During the war I reckoned the Bamford & Martin side-valve Aston Martins of the early 1920s, built in small numbers by ex-Etonian Lionel Martin in South Kensington, London, to be the car to have. So I set about trying to find one. But those looked at were either in `bitsa’ condition or were exceptionally expensive. 12/50 Alvises proved good substitutes, but there was the lingering thought that those AMs were thoroughbreds with a touch of Bugatti about them.
Certainly they had a good racing pedigree, especially the famous and long-lived ‘Bunny’. It was the first of the competition AMs from a firm that made rather fewer than 50 cars from 1920 to 1925. With a narrow two-seater body, artillery Sankey wheels and an 8ft wheelbase, it fitted its nickname. It had the 67.5×107 (1486cc) engine and it competed first at the 1921 Spread Eagle public road hillclimb, driven by Kensington Moir, who went on to win the Light Car Handicap at the Brooklands’ August Meeting. Bernard Marshall, the normally black-suited Bugatti driver, then took ‘Bunny’ to sixth place in the GP des Voiturettes at Le Mans, and in the 1921 JCC 200-Mile race he averaged 78.18mph to finish ninth ahead of Count Zborowski in one of the twin-cam 16-valve AMs.
Successes continued to pile up for this simple little car from the nicely low-key company. In 1922, it broke records in competition with an AC, continuing after the Thames Ditton car had completed its long stint. ‘Bunny’ set 10 world and 22 Light Car records, conducted for 16hr 20min in turns by Sammy Davis, Moir and Clive Gallop.
This might have overstressed the car, but not so – it broke next the Brooldands Test Hill record, in 9.27sec (25.85mph), Moir taking the expected high jump before shutting down. However, the 1922 IoM TT did defeat the car, but G C Stead had ‘Bunny’ for the JCC 200-Mile Track event and finished a magnificent second, at 86.35mph, sandwiched by the twin-cam 16-valve Talbot-Darracqs of Guinness and Segrave.
Moir had the car again for the Porthcawl speed-trials, where he was second in class. Frank Halford then got hold of this famous AM, reduced the Test Hill record to 9.14sec and grabbed three standing-start acceleration records, of up to 74.12mph for the mile, with one of the twin-cam AM power units installed.
Eddie Hall was the next owner of ‘Bunny’ in this form. It rewarded him with 11th place in the 1923 JCC ‘200’ and FTD at Sutton Bank, where he won all his classes. After which the fate of ‘Bunny’, according to the AM historian Inman Hunter in 1976, was unknown.
The Aston Martin Company did not make a habit of swapping number plates, except in the case of the twin-cam ‘Strasbourg’ racer sold to G E T Eyston, and so I was confident that ‘Bunny’ had been registered as XH 2800. So I wrote to the London County Council, as one could then, fee 1/- (5p), and was told that this Aston Martin had been registered to Eric William Jowitt of Bickershaw, Bradford and that on February 20, 1936, Sydney Hoyland of Borough Hills Garage, Bradford had stated that it had been scrapped.
After this, bureaucracy closed in; when I tried to ascertain the make of another car from its registration I was told I was not entitled to such information. I emphasised the fact that I was a researching motoring writer and had no wish to discover the owner’s name and address, assuming the car still existed, only the car’s make, but I got no response.
In time the Bertelli Astons overshadowed the side-valve cars, but Johnson-Ferguson continued into the 1930s to bring his B&M AM down from Scotland to Brooklands to race.
In 1928, I went by electric train to Feltham to see the prototype Bertelli car. The overhead-camshaft engine with the all-in-line valves, slightly inclined and all at the same degree, the dry-sump lubrication, separate gearbox, dashboard-mounted steering box and the underslung worm back axle, etc made this an individualistic design. Perhaps it was a shade heavy, and it was certainly complicated and expensive, but it had a very impressive racing career ahead of it