It’s the 17th of June 1928 and the tacky scent of wet asphalt lingers in the air. Above, the leaden clouds part and bathe the Circuit de la Sarthe in ennobling light. With a nod from the marshals, Augustus ‘Bert’ Bertelli and George Eyston ready their machine for the start of the 6th annual 24 Hours of Le Mans. Named LM1, the vehicle was the first ever Aston Martin team car to carry the now famous LM initials — believed to signify Le Mans even though not every LM team car would race at the famous circuit. Bertelli and his business partner, William Renwick, formed Aston Martin Motors Ltd in 1926 after buying the name and Bamford & Martin, the marque’s original iteration.
This machine was the base for LM1. Stock parts were machined or drilled to reduce weight, a lightweight three-seater coachwork was designed by Bertelli’s brother Enrico, and the tuned dry sump 1,487cc four-cylinder overhead-cam engine produced 63bhp, which was 7-10% more powerful than the stock engine. As a result, it was quick off the mark and immediately competitive at Le Mans. During the 31st lap, however, Bertelli hit a severe dip in the verge when overtaking a French Tractas, causing the suspension to collapse and leading to LM1’s retirement from the race.
Although Aston Martin’s second car, LM2, also retired that day, the pair had proved their pace and won the Rudge-Whitworth prize as the fastest 1½-litre cars during the first 20 laps. Bertelli went on to produce a further 19 team cars that bore the LM title.
After the racing season, LM1 caught the attention of fellow racing driver Sammy Davis, famed for his 1927 Le Mans win in a 3-litre Bentley named Old Number Seven, and the then Sports Editor of The Autocar. Davis bought LM1 in 1929 and had Bertelli adapt it for road use. This included a new 2-litre engine and certain eccentricities including the steering wheel from Old Number Seven; a toilet flush handle for a gear lever, made from a softer rubber and therefore less harsh on the driver’s hands; and an Italian Racing Red paint job, which Bertelli said any race car should have for luck.
Bertelli and Davis had a close relationship and LM1 was serviced and adapted at the workshops in Feltham for the next decade. These further adaptations included it being rebodied as a 2/4 seater in 1933. The pedals were also modified after Davis crashed and had problems with his legs, and an extended handbrake was fitted.
It all culminated in a car so highly tuned to Davis himself that it was almost part of him. “Cars have a certain animal quality,” he wrote in The Aston Martin Magazine. “At all events, that is what I think after very many years with them. The machine which possessed this inexplicable trait in full measure was my beloved Aston Martin.” During the decade Davis owned the car, he drove and competed vivaciously in the three big time-trial events — Land’s End, Exeter and Edinburgh — achieving the triple award in 1929 and a Gold at Land’s End.
Davis’s greatest accomplishment with LM1, perhaps, was the design of Aston Martin’s logo, which retains the same spirit to this day. Davis was inspired by Egyptology and the open-winged shaped of the scarab beetle in flight. The ancient Egyptians believed the beetle was a sign of new beginnings and an extension of the sun god. “I had objected from the start to the AM badge, a feathery affair with no character,” he wrote. “After diving into a Bible with many pictures of Egyptian art, I sketched out a badge.” His design featured black enamel infills, rather than the ivory infill later adopted by the marque, and LM1 is therefore the only Aston Martin to wear the black badge.
Davis reluctantly sold LM1 when the war broke out, and it changed hands numerous times. In 1949, it was shipped to Canada by its then owner Hubert Pickup and bought by Colin Clark in 1953. For almost 30 years it festered away after Clark failed to restore it as he had hoped. In 1982, it was bought by fellow Canadian Dr Robert Follows, who restored LM1 to immaculate detail. It won the Silverstone Concours in 1985 and received numerous awards. It was then purchased by Howard Bevan, who drove it across the UK and Europe until his untimely death racing a Bugatti Type 35B at the Circuit de Croix-en-Ternois in 1994. LM1 was stored by his family at Hampshire Classics for 20 years, and his sons David and James are now its custodians.
“I remember it being the prettiest car in my dad’s garage,” says David, who was eight at the time of his father’s death. “I liked how small, how delicate and finely made it was. It was my favourite because it was just so refined.” The car now lives with David and its racing days are long over. “I pop to the shops or pick one of the kids up from school in it every couple of weeks,” he says. “I use it as much as I can.” Ninety-four years after it first appeared on a racetrack, there’s a feeling that LM1 wants to be back on the asphalt again. It’s something David would love to see, but it would have to be in the hands of a new custodian and a new chapter for LM1.
LM1 is currently for sale. For more information visit hampshireclassicsltd.co.uk.