Two cars were built and prepared for the 1936 Le Mans 24 Hours Race. Sadly the race was cancelled at very short notice due to an industrial dispute by French workers. Some sixty cars had been entered that year and many had been produced specifically for the event. Amongst them was the new Aston Martin , designed from the outset as an out and out sports car, (initially to compliment the 1½ litre series of cars), but soon to become the ‘new’ model. The two cars unofficially known as LM22 and LM23 were designated chassis numbers G6/701/U and G6/702/U when they were sold, using the same suffix as the earlier 1½ litre ‘Ulster’ model. This was carried on for all subsequent Speed Models.
Assembled in the competition department (specifically for Le Mans), they were built to comply with that years Le Mans rules, as four seaters. This was achieved by cutting a hole in the rear panel above the rear axle and fitting a vestigial seat and simple foot wells. Completely unpractical as passenger accommodation and not even upholstered, this was the minimum that could be done to comply with the rules. The ‘rear seats’ were closed off by a simple canvas tonneau cover.
The chassis and running gear was exactly to the same specification as the later ‘Speed Model’, twenty one of which were eventually constructed (after the event!) to enable the works’ to homologate the car. The chassis and running gear were still relatively heavy, even taking the extra power of the two litre engine into consideration, so particular emphasis was made to produce a lightweight but streamlined coachwork that would allow the cars to run at the anticipated over 100mph top speed on the long straights at the Le Mans circuit.
The coachwork was very similar in construction to the earlier team cars, with ash frame and light gauge aluminium panels. The frame was lightened much the same way as the works’ ‘Ulster’ team cars, with deep scalloping on the outside of the main frame members so that it could not be seen when the panels were fitted. Over the rear axle the deep vertical sides of the frame was constructed of marine ply with large lightening holes cut into them. Even the rear timbers around the boot joining the upper and lower frame were ‘wasted’ to make them as light as possible.
With heavily valanced front springs, the eighteen gauge panelling also covered the oil tank and the front Hartford type dampers. Further valanced along the side of the car, virtually none of the chassis was visible. The rather bulky appearance was exacerbated by rather bulbous wings which were bracketed to the chassis (no longer attached to the brake back plates) and supported by rod stays bracketed to the side of the radiator, passing through the radiator shell. At the rear the springs and the chassis were again fully enclosed by large bulges with the rear wings set into the valances and also supported by rod stays to the body frame through the body skin. The front of the rear wing had a slot for air to pass through it to be directed onto the rear brake drum by a small scoop mounted on the inner wing. An opening boot covered the rear mounted fuel tank, with twin filler, over which the spare wheel was rather crudely mounted on a simple frame.
The bonnet was secured by twin bonnet straps, and the headlamps and radiator were covered with mesh stone guards, similar to the 1½ litre ‘Ulster’. A hinged mesh screen was fitted to the scuttle with a single ‘Brooklands’ type aero screen to protect the driver. Provision was also made for a quick lift jack to be used at the front of the car; it being almost impossible to use a trolly jack to lift the car up on the front suspension or chassis. This comprised of a simple frame with attached to the front cross tube onto which a simple ‘lever over’ racing jack could be attached.
The interior was simply upholstered with deep and comfortable bucket seats (so characteristic of the ‘Ulster’) and with good instrumentation, the car was very much a racer but was relatively comfortable and easy to drive, so important for long distance road races. Though practical, these two works’ team cars were not the prettiest cars Aston Martin built, and the new racer had lost the fine detail and proportion of the Ulster, designed by Harry Bertelli two years previously.
Mechanically the car was pretty much standard ‘Speed Model’ though no doubt racing cams were fitted to attempt to maximize power at higher racing revs. The standard 1⅝" twin SU carburettors were retained and ignition was by Scintilla ‘Vertex’ magneto. More attention was beginning to be paid to the exhaust system, with later ‘Speed Models’ being advertised as having an ‘extractor exhaust system’. However, the earlier incarnation of the two Le Mans cars had the relatively simple four into one type of manifold first seen on the 1931 team cars. The system fitted required a neat and beautifully machines finned aluminium spacer to be used to convert the porting from the cylinder head, which was square, into the round tubing of the manifold. The tailpipe which was fitted with a simple tubular expansion box was bracketed directly onto the body frame with drilled aluminium blocks and ‘U’ bolts as per the 1½ litre ‘Ulster’.
As with the earlier team cars, great care was taken in the design and construction of the whole car and once again all bolts were secured with slotted or castellated nuts, and individually split pinned. Full undertrays were fitted from front to back and although these made some relatively minor adjustments to the underneath of the car more difficult, no doubt they had a significant positive aerodynamic effect at over 100mph, which was of course the purpose. With hydraulic brakes, an hydraulic reservoir was now required, and this was positioned directly behind the carburetors in easy reach, as were the fuse boxes each side of the centrally mounted battery mounted on the bulkhead.
Like the previous ‘Ulster’ team cars, since 1934, the two new works racers were painted Italian racing red. Due to the cancellation of Le Mans, both cars were quickly sold off. LM22 went to C.H. Wood, the works’ service manager who raced the car at Pheonix Park in 1936. The second car, LM23, was sold to Jim Elwes, who raced it at Spa in 1936. However it was sold once again in 1937, to ‘Mort’ Morris Goodall, who campaigned the car no less than three times at Le Mans winning the Rudge Cup in 1937, coming eleventh overall and sixth in class. It then went to Stapleton who took it back to Le Mans in 1949 and also completed the arduous Mille Miglia in 1950 coming sixth in class. Amongst the modifications to LM23 in preparation for this hard long distance racing was the fitting of a third fuel pump. This was probably so that two pumps could be used simultaneously to feed the larger carburetors, with the third acting as a spare.
Though one other works racing car was built (a one off single seater track car), LM22 and LM23 represent the end of the development of the production cars for serious International motor racing. That LM23 competed four times at Le Mans (more times than any other Aston Martin to this day) is a testament to the notion that racing does indeed improve the breed, just as Bert Bertelli had insisted so many years earlier. The works’ prepared ‘Speed Models’ were very high specification sports cars and perhaps had they had a more powerful engine, could have been world beaters.
As ‘Speed Model’ but:
Closer ratio constant mesh gears were used in the electron cased gearbox. This had the effect of lengthening all four gear ratios. The crown wheel and pinion were straight cut and the ratio was 4.0:1. Electron was used to replace alluminium wherever possible, including the brake back plates, drums and brake shoes. The body work had particularly lightweight ash frames which were paneled in 18 gauge aluminium. Mesh screens were fitted with a single aeroscreen.
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