Aston Martin Ulster LM19 Works
In the 1930s, enthusiasts for high-performance quality cars could consider various models as falling into three distinct categories. There were high-performance designs of genuinely world-class quality which cost an absolute fortune and which were unmistakably 'gentleman's motor cars'.
Then there were some whose looks outstripped their realistic performance, very much more show than go - 'cad's cars'.
And then there were quality sports cars of a genuinely sporting pedigree, in which a capable private owner could attack motor races of anything up to full International status, with a realistic chance of some success. That select group were indeed sports cars for 'proper chaps' - and here Bonhams is delighted to offer this 1935 ex-works team Aston Martin Ulster, most decidedly 'a proper chap's sports car' which has been preserved and maintained in just one family ownership for no fewer than the past 45 years...
This car's history includes some of the most capable of 1930s British private owner/drivers. It also features participation in the world's greatest, most gruelling and most charismatic endurance races the French Le Mans 24-Hours, the Italian Mille Miglia, and the RAC Tourist Trophy on the fabulous Ards public road circuit in Northern Ireland. What's more, this Aston Martin also contested the 1936 Grand Prix de l'ACF - the French Grand Prix - run that year for sports cars, when it was driven by none other than the greatest British racing driver of the 1930s, the charismatic Dick Seaman.
Aston Martin Ulster 'LM19' offered here is one of the ultimate group of just four full-blown 'works prepared' Ulsters to bear the marque's now legendary 'LM' suffix (derived simply from 'Le Mans'). As one of that final Aston Martin 'LM' quartet, this road-useable historic sports-racing car incorporated as-new all of company head 'Bert' Bertelli's accumulated wealth of sports car experience. He famously described these 1935 works team Ulsters as "The best cars I ever built".
In fact, 'LM19' emerged new when Aston Martin had had rather a poor year at Le Mans in 1934. None of the works cars had qualified for the final of the biennial Rudge Cup. That prestigious prize rewarded consistent performances in two consecutive editions of the classical 24-Hour race. However, private Aston Martin owner/driver Reggie Tongue ('a proper chap' if ever there was one) had actually qualified for the Cup with his 1932 ex-team car 'LM10'. It was then Tongue who entered this latest car 'LM19' for the 1935 Le Mans 24-Hour race, to be driven by his similarly sporting-minded 'proper chap' friends, Tom Fothringham and Clifton Penn-Hughes.
They were just two of Bertelli's crack team which included some of the most capable British racing drivers of the day - Charles Brackenbury, Charlie Martin, 'Mort' Morris-Goodall, Jim Elwes, Fothringham and Penn-Hughes - the latter pair having demanded attention by several outstanding performances in Bugatti and Alfa Romeo cars. In effect the company's owners - the Sutherland and Bertelli families had always run their works cars for well-heeled and supportive sporting clients who contributed to costs, while a number of private customers also weighed-in after purchasing their own Aston Martins.
The 1935 Le Mans race saw Penn-Hughes in 'LM19' leading the 1½-litre class, way ahead of the two sister works 'LM' cars. He was disputing the lead with a fleet of rival Rileys and Singers. This battle between the British marques would continue throughout the day-long race.
In the second hour, Penn-Hughes in 'LM19' was overtaken by C.E.C. 'Charlie' Martin in 'LM20', soon followed through by Jim Elwes's 'LM18' while Penn-Hughes and Fothringham settled down to a consistently rapid pace...
Having stopped to refuel, check tyres and change drivers, Fothringham and Charles Brackenbury (Charlie Martin's co-driver) were going well and still running their respective cars 'LM19' and 'LM20' in relatively close formation. However, into the dusk that Saturday evening, rain began to fall.
