a bar­gain as­ton Martin?

Classic Driver - - LETTERS -

Eoin Young isn’t the only one to have ex­pe­ri­enced the works DB2.

In the early 1960s I was run­ning the sales depart­ment of Walk­ers Garage, Stan­dard-Tri­umph agents in Whitby, North York­shire. I had re­cently re­turned to my home town af­ter my two years Na­tional Ser­vice in the RAF, which was spent rather pleas­antly in a tent in Cyprus.

Walk­ers Garage had been es­tab­lished in 1900 and was the first garage in the North Rid­ing of York­shire. The founder, A. H. Walker was still in­volved in the busi­ness even though he was over 80 years of age, al­though the day to day run­ning of the garage was car­ried on by his son and grand­sons. Good vin­tage cars and proper mo­tor­cars were al­ways in ev­i­dence. At this time I was driv­ing a Buck­ler Mk 5 which had en­joyed some suc­cess in 1172 club rac­ing as the Por­teus Spe­cial. The boss be­ing an en­thu­si­ast had no ob­jec­tions to the staff buy­ing and sell­ing such odd­ball cars which did not af­fect his busi­ness. This gave one the abil­ity to sup­ple­ment one’s wages con­sid­er­ably. Even­tu­ally I sold the Buck­ler in or­der to pur­chase a 1925 open three litre Bent­ley from a lo­cal doc­tor for £125. Later this was sold for £450 which al­lowed me to buy my first As­ton Martin, a DB2 reg. PUM6.

PUM6 was not sadly all As­ton. It had been owned by Teesside mo­tor trader Lau­rie Denny, one time as­so­ci­ate of Fred­die Dixon of Ri­ley fame. Denny had blown up the orig­i­nal 2.6 litre As­ton en­gine and had sold the car to another Teesside trader, Mike Gray who had started to fit a 3.4 Jaguar en­gine and gear­box into the car but was killed in a hill­climb at Bar­bon Manor driv­ing a sin­gle­seat Cooper-Cli­max, leav­ing the As­ton un­fin­ished. Mike had ear­lier crashed the ex-Phil Scragg Monza Lis­ter Jaguar whilst driv­ing to a race meet­ing at Ruf­forth, the Lis­ter hav­ing been loaned to him by the then owner Keith Schel­len­berg.

A friend then pur­chased PUM6 from the ex­ecu­tors of Mike Gray’s es­tate and com­pleted the in­stal­la­tion of the Jaguar en­gine and gear­box. He had just got the car on the road when he had the of­fer of a cheap

E-type Jaguar. Be­ing a Jag Man, he sold me the As­ton for £250.

As a mem­ber of the York­shire sec­tion of the BARC I had been com­pet­ing in hill­climbs and sprints with var­i­ous cars, so the As­ton was en­tered for the Hare­wood hill­climb. At this event I was ap­proached by Arnold J. Bur­ton, who ac­tu­ally owned the farm on which the event was held. He told me that he had bought PUM6 new and had com­peted in the 1950 Alpine Rally with it, fail­ing to fin­ish when one of the front spring tow­ers cracked, at the same time point­ing out the re­in­forc­ing he had fit­ted in case the same thing should hap­pen again, which it never did and he went on to win the three litre class in the 1951 Alpine. This was the first I knew of the car’s com­pe­ti­tion his­tory and it came from the car’s orig­i­nal owner and driver in the event.

The As­ton was used as my ev­ery­day car for some time but as with youth­ful exuberance, I could wear out a set of Avon Tur­bospeeds in 3000 miles and it tended to soak up money like a sponge!

On a visit to a scrap yard in Dar­ling­ton one day I met a chap look­ing for head­lamp units for an As­ton Martin DB2/4 Mk3 he was re­build­ing. He said his name was Bloom­field and was an of­fi­cer in the RAF at nearby Cat­t­er­ick and he had a DB2 which he wanted to sell. An ap­point­ment was made for that evening and along with a friend we went to Cat­t­er­ick in PUM6. The photographs show PUM6 and VMF65 out­side the Of­fi­cer’s Mess that evening. Bloom­field knew VMF6 had some rac­ing his­tory but had no de­tails. The car drove well enough, even though the haze of blue smoke from the ex­haust was omi­nous, the light­weight al­loy body was a bit dented and the Per­spex rear and side win­dows dif­fi­cult to see through. A deal was done at £250 and a very happy 23 year old had the two As­tons pic­tured for 500 quid!

On ar­riv­ing at work the next morn­ing the boss showed great in­ter­est in VMF65 and af­ter tak­ing the car for a drive asked if I would sell it to him. I think now he was aware of the car’s his­tory. As I had al­ready told him what I had paid for the car this made things a lit­tle dif­fi­cult so I said at that stage I did not know which car I would keep. Af­ter a week of own­ing both cars the boss set­tled mat­ters by of­fer­ing me £450 for VMF65. This was £200 profit and as a young man, an of­fer I could not refuse!

Af­ter run­ning the car for a few months, its new owner sent it to the paint shop where most of the dents were re­moved and the body­work had a new coat of very dark green paint, al­most black, the fac­tory rac­ing colour in the early 50s. Af­ter en­joy­ing the car for over a year the boss ad­ver­tised it for sale in Ex­change and Mart.

Strangely it was I who an­swered the early Thurs­day morn­ing phone call from Nigel Mann ring­ing from his home in France. He had been a mem­ber of the Works team in 1951, when VMF63, VMF64 and VMF65 were the team cars.

