Aston Martin Heritage

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Aston Martin

Aston Martin International
The Internationals tail was not as handsome as the Ulster's, but was far more practical affording 2+2 seating, extremely innovative for a 1930's sports car...

Aston Martin Ulster
The Ulster is widely regarded as the best looking of the 1930's generation of sports cars...

Aston Martin DB2
The DB2 was an engineering masterpiece, and featured the sublime Lagonda 2580cc engine...

Aston Martin DB2/4
The DB2/4 was very similar to its predecessor, but now came in a more practical 2+2 seater configuration...

Aston Martin DB Mk. III
Bet you didn't know the DBIII was designed by Dr Eberan von Eberhorst. Try to avoid showing off your new-found knowledge when drunk at parties...

Aston Martin DB5
We have resisted the temptation to place "007" on the DB5's number-plate...

Aston Martin V8
The Aston-Martin V8 was, alledgedly, good for 436bhp...

Aston Martin Lagonda
The Lagonda name would be resurrected in 1976, the bold design of the V8 supercar would shock many...

Aston Martin Bulldog
How does one best describe the "Bulldog"?

Aston Martin Bulldog
The Bulldog's Gullwing doors may not have been unique, but the retracting bonet section to reveal a large headlight assembly certainly was...

The Influence Of Bamford And Martin

Aston Martin was born from a collaboration of Robert Bamford and Lionel Martin in 1913, while they were both working for Singer cars. Together the two decided that, while the Singer was definitely a good car, it could be improved somewhat to make it more suited to competition (a theme very much evident in the success of nearly every manufacturer listed in the “Heritage” pages on this site).

They started by using a Coventry-Simplex side-valve 1389cc four cylinder engine, at the time being manufactured for the inexpensive “Glyno” car. Lionel Martin then used his considerable engineering skills to work, fitting the engine to a 1908 Isotta Fraschini racing chassis designed by Ettore Bugatti (yes, of Bugatti fame!).

The car would naturally be raced in numerous events, including the Aston Clinton hill-climb course. Take the first name of that course, then add Lionel Martins surname and voila, a name that would come to epitomize high class British thoroughbred motoring to this day.

The Origins Of The Name

But back to the early 1900’s! While the first true Aston-Martin car would be manufactured in 1919, it would take until 1921 for the pair to be in a position to sell it. Perhaps not surprisingly considering the origins of the chassis that was being used, the new Aston bore a striking resemblance to the Bugatti’s of the day. Lionel Martin stuck with the Coventry-Simplex engine – but it was in the cars responsiveness and accurate steering that a reputation was quickly being established.

The first cars used rear fitted two wheel brakes, and while excellent, particularly when compared to the braking systems employed on the competitors cars, Aston-Martin soon introduced four wheel brakes.

The car was good for a top speed of more than 70mph, but at £850 was considered by most to be excessively expensive – and the engine was very yester-tech (even in these automotive pioneering years!). Struggling financially, the Charnwood family assumed control of the company in 1924, however sales did not improve markedly and by 1926 the company once again had its back to the wall.

Bert Bertelli To The Rescue

The companies salvation came from an unlikely source, one 'Bert' Bertelli’, an Italian-born engineer. Bertelli partnered with W S Renwick and together they produced a new Aston-Martin at their premises in Feltham. Their new Aston was thoroughly conventional, even by 1927 standards, being a two-seater with a new 1.5 liter single overhead cam four-cylinder engine.

Over the ensuing 3 years to 1930 only 30 cars would be manufactured, and financial problems would continue to impede the company’s progress. There was a short time when Frazer-Nash guaranteed Astons overdraft with its bankers, and only after further reorganization were they able to get their business affairs sorted sufficiently to enable the design and manufacture of the first of the Internationals.

Displayed to the public in 1928, the first “International” would not go on sale until 1930. Aston-Martin’s London distributor, W Prudeaux Brune, then took control of the company, speculation being that he grew tired of the continued supply problems and perceived miss-management of the company. Brune’s stint at the helm was also to be short lived, with control passing to Sir Arthur Sutherland in 1932. to be on sale by 1930.

The Aston Martin International Gains Popularity

But while so much was happening behind the management scenes at Aston, the International was starting to gain public acceptance and popularity! Unusual in that this was a sports car that offered four seats, all housed in a lovely flowing style that was quickly becoming fashionable.

The engine was much the same as used in earlier models, but was now fitted with dry sump lubrication. And, naturally for any car manufacturer aspiring to sporting pretensions, they were starting to enjoy success on the circuit, particularly at Le Mans where Bertelli and Driscoll won the Biennial Cup.

The Mk. II Aston-Martins were revealed at the 1934 Olympia Show. The new models had a more powerful 75bhp engine, and even more importantly the engineers dropped the use of a worm drive back axle in favor of a more conventional spiral bevel type – the former proving unreliable and many pundits considering it the Achilles heel of the International.

