Ex-Basil Dean, owned by Nathan Clark since 1972, Mille Miglia eligible
1932 Aston Martin 1½ Liter Le Mans 2-4 Seater
Coachwork by E. Bertelli Ltd.
Chassis no. G2/213
Engine no. G2/213
Original UK Registration No. GY 2271
Manufactured by Robert Bamford and Lionel Martin, the first Aston-Martins (the hyphen is correct for the period) rapidly established a reputation for high performance and sporting prowess in the years immediately following The Great War. Unfortunately, the management's concentration on motor sport, while accruing invaluable publicity, distracted it from the business of manufacturing cars for sale, the result being a mere 50-or-so sold by 1925 when the company underwent the first of what would be many changes of ownership.
The foundations were laid for the commencement of proper series production with the formation of Aston Martin Motors Ltd in 1926 under the stewardship of Augustus 'Bert' Bertelli and William Renwick. Bertelli was an experienced automobile engineer, having designed cars for Enfield & Allday, and an engine of his design - an overhead-camshaft four-cylinder of 1,492cc - powered the new 11.9hp Aston, known also as the '12/50' or '1½-Litre'. Built at the firm's new Feltham works, the first 'new generation' Aston Martins were displayed at the 1927 London Motor Show at Olympia. These new Astons were available on long and short chassis, the former being reserved for saloons and tourers and the latter for the sports models.
Like his predecessors, 'Bert' Bertelli understood the effect of competition success on Aston Martin sales and sanctioned the construction of two works racers for the 1928 season. Based on the 1½-liter road car, the duo featured dry-sump lubrication a feature that would stand them in good stead in long distance sports car events and this was carried over to the International sports model, newly introduced for 1929. Built in two wheelbase lengths, the International was manufactured between 1929 and 1932, mostly with bodies by Augustus's brother Enrico 'Harry' Bertelli.
The 'Le Mans' label was first applied to the competition version of the (1st Series) International following Aston's class win and 5th place overall in the 1931 Le Mans race. This conceit was fully justified when the model placed 5th and 7th in the 1932 race and collected the Rudge-Whitworth Biennial Cup. It may, in fact, be the first car named after the Le Mans Race, although many others have since followed Aston Martin's example.
The second series of 1½ Liter cars were introduced in February 1932, although aesthetically it appeared to be just an update, there was a lot more to it under the skin. Most notably the cars featured an all new chassis, a Laycock transmission now mounted to the engine and the worm drive was sensibly revised by replacing it with an ENV spiral bevel drive. As before an International, dubbed 'New International', and the more sporting Le Mans was offered.
Perhaps more so than many production versions of competition cars, the Aston Martin 'Le Mans' retained a greater essence of the works cars, something that can be attributed for the most part to its handsome looks created by the low radiator and short chassis, as well as the use of cycle fenders. The Le Mans 2/4 seater Bertelli body, had shapely twin cowls on the scuttle, and its tail was completed by a large purposeful 19 gallon fuel tank and vertically mounted spare. In line with current fashion trends, the bodywork was further decorated by a purposeful looking external exhaust which visibly dived out of the engine compartment, ran under the car in a 'Brooklands' silencer and was topped off with a 'fish tail'. Further aesthetic improvements over previous 2/4 body guises included the snug fitting of the top frame inside the body. A sparsely appointed interior meant that all eyes were drawn to the dash, this followed the contour of the cowls with large diameter Speedo and Rev counters sitting beneath each cowl, a visual delight.
It was not all about looks though, the Le Mans engine had a 7.5:1 compression ratio, 25% higher than the standard model which allowed it to develop some 70bhp, enough to propel the car to a guaranteed 84mph. Large drums filled the whole of the wheels to ensure that braking was efficient, the combination and relatively lightweight body made for a nimble sports car. The model proved to be very popular among the sporting motorist, various privateers acquiring them and campaigning in regional events emulating the Le Mans and TT success of the brand.
The original records for G2/213 confirm that it is a very early example of the Second Series Le Mans. Predating introduction of the suffix designation of '/S' and '/L' for short and long chassis variants it was nevertheless completed as new on the shorter 102 inch chassis and is known to have been delivered in all black paintwork, with red upholstery, which is rather cryptically described on its build record as 'specially finished'. The lucky recipient of the car was Basil Dean, whom we believe to be the accomplished film director, and owner of Associated Talking Pictures. It is quite possible that his acquisition of this car is the self same tale referred to in Garry O'Connor's biography Ralph Richardson: An Actor's Life when he recounts telling Dean, "If you are interested in cars for their own sake, I am sure you will have a great deal of pleasure out of the new Aston Martin".
It appears that Basil Dean took delivery on July 17, 1932 and shortly after this registered it in the London area under the license number 'GY 2271'. Maintained by the works in his two years of ownership, it was fully serviced in December 1934 before being sold to a Dr. D. Green of Trabbs House, Lambourne in Berkshire. In Dr. Green's ownership the car continued to be serviced by the works through August 1935.
Beyond this, the car's history briefly becomes unknown, although it did turn up in a November 1952 issue of Motor Sport in an ad for Chiltern Cars listing the car for £325 and again across the pond in Road & Track showing the car for sale in New Haven, Connecticut for $2250. Both ads listed the car as a nicely maintained driver. By 1972 it was acquired by the late Nathan Clark at a 'Motorcars Auction' held by Kirk F. White of Ardmore, Pennsylvania. The invoice for this transaction is annotated with 'K.W. (meaning Kirk White) originally said there would be a Del. Bill of Sale by Richard Regal, Wilmington'. This is no doubt a misspelling of the 'Reigel' family, being noted car collectors from Wilmington, Delaware, and suggests that he was the former owner. It is of course possible that the car passed directly from Green to Reigel, an aspect which is currently being researched by Bonhams at the time of going to press. Since Clark's acquisition of the car, it had not left the garage in which it has been kept before being re-discovered and offered at this auction.
To inspect the car today, particularly when comparing it with its original factory order it seems likely that the car was never restored, although from its presentation, in a lightly dismantled state, that may have been the intention of the late owner. The car appears to retain its original paint and while it no longer has its seats, the red trim panels on the inside of the body are almost certainly the remnants of the original interior. Fortunately, the dash still retains most of its original instruments. When viewed and photographed by Bonhams specialists, the majority of the parts not attached to the car were sitting inside it, these proved to include the original front and rear cycle fenders, lamps and their brackets, its top and most of the side screen panels, the front valance to cover the dry sump tank, and other pieces, although the original dry sump tank was not found.
Perhaps a candidate for a sympathetic, preservation style refurbishment, or indeed the basis for a comprehensive restoration, the Le Mans is predominantly complete and either exercise will surely prove fascinating. It will also be an exercise that could reward its new owner with a car that is eligible for some of the most fashionable events in the world, owing to the fact that these cars were run in period in the Mille Miglia and of course at Le Mans, it could be campaigned at both, as well as those of the Aston Martin Owners Club which is well supported with regions across the U.S. and Internationally.
For Bonhams being appointed by the Aston Martin each year to hold the annual Works Service auction, means that we handle the sale of many interesting examples of the breed, even by this measure this is a remarkable find which we are very proud to offer for sale.
- Please note that the title for this vehicle is in transit.