One Sunday morning in the summer of 1958, young RAF Corporal Neil Murray was flicking through Dudley Coram’s Aston Martin: The Story of a Sports Car. On page 64, he saw an image of the Bamford & Martin TT1 racing car, dubbed Green Pea, in action at the 1923 Boulogne Grand Prix. Later, at lunch, Murray picked up the most recent issue of Motor Sport and turned straight to the sales pages. There, incredibly, he saw an advert for an Aston Martin believed to be Green Pea. His excitement swelled and he arranged to view the car.
“There, all the way down the line, was Green Pea,” Murray says. “I looked at it, and the picture in the book just didn’t match. A steel tail was put on by a chap in Wales, there was silver paint all over the place, even the front axles were painted silver. The brake cables were Austin Seven cables, and the only thing that was actually stopping the floor falling out was the prop shaft.” But Murray fell for the car, emptying his savings account and scraping together the £145 asking price. Green Pea has been in his family ever since.
Green Pea’s history begins with Aston Martin founders Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford, who had always dreamed of producing a racing car to enter in the Grand Prix circuit. At the start of the Roaring Twenties, the pair were introduced to racing driver Count Louis Zborowski, who had taken a liking to the marque after driving its early side-valve open wheel racers. With money at his disposal, he funded an upgrade of the marque’s 1500cc single cam Robb engine.
In 1922, two of these new racing engines were combined with bodies conforming to the voiturette style, and the TT1 and TT2 machines were born. Missing the intended launch at the Isle of Man TT in May that year, the Aston Martin cars debuted at the July 1922 French Grand Prix at Strasbourg, and ran in fifth and sixth before engine failures caused early retirements. By 1923, financial pressures led the two factory cars to be put up for private sale.
In a rare and remarkable moment in early motorsport history, in 1923 the TT1 was purchased by a young woman named Marion Agnew, who had become enthralled with the sport after witnessing the racing at Brooklands the previous year. Work was done to replace the complex 16-valve engine with a racing side-valve unit and Agnew renamed the TT1 Green Pea — thought to be a jovial play on the GP (Grand Prix) status it held. Together with co-driver, mechanic, and Agnew’s future husband Robert C. Morgan, the pair began racing.
Their greatest success came later that year at the Grand Prix de Boulogne, where Green Pea, driven by Morgan, won second in class and third overall, the first podium finish for Aston Martin. Agnew and Morgan later replaced the side valve for a Hooker Thomas engine and, as Green Pea passed through various hands, it was even fitted with a supercharged Anzani engine at one point. Its racing records end in 1930, and after passing through yet more hands and undergoing numerous modifications, it fell into disrepair.
It was in this state that Murray bought the car in 1958. Young and with little space, Murray kept Green Pea on the street outside his home in Fulham, and completed much of the restoration work in a neighbour’s garage. He sourced a Bamford & Martin engine unit and returned the vehicle to its 1923 specification.
Unlike some of Green Pea’s former owners, Murray was dedicated to getting the car back on the road, and his adventures behind the wheel are seemingly endless — from scrounging wire in a field to reattach the mudguards to playing cat and mouse with a tanker when Green Pea got stuck in top gear.
In 1994, Murray fitted a twin-cam, eight-valve Benson engine with remarkable success, and since 2007, Green Pea has been in the hands of Murray’s son Rob. Hill climbs and race meets comprised much of Rob’s childhood before he took up the racing mantle himself. “The whole shared experience of doing it together was really great,” he says. “It was very much a family thing.”
Rob sees himself as a custodian of Green Pea for his own children. His twin daughters accompanied him on many meets as young children, and with his eldest son Jake keen to get into sprinting, Green Pea may well celebrate its centenary in its rightful place — on a race circuit at the hands of the third generation of the Murray family.
This story is an extract from an article featured in the AM49 issue of Aston Martin magazine, out now. If you're not already a subscriber, visit magazine.astonmartin.com/magazine-subscription so that you can read the full story.