The Ulster, Arguably The Best Looking 1930's Sports Car

Despite weighing a rather obese 2000lb, the Mk. II was good for 80mph – a speed very credible for 1934! A two-seater “Ulster” model was soon released- styled almost directly on the works racing cars, and many regard it as the most attractive of the 1930’s sports-cars - an opinion that we here at Unique Cars and Parts would be loath to disagree with! The Ulster featured a long streamlined tail, close fitting cycle-type wings, an outside exhaust manifold, very low lines, and an incredibly comprehensive instrument panel.

Certainly this was the best of the “Bertelli Astons” (for his influence was still in these cars), but it was much heavier than such rivals as the Riley and MG Magnettes. Only 17 road cars were built, along with several 'team' racing cars, and they were priced at £750, ready to race.

In 1936 Aston-Martin introduced a new 2 liter model and, even though the design was basically as before, the enlarged 1949cc engine now used normal wet sump lubrication and was mated to a wonderful “synchromesh” transmission, a great advance for the day and more specifically for Aston-Martin.

The model line-up included both a saloon and sports-touring version, with a competition ready “Speed” model available. St John Horsfall would use the “Speed” to win the Leinster Trophy race of 1938, and then the “best British performance” at Le Mans.

David Brown Resurrects The Marque

Unlike the Axis car manufacturers on mainland Europe that received copious amounts of assistance (including financial) to re-establish themselves after the war, Aston-Martin was largely forgotten. There was a new model designed in the early part of 1939 by engineer Claude Hill, dubbed the “Atom”, but production was shelved at the wars outbreak. Post war attempts to manufacture a new car with a multi-tube space frame could not be financed, and all seemed lost for the marque.

Thankfully a more far-sighted industrialist would come to the companies rescue in 1947. David Brown, who incidentally had also purchased Lagonda, turned the fortunes of the company around almost immediately. Only one year after assuming control, 1948 would see the release of the DB1 with a sweet and powerful new six-cylinder twin-cam Lagonda engine.

Once again St John Horsfall would enjoy race success, this time at the 1948 Spa 24 Hour race. But the real success of the marque would occur with the release of the DB2 in 1950.

In this iteration, the Lagonda 2580cc 107bhp engine was mated to a new version of the multi-tube chassis, the aerodynamic two-seater coupe body being styled by Frank Feeley, an ex-Lagonda stylist. The coupe would sell for £1915, the drop-head version costing £128 more. The DB2 remains to this day a landmark in design, performance, handling and refinement.

The Vantage Engine Brings Success

In a time when a companies fortunes relied heavily on race track success, David Brown had some cars fitted with a 123bhp “Vantage” engine for an extra £100. A famous lightweight DB2, VMF 63/64/65, performed valiantly at Le Mans where drivers Abecassis and Macklin, managed by John Wyer, won the Index of Performance; the same crew then going on to win their class in the Mille Miglia.

In 1953 the DB2 gave way to the DB2/4 that offered 2 + 2 seating. Apart from a hatchback style treatment at the rear, the car remained very similar to its predecessor but, from 1957 onwards, a new DB Mk. III would be fitted with front wheel disc brakes and afforded even more power – it would remain in production until 1959.

Dr Eberan von Eberhorst (try to remember the names, we will be testing you at the end of this article!) then designed 1951’s DB3. Built around a tubular chassis frame, the car featured de Dion rear suspension and a 140bhp version of the Lagonda engine. The engine size would be increased in later cars, capacity up to 2922cc and good for 163bhp.

Evolution Of The DB and V8

In 1953 the DB3 was replaced by the DB3S, essentially a shortened wheelbase version of the chassis, but carrying over the same suspension and running gear, all housed in a more shapely body shell. Immediately successful on the circuit at events such as the Goodwood Nine Hour race, it would remain a force to be reckoned with for the next three years.

The DB3S was put on sale as a 'road car' for £3684, with a claimed maximum speed of 150mph. A few of these cars (there were 30 in all, including team cars) had fixed-head coupe styles. In 1957 Aston released the DBR1, and then the following year and all new model, the DB4.

The 3.7 liter engine was good for 240bhp and certainly had such makes as Ferrari and Maserati in its sights. By this time the cars were better described as Grand Tourers rather than sports-cars, but the short-wheelbase DBWT (some with lightweight Zagato bodies) producing up to 325bhp retained much of the sports-car spirit.

The 4 liter DB5 followed in 1963, and a true adult carrying four-seat DB6 was released in 1965 and would remain in production until 1970. The DBS would be released in 1968, and although it had a very wide and heavy body, performance was more than satisfactory courtesy of the silky smooth 4 liter six-cylinder engine.

The Aston Martin V8

From 1969 a new 5.3 liter four-cam V8 would be fitted, and while Aston remained tight-lipped as to the power output of the engine our research shows it as being good for between 340-436bhp and a top speed in excess of 170 mph/ 250 km/h. Sir David Brown sold Aston in 1972, and there have been numerous owners in-between times. But perhaps that is something we need not worry about, for the company has shown it’s resilience in tough financial times, and the pedigree and quality of the marque has never been tarnished despite undergoing so many acquisitions!
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