Northern Ireland

Aston Martin Ulster: Auctioned car a relic of motorsport's golden age

The Aston Martin Ulster Image copyright Bonhams
Image caption The Aston Martin Ulster remains one of the most celebrated classic cars in the world

It is 80 years old and more beautiful than ever. This week, one very lucky buyer paid just under £3m to take it home.

The Aston Martin Ulster was the essence of pre-war motorsport - cavalier, frivolous and fast.

When the team arrived in Northern Ireland for the 1935 Ards TT, expectation weighed heavily on their shoulders.

Aston Martin had won its class the previous year and finished third overall against cars with much bigger engines.

The TT began from what is now the A20 in Dundonald, County Down.

Competitors would race the 13.7-mile triangular circuit from there into Newtownards and Comber.

The event attracted thousands of spectators and commanded the attention of the motorsport world.


"Pride in it should be very high because it was a terrific motor race," explains classic car historian Doug Nye.

Image caption The Ards TT was "a bit of a jewel in the crown of road racing", car historian Doug Nye says

"It was one of the most important sports car races in the world in the 1930s.

"It's a bit of a jewel in the crown of road racing, really."

There was a fleet of Aston Martins competing, but this car, driven by Charlie Martin, started the race brilliantly.

It left the competition in its wake and looked set for victory until disaster struck.

Issues with the pipework led to problems with its oil pressure and it was forced into the pits.

Martin would not have the fairytale finish he yearned for.

Despite its huge popularity, the Ards TT wasn't without its dangers.

Image caption The Ards TT attracted thousands of spectators and commanded the attention of the motorsport world

Just 12 months later, after nine rollercoaster years, a horrific crash spelled the end and the event was cancelled.

But the cars that competed have gone down in road racing history.

Today, they're worth a fortune. None more so than the Ulster.


"Aston Martin is obviously one of the great manufacturers. It's (the car) got a brilliant history," says John Polson, senior motoring specialist at Bonhams auctioneers.

"Le Mans, Mille Miglia, Ards TT, and it's had almost no owners.

"The current family have had it since 1969 so it ticks every single box imaginable when deciding a value for a car of this type."

Image caption Austioneers priced the Aston Martin Ulster at between £1.6m and £2.2m

This week, the Ulster headlines Bonhams annual Goodwood Festival of Speed in west Sussex.

Upwards of 150,000 motorsport fans will make their way through the gates.

Bonhams had priced the machine at between £1.6m and £2.2m, and there had been significant international interest. On Friday afternoon, Ruth Fletcher from the auctioneers said it had sold for just under £3m.

She said the buyer had been "an Aston Martin enthusiast for a very long time", but it is not known if he is from Northern Ireland.

After a lifetime of competing around the world, a return to its spiritual home would be a dream ending.

The vehicle was an engineering triumph and it remains one of the most celebrated classic cars in the world.

Inspired by Northern Ireland, the Ulster has cruised its way into road racing folklore.

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