Tom Fothringham, pressing just a little too hard to better Brackenbury's experienced pace and having been consistently 4 seconds per lap quicker for the previous 15 tours of the 8.4-mile Sarthe circuit hit a puddle in the deceptive White House Curve just short of the pit area. Before he could correct it, 'LM19' careened into a spin, and rode up the roadside bank. The Aston Martin then flipped off the top, throwing out its intrepid driver before landing inverted and slithering to a halt. Tom Fothringham was able to pick himself up and totter to safety with nothing worse than bruises and abrasions.
He was embarrassed and distraught at having sidelined his works Aston Martin, and indeed this was the only time pre-World War 2 that one of their works cars would fail to finish due to accident damage. The team, meanwhile, went on to enjoy a quite remarkable result of third place overall, comfortably winning their 1500cc class, for Martin/Brackenbury in 'LM20'. And into eighth place overall, third 1500 home, were two more 'proper chaps' - Tommy Clarke and Maurice Falkner co-driving their private Aston Martin Ulster. And there was still more to cheer tenth overall came C.T. Thomas/M. Kenyon, eleventh Peter Donkin/Malcolm Douglas Hamilton and twelfth Jim Elwes/Mort Morris-Goodall all in Aston Martin Ulsters. Into 15th place came Goldie Gardner/A.C Beloe in a sixth Aston Ulster to survive the full distance. In their 1935 Le Mans category these Feltham-built Aston Martin Ulsters thus finished 1-4-5-6-7-9...
Back home at the Feltham factory, 'LM19's chassis and front axle were both judged beyond immediate repair, and a brisk rebuild saw all the car's other major components including engine, gearbox and back axle transferred to a replacement chassis frame, which was also equipped with a brand-new front axle. This was nothing particularly unusual for Bertelli's works team, since several of its other 'LM' cars would also have their chassis changed in period.
The repaired 'LM19' then re-emerged as one of seven Aston Martin entries in the UK's most important contemporary International race - the RAC Tourist Trophy at Ards in Ulster. This, of course, was the venue upon which the Aston Martin sports model itself had first earned its 'Ulster' name,
The great race was run there on September 7, 1935, when 'LM19' was entrusted to Charlie Martin. One friendly rival there was the illustrious Siamese Royal Prince Birabongse Bhanutej Bhanubandh, competing under his soon-to-be-famous pseudonym 'B. Bira'. He drove a sister Aston Martin Ulster but early in the race his car became the first from Feltham to fall foul of a batch of faulty oil pipes. The same problem then afflicted Martin's 'LM19' which until the problem intervened had been disputing the lead of its 1½-litre class...
After having had the leaking pipes replaced, Charlie Martin rejoined the race, but since his car's engine had suffered some damage he had to nurse it home, driving so gently that he was flagged off too far behind the winner to be classified as a finisher.
On March 3, 1936, ' LM19' was then delivered to new owner T. G. 'Tommy' Clarke by the Cresta Motor Company in Worthing, Sussex, to which it had been consigned from Feltham three days earlier. Clarke had previously covered many miles in his friend Maurice Falkner's personal Ulster, and he had plainly decided he wanted a sister car of his own. These two young friends were gentleman drivers of unusual ambition and evident ability to whom 'LM19' was the best tool available for serious long-distance racing...
By April 5, 1936, 'LM19' was being campaigned by Clarke and Falkner in the Mille Miglia round-Italy road race. The duo had been Cambridge undergraduates when they had run Aston Martin 'LM17' successfully in the 1935 edition and this time they did extremely well in the early stages, enjoying a very substantial class lead at the Rome control around half-distance - over massed opposition from Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Fiat. However, as Maurice Falkner recalled in the BRDC Silver Jubilee Year Book (published in 1950) "...our signalling system for bends went a little awry, and ... we found ourselves going backwards at about 75 m.p.h. and eventually pulled up still 180 degrees off course and 8 inches from a large building ... again in the middle of the Alfa Romeo (Alfas also have a hyphen problem) and Maserati cars and blocking the road". Pressing on, with a Fiat gaining ground in their class, at Fano their "...engine (then) ceased irrevocably through valve-gear trouble". Maurice Falkner ended this somewhat mixed memory of another fine if abbreviated 'LM19' performance with the following lines:
"Parts of the Mille Miglia
"Couldn't be squiglia.
