Something you'll notice a lot these days is just how cagey automakers are with information about their cars. Behind every "new" car, there's an army of engineers, designers, testers, and manufacturing experts who have already planned out every facet of the vehicle's introduction.
Then you've got product planners, suppliers, and executives, who know a few years in advance what's coming down the pipeline. In many cases, a "new" car is launched with its successor already in mind.
Look outside of the major manufacturers, though, and vehicle introductions are done in a much more piecemeal way. Often, a lot of energy is put into just making the vehicle, with smaller carmakers putting all of their effort into the design, development, and launch of a new model—and then riding the wave of success afterward for as long as possible.
Rarely, an automaker will see someone else's design that they'd like to sell as their own.
Welcome to the AC 3000ME.
Even though AC had decades of success behind them—including the Ace, which became the Shelby Cobra—by the early 1970s, the company was making a few hundred cars here, a few hundred there—mostly "Cobra"-er-"Ace"-based sports cars. If they were to survive the next few decades, AC was going to need a more modern car.
In 1972, at the Racing Car Show, a small design firm called Bohanna Stables showed the Diablo, an affordable mid-engined sports car that looked like a cross between the Saab Sonnet III and Ford GT70. Compact, low, sleek, but angular—as was all the rage back then—the car was penned by a Lola designer working in his spare time.
AC loved it, and bought it—announcing shortly after that the Ford V6-powered sports car would be in production by 1974 and would carry a price tag of between £3000 and £4000.
The company put its resources behind the car, the first fresh design for AC in quite some time. By the early 1970s, crash tests were mandatory, and the 3000ME failed its type approval—the steering column was pushed back a reported 'half inch' beyond the maximum.
After an expensive and time-consuming redesign, it was ready; with orders being taken at the 1978 NEC Motor Show—with 50 names put onto the waiting list. The following year saw the production cars finally introduced…at a price north of £11,000.
What was the price just a year later, in 1980? More than £13,000 for the standard car, or just less than £14,000 with leather and a cassette radio—at that time, a Porsche 924 Turbo cost £14,000, and a Lotus Esprit S2 was £15,000.
Not a problem, right? After all, the sports car experts at AC were introducing a car that took more than £1m to develop and that, although challenging to look at, had performance that lived up to the firm's last major success, the V8-powered AC "Cobra".
Sadly, no. Woefully out of date by the time it was introduced, the 3000ME was really a wonderful idea in 1972—a 3.0-litre Ford V6, mid-engine layout, and 138 horsepower were nothing to scoff at. Nor was its 8.5 seconds to 100 km/h (62 mph) or 195 km/h (120 mph) top speed.
By its first Autocar road test in 1980, however, those specs were never going to fly—especially not when priced at Lotus and Porsche levels.
In 1984, the company moved (it's too complicated to get into here!) to Scotland, taking the 3000ME production with it. Just a year later, the Scottish arm closed.
Enthusiasts through the 1970s all the way to today have seen potential in the car; turbo kits have been made, and some have been lightened and used for things as diverse as track days and rallies.
If you'd like to fall down the rabbit hole of 3000ME admiration, take a look at the sources below—you'll have days of reading on your hands. You'll learn all about its complicated history and limited production of 106; 76 by AC Cars in England and 30 by AC Scotland.
As is often the case with vehicles featured here, some enthusiasts really love the car. Others, such as myself, can't quite see the appeal of falling in love with, in sports car terms, a boat anchor.