Courtesy of Bonhams
Manufactured by Robert Bamford and Lionel Martin, the first Aston-Martins (the hyphen is correct for the period) rapidly established a reputation for high performance and sporting prowess in the years immediately following The Great War. Unfortunately, the management’s concentration on motor sport, while accruing invaluable publicity, distracted it from the business of manufacturing cars for sale, the result being just 50 or so sold by 1925 when the company underwent the first of what would be many changes of ownership. The foundations were laid for the commencement of proper series production with the formation of Aston Martin Motors Ltd. in 1926 under the stewardship of Augustus “Bert” Bertelli and William Renwick. Bertelli was an experienced automobile engineer, having designed cars for Enfield-Allday, and an engine of his design — an overhead-camshaft 4-cylinder of 1,492 cc — powered the new 11.9-hp Aston. Built at the firm’s new Feltham works, the first new-generation 1½-liter Aston Martins were displayed at the 1927 London Motor Show at Olympia. These new Astons were available on long and short chassis, the former being reserved for saloons and tourers and the latter for the sports models. The early 1930s was a period of economic recession, and with sales of expensive quality cars falling off, some serious rethinking had to be done at Feltham. The prudent decision was taken to redesign the International chassis using proprietary components to reduce cost. A Laycock gearbox was adopted, mounted in-unit with the engine, while the worm rear axle, which had never been completely satisfactory, was replaced by an ENV spiral bevel. There was a redesigned chassis frame and many other modifications resulting in what was virtually a new car, although it carried the same coachwork and was sold as the New International. The original line-up of what would become known as the 2nd Series did not last long. The New International and 2-seater Le Mans disappeared from the range before the end of 1932. That year’s Motor Show had ushered in the more familiar Le Mans 2/4-seater, which was also available on the long chassis as the Le Mans Special 4-seater. By this time, the chassis numbers were being suffixed “S” or “L” depending on wheelbase length (8 feet, 7 inches and 10 feet respectively). Introduced in 1934, the replacement Mark II model sported a new, stronger chassis and a revised engine with counterbalanced crankshaft. Short- and long-wheelbase versions were built, the latter available with stylish 4-seater sports saloon coachwork by Enrico Bertelli. The car offered here is on the highly desirable short chassis shared with the Ulster competition model. Both the chassis and engine are numbered E4438S. Bertelli-era Aston Martins were never common, even when new, since annual production at that time was counted in tens rather than hundreds. Robust and durable thoroughbreds, they are highly sought-after today, and this example warrants the closest inspection.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1934 Aston Martin 1½ Litre Mark II Short Chassis
Years Produced:1934–35
Number Produced:61 short-chassis Mk IIs
Original List Price:$2,500
SCM Valuation:$232,788
Chassis Number Location:On scuttle plate
Engine Number Location:On engine mount
Club Info:Aston Martin Owners Club, Drayton St Leonard, Oxfordshire, U.K. OX10 7BG, +44 1865 400400
Alternatives:1929–33 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750, 1932–33 MG F-type Magna, 1934–35 Riley MPH/Sprite
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 233, sold for $344,124, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Goodwood Revival sale in Chichester, U.K., on September 8, 2018.

The short-chassis Mk II was the model that sired the 1934 Team Cars, which really put Aston Martin on the map — and from them came the legendary Ulster.

The racers used the same chassis and the same basic engine as the Mk II, although they were fitted with lighter bodywork.

There were 31 Ulsters built, 10 of them Works racers, and the whereabouts of 28 are still known. Prices start at about $2 million, with Works racers double that — although a customer car did dip down to $1.4 million at Bonhams’ Goodwood auction in September 2015 (SCM# 266845).

So our subject car is practically an Ulster, as it has the same chassis and an Ulster-spec engine, so it must look a great value at a sixth of the price.

Not quite. It’s all about what is fashionable — rather like the conundrum between 1973 and 1974 Porsche RS 2.7s. Just because the Porsche chassis number starts 911360 instead of 911460, it multiplies the value threefold even though the hardware — and weight — is near identical, aside from the bumpers.

While Ulsters are scarce — especially the Works cars — there were rather more Mk IIs built. A total of 137 were built, made up of 61 2/4-seater short-chassis cars, plus 52 four-seaters, of which seven were drophead coupes, and 24 of the stylish sports saloons by Enrico Bertelli, all on the longer 10-foot chassis.

The Mark II cars still feature motorcycle front fenders that turn with the wheels, but the distinctive and easily identifiable feature of the Mark II is its chrome radiator shell with thermostatically controlled shutters rather than the mesh on the Ulsters.

Our subject Mark II

This car was certainly up to scratch with no needs. For the past 20 years, it has been in Holland, and according to its AMOC Register entry, it underwent a total rebuild there in 1989/1990, shortly afterwards winning its class at the Stanway Concours.

In 2012, the engine was rebuilt at Ecurie Bertelli to Ulster specification, which means about 85 hp instead of 73.

So it goes like an Ulster, drives like one — and even looks the part. But an Ulster it is not, and collectors tend to be picky about such things.

The massive difference in price comes down to period competition provenance. Organizers of the world’s top historic events want the “right” sort of cars, and they can afford to pick and choose.

Not a ticket to a big ride

John Polson, a Bonhams car specialist and pre-war expert, consigned this car and the last two Ulsters that Bonhams sold.

“The Ulster and the Mark II short chassis are extremely similar mechanically and to drive, but there are several reasons for the difference in value,” Polson said. “‘First of all, the pointed-tail Ulster is the absolute archetypal pre-war Aston that did everything in-period and a lot of winning, and as such is the hero car when a collector wants a pre-war Aston.

“It may really only differ in the body, but that is the car everyone lusts after. Very much connected with this is the level of eligibility of the Ulster. As with most collectors’ cars, a large part of its value hangs on its eligibility — what events it will get you into. Astons raced the Ulster absolutely everywhere in-period and generally very successfully — Mille Miglia, Le Mans, Targa — you name it, they were racing there.

“This is well illustrated by the value of the Mark II’s predecessor, the Le Mans. One of these was run in the Mille Miglia in-period and as such they are now eligible for this event, so their values are now circa double that of the very similar short-chassis Mark II purely for this reason.”

Polson concluded: “As such, the Mark II short chassis is good value, but it is not the 1930s icon of Aston Martin history and it will not get you into the big events — so there is logic to their relative values.”

Interestingly, the catalog claimed that this car had run twice in the Mille Miglia retrospective before its restoration. In that event provenance is all, which might have loaded the price slightly, as it was a third higher than the last short-chassis Mk II at auction — the ex-Bill Cosby car.

But even if the new owner doesn’t get lucky with another entry, the price paid here will provide the same driving experience as an Ulster at one-tenth the money. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

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