Skip to main content

LOT 16

In the present family ownership since 1974 1934 Aston Martin Ulster Two-Seater Sports Registration no. DJA 554 Chassis no. L4/525/U

Sold for £1,300,700 inc. premium
Lot 16
1934 Aston Martin Ulster Two-Seater Sports
The December Sale|1 December 2013, 14:00 GMT|London, New Bond Street

In the present family ownership since 1974
1934 Aston Martin Ulster Two-Seater Sports
Registration no. DJA 554
Chassis no. L4/525/U


'Based on the MkII chassis, the Ulster was the apotheosis of the pre-war sporting Aston Martin. A replica of the 1934 team cars which had finished 3rd, 6th and 7th in the Ulster TT race, it was made available to amateur racers for just £750.' – Michael Bowler, 'Aston Martin – The Legend'.

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 four-cylinder of 1,492cc - powered the new 11.9hp Aston. Built at the firm's new Feltham works, the first 'new generation' Aston Martins were displayed at the 1927 London Motor Show at Olympia.

Like his predecessors, 'Bert' Bertelli understood the effect of competition success on Aston Martin sales and sanctioned the construction of two works racers for the 1928 season. Based on the 1½-litre road car, the duo featured dry-sump lubrication – a feature that would stand them in good stead in long distance sports car events – and this was carried over to the International sports model, newly introduced for 1929. Built in two wheelbase lengths (8' 6" and 9' 10") the International was manufactured between 1929 and 1932, mostly with bodies by Augustus's brother Enrico 'Harry' Bertelli.

The 'Le Mans' label was first applied to the competition version of the (1st Series) International following Aston's class win and 5th place overall in the 1931 Le Mans race. This conceit was fully justified when the model placed 5th and 7th in the 1932 race and collected the Rudge-Whitworth Biennial Cup. It may, in fact, be the first car named after the Le Mans Race, although many others have since followed Aston Martin's example.

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 two-seater Le Mans disappearing 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 four-seater.

Introduced in 1934, the replacement Mark II model sported a new, stronger chassis and a revised engine with counter-balanced crankshaft. Short (8' 7") and long (10') wheelbase versions were built, the latter available with stylish four-seater sports saloon coachwork by Enrico Bertelli.
Racing was still at the forefront of company policy under the stewardship of new owners the Sutherlands, Robert Gordon Sutherland having assuming the post of joint managing director alongside 'Bert' Bertelli in March 1933. For the 1934 Le Mans race, three competition cars were constructed on the new MkII chassis, the frames being copiously drilled for lightness. In the race all three works Astons were sidelined by trifling mechanical problems, prompting Bertelli to try and un-jinx the team by painting the cars – previously always finished in various shades of green – in Italian Racing Red. The next race on Aston Martin's calendar was the RAC Tourist Trophy at Ards in Ulster, regulations for which stipulated standard chassis. Three new cars were built on unmodified frames and the superstitious Bertelli was duly rewarded with a 100% finishing rate. The trio finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd in class, earning Aston Martin the Team Prize. In 1935 another works car, chassis number 'LM20', finished 3rd overall at Le Mans, winning its class and the Rudge Cup.

In October of 1934, Aston Martin exhibited the resulting spin-off model at the Olympia Motor Show, introducing it as 'a Replica of the three cars which ran so successfully in the 1934 TT race.' Built on the shorter of the two MkII chassis, the Ulster differed little from its more run-of-the-mill siblings, though the engine was subjected to tuning and more careful assembly. Modifications included polishing the inlet and exhaust ports, and raising the compression ratio to 9.5:1 by means of domed pistons and a 'stepped' cylinder head, the result of these changes being an increase in maximum power to around 85bhp. The Laystall crankshaft and the valves and valve springs were of higher specification than those of the other MkII models. Lightweight, door-less two-seater bodywork was fitted and every Ulster was guaranteed to exceed 100mph with full road equipment, a phenomenal achievement for a 1½-litre production car at that time.

A serious competition machine, the Ulster abounded in mechanical refinements resulting from the factory's years of endurance racing experience. These included painting the dashboard matte black and the radiator surround in body colour – reflected early-morning sunlight had been found to be a serious problem when flat out at Le Mans – and securing every chassis nut with a split pin.

In his book 'Aston Martin 1913-1947', Inman Hunter comments: 'If ever a car looked right for its purpose it was the Ulster, but like all Bertelli Aston-Martins, with a dry weight of 18cwt, it was absurdly heavy in comparison with Rileys, Magnettes and Nashes, so lacked their acceleration. Yet its unique qualities of stamina and superb handling earned the respect of enthusiasts all over the world.'

Of the 31 Ulsters built, including 10 team cars, 28 survive and the whereabouts of all are well known. No doubt the car's legendary robustness played a part in this quite exceptional survival rate. Chassis number 'L4/525/U' was registered on 31st December 1934 and delivered new via Winter Garden Garages on 23rd February 1935 to its first owner, one R A Brampton of Elstree, Hertfordshire. Like all fellows, this car is featured in Alan Archer's definitive book on the marque 'Aston Martin Ulsters', published by Palawan Press (pages 178-189). It also appears in Michael Bowler's aforementioned Aston Martin history.

