Aston Martin DB2/4 Competition Spider
S.H. “Wacky” Arnolt was an entrepreneur with an uncanny ability to spot highly profitable business opportunities. After World War II, he obtained the Chicago-area distribution rights for Aston Martin, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Bristol, MG, Riley and Morris automobiles. While some marques proved more successful in the US market than others, within only five years’ time, “Wacky” was a multi-millionaire and planned to expand his growing business into automobile construction.
Arnolt and the Bertone-bodied Aston Martin
Part of Arnolt’s talent was an innate knowledge of what would in fact sell, and at the 1952 Turin Auto Salon, he met Nuccio Bertone. Bertone, rich in creativity and expertise but with little available cash, presented two original concepts based on used MG TD chassis that caught Arnolt’s attention. Arnolt’s second major investment was to hire the best design talent he could find – Franco Scaglione, whose design submission was chosen over one penned by another Italian design luminary, Giovanni Michelotti.
Arnolt purchased five sequentially numbered Aston Martin DB 2/4 chassis in 1953, and this car, chassis number LML/507, was the last of this batch. While the two even-numbered chassis received “Deluxe” bodywork with bumpers, taller windscreens and more upscale trim, the three odd-numbered chassis, numbered 503, 505 and 507, were fitted with more elemental competition spider bodywork. As completed, however, the result was nothing short of stunning – a lightweight racing roadster with coachwork fitted so closely to the chassis that a crease was required running down the bonnet in order to clear the long-stroke, 3.0-litre Aston Martin inline six-cylinder engine. From the car’s headlamps, fully peaked front fenders flowed back to aggressively-curved rear fenders, with the Bertone coachwork perfectly cloaking the 99-inch DB 2/4 chassis and its highly sophisticated underpinnings.
Elegant yet aggressive and purposeful, Arnolt’s Scaglione-designed car bore a strong resemblance to Aston Martin’s own DB3S competition roadsters of the period but with a flowing purity of line that only such an inspired Italian designer as Scaglione could possibly deliver. It was quickly apparent that with its involvement with Arnolt, Aston Martin had in fact created a competitor more than it had a client. Perhaps Arnolt’s use of “Arnolt Aston Martin” badging for the cars further shortened Newport Pagnell’s patience with their American distributor. At any rate, the storied English marque flatly refused to sell Arnolt or Bertone any more of its DB 2/4 chassis, abruptly halting the DB 2/4-based project, but not before Arnolt managed to secure at least two or possibly three more chassis, depending on the source, with Touring and Zagato as the coachbuilders of these cars.
The wonderful example offered here, LML/507, the last of Arnolt’s three Bertone-bodied DB 2/4 competition spiders, was shipped to the United States upon completion on board the RMS Mauretania, arriving on 26 January, 1954, well in advance of its appearance at the Chicago Motor Show, where its debut there created a sensation. Shortly thereafter, LML/507 is reported to have been sold to Phil Stewart, who was one of Arnolt’s “works” racing drivers during the era. LML/507 was then sold to Carl Kiekhaefer, the famed owner of Mercury Marine, a major manufacturer of outboard engines for boats that continues to operate successfully today.
Kiekhaefer was also the founder of what racing historians regard as the first professional stock-car racing team in NASCAR. Among Kiekhaefer’s many racing achievements, he won the NASCAR championship over two consecutive years in 1955 and 1956. Reportedly, Mr. Kiekhaefer even drove LML/507 at a number of SCCA-sanctioned road races during the 1950s.
Next, Peter Luan acquired LML/507 in April 1958 at the Roewardt-Thomson car dealership in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Mr. Luan enjoyed his coachbuilt Arnolt, including several entries in local races during the late 1950s. He retained LML/507 until 1969, when it was sold to a known Midwestern collector, who also campaigned the car in a variety of vintage-racing events and owned the car for 38 years.
When the current owner acquired LML/507, it took pride of place within his well-respected and renowned private Aston Martin collection.
As offered today, LML/507 has travelled fewer than 15,000 miles over the past 55-plus years, and it remains truly remarkable throughout, with a startling patina of originality and authenticity that only an unrestored car such as this can continue to offer. In fact, LML/507 proudly stands alone in its originality, since the two other Arnolt-Aston competition spiders have already been completely restored during their respective lifetimes.
Among its wonderful original features, one cannot help but marvel at the beautifully patinated upholstery, the original tonneau and the original spark-plug wires, as well as the easily visible spot welds and ripples in the hand-hammered Bertone body panels so indicative of an irreplaceably singular, hand-built car as this. Among its many highlights, LML/507 includes aircraft-style seatbelts, a Raydyot rear-view mirror, painted wire-spoke wheels, Dunlop Roadspeed tyres and dash plaques from late-1950s and mid-1980s hillclimbs.
Today, it is immediately apparent that this Arnolt-Aston DB2/4 Competition Spyder, LML/507, may well be the perfect collector car. Its lightweight, high performance and sublime driving dynamics, even by today’s standards, will render it competitive in any serious vintage racing event and the finest long-distance rallies and tours. This, before one considers its fascinating history, sleek, hand-built Bertone coachwork and Franco Scaglione design heritage. LML/507 is a competition roadster of the highest calibre, in stunningly preserved and unrestored presentation, blessed with an irreplaceable patina of originality.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in May of 2011 at the Spazio Villa Erba, Cernobbio, Como.
140 bhp 2,922 cc Vantage-specification DOHC inline six-cylinder engine, four-speed manual gearbox, independent front suspension with coil springs and trailing arms, live axle rear suspension on coil springs, with trailing arms and Panhard rod, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 2,515 mm (99")
Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Michael Furman