Notes on the Original Aston-Martin Company
IN studying the early history of the Aston-Martin car it is interesting to go right back prior to the production of the first experimental model in 1914 and discover the origin of the marque..
In the early days of motoring, when the sport of cycling was at its height and road races were run off every week-end, there were a couple of enthusiasts named Bamford and Martin who, through their intense rivalry, soon became very great friends. Their friendship was fostered still further by a mutual interest in motor cars, and some years before the last war they decided to enter into a business partnership and, trading under the name of Bamford & Martie, Ltd., opened a garage at 53, Abingdon Road, Kensington, W.8, a building now occupied by a dairy farmer, all traces of the part it played in the history of motoring having long since disappeared.
Lionel Martin had no professional engineering background but an abundance of enthusiasm, whereas his partner was a fully-trained engineer, having served an apprenticeship with Messrs. Hesse & Savory at Teddington. Their first task after launching their enterprise was to secure distribution rights for a light car possessing qualities that would appeal to those desiring something rather better than the average. After several enquiries had been made they found themselves in the position of having to choose between the Singer, a tried and well-known make, and the Morris, a new and somewhat unknown quantity. For an enterprising concern the choice was not an easy one.
Fate decreed that they should select the Singer. If this had not been so, it is probable that Messrs. Bamford & Martin would be in the position held by Stewart & Ardern to-day, and there would be no Aston-Martin to gladden the hearts of enthusiasts. .
Having secured the selling rights for a large area of South-East England, Martin, always the sportsman, drove examples of the 10-h.p. model in numerous events with a good measure of success.
But again Fate smiled on future Aston worshippers, for on many occasions the new Singers delivered to the distributors did not meet with their approval, and eventually either the Singer Company became tired of the persistent return of their product, or else Bamford & Martin tired of waiting for new vehicles to be delivered in the desired condition.
Whichever the case the contract was not renewed, and the Kensington firm decided on the bold step of manufacturing their own car, and three 4-cylinder engines of 1,400-c.c. capacity (the class limit at that time) were put in hand. These engines were of fairly straightforward design, but for one unusual feature in that the valve caps were ground on to conical seatings in the manner of a valve and held in position by buss bars carrying individual adjustments, a system soon scrapped in favour of the more usual screw-in pattern. At the same time changes were made in the four-speed gearbox, the first examples having “constant mesh gears ‘s which were moved out of mesh when in top ! The first of these engines was mounted By E. M. Inman-Hunter AUTHOR’S NOTE.—Some of the information contained in this article has recently been covered in “Motor Sport,’ but is repeated here in order that the complete, but necessarily brief, history of Samford and Martin can be published in one chronological
in One of the beautiful little Isotta Grand Prix chassis carrying a semi-sports 2-seater body and a radiator of the true Aston contour, produced from sketches made by Mrs. Lionel Martin.
At this stage World War I prevented further development work, although by using the hybrid car for hack work during the four years of war much useful knowledge was gained, which showed itself when at last it was possible to think seriously of production.
With the return to peace conditions Bamford seemed to have lost interest in the project, but the ever-enthusiastic Lionel Martin sketched out a specification which was translated into actual motor car by a team of specialists comprising S. Robb, who had previously been with Coventry-Simplex in charge of engines, and E. G. Wrigley, who laid out the transmission, aided by a young draughtsman named Cecil Kimber, later to achieve fame as “Mr. M.G.” The frame was built by a northern firm, but soon modified as insufficient depth had been allowed the side members, which were found to break at the rear of the gearbox.
And so in 1920 the Aston-Martin sports touring car, as the makers described it, was formally introduced to the motoring fraternity, in whose favour it rapidly soared. The name, of course, was derived from that of its sponsor and his favourite sporting venue, the Aston Clinton Hill Club.
The car was exceedingly successful in competition, but Martin’s dream of beating up the hitherto invincible Brescia Bugatti was never realised, for he had no driver of quite the same calibre as Raymond Mays, who shone so brightly on that make. Back to the drawing office returned Robb, to emerge with blueprints of a single overhead-camshaft engine with four vertical valves per cylinder, utilising the standard s.v. bottom half.Unfortunately this power unit suffered from over-heating the valves and was anything but a success.
About this time, however, Count Zborowski and Clive Gallop, who had just finished his apprenticeship at Peugeot’s, fell in love with the little Aston and planned to persuade M. Henri, the famous Peugeot and Ballot engineer, to design a racing engine capable of beating the Brescia Bugatti. The delightful story is told of how Gallop was given a large bag of gold by Zborowski and instructed to proceed to Paris and not to return without the desired drawings. Gallop met with a cold reception. Henri, doubtless a busy man, declared that he had no time to design bits and pieces for a tin-pot little firm
of which he had hardly heard. But the Kensington envoy was not to be put off quite so easily, and produced fifty pounds in hard cash, whereupon the maestro, with a wry smile, placed his T-square across a blueprint of the Ballot 8-cylinder twin-cam, 16-valve racing engine, tore it down the centre, handing the front half to the delighted Gallop and pocketing the fifty pounds!
Three cars were immediately prepared with engines conforming to the Henri layout, and two of them entered for the 1922 French Grand Prix, with Zborowski and Gallop nominated as drivers. Almost from the start of the race they were beset with magneto trouble or, more correctly speaking, trouble with the magneto drive. It was originally intended to use coil ignition on these engines, but the idea was shelved and a magneto fitted in a vertical position above the water pump.
Both cars retired at third distance after having held 7th and 8th positions for a long time out of a field of 18 cars—and this was a 2-litre event !
But racing activities are hardly within the scope of this article, so we will have to content ourselves with recording the fact that from 1921 to 1927 cars from the modest Kensington factory were driven with varying degrees of success, both as works and private entries, by such wellknown drivers as Zborowski, Gallop, G. E. T. Eyston, Humphrey Cook, B. S. Marshall, Kensington Moir, Stead, Douglas Hawkes, S. C. H. Davis, and F. B. Halford.
Meanwhile the standard s.v. model continued to be improved and developed, notably by the adoption of front-wheel brakes operating on the Perrot principle, and Rudge wheels. One or two of the twin-cam engines which had utilised the s.v. base were converted to dry sump, and examples of both engines found their way into hybrid racing cars and motor boats.
Yet in spite, or probably because, of all this development work the company’s profit and loss account was far from happy, and in 1925, as a final effort to keep the balance on the right side, space was taken at the Olympia Show, where some lovely touring cars were exhibited, together with a new twin-camshaft 8-valve engine designed by the Hon. John Benson.
Sad to relate, this final bid for solvency came too late, and the gallant little company were forced into liquidation, having built some 50 odd touring cars in all, and at most a dozen racing jobs. Before the works closed down a few chassis, without engines, were built up from stock and sold to various people who installed Anzani and other power units.
Several firms toyed with the idea of continuing production, including the Bristol Aeroplane Company, Vauxhall Motors, and the French firm, DonnetZedel. Nothing came of these negotiations, however, and in 1926 the name, goodwill and spares were acquired by Messrs. Renwick & Bertelli, Ltd., of Feltham, who, changing their name to Aston Martin Motors, Ltd., resumed production with an entirely new design in 1927. That, however, is another story and must be left, like the A.M. racing history, for another time.