Aston_Martin_1932_International_1.jpg

1931 saw the Great Depression biting deeply - unemployment had soared, and many were the businesses that struggled, whilst some were to disappear for ever. Such conditions naturally had the gravest impact on a small company such as Aston Martin, one that made specialist and expensive cars, and very much in limited numbers. Despite an enviable reputation gained by remarkable successes in competition by the relatively few cars that had been made over the previous decade, sales slumped that year to a level less than half that of 1930 - and that, too, had been a poor year. The majority of the workforce was laid off for some months during 1931, and only the guarantee to the firm's bankers provided by H. J. Aldington of AFN Ltd, makers of the Frazer Nash car, prevented foreclosure. Aldington saw the upmarket Aston Martin as complementary to his far less expensive cars, allowing his sales outlet to appeal to a broader range of sporting motorists. This arrangement proved to be short-lived, but delivered a life-saving breathing space for Aston Martin.

At the Feltham factory, the firm's owner, A C 'Bert' Bertelli, addressed the dire situation by minimising overheads, whilst preparing three team cars for the three major long distance races of that season, and planning a good display for October's Olympia Motor Show. Meticulous attention was given to the team cars LM5, LM6 and LM7, and in the Brooklands 'Double Twelve', Le Mans 24-hour Race, and the Ulster TT, very respectable performances were returned, but complete success and the consequent publicity opportunities remained elusive. But from the company records, it appears that not one complete production car left the works between March and September that year.

For Olympia in 1931, two short chassis sports models were joined by three long chassis cars, bodied as a four-seater open tourer, a drophead coupÚ, and a four door saloon, and at least three of the cars on display had been awaiting a buyer since January. In all probability, Bertelli must have felt that the considerable premium that applied to the less sporting models with more elaborate bodywork offered his firm a better profit margin. So, in October and November, six each of the short and long chassis versions were completed, and J1/115 was one of the latter, originally supplied with a four-door saloon body. This was made by Bertelli's brother Enrico's linked company, in adjacent premises, as were almost all Aston Martin bodies at that time.

Road registered as 'OV 7968', chassis number J1/115 passed through the hands of a succession of keen and discerning owners until disaster befell it on a late December afternoon in 1965. Robin Sawers to whom the car belonged at the time has been kind enough to furnish us with the following account of that fateful Christmas Eve:

"This was a day that was already one of great significance to me since it was the day of my engagement, and I was driving down to Sussex with my fiancee to spend Christmas with my parents. We had been somewhat delayed en route as I had called at my brother's in Ham, Richmond, on the way, and I was worried that we would need the headlights which kept on fusing, but it was a fine bright afternoon and we were only a few miles from our destination, having come down Long Furlong and approaching Patching, when to my horror a Morris Oxford coming in the other direction pulled out to overtake, coming straight at me. I took avoiding action and went into the hedge, but unfortunately there was a telegraph pole in the way, which brought the car to an abrupt halt and turned it on its side. We clambered out, mercifully unhurt apart from one bruise on my fiancee's thigh from the gear lever knob. The culprit had completely disappeared, but the old ladies in the car he was overtaking came back to see if we were all right.

The poor Aston was taken to my parents' house in Angmering on Sea where it occupied the drive then the garage for quite some time. The damage was in fact not extensive, and restricted to the front axle, nearside front wheel and wing. I had the axle straightened and the wheel repaired, so there wasn't really much more to do, but I was too impecunious to have the work done and living too far away to do much myself, so I advertised it in the AMOC journal and had a reply from the ideal owner, Inman Hunter, the Aston Martin historian, who wanted a comfortable saloon for his old age to join the Le Mans car in his garage. He can be seen in one of the enclosed photos steering the car onto the trailer . . . When I first saw the car in a London street I gazed in awe. It stopped in front of me and I asked the driver if it was for sale. It was! The eventually agreed price was higher than that of any of my previous cars, even my vintage Rolls - £195!"

