01 Sep Touring Spyders – Part 3
Part 3, the final episode of the story behind a trio of Aston Martin DB2/4 Mk.IIs that were sent to Carrozzeria Touring of Milan in 1955 to be fitted with some distinctive and innovative Superleggera bodywork. This month’s featured car is the least well known – and for quite some time unheard of – example of the three…
AM300/1163 (body number 4345) is something of an enigma. Aston Martin’s factory build sheets of the time were not particularly well kept and it took a lot of people by surprise that it even existed including, initially, the Aston Martin Heritage Trust. But exist it did. Painted white, it appeared at the Earls Court Motor Show that took place on 17-27 October 1956. It transpires that, with help from his family, a young American serviceman with the surname Babbitt, who was on a tour of duty in the UK, bought the car immediately after the show and put it into storage until he returned home to Southern California. A photo of the car appears on page 78 of Andrew Whyte’s book Aston Martin and Lagonda, and also in a set of books titled Weekend Heroes II by Tony Adriaensens, which shows images of cars photographed at American west coast tracks from the 1950s to the 1970s. The one of 1163, painted white, was taken at a California race track.
Remarkably, nothing more was heard about the car until 1987 when Whit Ball, the owner of 1162 at the time, was approached while he was taking part in the Pebble Beach Concours. A Los Angeles car dealer approached Whit asking if he had just bought the car, and when he replied ‘No’ – surprise! – the dealer pulled out a photo of the Southern California car, and so the existence of the two cars was exposed. Whit managed to trace the owner, who was still Mr Babbitt, only to discover that he was a sick man and his lawyer daughter said they were thinking of selling the car, which was now painted red. Not interested himself, Whit nevertheless gave some advice on the asking price and it was eventually sold by auction in 1988, by which time the owner had passed away. Classed as a barn find, it appears to have been bought by Dennis Machul for the Machul Collection and restored so, at one point, Dennis and his brother Terry briefly owned both 1163 and 1162.
Subsequently, 1163 was offered for sale by Talacrest at the Coys International Festival Historic Classic weekend at Silverstone in July 1995, and it was seen at ‘The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering’ in Carmel, California in August 2013, with the owner listed as wealthy businessman J Taylor Crandall. It was also shown at Pebble Beach Concours at Quail Lodge on 18 August 2013 and displayed as being owned by Stephen Hill. In fact, Stephen was merely displaying the car on behalf of JT. However, Stephen said the car was not in great shape when JT bought it, and so he oversaw a number of mechanical repairs using some West Coast mechanics. He later put quite a few miles on it along the coastal highway, adding that most people he encountered asked if it was a Ferrari…
Mercifully, all three of the Touring Aston Martin Spyders have survived the 65 years since they were built, and they exist in over three continents. In researching their histories, practically all of the existing organisations and known living individuals who have been involved were contacted for contributions to this story. In the event, collectively, those who did reply provided enough detailed information to be able – for the first time – to put together an accurate background to the fate of all three. Sadly, there are gaps in the timelines with each of them, and at some stage all have met with periods of pride and abandonment. But, thankfully, chassis 1161 and 1162 are alive and well and regularly seen in public.
So, here ends the background to the three Touring Spyders, and to paraphrase the competition-winning comment described in Part 1 of this trilogy, maybe Spyders cannot fly, but they certainly can drive…
Visitor Note: FMM’s Aston Martin Touring is currently on view in Hall D.
(NB: This narrative is part of my original story of all three cars that was submitted to and published in the Issue 33 Spring 2021 edition of Vantage, the independent Aston Martin magazine, but contains more detail. This serialisation is used with the kind permission of Vantage magazine – MM).