1934 Aston Martin 1 1/2 Liter MkII Sport Saloon
Coachwork by Bertelli
Chassis no. K4/513/L
Aston Martins competition prowess has assured the marques survival from its very earliest days. It began with a Singer-based special built by Lionel Martin and Richard Bamford before the First War. So successful were they in hillclimbs that they adopted the name of their most successful venue, Ashton Clinton near London, as an integral part of the marque name.
After the war similar cars powered by L-head four-cylinder engines with iron cylinder block and head cast as a unit, light alloy crankcase, 4-speed transmission and torque tube drive followed. Piloted by such lights as Count Louis Zborowski, Sammy Davis, H. Kensington-Moir and Clive Gallop, the side valve cars were renowned for their excellent handling, their reliability and their speed.
These first Aston Martins were good enough that in 1921 H. Kensington-Moir took the most famous of them, Bunny, to Brooklands and set a British record, averaging over 86mph for an hour. She followed that up with another Brooklands record run, setting ten worlds records in a run that eventually lasted eighteen hours and averaged over 75mph. In 1922 G.C. Stead piloted Bunny in the 200 mile race at Brooklands, averaging over 86mph to finish second overall to a much larger Talbot-Darracq driven by Kenelm Lee Guinness.
At the same time Aston Martins drivers were aware that more power than the side valve four could provide was needed. Martin engaged a Mr. Robb to design a single overhead camshaft engine. When it failed to meet the companys expectations they engaged Marcel Gremillion to come up with a new cylinder head design which provided comfortable power. With some development it was brought to Aston Martin standards of reliability. The marques standards of performance and competition were such that in 1922 a two-car team of Aston Martins driven by Clive Gallop and Count Zborowski entered the French Grand Prix at Strasbourg, making the marques grand prix debut in the same race as Bugatti.
The marques enthusiasm overcame its financial success in 1924 and the first savior, the Hon. John Benson, stepped in. His commitment ended only a year later after the 1925 London show and Aston Martin entered receivership.
It is the history of the marque, however, that enthusiasm for it and for its products overmatched commercial realism. The next iteration of the Aston Martin story picked up in late 1926 when the principals of Renwick and Bertelli, Ltd. formed a new company, Aston Martin Motors Ltd. They introduced a new model a year later powered by a single overhead camshaft engine of their own design with dry sump lubrication. The block and crankcase were a single unit while the removable cylinder head had a chain driven overhead camshaft with finger followers and wedge combustion chambers. Drive was still taken from the engine through a 4-speed transmission and torque tube drive. The chassis was, particularly for the day, stiff and handling was up to the highest standards of Lionel Martin. A.C. (it stood for Augustus Cesar) Bertelli tended to the engine and drive train while his brother Enrico, known as Harry, created the lightweight, efficient and attractive coachwork that added so much to the appeal of the 1 1/2 liter Aston Martins.
In 1931 Bertelli took a team of three 1 1/2 Liter Internationals to Le Mans for the 24-Hours. Tim Birkin and Lord Howe secured Alfa Romeos first Le Mans victory in an 8C 2300 but Bertelli and Maurice Harvey brought their Aston Martin home a remarkable fifth overall, first in the 1500cc class. It qualified for the Biennial Cup, the award established by the A.C.F. to reward consistency which was considered by many competitors nearly as important as the overall win.
Three more Aston Martins thus made the trek to La Sarthe in 1932, led by A.C. Bertelli, now sharing his car with Patrick Driscoll. The team car of Newsome and Widengren repeated Bertellis 1931 finish of fifth overall while Bertelli and Driscoll finished seventh to capture the Biennial Cup. The performance placed Aston Martin firmly in the forefront of sports car builders in Britain.
To capitalize on the marques strengths and make it as competitive in the market as it was on the worlds race circuits the International was revised to incorporate a Moss gearbox, spiral bevel drive rear axle and other changes. The body was redesigned with a lower radiator and then-stylish slab fuel tank. The price was lowered from around £600 to £475. Not surprisingly Aston Martin capitalized on its success at Le Mans and the publicity that followed by introducing a Le Mans model.
17 added to the frame created a long chassis model that gave Harry Bertelli scope for coachwork with more generous passenger accommodations and in 1934 a Mark II was announced, its 7.5:1 compression ratio 1 1/2 liter engine giving 73 horsepower at 5,200 rpm. Success in the Tourist Trophy saw Aston Martin announce another high performance model in 1935, the Ulster.
The low slung, stiff chassis, sparse coachwork and competition reputation combined to make the Aston Martin 1 1/2 liter Mark II the epitome of British sports car design in the mid-Thirties. Race-bred with a record of success which other marques could only dream of, there is a mystique about Aston Martin which has assured its survival and frequent revival for nearly a century. There are many seminal Aston Martins but none more important than the 1 1/2 Liter Mark II.
The beautiful example on offer today is a long wheelbase 1934 1 1/2 Liter Mark II bodied with particularly attractive 4-seat sport saloon coachwork by the master of Aston Martin bodies, Harry Bertelli.
The popularity and immediate recognition of the Ulster model Aston Martins has made it common for saloons such as this exceptionally attractive example to be sacrificed in the creation of Ulster replicas. The saloons were, however, particularly important to Aston Martins survival in the difficult years of the Thirties, supplying clients with the opportunity to enjoy Aston Martin performance, handling and responsiveness with the added attraction of room for four and protection from the elements.
Chassis K4/513/L has been a concours winner in Britain, taking the Sutherland Trophy, second place in the Edward Trophy competition at the Newport Pagnell Summer Concours and a class win at the RAF Hendon Autumn Concours in 1982 and the Nigel Dawes Trophy at Birtsmorton Court in 1983. It was acquired by the family of the present owner in 1986 and was shown at the Pebble Beach Concours dElegance in 1989. It was widely known among Aston Martin owners in the U.K. prior to coming to the United States and counts Aston proponent Donald Proffitt among the prior owners in its provenance.
It was featured in two books by Andrew Whyte, A Touch of Class: 101 Great Marques and The Century of the Car.
Since arriving here it has been in the careful stewardship of two generations of the same family. Finished in Royal Blue with a Simca Blue accent, Grey leather and Blue carpets, in addition to the Lucas King of the Road headlamps set low between the cycle front fenders, dual horns and rear-mounted spare wheel and tire it has a sunroof, opening windscreen, dual wipers and trafficators in the bodys B-pillar. Silver painted wire wheels carry blackwall tires and the side windows and windscreen are set off with bright reveal moldings. Characteristic both of the sporting character of the series, the exhaust emerges from the left hood side in two chromed flexible headpipes which lead to a chromed collector/silencer.
Few of these delicately proportioned long chassis Bertelli-built sport saloons were built they are believed to number only around two dozen and even fewer have survived either the use and enjoyment which their performance and handling encouraged or the temptation to create an open Ulster sports model from the long wheelbase chassis. It is one of the charismatic, attractive lightweight sedans of the Thirties and an important part of Aston Martin history which will reward its new owner with delightful driving experiences and the opportunity to continue to preserve a highly significant Aston Martin. Sold on a Certificate of Title.
- Andy Bell, of marque experts Ecurie Bertelli has kindly advised Bonhams that at the time of restoration this car was rebodied to its original Saloon configuration by Wakefields of Byfleet in the UK, this included the fitting of aluminum wings and hood.