Every year in August, Monterey Car Week in California attracts vintage car enthusiasts from all over the world. On the program for the 2017 edition: races held at the Laguna circuit, the Pebble Beach concours d'élégance and auctions including the one organized by RM Sothebys, this year offering the Aston Martin Ulster, eighth at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1935.
Cars that competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans prior to World War II are rarely for sale at auction. Yet the Aston Martin Ulster set to go on the block on August 18th is estimated "only" between 2.5 and 3 million dollars (between 2.1 and 2.5 million euros), despite being considered across the channel as one of the cars to have participated in the most races during the course of its long career.
Nonetheless, the origins of the B5/549/U chassis are somewhat hazy: the car's paperwork indicates it is an old factory car built for E.R. Hall, which doesn't seem logical, especially since the prefix of factory car racing numbers was "LM" even though not all "LM" chassis competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In reality, Edward "Eddie" Hall never purchased the Aston Martin Ulster. Dissatisfied with his result at the Mille Miglia after an oil leak forced the driver and his mechanic Marsden to retire, he turned the car into the British marque who gave its support to factory drivers Maurice Falkner (who had entered the car under his own name) and Tom Clarke at the 1935 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The two Brits, whose car sported the #33, crossed the finish line in eighth place overall, but in fourth in the 1.5 class, won by one of its four sister cars. A rare performance, all the Aston Martin 1 1/2 Ulsters at the start made it to the checkered flag, the last in 11th place overall!
The third event on the B5/549/U chassis' program was the Targa Abruzzo, a 24-hour race at the Pescara circuit, but it started off quite poorly: Eddie Hall fell ill at the last minute and was unable to fulfill his obligations. Another version of the story is that Eddie Hall was displeased with the housing conditions (temporary buildings were erected to accommodate the drivers) and refused to take the wheel. In any case, his teammate Count Giovanni "Johnny" Lurani replaced Hall with Gildo Strazza. It was a blessing in disguise as the duo went on to win their class!
After its final yet unsuccessful appearance at the RAC Tourist trophy, the following year the Ulster was equipped with a compressor (turbo predecessor) after changing hands, but its new owner quickly turned the car over to Derrick Edwards, co-founder of Morntane Engineering with Nick Mason, drummer for the band Pink Floyd. Derrick Edwards hit the circuits for several decades and when he passed away, the car went to Fred Blakemore, owner of Écurie Bertelli, specializing in pre-WWII Aston Martins.
Meticulously maintained and incredibly reliable for its age, the B5/549/U chassis (without the compressor) has participated in the Le Mans Classic twice and in other vintage car events. Offered for sale back in 2014 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, the Aston Martin Ulster was unable to draw a buyer, at the time estimated between 1.8 and 2.1 million dollars. This time, according to RM Sothebys, the new owner will have to pony up a few more dollars…
PHOTO (Copyright - Archives/ACO): The #33 Aston Martin Ulster from the 1935 24 Hours of Le Mans up at auction.