The Ace Caf lies on London's North Circular road, an authentic recreation of the original that closed in 1969. During the sixties, it was a legendary meeting point for the "ton-up boys," who would race their Triumphs, Nortons and BSA's on the inner ring road which cuts an arc through north London's inner suburbs, rarely more than five miles from Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square.
In those days, the bikers had much in common with the contemporary hot-rodders in the U.S., but lacking cheap old cars and powerful V-8 engines, they turned to the plentiful and powerful vertical twin motorcycles which the U.K. excelled at making; fitting lightweight alloy mudguards and fuel tanks, race style clip-on handlebars and set-back footrests; and tuning engines with twin carburetors and megaphone exhausts.
Dressed in black leather jackets and blue jeans aspiring to the James Dean look, playing rock 'n' roll on an American jukebox, and eating bacon, eggs, and chips with big mugs of tea, they saw themselves as rebels, and the Ace was the biggest and best of many "caffs" where bikers spent their evenings. No impromptu drag races on deserted roads for them; instead their aim was to exceed 100 mph-the Magic Ton-on the North Circular road or the nearby Great West Road, both of which had 30 or 40 mph speed limits. Accidents were frequent, often fatal, and the Ton-Up craze itself died when cars became cheaper and it became obvious that the guys who got cars were getting the girls too.
I was a biker then, although the Velocette Venom 500 I rode in the '60s has now been replaced by a good American '72 XLH Sportster, but I would never have dared to ride as fast as they did, overtaking in the face of oncoming traffic. I bought my first '66 327/350 Corvette convertible in 1970 because it was the only affordable car that had the performance of a super-bike-all the fresh air and performance without the need for a crash helmet.
In 1993, biker Mark Wilsmore, who rides a Triton-the ultimate hot-rod bike, combining the best Triumph engine with the best-handling Norton frame, organized a reunion at the site of the old Ace Caf, then a tire depot. After many more reunions, he eventually bought the old building, restoring it and reopening for business in September 2001.
We never had Dairy Queen here in the U.K., but the Ace is a very British interpretation with plenty of parking space for cruising cars and bikes. The Ace schedules live music some evenings, different car and bike meets each weekend, and midday of the last Saturday in August is the Corvette Cruise-in. Undeterred by terrorist bombings in the vicinity during the previous month-or maybe just because we're used to the IRA attacking for the last thirty years-there was great turnout, many having been at the Fairmile pub for the CCC-UK Surrey Section's barbecue the previous evening. Some were planning to drive into central London for the Chelsea cruise that evening.
The oldest Corvettes this particular evening were both '62 models. Dave Abramovitch has owned his white-with-red 327-250 four-speed for more than twenty years. He arrived with son David, the same son whose birth he celebrated by buying this Vette for himself. He has driven the car more than 70,000 miles, had a body-off restoration in 1996, and drove to the NCRS-UK's Flight 98 in 1998 to collect a well-deserved Top Flight at the first Flight Judging outside North America. Dave's registration number "62 VET," has to be one of the best on any British Corvette. He waited years for it to be issued, paid thousands of pounds for it at the Department of Transport auction, but now it is his to keep or sell if he wishes. Earlier this year, I sold the number "1 USA" for 25,000; about $45,000 U.S.
Realtor James Jenkins bought his red '62 fuelie ten years ago when he spotted it at an exotic car showroom. Always ready to attend any rally or road run whatever the weather, his Rochester injection system is carefully stored away and this four-speed car now runs a reliable GM Goodwrench 350. In 1999, he shipped his car to the U.S. and spent five weeks driving Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica before shipping it back to England.
Yellow was not an available color on Corvettes from '59 to '64, but is now firmly established as Corvette's racing color. Pat Fitzgerald is a regular visitor to Le Mans, and his yellow 327-300 four-speed convertible has been chosen to join the Friday night Parade des Pilotes for the last three years; in 2003 he paraded with a Hawaiian Tropic girl seated on his deck lid, and for the last two years he has led the Parade. Pat has owned his C3 since 1999 and drives it everywhere, rain or shine.
Norman Jackson has owned his customized blue '81 for nearly six years and did all the work on the car himself. The motor is now a 383 stroker and his labour was rewarded this year when he won Best '78-'82 at the CCC-UK annual Knebworth Rally in July, which was attended by more than 350 Corvettes. Norman also has a C4 convertible as his daily driver.
Mark Margrie is a long-term ZR1 owner but chose to bring his dramatic black supercharged '94 coupe to the Ace Caf. This car has Brembo brakes, coil-overs, and a suitably wicked "666" registration number. Mark puts thousands of road miles on both cars each year, attending all the rallies-often helping to organize them too. He recently sold his immaculate '70 LT1 convertible to an enthusiast in Berlin, Germany, feeling the handling and brakes did not suit his driving style. A computer engineer for Hewlett-Packard, I suspect he also found it hard to trust a car with neither a processor nor a memory. I sold him all three cars and we are still friends.
Peter Sansbury's brother John co-founded the CCC-UK in 1979, and at last has a Corvette of his own. He bought his '01 Millennium Yellow coupe sight unseen on eBay from a vendor in upstate New York, and is thrilled with his purchase. The entire transaction, including money transfer, shipping, and paying 30 percent to U.K. customs, went smoothly.
The new C6 Corvette is proving to be a big hit over here. Most are personal imports rather than the official export cars distributed by Cadillac Corvette Europe. Timon Pratt's six-speed '05 coupe replaces a much-loved '69, which he felt needed too much work instead of driving. His C6 took him to Le Mans this year, and is unmodified apart from performance mufflers and a Mid America grille. Timon didn't like the side repeater lamp on the fender behind the front wheel of the export cars, which U.K. regulations require being visible only to an observer from a particular position behind the car. Mounting the lamp in the front fender vent met the regulation and he passed the single vehicle test without drilling holes in the curve of the fender. Nice solution, Timon!