Aston Martin Speed Model Type C

Car producer : 

Aston Martin


Speed Model Type C





In the 1930s, Gordon Sutherland at Aston Martin made the decision to broaden the firm’s appeal. As such, he elected to reduce the number of two-litre saloons to be built from 100 to 50 so that a revised sports model could share production capacity. The new models made their first appearance at the 1936 Le Mans race. They were two-seaters equipped with a two-litre, 98-horsepower version of the proven Aston Martin wet-sump engine. Aston Martin combined the new car’s Royal Automobile Club horsepower rating (calculated with an antiquated formula no longer relevant today) and its actual horsepower rating to give the car its 15/98 moniker. A four-speed manual synchromesh gearbox was included, as was magneto ignition. The front axle received an upper-mounted steel cable to locate it and resist front spring wind-up. Top speed was a very respectable 82 mph in stock form.

In early 1936, a new engine, funded by a £10,000 injection of capital by Sir Arthur Sutherland, was being developed by the company’s brilliant young engineer, Claude Hill. Two litres in capacity, it was producing about 25 percent more power than the previous 1½-liter engine. This 2-liter was a completely new unit, with larger carburetors, higher lift cams, and importantly, fitted with a dry sump. These Works engines eventually produced 125 brake horsepower, so encouraging in fact that the decision was taken to design a new chassis into which it could be fitted. This was to become the legendary Speed Model, the first two purpose-built in 1936 to uphold the extraordinary successes for Aston Martin at Le Mans in 1934 and 1935.

The new chassis was even stronger than that of its predecessor, the mighty Mark II Le Mans. The wheelbase was one inch shorter than the earlier 1½-liter cars, but the track was two inches wider. The advanced hydraulic brake system by Lockheed was in effect two separate circuits, front and rear, with built-in redundancy for safety. The cost was enormous, allegedly almost 15 percent that of the whole car. However, it did work superbly well, and few cars with drum brakes, right up to the advent of discs, had better braking than a Speed Model Aston Martin.

In addition to the new engine, an entirely new gearbox was developed. Easily capable of handling 200 brake horsepower, and with close ratios and constant mesh gears on the input and main shafts (the ratios of which could easily be changed to lengthen or shorten the intermediate gear ratios), it was one of the finest pieces of engineering to come out of the pre-war Aston Martin factory. While other manufacturers were developing synchromesh gearboxes, Bertelli and Hill understood that all racers needed to do was get into the next gear as quickly as possible. Publicity materials featured the “racing type gearbox, designed for lightning changes up or down,” and one of the joys of driving a good Speed Model remains, to this day, mastering its rewarding gearbox.

Sadly, the planned entry in the 1936 24 Hours of Le Mans race did not take place due to a labour action by French workers, so the two factory team cars were quickly sold to defray the costs of development. However, work did progress on more than half of the remaining chassis required to homologate the car for Le Mans. These had a mix of coachwork styles, as, for the first time, there was not a single readily recognizable body for a production Aston Martin. The last eight cars to be assembled, late in 1939 and into 1940, had very unusual steel-framed bodies designed by Claude Hill (the “Type C”), with a real emphasis on aerodynamic efficiency.

They were considered unusual, even extravagant given the full competition specification, with a broad yet flowing nose and long tapering tails with sleek wings fully enclosing the wheels. The main body panels were constructed of light alloy and the wings from steel. First introduced to the public at the 1938 Earls Court Motor Show, the final iteration of this design featured the headlamps dramatically set behind the rounded radiator shell. They were nearly 20 mph faster than the open-wheeled and 2/4-seater bodied cars, almost certainly as a result of their wind-cheating shape. In fact, in its first competitive event at the Donnington Tourist Trophy race, the Type C earned a 1st in class (2nd OA) with ace Aston pilot St. John Horsfall at the wheel.

Initially, bodies were built by A.C. Bertelli’s brother Enrico (E. Bertelli Ltd.), but Bertelli’s resignation in 1936 caused the firm to seek relationships with other established coachbuilders, including Abbott and Abbey. Abbey Coachworks of Willesden produced a 2/4-seat tourer, which was shown in 1937 in London at the first Earls Court Motor Show. In all, a total of 176 two-litre cars were produced, of which 50 were short chassis open cars: 25 Abbott drophead coupés and 25 Abbey 2/4 open tourers. Another 50 closed saloons and 76 Speed models completed the total. The chassis prefix would denote when the car was built, 'E' corresponding to the fifth letter of the alphabet and therefore fifth month, and the '8' corresponding to second number of the year.

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