Bad Cars

A collection of complete lemons

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The AC Petite

AC are the UK's oldest car manufacturer, and they are still building their famed AC Cobra, one of the most popular British sport cars of all time. What a shame that they also produced the Petite.

There was some logic in this however. The Suez fuel crisis made petrol very expensive and hard to get hold of so several manufacturers brought out lightweight cars with low fuel consumption. It was possible in those days for someone with a motorcycle licence to drive a three wheeler car, and so logically this was the car to go for. It didn't look like a three wheeler, but it was; with a small wheel to the front and two spoked motorcycle type tyres to the rear.

Unfortunately having two different types of wheel on the vehicle meant that carrying a spare was a bit of a gamble, since you could never know whether you would get a puncture in the front or the rear! The answer was simple; no spare was provided and, anyway, getting at the wheels by the roadside was virtually impossible since they were enclosed by the bodywork.

This wasn't the only problem with the wheel layout either. The engine was mounted in the rear - which could cause massive oversteer - and if the front wheel got caught in a rut or tramline it was a work of art to get out of it since all that happened was that the rear end skated from side to side. One of the advertisements the company put out claimed that it was the car to 'Go Anywhere on Your Farm or Estate'; there was not of course a Trades Description Act in those days!

The 350 cc single cylinder two-stroke engine produced a lot of noise, vibration and smoke but not a lot of power; top speed was about 40 mph with acceleration to match. Trying to overtake anything else on the road was a complete waste of time. However, it was designed to be frugal, and fuel consumption was often as low as 60 to 70 mpg.

In keeping with the law at the time there was no reverse gear; if it needed to go backwards the driver and, perhaps, single passenger (it would seat two people only on a bench seat) had to get out and push it. There were three forward gears; first was easy enough to get into but to select second or third was very much a was matter of suck it and see; the column mounted gear lever was very vague and it was hard to tell just which one you were going into. Spark plugs, typically for a single cylinder two-stroke engine, tended to foul up regularly so owners got quite used to changing them by the roadside.

This wasn't a cheap car to buy, and whether or not the fact that it had been produced by a company with such a great reputation for building superb sports cars made a difference with the car buying public is a moot point. In the event, about 4000 of them were sold eventually before the petrol crisis ended, and the Mini came along and took away the market for this, and all the rest of the small/micro cars.

There is a lot to criticise about the AC petite but at a time when most people had very little spare money to spend it provided economical transport plus weather protection for a lot of people who would otherwise have had to make do with a motorbike.

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