Af­ter giv­ing him de­tails of the car, an ar­range­ment was made for the boss to meet up with Mann’s engi­neer who would travel up to York by train. Later in the day on re­turn­ing from York the boss sur­prised us all by an­nounc­ing he had sold the car for al­most £15,000. My own DB2 PUM6 was to be sold shortly af­ter­wards, as in 1964 I was to start up in the mo­tor trade on my own ac­count.

In 1967 I bought PUM6 back from a dealer in New­cas­tle upon Tyne who had taken the car in part ex­change. Much work was needed to be car­ried out on the body­work due to elec­trol­y­sis around the rear wheel arches. This in­volved cut­ting out the en­tire cor­roded al­loy and weld­ing in a four or five inch wide strip of new metal. The front of the bumper also needed to be re­built.

It was around this time when a friend turned up at my garage with a DB4GT which his fa­ther had just bought him from rac­ing driver Mike Salmon. My friend had lit­tle knowl­edge of As­tons, sim­ply lik­ing the look of the car and know­ing noth­ing of its his­tory. I was very im­pressed with it and made him aware of my in­ter­est should he ever wish to sell, which at the time he had no in­ten­tion of do­ing. Over the fol­low­ing year or so I saw my friend with the car on odd oc­ca­sions. Out of the blue I re­ceived a tele­phone call one day ask­ing if I was in­ter­ested in the DB4GT. An em­ployee had at­tempted to start the car in or­der to move it, the en­gine had back­fired and the car had caught fire. The insurance com­pany was to pay out the owner as a to­tal loss and I was asked if I wished to buy the sal­vage, which I was told had to make £350. I bought it on the phone un­seen!

Af­ter get­ting the wreck­age back to my garage and or­der­ing the parts I re­quired from the stores man­ager at New­port Pag­nell, who I had got to know quite well, he asked me for the chas­sis num­ber. When I said DP199/1, he in­formed me that I had got the works pro­to­type DB4GT which had been driven by Moss in com­pe­ti­tion, later had been the works demo car and af­ter that, sold to the Queen’s cousin the The Hon­ourable Ger­ald Laselles. Not a bad buy for 350 quid!

I was for­tu­nate in hav­ing a very skilled old crafts­man avail­able to un­der­take the mak­ing of large sec­tions of each front wing which had melted due to the tyres catch­ing fire as petrol had burned un­der the car. Old Bill had car­ried out all the ex­per­i­men­tal work for Black­burn Air­craft at Brough dur­ing the war and to him noth­ing was im­pos­si­ble, given time.

Af­ter the body­work was com­pleted, all the front sus­pen­sion was re­newed along with the shock ab­sorbers and any­thing else which was re­quired. The DB4GT was even­tu­ally sold around 1970 along with PUM6 and my Vin­cent se­ries D Black Shadow mo­tor­bike in or­der to buy a farm. The DB4GT made £1500, the DB2 £500 and the bike £350. The farm cost £6750.

Prior to com­ing to live in New Zealand in 1999, I had seen the DB4GT sell for nearly £300,000 and some­time af­ter set­tling here, the old DB2, VMF65 made over £80,000 at auc­tion.

I con­sider my re­build­ing of DP199/1 from a burnt out write-off to be my great­est achieve­ment with As­ton Martins. At the time another pur­chaser wished to buy the wreck­age to re­move the en­gine and fit it in a speed­boat!

Had that hap­pened, DP199/1 would have been lost for­ever. The fact that I had the ser­vices of a man with such met­al­work­ing and weld­ing skills avail­able should never be for­got­ten ei­ther, for with­out th­ese rare skills, the job would have been im­pos­si­ble to com­plete.

To­day there would be lit­tle chance of any­one hav­ing such luck in ac­quir­ing such his­toric cars at such an af­ford­able price in such a re­mote area of the coun­try as I did all those years ago. I se­ri­ously be­lieve that my gen­er­a­tion have had the best of it, we never had to fight in a proper war, had free­dom of the road with no silly speed lim­its, four gal­lons of petrol for a quid and then some change, what more could one ask?

There were to be lots more As­tons over the years from DB2/4 Mks 1, 2 and 3, DB4 /6 and DBS V8 but none ever matched PUM6, VMF65 and DP199/1.

Strangely, there is another quirk to the story. In 1966 I pur­chased a DB2 2.6 litre con­vert­ible, SPC100, sell­ing this to a friend, John Rids­dale of Skel­ton, North York­shire a few months later. I un­der­stand that this car still re­sides in John’s garage 47 years later. There can be few mo­tor traders who have ever sold a cus­tomer a car which he has kept for such a length of time. This must be the ul­ti­mate in cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion. The Tri­umph Spit­fire I took in part-ex­change no doubt parted this life many moons ago!

Look­ing back to­day it is in­ter­est­ing to re­flect that the ap­pre­ci­a­tion in value of the As­ton Martins was matched al­most ex­actly by the in­crease in value of the farm they were sold to pur­chase in 1971. For when the farm was sold in 1999 prior to our leav­ing the UK for re­tire­ment in my wife’s home coun­try of New Zealand, the sale value of the farm would have pur­chased the fig­ures they made at auc­tion. David Star­ling Kapiti Coast

David Star­ling and his Mk V Buck­ler

The Bent­ley tour story in Is­sue 48 along with Eoin Young’s piece about trav­el­ling to Le Mans in the ex-works As­ton Martin has prompted David Star­ling to raid his photo al­bums. Here are a Bent­ley 3 litre and a Porsche 356

And again, when David owned it. Right The works pro­to­type As­ton Martin DB4GT, brought back from the dead by David Star­ling

The works As­ton DB2

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