Benefiting from an engine completely rebuilt around a new cylinder block in May 1936, 'L4/525/U' was next owned by one J E Kidd of Gullane and in July 1937 was reregistered as 'MAN 490' in the Isle of Man. Its next recorded owner, from 1947, was Percy D Kissack of Ronaldsburn, IoM, who used it as a course car for motorcycle races. Following Kissack's death in 1948, 'L4/525/U' was purchased by George P Bridge of Douglas, its last owner in the Island. Owned briefly by one D Jackson in Manchester, the Aston was bought by Anthony 'Tony' F W Platt in October 1949. In 1950 the Manx registration was cancelled. Competitor number '6', Platt's car formed part of the AMOC's 'A' team of Ulsters entered in the 1951 Bol d'Or endurance race, held that year on a circuit in the St Germain Forest near Paris. Unfortunately, mechanical problems forced his retirement.

In January 1953 the Ulster was purchased by J A Bracegirdle of Cheadle Holme, who gained a 1st Class award with it at the AMOC's Snetterton meeting that year. The car then passed to one R Guest of Taunton and in 1955 was advertised in the August edition of Motor Sport by Chiltern Cars of Leighton Buzzard. Its new owner, Peter Manley, continued to participate in AMOC events with the Ulster, as did its next custodian, one T J Bennett of Beaconsfield, who in 1962 sold the car to one J S B Price of RAF Marham, Doncaster. The current owner's father, Dr Dudley Heath, purchased the Aston from Dan Margulies in 1974 (see advertisement and receipt on file).

Soon after acquisition the engine was overhauled by marque specialists Morntane Engineering (bills on file) and the car repainted in black by Faulkner Brothers of Birmingham. 'L4/525/U' resumed its competition career with the AMOC in 1978 at the annual St John Horsfall Trophy races. Its other public appearances during this period include the Windsor & Ascot Historic Vehicle Silver Jubilee meeting in Windsor Great Park (1977), the AMOC display at the Town and Country Festival, Stoneleigh (1978) and the VSCC Golden Jubilee meeting at Malvern (1984). A photograph in Alan Archer's book shows 'L4/525/U' undergoing further restoration in the mid-1980s. During the late 1980s/early 1990s, the Ulster took part in several Norwich Union Rallies and in May 1994 was displayed at the International Vintage Car Exhibition at the NEC, Birmingham. In 2000 Dr Heath gifted the car to his son Peter, the current vendor.
Some 20 years having passed since its last restoration, 'L4/525/U' was by now due for further refurbishment. Mostly undertaken during 2008, this included restoration of the engine, body, chassis and running gear at a cost of circa £33,000, a gearbox rebuild and other works having been carried out a few years previously at a cost of circa £12,000 (bills on file). It should be noted that this car (like most pre-war Astons) has been fitted retrospectively with coil ignition. Rebuilt in 2009, the original magneto is included in the sale and could easily be refitted should the new owner so require.

Co-ordinated by Bruce and Jim Young, the engine rebuild being entrusted to Tim Abbott, the restoration continued into 2009 when the chassis and body, the latter still original, were restored and the interior re-trimmed by Bruce Young Coachworks. Invoices for the foregoing totalling over £15,000 are on file together with numerous others detailing general maintenance carried out over the years by Bruce Young and bearing witness to the fastidious care the car has received, the most recent being dated June 2013.

Recent landmarks and achievements include: 2004 St George's Day Windsor Castle timeline Parade of Aston Martins and drive past before HM The Queen and Prince Philip; 2010 Runner Up Pre-War Class 75th Anniversary Concours of the AMOC at Blenheim Palace; 2010 Winner of the Horace Wilmhurst Trophy for the most interesting newcomer to Concours events during the year; 2011 Winner of the Derek Edwards Trophy at AMOC Spring Concours, Althorp, 1st in class (pre-war); 2012 4th Elite Class (AMOC) for previous winners of all classes at Spring Concours (Waddesdon Manor); and 2013 Aston Martin Celebrity Celebrations at Kensington Palace Gardens, chosen as one of the 100 'iconic' Aston Martins for the timeline display.

As well as the aforementioned invoices, the substantial history file contains photographs of the Aston's first restoration in the 1970s, a quantity of expired MoT certificates, VSCC 'buff form' (listing it as standard) and Swansea V5C registration document. Also included in the sale is its individually chassis-numbered Owners' Edition of 'Aston Martin Ulster', leather bound and featuring an aluminium plate on the cover etched with the car's photograph.

Only 31 copies of the Owners' Edition were printed. Representing a once-in-lifetime opportunity to acquire a well-documented example of Aston Martin's finest sports car of the pre-war era, 'L4/525/U' is eligible for all the most important historic motor sports events including Le Mans Classic and the Mille Miglia.

Saleroom notices

We are pleased to advise this vehicle comes with a fresh MoT and the car is also offered with its special tailor-made car cover given to each invited car at the 2013 Aston Martin Centenary Celebrations at Kensington Palace.

Own a similar item?

Submit your item online for a free auction estimate.

How to sell

Looking for a similar item?

Our Collector Cars specialists can help you find a similar item at an auction or via a private sale.

Find your local specialist


  • 29 November 2013, 15:00 - 19:00 GMT
  • 30 November 2013, 09:00 - 17:00 GMT
  • 1 December 2013, 09:00 - 14:00 GMT

Additional information