Did you know that one upon a time, Donald Campbell drove an AC Aceca? A what, you may well ask. It was a car.
We didn't know much about these until we took a call from a car restoration company called Jim Stokes Workshops. It's one of those places where you find yourself in the presence of million-pound cars and you have pop your eyeballs back in. But what could they possibly want with us?
It turned out they had a car in for restoration that had once been Donald Campbell's daily driver. The client wanted to know what colour Bluebird Blue was so he could paint the car that colour because during its restoration evidence had turned up that that's what colour it had been when Donald drove it.
But, as usual, nothing is that simple when it comes to Bluebird anything.
Which version of Bluebird Blue would the client like? We asked. That puzzled them for a while but by a process of back and forth with the client and looking at the history of the car it was decided that it had to be an early colour from the mid fifties and not the 1966 version. But how to say with any accuracy which of the many shades was the authentic original colour? Yes, it had to be the last one in an archaeological dig back through the layers but who's to say the boat wasn't stripped to bare metal at some stage? We had an idea.
This is an old photo of K7 being modified at the side of Ullswater ahead of its first record (pic courtesy Neil Sheppard Collection).
The front spar has been raised but if you look below the spar on what is the left hand side of the cockpit you can see a blister riveted onto the outer skin. It's only on that side, there isn't one on the other and it's there because of a peculiar quirk of designing things of that era. You see, none of the drawings produced by Norris Bros include any of the controls. No steering, no engine controls, nothing, because all the Norrises did was design a hull then invite subcontractors to make their kit fit into the available space. It wasn't designed as one integrated machine with everything it needed and this caused a problem. When the steering people came along to do their work they were given a steering box courtesy of Burman and a back of a fag packet set of calculations by Ken Norris to give the correct steering forces at the rudder and were sent off to make it work, but by the time the lever lengths and fulcrum positions were calculated they realised there wasn't enough room to keep it within the boundaries of the hull and the only way to get it all working was to cut a hole in the side.
As we had none of these parts and very little to work with except for a surviving copy of Ken's calc's we had to start from scratch. It began with bits of scrap aluminium, a length of broom handle and some skin pins, as did most of our experiments.
That got us to a set of basic dimensions and throws for the linkage but it was very wibbly-wobbly so a more robust one was made up using the guts of a Renault water pump.
This one allowed us to put some weight on it to work out how it had originally been mounted and how strong we ought to make it. That repurposed pump hangs on the workshop wall to this day.
Having got it all working we then constructed a very robust version to pick up on all the mounting points we were aware of. Clever Barry made up its insides for us.
We had very little to go on. just a few bolt holes, an attachment angle and some tiny clues from photos of the cockpit but we designed something that picked up and used every last clue.
Then, of course, we painted it hideous green as we did with all the new bits. It's silver now.
But what does this have to do with the AC Aceca? I hear you ask.
Well, we're getting to that.
Because, having done all of this work, we had exactly the same problem. We needed to cut a hole in the side to clear the linkage.
This is essentially a new panel but it has bits of the old one grafted in and the hole in the side is new because we carefully cut out and preserved the original part. Notice that the tube inside that links to the steering rod heading aft is flattened. It's the only way we could get it to run through the hole in the next bulkhead without it fouling and, having done that to get it all working, we spotted a photograph that proved we'd guessed correctly.
We did, however, salvage the original blister and it went on with many rivets and lots of choccie.
But what about the car?
Yes, yes, we're getting to that.
This is the original skin as recovered.
You can see how the blister has hydroformed onto the panel and then the whole lot has wrapped around the vertical frame tube. The front of the boat would be to the left in this shot and you can see that the frame ahead of the vertical tube had already separated before the rest of the cockpit wall was torn away but under that blister was a time capsule.
What lay under the blister was the only completely authentic example of the original blue in which the hull was first ever painted even before it had any steering. A single coat of pristine, 1954 Bluebird Blue that had never seen daylight.
This was exactly what was needed for the Aceca. We soon had it analysed and a paint code provided to the resto shop but we reckoned we could go one better so we picked through a box of paint flakes and put together some good examples that were then ground to a fine powder, reconstituted then added to the paint that went onto the car. The Aceca has paint on it that was on every WWSR Bluebird ever took.
We were sent a few pics as the work continued.
(Images courtesy Jim Stokes Workshops)
The car was fully rebuilt from the ground up to the highest possible standard and once complete it was a beautiful and pristine machine.
Now here's the the thing. The client was a chap called Kevin Shilling and he doesn't just wash and polish his Aceca and show it off at car meets. He takes it out and competes in it.
Coming through the chicane at Goodwood. (Courtesy: Kevin Shilling)
And since we first got involved in blue paint, Kevin has supported our project and now he's written a detailed history of his car, it's previous owners and its various restorations including this one and is selling it in aid of Dementia Support so he mailed to say would I buy a copy for my collection to help his cause. Of course.
The title speaks for itself and it promises to be a good read.
Better still, Kevin is coming to Elvington on the Sunday (hopefully with his Aceca) so if you get in quick he'll no doubt be willing to sign a book or two.
Linked below is Kevin's website with a lot more info about the car and how you can help Dementia Support whilst adding a rather nice book to your bookshelf.