"Which makes a thousand miles in one day
"Feel a longish way."
On June 28, that year's Grand Prix de l'ACF or 'French Grand Prix' was being run at Montlhéry, not for Grand Prix Formula machinery, but instead for sports cars. Gordon Sutherland - Aston Martin owner - was anxious to give the fastest British driver of the day, Dick Seaman, experience in one of the LM cars since he had been engaged to handle one of the marque's new 2-litre models in the forthcoming RAC TT back at Ards. Dick Seaman was then making his name as a formidable new young racing driver in his own black-painted Delage operating with an ambition and professionalism far beyond his years. He would earn himself a place in the greatest works racing team of the period Mercedes-Benz for 1937-39, and would win the 1938 German Grand Prix, only to lose his life while leading the 1939 Belgian GP...
However, at Montlhery in 1936, 'LM19' again struck trouble. Dick Seaman was duelling for the class lead, pressing on so rapidly that his searing pace around the winding Montlhery road circuit wore 'LM19's brakes so badly that the drums distorted, rendering the car undriveable. Montlhery's appetite for brakes was well-known, and 'LM19' would not be its only victim.
The car was then retired from active competition as Tommy Clarke continued his international racing career in a Delahaye 135. It is thought that 'LM19' was put on the market through Cresta Motors, from whom he had acquired it.
John Charles Badcock (of Brenchley, Kent, and later Bourne End, Buckinghamshire) may not have been 'LM19's immediate buyer, but he is its first-listed owner in a UK registration book issued in 1939. The car's colour at that time was recorded as green, and the car was licensed by him until 20 August, 1946.
We further understand that an Aston Martin works service department note for 'LM19', dated November 23, 1939, reads "Engine stripped and rebored, L.C.B.H.B. pistons, fit standard diff, hand throttle etc" the work apparently being carried out for J.C. Badcock. More minor attention was also administered in 1940, and the car's recorded mileage of barely 2,000 demonstrates how little work it had done apart from racing.
Mr Badcock's long ownership saw the car subsequently laid-up and stored for many years so during a period when most comparable racing cars were being raced into the ground, 'LM19' had a cosseted life, until it was sold by his estate executors on May 16, 1969, through Puttocks Holdings Ltd, of Guildford, Surrey, to John Y. Campbell of Bellshill, Lanarkshire, Scotland. The price was no less than £1,575.
John 'Jock' Campbell ran a building company - John Young Ltd which had been founded by his grandfather. Jock Campbell had been an enthusiastic cycle racer on both road and track before progressing via motor cycles and a 3-wheeler BSA to four wheels. He owned several Aston Martins and was unusual in competing in both concours and speed events with equally serious intent. His cars included both DB2/4 and an ex-works team DB3, followed by a DB4GT which was extremely successful in Aston Martin Owners' Club concours d'elegance events in the mid-1960s, being judged "the best postwar Aston Martin". Mr Campbell had been seeking an Ulster for some time and had rejected several cars including 'L4/525/U' which we sold in December 2013, until - in 'LM19' - he found the car which attained his exacting standards as "the ultimate Ulster".
Jock Campbell also prepared and showed such rival designs as a Jaguar E-Type and a Ferrari 250GT Lusso, while also competing against the clock in sprints and hill-climbs. He was a most dedicated and discriminating car connoisseur, and he harboured long-term restoration ambitions for the long stored, and ignored, 'LM19'.
The car had in fact survived in rather dilapidated but original and unmolested condition, off the road since some time in 1957. Soon after acquiring it in 1969, Jock Campbell had entrusted its ground-up restoration to leading marque specialist Bill Elwell Smith of Ruislip - who had worked for Aston Martin during the Bertelli era.
He completed the work for £4,153 13s 2d, which included repainting from green to Dick Seaman-style jet black, and chromium-plating a set of five 18-inch wheels and the specially-made exhaust system. A new dashboard was made but the car's original fabric - which had really been so lightly used for a works racing car - remained unspoiled, as evidenced by the invoices and photographs in the accompanying documentation file. The result was a well-deserved overall win in the September 1970, Jaguar Drivers' Club Concours at Doune - the best Aston Martin present!
At the AMOC Fort Belvedere Concours 'LM19' then won the Ray Eve and George Taylor trophies as both best in class and most roadworthy contender. In 1971 it won the Heyworth Trophy in the light Class at the AMOC Hockley Heath Concours, and Jock Campbell also sprinted it at Curborough and finished eighth in it in the St John Horsfall Trophy race at Silverstone. 'LM19' offered here plainly went just as well as it looked...
Combined concours and competition success continued through the early 1970s, with the car being hill-climbed at Doune in Scotland, way down south at Wiscombe Park, and raced again at Silverstone, Oulton Park and Crystal Palace. Jock Campbell passed away in November 1976 and in June 1978 'LM19' passed to his son James 'Jim' Campbell, who was enjoying a successful competition career hill-climbing more modern machinery. Hence, following Jock Campbell's death, 'LM19' was carefully stored and little used while of course wanting for nothing in terms of maintenance.
During 1995-96 with the intention of restoring 'LM19' while protecting its basically unchanged engine's originality a newly-made Elwell Smith cylinder block (number 'LM19-2') was installed by the specialist Ecurie Bertelli concern, together with new crankshaft and connecting rods. The all important original components were carefully stored and are offered with the car here today.
Following this work and light re-commissioning, in 1998 Jim Campbell reintroduced the car to competition at Silverstone, Oulton Park, Croft Autodrome, Donington Park and elsewhere. In 2000 he ran it in the Isle of Man Classic and in 2001 raced it again at such venues as Brands Hatch. 'LM19' has since successfully participated in the 2002 and 2004 Le Mans Classics, the Gran Premio Tazio Nuvolari Rally, the Ards TT Celebration, the Spanish Tour and other suitable events - all with the reliability one would expect from a car built to succeed in some of the toughest motor races ever devised.
We must emphasise that until today, 'LM19' and its sister ultimate-series works Aston Martin Ulsters have all long been locked into premier-league private collections of the highest quality. Sister cars are unlikely to become available any time soon, emphasising just how highly these cars are prized. Any connoisseur who misses 'LM19' here may therefore have to wait many years more to acquire such an example of the ultimate Ulster...
Today, in startlingly healthy, near-concours general order and resplendent in Dick Seaman-style jet-black livery 'LM19' awaits its first new owner in more than 45 long years...a classic competition Aston Martin works car, absolutely fit "for a proper chap".
The Aston Martin Ulster was derived from 'Bert' Bertelli's preceding creation, the Aston Martin Mark II. In 'The Autocar' H.S. Linfield wrote of the Mark II: "There are points about the most recent chassis which make it still better than its predecessor. Yet it does seem that none of the original merits of the car has been lost, particularly as regards controllability...It is a car which so obviously is practical that anyone not knowing it in action must be impressed; but it is the beautiful feel of the machine which makes it one of the foremost cars of its type today...".
A 'Motor Sport' road test reported: "The brakes were sufficiently powerful given a fairly heavy pedal pressure, and pulled very squarely on wet and dry surfaces alike...When the car slides it plays no tricks..."
While the Aston Martin Mark II became widely recognized as one of the finest 1½-litre production sports cars of its era, its competition sister model would be described by marque historian Dudley Coram as "...the 'Ulster', which model is generally discussed in hushed awe and considered by many to be the ultimate in 1½-litre Aston Martin development...". He considered that the Ulster possessed: "...qualities of ruggedness which other cars lacked and which really made it only, but most eminently, suitable for the long-endurance type of sports car racing in which it excelled...".
Mechanically there was little difference between the Mark II and the racing-orientated Ulster, neither track nor wheelbase being changed. But the cars were extremely carefully assembled at the Feltham works, the engine was tuned for peak performance, and a lightweight two-seat body enabled Aston Martin to guarantee 100mph performance.
The Ulster's 4-cylinder engine featured a redesigned Laystall crankshaft with larger main bearings than the Mark II's and direct fitting connecting rods. Domed pistons and a planed cylinder head raised compression ratio to 8.5:1. The power unit breathed through twin 1½-inch SU carburettors, fed by dual fuel pumps from a 15-gallon tank slung between the twin bucket seats and the rear axle.
Power output was cited as 80bhp at 5,250rpm. The model's spartan bodywork was tailored to contemporary AIACR sports-racing car regulations (the AIACR being the pre-World War Two equivalent of today's FIA governing body). It was was fully 8-inches narrower than the standard Mark II's, and though quite stark it was actually exquisitely well-proportioned, a most handsome and pleasingly well-balanced body form.
The radiator was similar to that of the Mark II but featured a mesh stone-guard grille in place of shutters and it was painted along with the body panelling to avoid glare, as were all other reflecting surfaces. Normally the hub nuts and outside hand brake were the only plated components on an Ulster's exterior. A folding hood could be stowed beneath a cover behind the cockpit, this next to useless item being almost uniquely retained by 'LM19'. The exhaust pipe from four-branch manifold to fishtail was either asbestos-lagged, or "...black-leaded, with rust to choice...".
Aluminium cycle-style mudguards saved weight while the car's underside was fared by a full-length undertray. As Dudley Coram recorded: "Bertelli's years of experience at Le Mans and elsewhere were evident...all the electrical items being independently wired and fused. Dry weight of the complete car was 18cwt (approx.). Priced at £750, ready to race, the Ulster was in a class by itself, appealing as a piece of personal property to very few, but, undoubtedly, admired and respected by enthusiasts all over the world".
Early in 1934 a team of three 'works racers' were laid down, alongside what was in effect the first 'production' Ulster. Compression ratio in the works cars was raised to 9.0:1 and the stepped cylinder heads "were copperised". Modified R209 cam contours were adopted, and maximum revs available rose to 5,500, which with the 4.1:1 back axle ratio gave 110mph. Chassis frames, brake drums and other areas were extensively drilled to save a few more pounds weight, and while the fuel tank capacity grew to 17½-gallons, weight was trimmed to just over 17cwt.
'Bert' Bertelli was superstitious about the unlucky number '13' and it was never used, so for the 1934 Le Mans race the Works Ulsters were numbered LM 11,12 and 14 all with drilled and lightened chassis. Before the 1934 RAC TT at Ards, Bertelli had his works team cars repainted Italian red in place of their former green to 'counteract' the bad luck they had suffered at Le Mans earlier in the year.
The new regulations at Ards that year forbade chassis drilling for lightness, and so 'LM11' and 'LM12' were rebuilt around new standard undrilled frames and the cars renumbered 'LM15' and 'LM16'along with 'LM17' which was built brand-new to matching 'undrilled' specification. 'LM14' was sold with drilled original frame to a private customer. Each of the Aston Martin drivers broke the Ards class lap record during the long race. Tom Fothringham finished third overall and won the 1½-litre class, with sister 'LM' cars sixth and seventh.
Now 'LM19' as offered here was one of the last Aston Martin works team cars to be run at Le Mans until after World War Two. This ultimate batch of four works team cars 'LM18', 'LM19', 'LM20' and 'LM21' featured 3-inch lower radiators than in 1934, producing their distinctive sloping bonnet line. Bertelli's winter development wrung out of the engines 85bhp at 5,250rpm, with peak revs of 5,400. Chassis frames on these four cars were undrilled and again the bodies were painted as-new, bright red.
Source: Bonhams press