A3 is the oldest surviving Aston Martin and built in 1921 it was the third of five prototype cars constructed before series production started. Therefore, A3 is 100 years old in 2021 which is a momentous milestone to celebrate.
The first car built was named “Coal Scuttle” and first registered in March 1916 with the registration number AM 4656 and it was the only Aston Martin built by Bamford & Martin Ltd. before the First World War. When hostilities had ceased a second car, “Bunny” was built and registered XH 2800 in December 1920.
In 1921 the third car was built on Chassis No.3. It was given a name that is considered very politically incorrect in this day and age and because it is fitted with a “Type A” engine we now refer the car as “A3”. A3 was registered AM 270 in 1921 in Trowbridge in Wiltshire because the registration letters for Trowbridge were AM – a very, very early example of a personalised registration number.
A3 was used extensively by Lionel Martin for both personal and competitive use. We believe it was fitted with both a two-seater sports body and a streamlined racing body. It also carried the registration AM 273 on some outings. In fact, this cavalier use of registration numbers and the changing of bodywork between events make identifying each of the early chassis very difficult in the period photographs held by the AMHT. Driven by Bertie Kensington Moir A3 took several light-car records at Brooklands in 1921 including averaging 100 miles at 86.2 mph. In 1922 A3 took first place in the Essex Motor Club Kop Hill Climb in Buckinghamshire, again driven by Moir.
In 1923 A3 had finished its work as a prototype development car. The chassis was restamped 1918 in line with the development cars, and it was sold on to its first owner, John Douglas. At this time it was re-registered as XN2902 which it still carries today. Douglas raced the car at Brooklands in 1923 with success both outright and under handicap. In 1923 the car was returned to Bamford & Martin Ltd and was registered to Mrs. Katherine Martin. Subsequent owners were Arthur Avery Williams in June 1924, F. L. Ghiai in London and H. M Samuelson in October 1926.
For the next part of A3’s history we are indebted to an article in the AMOC publication AM Volume IX, No.19 from Spring 1964. In the article A3’s next owner R. W. Mallabar recounts how he bought the car from his friend in 1927. A few months after purchase A3 threw a con-rod and refurbishment was required. The engine was rebuilt by Aston Martin Ltd. in Feltham and the scuttle line lowered. The car was refinished in pale grey with red wheels and must have looked very striking. Mallabar used the car with great enthusiasm and covered many thousands of miles until 1929 when it was moved on for a Riley.
A3’s history for the next 70 years is somewhat vague and it does not appear in any Aston Martin Registers until being on display at the Silverstone Jubilee display in 1995 in the hands of a Mr. Turner.
On 11th May 2002 an early Bamford & Martin car appeared at the spring Aston Martin auction at Newport Pagnell. Keen eyed Bonhams expert Stuart Skilbeck spotted No.3 stamped on the left-hand dumb iron and the extensively modified, but in need of restoration, car was identified as A3. In 2003 a generous donation by His Excellency Sheikh Nasser al Sabah enabled A3 to be purchased by the AMHT and its survival guaranteed. After great consideration, the AMHT decided to restore A3 to as close to original specification as possible. In 2005 the work was entrusted to Andy Bell of Ecurie Bertelli. The green, probably 1930’s body was removed and restoration started. A new, brakeless front axle was made and new aluminium artillery wheels were cast. The engine was rebuilt by Jim Young and Tim Abbott after wear and extensive cracking were identified and was running again by 2007. The radiator was refurbished and the original German Silver finish revealed beneath the much later chromium plating. Working from photos a new body was designed and a new seasoned ash bodyframe constructed. Alan Pointer of Bodylines in Olney then crafted a beautiful hand beaten aluminium body to be as faithful as possible to the available photos. With other mechanical restoration completed A3 went on show at the AMHT’s museum in Drayton St Leonard, Oxfordshire.
Since restoration A3 is a regular at AMHT displays around the UK. In 2013 she toured the world as part of Aston Martin’s centenary celebrations. In October 2017 current AMHT Chairman, Rob Smith was privileged to drive A3 for a few miles in Cornwall when a plaque was unveiled at the birthplace of Lionel Martin – Nansladron House near St Austell. In 2018 Aston Martin Racing team driver Nicki Thiim drove A3 as part of the celebrations for the opening of a new Aston Martin factory in St Athan, Wales.
More recently mechanical maladies have struck the transmission. Firstly, a new back crown wheel and pinion casting was required and many new parts required manufacturing including two new half shafts. In 2020 the gearbox was rebuilt including the fabrication of two new gears. All undertaken by Ecurie Bertelli in Buckinghamshire.
This fabulous and fascinating piece of Aston Martin history is now 100 years old. Happy birthday A3!