The Editor Brings Together — Two B & M Aston-Martins

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The Bamford and Martin Aston-Martins were made a long time ago, in quite small numbers, but interest in them has never been greater, thanks to the research into their history by the AMOC. Justifiably, because they were hand-built sporting cars of immaculate conception that made a considerable contribution to British competition success..

Consequently, I thought it would be worthwhile to bring together two of the survivors, a side-valve and a twin-cam racing type. In this I received generous cooperation from Keith Ashcroft and Neil Murray. Keith not only laid on a very useful stretch of private road where we could exercise the cars legally, but towed his twin-cam racing Aston there behind his MercedesBenz 200T estate car, and Neil brought his side-valve “Green Pea” all the way from Oxfordshire behind his Ford Escort 1.3L. And before we started work I was able to look over Keith’s comprehensive model collection, dominated by a large, fully-detailed Monza Alfa Romeo, and to see that his garage contains not only a 1957 Mk 3 Aston Martin to keep his B & M car company, but three immaculate fast motorcycles, a Manx Norton, a “Cammy” Velocette and an ohc Excelsior. . . .

Coming to the histories of the two AMs, Murray’s began life as one of the twin-cam GP cars built by the little Kensington Company after Count Zborowski had added capital to Lionel Martin’s humble venture. This made possible the construction of two road-racing cars, their 1 1/2-litre engines designed by Marcel Gremillon of Peugeots under the supervision of Clive Gallop. With engines based on the Ernest Henri formula Zborowski hoped to be able to gain a foothold in Grand Prix racing. The cars were intended for the 1922 TT but did not appear until the French GP at Strasbourg, in which the Count retired with magneto trouble. But that year he clocked 61.8 sec at Shelsley Walsh and Moir drove the same car at S Harting. This is the historic car now owned by Neil Murray, known then as TT1, with engine and chassis number 1913, registration number XL 2445. Early in 1923 its twin-cam engine was changed for a sidevalve, number 1917, and the number plates and car number were somehow changed over, TT1 becoming XL 3125, and its chassis number 1914, although this was never officially notified. In this sv form the car joined the Mr and Mrs R. C. Morgan stable and was named “Green Pea”. It gained many successes, and proved very versatile, winning a gold medal in the 1923 MCC Land’s End Trial and eventually lapping Brooklands at 86.62 mph. In 1923 alone it took a first, a second and four thirds in short races at the Track, was second in its class at the Boulogne speedtrials, and closed with sixth place in the JCC 200 Mile Race.

It continued to do well in 1924, Mrs Agnew winning a Ladies’ race with it and Morgan taking a third at the Summer Brooklands’ Meeting. Mrs Agnew and J. C. Morgan then got their friend J. G. Parry Thomas to install one of his ohc Hooker-Thomas engines, which necessitated a new steering-box. The car was re-registered PE 2516 and Thomas stamped his own chassis number, T1177, on it. The ploy was not very successful, the car, now raced as a Thomas Special, retiring at Montlhery and in the JCC “200”, although it took a first and second place for Morgan at the 1925 BARC Autumn Meeting.

In 1931 this AM Thomas Special was sold by Tony Gordon to a syndicate from the Chelsea College of Automobile Engineering. By 1936 it had passed into the Trade. Guy Griffiths recalls selling it with a side-valve Anzani engine installed but with the Hooker-Thomas engine (HT5, from a car once raced by Howey, thought to have been scrapped later, during the war) in the back. I remember seeing “Green Pea” at a garage in Mortimer during the war, its engine now supercharged, and believe it had been there since about 1939. It moved around a bit during the war but in 1946 was owned by J. A. Smith, in Farnborough, who was posted to the USA and so disposed of it to a colleague, in 1947. In 1948 Brian Demaus found it in a garage in Windsor and subsequent owners were A. Askew Norman Ellis (brother of the great AM man Fred Ellis), and many others. Neil Murray bought it from Cecil Bendall in 1958, still Anzani-engined. He was able to buy a sv AM engine from Leslie Marr, and sold the Anzani to Bill May for his Frazer Nash. The AM engine, No 1916, which is now in the car, is thought to have come from the chassis that was used for the Halford Special. The sv engine used by the Morgans in the 1920s apparently went as a replacement into Capt J. C. Douglas’ Aston-Martin, needed, presumably, after he had hit a bollard in Hampstead, seriously damaging the car and badly cutting Mrs Douglas’ face. Since the war, with its last reg no PE 2516, “Green Pea (or Petit Pois) has notched up some impressive performances, such as a first at Wiscombe in 1977, repeated in 1974, winning the Lionel Martin Trophy in 1973, ’74, ‘76,77 and ’78, taking second and third places in club races at Goodwood and Silverstone, and scoring wins in various Concours d’Elegance, Neil helped out by Riseley, Joscelyne, Mort Morris-Goodall and the Archer brothers.

