Rebuilding the British roadster that forged a father-son bond

1956 AC Ace front 3/4

Fathers and sons have been bonding over cars practically since the invention of the automobile. During a 2013 episode of my show, Chasing Classic Cars, I was fortunate to be involved in a very special moment between a father and son, and all these years later, it’s still my favorite episode.

In January 2012, Don Rose, then a specialist at RM Sotheby’s, called me. He had a right-hand-drive 1955 AC Ace that he needed to sell to fund another purchase. A few days later, he told me I might hear from a guy named Joey Bojalad, the son of the AC’s original owner. After seeing the car on my website, sure enough, Joey called. We had a few conversations and soon made a deal. He bought the Ace without coming to see it, and he asked me to perform extensive restoration work, including installing a new wiring harness and giving the car a full repaint to return it to the exact condition it was in when his dad, Joseph Bojalad, Sr., drove it to an overall win at the 1955 Put-in-Bay road races in Ohio. He told me he needed to have the car ready by August, fewer than eight months away.

Put-in-Bay is a town on South Bass Island in the middle of Lake Erie, and to celebrate the original races held from 1952 to 1959, the town invited past winners to participate in a special “reenactment” during the race weekend. The whole driving force behind Joey’s decision to buy the Ace and have us restore it on such a tight schedule was his desire to present the car to his father as an early 78th birthday present at Put-in-Bay.

The time frame was so short that, ordinarily, I would have turned down the project. But I knew it would be a wonderful story for the show, so I couldn’t pass it up. The job was made easier by the good overall condition of the car and a comprehensive book of photos and other documentation Don had compiled during his ownership. That book came in handy to ensure we could be accurate on the color, placement of numbers, and other details from the Ace’s earliest racing days.

1956 AC Ace
RM Sotheby's
1956 AC Ace

The car was green when we got it, and it sported a roll bar and silver wheels. When Joe Sr. raced it, the Ace was dark red and lacked a roll bar. Old photos from Put-in-Bay showed off-white wheels. The only things missing were the correct rearview mirror and the bumperettes. Once we had the car fully painted and the doors and lids back on, we had to install the new wiring harness to make it street legal. When it was first raced, the Ace was driven to the races, so all the lights and turn signals had to function. As it evolved into a full-time race car over the decades, the lights and the harness no longer worked. It took us a while to sort it out, but by that August, everything was functional.

The freshly restored Ace and I arrived on South Bass Island early that morning. I drove it off the ferry to the home of one of Joey’s friends and then went to meet up with Joe Sr. He wasn’t familiar with Chasing Classic Cars, so in order to get camera time with him, I told him I was interviewing him about the Put-in-Bay road races for the local historical society. He was happy to do so, and as he and I walked around talking and filming, he shared so many great memories from his racing days.

Before the cars toured the original road course, father, son, and I walked the lineup of old racing machinery. As we strolled, Joe Sr. reminisced about cars he recalled from his racing days. When we finally came to the last car, which was covered, I suggested he pull the cover off to see what was underneath. After a quick glance, he said, “It looks just like my car.” Then he really took in the Ace he hadn’t seen in more than 60 years, and the recognition showed in his eyes. “I don’t believe it,” he said. He repeated that several times before walking around to examine the Ace more closely.

I looked at Joe Sr. and pointed to Joey. “This guy here did something very special,” I said. “This is your car now. Your son bought you this car.” Joe Sr.’s legs went weak, and we had to support him as tears filled his eyes.

In the years since we filmed that episode—titled “Happy Birthday!”—plenty of grown men have told me it brought them to tears. I’ll tell you, the father-son bond over cars is universal.