The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920
Lot 346* N
1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports
Chassis no. 1920
Sold for £186,300 (US$ 249,019) inc. premium

Lot Details
The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920 The ex-J C Douglas,1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports  Chassis no. 1920
The ex-J C Douglas
1923 Aston Martin 1½-Litre Sports
Chassis no. 1920

*The earliest known surviving 'production' Aston Martin
*Exceptionally well documented history
*Fully restored by Ecurie Bertelli
*AMOC concours winner

Footnotes

  • 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 immediate post-WWI years. The company traces its history back to 1914, when Bamford & Martin Ltd built their first car - ultimately known as 'Coal Scuttle' - at their works in Henniker Place, Chelsea. The coming of war saw the two founders engaged in more important activities, and 'Coal Scuttle' remained the sole Bamford & Martin car for some years. The company later changed its name to Aston-Martin, retaining the name of founder Lionel Martin and borrowing from the Aston hill climb near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire (the hyphen was later dropped).

    The first Astons used four-cylinder sidevalve engines, and though the firm experimented with overhead-camshaft types, it was the trusty sidevalves that did most of the winning. Indeed, the firm's single-cam 16-valve motor was barely any more powerful than the sidevalve unit while at the same time being less reliable. Both engines were the work of one S Robb, previously with Coventry-Simplex. In 1922 the sidevalve Aston Martin enjoyed its finest hour when one nicknamed 'Rabbit', and latterly known as 'Bunny', set 25 light-car and 10 outright world speed records at Brooklands. 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 just 50-or-so sold by 1925 when the company underwent the first of what would be many changes of ownership.

    According to the marque historian, Inman Hunter, chassis number '1920' is the oldest surviving production Aston Martin and one of a handful of early Aston Martins in roadworthy condition. Configured as a two-seat, open-wheel competition car, it features all-wheel cable brakes, wire wheels, a boat-tail body and a four-cylinder sidevalve engine.

    Ecurie Bertelli of Olney, Buckinghamshire the world-renowned authority on pre-war Aston Martins, completed a 'ground upwards' restoration of '1920' in the spring of 2003. The car subsequently achieved a 1st-in-class award at the 2003 Aston Martin Owners Club Concours, its authenticity confirmed by the world's most knowledgeable judges of the marque.

    Neil Murray, the expert on Aston Martin's early years and owner of the famous
    'Green Pea' Aston Martin racer, advises that chassis '1920' appears to be the 12th production car that the company built. Murray agrees with Inman Hunter that it is probably the oldest surviving production car, depending on how one defines 'production' during the company's earliest days.

    Bodied as a four-seat tourer, '1920' was sold in 1923 with the registration 'FY 6193', its first owner being the noted Brooklands racer and motoring journalist Captain J C Douglas, who damaged it extensively after colliding with a substantial roadside bollard. The repaired car then passed through four owners in the UK: Messrs Kitchen, Kelly, Thornton and Askey before resurfacing in 1950 when A B Demaus achieved a 1st place concours award at Chateau Impney. Lionel Martin's biographer, Demaus had previously owned the car raced by Count Zborowski in the French Grand Prix at Strasbourg in 1922. That famous car was followed by this 'touring side-valver', which Demaus describes in his book, 'Lionel Martin, a Biography', as 'a car which, despite its lack of racing "glamour", gave the author many miles of delightful motoring.'

    Demaus goes on to reveal that Douglas had acquired '1920' as replacement for '1918', ownership of which had been transferred to Lionel Martin's wife, Katherine: 'by this time (July 1923) Douglas had taken delivery of a long-chassis tourer with wire wheels and fwb, Car No. 1920, which many many years later was owned by the author. Three further cars, all side-valvers, were sold to private owners during the year and "production" could be said to have begun.'

    After five more UK-based owners - Messrs Pearson, Talamo, Bendal Ltd, Bowen and Halkyard - Mr P N Delves-Broughton of Monmouthshire purchased the car in 1962 and completely restored it from a rather poor state, replacing the original body. Mr Delves-Broughton showed and raced the car with considerable success between 1965 and 1970 when he sold it to a Mr Collings of Cardiff, by which time he had installed another body. The latter was reminiscent of contemporary Grand Prix cars, the radiator shell being remodelled to match.

    Mr Collings in turn sold the car to one John Thomas of Carmarthen, who passed it on within a period of months to a Mr Ken Griffin. Mr Griffin kept it in the United States until 1984. He later sold it to German vintage Aston Martin collector, Herr A Rosbach.

    Andy Bell, owner of Ecurie Bertelli, was watching Herr Rosbach race the Aston in an historic event at the Nürburgring in 1987 when the engine 'literally exploded' in front of the grandstands. The car languished un-repaired in Germany until 2001 when it was purchased by Roger Higgins of Saratoga, California, who commissioned marque specialists Ecurie Bertelli to perform a complete no-expense-spared restoration, as detailed in the extensive invoices on file.

    Ecurie Bertelli's rebuild involved the complete disassembly of the car, with strict adherence to period practices and standards during reconstruction. The chassis frame, which showed evidence of the in-period repair, was retained together with the original axles, gearbox, brakes and a considerable portion of the engine. Fortunately, the car came with a spare engine, which was rebuilt with new timing gears, a new crankshaft and other newly manufactured components. The two-seat body likewise was restored in accordance with the practices of the era. All decisions were made with the goal of avoiding 'over restoration', while strictly conforming to original specifications including a pressurised fuel tank, beaded-edge tyres, cable operated brakes, bodywork bracing and finish, body coloured wire wheels, and wooden bushings rather than rubber. The chassis plate recording the number '1920' is still attached. Since its 2003 concours debut, '1920' has been shown at the Louis Vuitton Classic (also in 2003) and in 2006 at the Newport Beach Concours where it earned a 1st-in-class award.

    Dazzling details abound in this most carefully restored car, conveying the essentially hand-built nature of these earliest Aston Martins. Extremely rare and magnificently presented, it represents the dawn of one of Britain's greatest sporting marques and would surely take pride of place in any collection of fine Aston Martin motor cars.
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