WHEN British sports-car sales were riding high in the decades following the Second World War, the tall though slightly retiring figure of Derek Hurlock, standing head and shoulders above his contemporaries on the AC Cars stand at Earl's Court, was one of the more reassuring features of the London Motor Show. AC was the family business, the moribund company having been bought by Derek's father, William, and his uncle, Charles, in 1930. But, despite the economic depression at the time, cars continued to leave the works and AC was back at the 1933 Motor Show with the Ace, initiating a one-model policy that lasted until 1953.
Although there was family pressure for Hurlock to take up farming, he responded to the irresistible lure of the modest though rambling AC works in the High Street at Thames Ditton, Surrey, which was by then producing bespoke and civilised sporting cars, graced with handsome factory-built coachwork. So, following education at Dulwich College, Hurlock joined the business in 1939, where he remained until 1942, and for the next four years served in the Royal Navy. After demobilisation in 1946, he returned to AC and became a director in the following year.
AC succeeded in weathering the trials of the immediate post-war years, but by the early-1950s the business clearly needed a replacement for its ageing, expensive Two Litre saloon though it lacked the resources and talent to develop a new model. It was in the summer of 1953 that Derek and his uncle Charles first drove a prototype sports car, designed by John Tojeiro, and they were sufficiently impressed to purchase it, along with the manufacturing rights. The outcome was the modern, surefooted Ace which appeared at the 1953 Motor Show. It was initially powered by AC's own long-running six-cylinder engine, but Ken Rudd, the firm's Worthing distributor, convinced Hurlock of the wisdom of the company following his example by offering the fine Bristol engine for those Ace owners who wanted to race their cars. AC duly responded and the potent six was to turn the Ace into a formidable 115mph sports car, with acceleration to match. In the 1950s Hurlock was regularly seen at the wheel of an AC at the Goodwood, Brands Hatch and Silverstone circuits and long-distance rallies like the RAC, Monte Carlo and Alpine.
As the Ace began to near the end of its life, in September 1961, Hurlock received a visit from the American racing driver Carroll Shelby, who had the idea of replacing the Ace's British six with a V8 engine by Ford of America. The resulting car was called Cobra, Shelby having, literally, dreamt up the name.
The 1960s saw a great period of activity for AC, with chassis and bodies for the Cobra being built at Thames Ditton and then shipped, unpainted, to Shelby's Californian factory for the fitment of the V8 engine and gearbox. There it was marketed as the Shelby AC Cobra and the chunky, functional model was one of the world's fastest production road cars: its top speed eventually reaching the 165mph mark.
Derek Hurlock had become AC's Chairman in 1965, but, as time progressed, the Cobra became less British and more Ford- related. He decided to turn these developments to AC's advantage and the Ford-refined Mark III Cobra chassis formed the basis of the company's own 428, of 1965, a car of which Hurlock was particularly fond. It was - in studied contrast to the rugged Cobra - a comfortable, Italian- styled grand tourer, though its full potential was cut short by body supply problems which stopped its manufacture in 1973.
In truth, the courteous and gentlemanly Hurlock found himself out of his depth in the international motor industry. Presiding over AC during the 1930s, when the cars were bought by young men like himself, would have been his true metier.
The 428's decline left a hiatus which seemed to be filled by the ME3000 coupe, announced at the 1973 Motor Show, though destined for a protracted six-year gestation. It entered production in 1979, but output ceased in 1984. The end finally came two years later, though AC Cars now survives independently at the old Brooklands motor racing circuit where the Cobra continues in production.
In 1987 the Hurlocks left their home in Long Ditton, and moved to Chiddingfold, Surrey. Hurlock was a very active president of the AC Owners' Club and regularly attended its gatherings. Retaining a lifelong interest for mechanicals, he also had a passion for steam power and was a trustee of the Brecon Mountain Railway. At the time of his death he was restoring a 1914 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost.