1932 Aston Martin 1,5 Litre
Aston Martin have a fine racing history and only very rarely do Factory Race Department Cars with international wins to their name come up for sale. This is one of those rare opportunities to acquire a full ‘Works Aston Martin’, but not only that, this is the car that won the Rudge Whitworth Cup at Le Mans during one of the golden eras of motor racing.
When Bertelli took over Aston Martin in 1927 he immediately looked towards racing as a way to promote the brand and improve the cars. In 1928 he built 2 cars to race at the most prestigious sports car race in Europe, the Le Mans 24 hour, and he named these cars LM1 and LM2. This lineage of cars used Aston’s own 1.5 litre, 4 cylinder engines in light sporting bodies and all the parts used to build the cars were carefully chosen and often heavily modified to reduce weight. This weight saving work was extensive; the heavy forged front axels were machined on all faces, rubbed down and the centres were drilled out. Stub axels, kingpins, steering box brackets bulkheads were all also drilled or thinned in this quest for lightness. Parts were also made from very light (and expensive) materials most notably Electron (a magnesium and aluminium alloy) to replace aluminium, very cutting edge stuff during the 1920s!
By 1932, 7 LM cars had been built and Bertelli wanted to improve their design to incorporate the lessons they had learnt during the preceding years. These redesigned cars are now known as the second series and consist of the 3 cars built during 1932; LM8, LM9 and LM10. This subtle redesign was helped hugely by Bertelli racing the cars himself, so he was keenly aware of which changes would help improve their performance. These cars used the new chassis and a competition 2-seat body with a pointed tail along with a new low-radiator design as well as all the previous modifications used on the earlier cars such as weight reduction and improvements to brakes, transmission and engine.
The cylinder head was greatly improved with particular attention paid to the inlet manifold that housed two, 1⅜" side draught carburettors, combined with high lift cam-shafts and a 4 branch manifold. The engines were again dry-sumped, with lightened timing gears and shafts, a lightened gearbox made of electron with drilled gears and now with 18” wheels. Obviously, the individual cars varied and there were constant changes from race to race as the mechanics battled with the changing conditions and courses, using difference rear axel ratios and gears to maximise the power they had available.
The three 1932 Works Cars LM8, LM9 and LM10 were built by the race department in 8 weeks, just in time for the Brooklands ‘1000 Mile Race’ that was to be used as the test run before heading to Le Mans. It was lucky that the cars were run as it was soon found that the front suspensions was insufficient giving poor handling and ride so the cars were withdrawn from the race. The cars were suitably altered to amend this issue and within two weeks the cars were off to Le Mans.
It was very hot for the 1932 Le Mans and as the collection of usual suspects arrived including Alfa Romeo, Bentley, Bugatti, Mercedes, Stutz, Aston Martin, Salmson and others it was clear that it was going to be a vintage year. The race started at a great pace with the Alfa Romeos taking an early lead although with considerable inter-team competition. Both the Talbots and the Astons experienced early misfire trouble in the race, the exceptionally hot weather and poor continental fuel playing havoc with the spark plugs, however, both were soon sorted and back on the track. Dreyfus in his efforts to keep up with the front runners had an early accident in his 8C Alfa out braking himself into the start of the esses he found his car broadside on the road before hitting the sand bank at the side of the track and partially rolling over. Shortly after this Trevoux rolled his Bentley badly at White House Corner wrecking the car which was compounded shortly after when at the same corner Minoia in his 8C Alfa, having just overtaken Brisson in the Stutz, narrowly avoided the Bentley but ended up spinning his car in the process. The big Stuzt then came round the blind corner to find the path blocked with cars and inevitably the Alfa ending both his and Minoia’s races in the process. All this and the race was not yet 4 hours old!!
Through all of this the Astons ran gallantly on and having recovered from their earlier plug issue they kept up a good pace. It is worth mentioning here that when the Le Mans races were started the principle and only prize awarded was the Rudge-Whitworth Biennial Cup given to the car which made the best performance in relation to its engine size having previously qualified the year before. As time passed the glamor of the outright win grew although in 1929 and 1930 Bentley managed to win both the race and the cup as did Alfa Romeo in 1931. To gain the cup it is essential that the cars competed in the race the year before and then the team select an individual car to compete on behalf of the team in the ‘Cup Race’. In 1932 LM8 was selected to represent the Aston Martin Team driven by the car’s designer Burt Burtelli and well known Brooklands racer Patrick Driscoll against the other main contenders for the cup Talbot, Caban and B.N.C.
As the race wore on Aston Martin LM9 driven by Peacock and Bezzant broke a rocker arm, this was changed by the crew but on the following lap the rocker bracket gave up and the car was retired. The Talbot was having a great race and by the early hours of Sunday was in 3rd position just ahead of the 6C supercharged Alfa of Siko and Sabipa. Following them were Newsome and Widengren in Aston LM10 in 5th position while Driscol and Bertelli in LM8 were running 7th although still leading in points for the Rudge Cup. LM8 suffered further set backs when the radiator top hose split and required changing and the front wings came loose which where subsequently tied up with a bit of rope. The closing hours of the race became a close affair with Aston Martin, Talbot and Caban all well placed to take the Cup should either of the others falter, and all the cars continued to have trouble with the poor fuel and their plugs. No sooner had one of the three returned from the pits when the next needed to come in! All 3 cars had the advantage at one time however in the end it was Bertelli and Driscoll in Aston Martin LM8 who came through to claim 7th place overall and the Rudge Whitworth Cup, but it had not been an easy victory for them. The following Saturday LM8 was awarded the honour of opening the Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb to the warm applause of the crowd when it was driven by Bertelli and Newsome (driver of LM10).
At the end of 1932 due to financial constraints, the Works Cars were sold off by the factory, LM8 was bought by C.H. ‘Happy’ Wood who was a draughtsman at Aston Martin. He replaced the body with a 2/4 seater to match the low radiator and slab rear fuel tank. Happy kept the car until 1935 when he sold it to A.M Wicksteed who raced the car until 1939. It is not known what happed to LM8 during the war except to say that it came through unscathed and its known to be sold by P.A. Smith to Mr Arthur Steel in June 1951 for £395 who had the car recommissioned by Archie Allen in Bristol which took the car off the road for a year. Arthur later sold the car in early 1955 to Angel Motors / The Waverley, in Camarthen for £210 who shortly after sold the car to Mr Paul Sykes in exchange for a Fiat Topolino and £50. Paul used the car for many years as his only means of transport before eventually parking it up in a barn in Wales. The car remained there for many years before being brought out and used again and in recent years the car has undergone a major mechanical restoration by renowned Aston Martin specialist Rob Davies. Rob has done a excellent job bringing this wonderful car back to its full glory and the mechanicals now boast a new crank, rods, pistons and valves, an Ulster cam and straight cut gears with Le Mans ratio. The car retains the attractive touring 2/4 body that the factory fitted at the end of 1932 and it has been beautifully reupholstered in the original spec dark green leather with a new tonneau and hood.
LM8 is one of the very few pre-war Aston Martins to have won international racing awards, which gives it a special place in the marques history. This stunning car is being offered for sale for the first time since 1955 and is ready to be enjoyed at the world’s top events.