 5th of June. This was longer than we would have liked but it gave us time to swap all the SVA items over for the final items the car was going to be fitted with and the car was inspected and registered on the same day. We picked up the number plates on the 6th of June and the car was handed over to our customer on the 7th of June.

The Finished Car
The Finished Car
On the 13th of June, just 6 days after delivery, our customer drove the car to Le Mans for the 24hr weekend, and back again a week later, a journey which it completed without so much as a hickup, despite the appalling weather. We met up with him in Le Mans and the grin on his face told us all we needed to know. Ok, so the car was delivered late, but a lot of the delay was out of our hands and our customer is delighted with his new car, which is ultimately what is important to us. All in all a successful project !

Here's to the next one ....

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