Restoration to Competition!

Black Flag

It all started with a black flag. I was competing in the annual AC Owners Club Sprint Race in November 2015. I was driving hard and thought I was doing quite well for a beginner. But then I noticed bits falling off the car, such as window wipers and parts of a small window catch, and there was a funny noise from the gearbox. The race marshals at the Goodwood Circuit also noticed the flying debris and summoned me with a black flag into the holding area for a chat.

With some green sticky tap and after tightening some screws I was allowed to continue but I knew then that my AC Aceca needed a complete overhaul. So I called Jim Stokes at his workshop in Waterlooville. Jim was very helpful and invited me down to look around his workshop and to discuss over a coffee what would need to be done to the car.

It was all very genial and everyone I met at JSW were enthusiastic about my Aceca and they were keen to diagnose what problems the car may have. I left my Aceca with JSW confident that Jim, Paul and Tim, my main contacts, would find out what needed to be done and sort it.

And I was not wrong!

The JSW team is brilliant! They are the leaders in classic car restoration. No one can touch them. Professional and meticulous to the last. Talented, nimble, and friendly. Always give 100%, and good to deal with.

Kevin Shilling with his AC Aceca the day he got the Black Flag
Kevin Shilling with his AC Aceca the day he got the Black Flag - time to start the restoration

Racing Restoration

But VPL 441 had undergone restoration in the sixties and the eighties. In 1985 it was a full and comprehensive restoration. Mrs Nickless owned the car at the time and she managed to compete in sprint races during breaks in the detailed restoration program.

I was not so lucky. My restoration project for the Aceca took nearly three years and there was no way I could have driven the car during that time.

skilled carpenter to shape and bend the wood to fit the body of the AC


Early on in the restoration process JSW discovered woodworm in the frame of the Aceca. This had to be completely replaced. It took a skilled carpenter to shape and bend the wood to fit the body of the AC.

Rebuilt engine in VPL 441, AC Aceca


The electric loom at the rear of the car had to be replaced but the loom behind the dashboard is still the original. Surprisingly, the engine is also still the completely genuine 100B engine.

VPL 441, Major bodywork by skilled team

Minute Blemishes Tapped

A few dents and bulges on the body were reshaped by hand, just as it had been by the original craftsmen. The most minute blemishes were tapped smooth until the body had perfect alignment.

VPL 441, dashboard rebuild

Donald Campbell’s ‘Bluebird’ Blue

It was during the restoration program that evidence of the Donald Campbell era was revealed. Fragments of ‘bluebird’ paint were found on the body and also strips of grey leatherette were discovered under the glovebox.

VPL 441, painted in Bluebird blue

Bluebird Restoration Project

The Aceca was stripped back to its bare aluminium body. When it came to the respray I wanted to replicate the ‘bluebird’ blue. JSW reached out to Bill Smith, who is the leader of the Bluebird Restoration Project for the K7. We were hoping that Bill could let us have the colour code of the paint for the ‘bluebird’ blue used on the original K7 hydroplane. However, Bill could do better than simply supply a colour code, he actually had some old tins of the paint we wanted and sent some of this to JSW. The paint was solid but JSW was able to reconstitute it and match it with modern paint to enable the car to have several coats. The original K7 paint was used on the roof of the car.

AC ’Bluebird’ Comes Third

Restoration completed, AC ’Bluebird’, as it had become known, was returned to me in August 2018 and by November I was back competing in the ACOC sprint race at Goodwood. Nothing fell off and I didn’t get a black flag. In fact I drove the AC ’Bluebird’ into third place in our class, behind two Ace Bristols! I was quite pleased with the result but I suspect Donald Campbell would not have been happy with anything other than first place.

Kevin Shilling

Videos from the Latest Restoration

K7 Paint Being Sprayed on AC Bluebird

Fragments of rock hard K7 paint were reconstituted and mixed with modern, more robust paint, before being sprayed over the car. The original K7 paint is mostly on the roof of the Aceca. The paint fragments were kindly supplied by Bill Smith, who is leading the Bluebird Restoration Project.

More Photos of the Latest Restoration

These are photos taken during the 3 year restoration project for AC ‘Bluebird’. Please click the photos to enlarge them.

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