Bonhams Auction is always one of the treats of the Goodwood Festival of Speed. I could spend all day staring at the beautiful and rare machinery, the exquisite picnic sets, Lalique glass hood ornaments and quirky lots such as the Fiat ‘Jolly’ golf buggy this year.
Sometimes the stories are worth a book, for example: the ex-Reich Chancellery Motor Pool Mercedes with special armour to protect its Nazi occupants, found in a barn and hurried out of Estonia under the noses of the Russina mafia.
The car I really wanted to see this year, though, was the 1939-40 Aston Martin Atom, the first British concept car, and the second ever. The very first dream car is acknowledged as the 1938 Buick Y-Job, which I was very privileged to sit and poke about in at the General Motors Heritage Centre in Detroit. It was great to be able to get up close to the Atom, and think about the very different ideas behind the two cars.
Harley Earl’s Y Job is a 17ft-long jelly with a floor-hugging stance and flush door handles like a 1950s’ lead sled. As I opened the door, it was as thick as the door of a bank vault, and I slid on to a big squashy leather bench seat. The wheel was huge, and spun like the wheel of a yacht. (And it had a St Christopher sunk into the centre).
Under the hood was a 5.2-litre straight 8 and on the top was a ‘gunsight’ mascot. Power gadgets included hidden headlamps and electric windows.
The Atom has far-from-luxurious ‘hammock’ seats and basic, race-car style steering wheel. This car is all about efficiency. Its lightweight, but rigid integrated body and tubular spaceframe and aluminium panels were years ahead of its time, and its coupe body was an attempt at aerodynamics. It had advanced suspension for better handling and the engine was Aston Martin’s own 2-litre, with high-lift exhaust valves later used by race cars. Its a semi-auto gearbox was the forerunner of the paddle shifts everyone thinks are so cool in the 21st century.
The Y Job was the forerunner of decades of extraordinary, extravagant and extrovert cars, boasting ever-most convenience and luxury gadgets. The Atom inspired technologically advanced race and sports cars.
The only obvious shared feature – apart from four wheels and an engine in the front – was the waterfall grille. I love them both, and the train-spotter in me is overjoyed to have seen them both in the metal.
For more pictures of the auction and the Y Job click here