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A pre-war sports car requires more skill and nerve than newer machinery, but the rewards can be enjoyable at speeds just over the legal limit



1938 aston martin 15 98 short chassis


By the mid-1930s, Aston Martin was one of the most admired British sporting makes. Solidly engineered, low-built,1.5-liter sports-racers took the team prize in the 1934 Tourist Trophy race in Ulster, followed by an impressive third in the 1935 Le Mans 24 hours.

But if the company were to survive, it had to widen its appeal. New cars appeared for the Le Mans 1936 race. They were two-seaters, broadly similar to the Ulster but with a longer stroke, 100-hp, 2-liter version of the well-proven wet-sump engine. Aston Martin combined the new type's fiscal horsepower and rated power for the 15/98 title. The cars had a good synchromesh gearbox, effective hydraulic brakes and magneto ignition.

The front axle received an upper-mounted steel cable to locate it and resist front spring wind-up. Built-in axle jacks were provided. A short-chassis sports four-seater managed 82 mph, and for the first time, it seemed that the company had a chassis suitable for four-passenger coachwork. In all, 176 2-liter cars were produced, of which 50 were 2/4 seater open cars (25 Abbott drop-head coupes and 25 Abbey long-chassis tourers). There were also 50 saloons and 76 desirable Speed Models, of which perhaps 40 survive.

This 1938 Aston Martin 15/98 Short-Chassis was the last car to be built (May '38) at the Feltham works before it concentrated on war work. (The Atom model-G40/900-was being developed but not sold as a production car). This car was sold in the summer of 1938 to a Mr. McCreadie and still carries its original Abbey body. The Aston Martin Owner's Club reports that a Speed Model (dry sump) engine was fitted initially, although this was changed at some point. This was common in the 1950s, when less popular long-chassis models were scrapped.

The engine in place in 1999 was D8786LS and according to club records, the car to which this belonged had been broken up. This car was repatriated from the U.S. in 1999 and purchased from the importer six months later, after he despaired over the restoration.

It was believed the at time of purchase that the 15/98 Short-Chassis was exported on a west bound "Liberty" ship in 1942, remaining in the U.S. until its recovery 57 years later. This view was strengthened when, at the start of the restoration, an original bank statement (which has been retained) was found behind the upholstery in the front of the car. It's in the name of one Mr. J. Hurych of New York and of the Chase National Bank. The Club, however, records owners in the U.K. in the early 1950s, so if the car went to the U.S. during WWII, it was repatriated and exported again. The re-import documents from 1999 are available with the car.

When the car was purchased in 1999, it was in original but dilapidated condition. According to the Club, it had been in the possession of one Lee Weinstein in New York City in 1986 and was visited by a Club member in the early 1990s.

In keeping with the high standards of the vendor, this post-vintage thoroughbred has been restored to "as new" condition, without consideration for expense.

In 2004, this 1938 Aston Martin Short-Chassis was accepted for the Louis Vuitton Classic at Waddesdon Manor, took first prize in the "Step on it, Bertie" class and came third in the People's Choice category. It also won a class prize at the Aston Martin Concours, also at Waddesdon.

The 2-liter cars represent the ultimate development of the marque before the war. The model is comfortable and reliable as well as having good acceleration. This car, the "last of the few" pre-war Aston Martins, has its place in history, even if the romantic tale of its dangerous wartime trip across the North Atlantic cannot be substantiated.

{analysis}{auto}856{/auto} This 1938 Aston Martin 15/98 Short-Chassis sold for $224,172 at Christie's Jack Barclay sale in London, June 26, 2006.

The first and last examples of any car tend to bring a premium price. This fine Aston was no exception, selling for $34,172 above its high catalog estimate. In my view, this was well bought. It was certainly the last pre-war Aston built, although I'm not sure how you can prove that it was the last one sold, as in that economically-depressed era, a great many of these cars waited awhile to find a proper home.

If you have a penchant for such a car and one becomes available privately or at auction in this condition, your purchase might honestly fall into the category of "I should be high bidder today, because where do I find another one like it?"

Value? This is a great example of "It's worth what I'm paying for it."

How many pre-war Aston Martins still exist, are for sale, and aren't basket cases? And don't fret about matching numbers, please. Engine swaps were far more common during the first 20 years these cars were around.

Pre-war Aston Martins are rare beasts in the United States, with only one officially sold new here prior to 1940. They enjoyed far greater popularity in the U.K., along with competitors such as Frazer-Nash, Alvis, and Lagonda.

While the pre-war market is not red hot this side of the ocean, it is getting warmer. Alfa Romeo, Bugatti, and Bentley are better known and perhaps better built, but their values don't allow for entry-level owners. Aston Martins are rarely referred to as bargains, but in this case, it's hard to deny.

Common thought among enthusiasts and car dealers is that a great many pre-war cars are slumping in value as the suitors for these vehicles grow older. But I think the sportier models are increasing in value as they provide "seat of your pants" thrills. Any pre-war sports car tends to require a bit more skill and nerve than newer machinery, but the rewards can be enjoyable at speeds just over the legal limit, as this 15/98 Short-Chassis will surely terrify you more at 60 mph than a DB9 will at 150.{/analysis}

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