Keith Ashcroft’s twin-cam Aston-Martin, Reg No XR3941, has parts of engine No 1914 in it, thought to have been used in the single-seater “Razor Blade” in 1923. That this is an early engine is evident from its plain cam-covers, those of the later Mk IIIb engines being ribbed. In the 195os the car was given a replica of the body on the AM that Humphrey Cook crashed on the first lap of the 1925 200 Mile Race, by Derek Edwards, after which it passed into Nigel Dawes’ hands. About 12 years ago, having enjoyed his International and Le Mans Astons, Keith decided he wanted an earlier racing model and exchanged a Riley Imp and the International for this twin-cam B&M car. Here I would emphasise that not only did Keith and Neil let me sample their cars but they, Tony Byles, Alan Archer, and other AMOC members have been of great help in sorting out the foregoing histories.

Murray’s sv “Green Pea” has the narrow radiator and typical body of the GP cars, finished in dark green. It is actually a replica, original only in respect of the scuttle, engine bulkhead, and foot blister, but had he not drawn my attention to it I would not have realised that the tail is about 18 in too short, which the dedicated owner intends to rectify. Normally there would be a single carburetter on the off-side, feeding through the block, but the twin Solex supplied to Mrs Morgan for the 1924 200 Mile Race, but never fitted, are now used, on the off-side of the cylinder block. Ignition is by a Bosch magneto, the one supplied as a spare in Mrs Morgan’s time.

In contrast, the immaculate engine of Keith Ashcroft’s cab has twin SUs on the off-side, with a vertical Scintilla magneto ahead of them. This vertical magneto mounting is thought to have arisen because it was originally intended to have coil ignition, as on the contemporary racing Talbot-Darracqs, but this was not proceeded with. The wider radiator was presumably needed when Capt Eyston was racing the car with a blown Anzani engine. It was run in the 1925 JCC 200 Mile Race by Eyston and is thought to be the car he used in the 1926 British Grand Prix. At one time it had a touring body by Compton and Herman of Hersham. The exhaust-pipe on both cars runs along the near-side and the brake and gear levers are external. The blue twin-cam car has a very narrow body, the cockpit notably cramped for my size of passenger, and a central accelerator and a starter. “Green Pea” also has a central accelerator pedal, of horseshoe shape to facilitate “heel-and-toe” gear changes when using the brake pedal which is so close to the body side that a scuttle bulge or blister is necessary. It is on 3.50 x 19 tyres, as the closest available size to the original, and one can still see on the dash the holes where the drip-feeds for the twin-cam GP engine were fitted, but the apertures in the engine bulkhead, through which engine heat was dispersed, as there are no bonnet louvres, have been filled in. Both cars have half-elliptic springing all round, the back axles underslung, and with its shock absorbers “buttoned up” the sv car gave the harder ride. “Green Pea’s” front axle beam is a forged beam, machined all over, whereas that of Ashcroft’s car has been left unmachined. The steering drag-link on the inside of the drop-arm proclaims to the knowledgeable that PE 2516 was a GP car. When Parry Thomas installed his engine he had to move the steering box forward to accommodate the new power unit.

Both cars have 19-plate Hele-Shaw clutches, a notably foolproof component, and “Green Pea” was pulling a 3.5 to 1 axle-ratio, the other car a 3.0 to 1 axle. The track car has, naturally, the narrower, longer-tailed body, and “Green Pea”, as an ex-road racing car has a big fuel-filler, on the tail, a replica, but incorporating the metal strip for securing its cap, special to this car, because, it is said, Zborowski was always losing his filler-cap spanners! The big oil-fillers on the crankcases are another AM feature. Both cars have Perrot brakes, Lionel Martin having obtained the right to manufacture these from the parent Company, although not until December 1923. I was reminded of how very pleasant is the gear-change on these B&M cars, the gear-lever movement “back-to-front” as on a Bugatti and the action meriting that hackneyed phrase “like a knife through butter” . . . Driving “Green Pea” I was also made aware of the effectiveness of the long outside hand-brake, which works on all four wheels. The foot-brake operates on the front wheels only. On the cockpit floor of “Green Pea” are two knobs for the mechanic, whereby the brake-cables could be taken up during long races.

“Green Pea’s” dashboard contains, from right to left, an oil-gauge reading to 50 lb/sq in, a small Jaeger tachometer with warning lines from 4,000 to 4,700 rpm, the mag-button, a central electrical-panel with ammeter, and to the left, speedometer, air-pressure gauge for the fuel-feed, and an oil temperature gauge normally reading 80 to 100 deg F. Of these, tacho, oil-gauge, and fuel-tank gauge are the originals. It is interesting that Zborowski insisted on Jaeger instruments, instead of the more usual Watford dials. Both engines are of wet-sump type; the oil-pump of Ashcroft’s twin-cam car is directly below the waterpump, an arrangement apt to induce oil from the high-pressure system into the coolant….

I was unable to obtain performance figures but the two Aston-Martins were paired at the last VSCC Colerne speed-trials, when Ashcroft’s clocked 78 mph, Murray’s 76 mph. The private road over which we exercised these two historic 1 1/2-litre racing cars was a much appreciated amenity, which made the day’s outing all the more enjoyable. On the run home to Wales in the Ford Sierra XR4X4 I reflected on the inescapable fact that cars have become more scientific, and roads faster, and that the fun has changed since the days when Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford set out to give Great Britain as fine a small sporting motor-car as any in the World. — W.B.

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