Whether or not Inman Hunter ever returned 'OV 7968' to the road is unknown but it is conceivable that some further misfortune - an electrical fire perhaps - prompted the sale of the car to his friend, Anthony Eastwood. The latter had been one of the ex-Motor Show International's previous custodians but seems to have been undecided as to the best way of injecting new life into it.

A way ahead appeared when Eastwood heard that a short chassis 2/4-seater body (complete with its original upholstery), formerly fitted to a 1930 short chassis car, S69, was available. He entrusted the extensive work necessary to the late Derrick Edwards of Morntane Engineering, a noted expert on pre-War Aston Martins, and the frame and transmission were altered to the dimensions of the short chassis cars. This, and a good deal of associated work necessary to fit the transplanted body and put all correct to the short chassis specification were undertaken by Morntane between October and December 1982, and the bills have been preserved. Anthony Eastwood was then to retain the car for another nineteen years, to make a total of 35 years inclusive of the earlier ownership period that J1/115 was in his hands.

The last ten years have seen two further keepers including the current vendor lavish attention on, and derive satisfaction from this fine traditional British sports car. Bills from between December 2007 and November 2009 record what has been an all but complete restoration of the car, including a thorough overhaul of the engine and gearbox, all carried out by acknowledged specialists and quite clearly done 'regardless of expense.' At some distant date, the worm back axle was replaced by an ENV bevel axle - a familiar modification carried out on Astons with this feature, and also standard specification from 1932. The car comes with extensive records of both recent work and that carried out over a long period, a photocopy 1¢ litre Aston Martin Instruction Book and copies of other relevant information concerning the 'International' Aston. Its MOT Certificate is current until 23rd September 2010.

Turning now to the background of this model of Aston Martin, the second owners of the Aston Martin name, Messrs Renwick & Bertelli, upheld the nature of the marque that had been maintained from the start. It had been Lionel Martin's idealistic concept that many true enthusiasts would share his passion for a small, 1¢-litre car that offered high-performance, a top specification and build quality that was equal to the finest. Active, not to say intensive, participation in all types of competition all too frequently took precedence over the less exciting business of getting down to producing cars for sale to the public. About sixty cars had been produced between 1921 and the end of 1925, when Martin was forced to accept the fact that he could no longer sustain the losses his business was incurring, and production ceased. But the reputation already achieved by the marque was such that a buyer came forward and by the end of 1927, Renwick & Bertelli had rethought and updated the original Aston design, and whilst few components were carried over, the concept of a small sports car that would reward the most discriminating enthusiast and be successful in competition was faithfully followed.

The new Aston Martin that emerged from the R&B works in Feltham was of even lower build than the sidevalve cars of the former era, and was available in wet sump (touring) and dry sump (sports) versions. Still 1¢ litres (69.3 x 99mm) and four cylinders of course, the engines now had single overhead camshaft valve actuation. Gearboxes remained separate, and the rear axle featured the underslung worm drive in the interests of the low build. By the time of the Olympia Show of October 1929, the wet sump engine had been discontinued, and the sports model was now called the International; but only some 25 chassis had been made in the previous two years.

With its striking and sporty lines, (Enrico Bertelli had a fine eye for styling), a fully stocked dashboard, close fitting cycle type mudguards and chromed flexible exhaust downpipes emerging from the nearside of the bonnet, a hinged windscreen and the oil tank out front between the dumbirons, the 'Inter Aston' was precisely the car to set every young man's heart racing. And racing was as close to 'Bert' Bertelli's heart as it had been to that of Lionel Martin. By the time J1/115 was built, the 'new' Astons had made an appreciable impact upon the record books, and had appeared in many major races at Brooklands and elsewhere, at speed events and trials, with many successes already recorded.

A good International Aston Martin is a blue chip piece of British motor sporting heritage, and the ownership of one of these cars remains the dream of many true enthusiasts.

Image and description kindly supplied by H&H Classic Auctions

Aston Martin 1932 International

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