1953 Aston Martin DB2/4 Drophead Coupe by Bertone
Sold For $1,320,000Inclusive of applicable buyer's fee.
- The Charles A. Ward car
- One of two to this design; numerous bespoke features
- Long-term known and documented history
- Featured in Automobile Quarterly; three-time Pebble Beach award winner
- A Gentleman’s Express of singular beauty and importance
125 bhp, 2,580 cc DOHC inline six-cylinder engine, four-speed manual transmission, independent front suspension with coil springs, live axle rear suspension with coil springs, and hydraulically actuated four-wheel drum brakes. Wheelbase: 99 in.
A PRESENT TO THE CHIEF
At one time, the Brown & Bigelow Company, of St. Paul, Minnesota, was the United States’ leading manufacturer of promotional calendars and products, distributing some 50 million calendars a year at a time when there were only about 160 million Americans, which meant that there was roughly one B&B calendar in circulation for every three people in the U.S.! The company was most famous for its pinup calendars, for which they employed a lineup of such genre-defining artists as Gil Elvgren, Earl Moran, and Rolf Armstrong, and they could be found on the walls of garages, packing sheds, workshops, and loading docks across America.
Brown & Bigelow was unusual in more ways than one. Its president and general sales manager was Charles A. Ward, who had been befriended by Herbert Huse Bigelow under the most unusual of circumstances, while both were serving time in the Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, with Ward there for narcotics possession and Bigelow there for income tax evasion.
The two men struck up a friendship, and Bigelow hired Ward to work at his company. When Bigelow drowned during a 1933 fishing trip, his young protégé was elected to replace him as the head of the company. By the time of his death in 1959, Ward had built Brown & Bigelow from annual losses of $250,000 in 1933 to total sales of $55 million annually. He was a generous philanthropist who took pride in employing reformed convicts and giving back to his community, but he was also a flamboyant and decadent sort—the kind of man who would be seen behind the wheel of a bespoke, Italian-bodied Aston Martin covered in his initials.
Brown & Bigelow’s 60 regional sales managers realized this, and for Christmas 1953, they got together, pooled their funds, and ordered, through Chicago importer and Bertone board member S.H. Arnolt, one of the two Bertone-bodied DB2/4 Drophead Coupes produced.
These cars were brilliantly designed by Giovanni Michelotti to feature a combination of unmistakable Aston Martin design cues, including the distinctive radiator grille and curved windshield, both of which had been lightly “tweaked” to smooth their edges. Delicate Italianate features found on the car include thin and shapely bumpers, a gently curved roof line, and a subtle hood scoop. Little else about Ward’s car was subtle, as the sales managers specified a monogramed CAW hood button; a fine-quality two-piece fitted luggage set (also monogrammed), complete with china and picnic accessories; a custom picnic hamper that fit next to the single rear seat and bore a lode of barware; and a set of chrome-plated tools in a varnished wooden box.
The car arrived in St. Paul bearing a large commemorative brass plaque under the hood, which had been engraved with the names of all 60 sales managers—lest Mr. Ward forget their names when it came time to assign bonuses?—as well as another plaque on the dashboard, which stated, “This motor car was especially designed and created for Charles A. Ward by S.H. Arnolt, Chicago and Carrozzeria Bertone, Torino, Italy.” The gift attracted attention even in Europe, where a brief article, “A Present to the Chief,” appeared in the November 25, 1953, issue of The Motor.
In the halls of Brown & Bigelow, during those days of three-martini lunches, it was a merry Christmas.
AFTER MR. WARD
Mr. Ward kept and occasionally drove his flamboyant Bertone DB2/4 until his passing in 1959, at the age of 73. Reportedly, he had offered it for sale shortly before, at a price tag of $5,500, but found no takers. The car was sold by his estate back to its original dealer, S.H. Arnolt, who sold it to another prominent St. Paul businessman, William Peters Sr. of Peters Meat Products. Reportedly, Mr. Peters paid $2,000 for the DB2/4, which had a blown engine at the time. That was no problem, as the new owner dropped a Shelby Cobra engine under the hood and proceeded to drive it from St. Paul to Tampa, Florida, for his retirement. He had Mark Doins service the original DB2/4 engine in the meantime, completely rebuilding it and installing new sleeves.
In 1975, Mr. Peters sold the Aston Martin to Virgil Campbell, of Omaha, Nebraska, who paid the meat magnate $250 to bring the car up to Omaha, and if he liked the car, he would pay for Peters’ return flight. Needless to say, Mr. Campbell liked the car, and Mr. Peters flew home for free, minus his DB2/4, which had 29,460 recorded miles at the time.
The new owner then set about restoring the car and refinishing it in all-over red, including the paint, carpeting, and seats, which were upholstered in red Bridge of Weir leather cut from original patterns. The original top fabric had been a matte material, which was replaced with Haartz cloth that had been cut to the correct pattern. Most importantly, the original engine, having been rebuilt by Mr. Doins, was now reinstalled.
On June 30, 1983, the car was sold by Mr. Campbell to Tom and Ellin Dunsworth. Mr. Dunsworth continued to work on the unique DB2/4, extensively investigating correct materials and color combinations, and he eventually completed the restoration, restoring the car back to its original condition, all the way down to its original and correct trim and tools. The completed car attracted a great deal of attention, even appearing prominently in Stanley Nowak’s article, “Aston Martin Bertone,” in Automobile Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 4. The Dunsworths were justifiably proud of their Bertone-bodied Aston Martin, which was awarded Third in Class when shown at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 1987.
Eventually, the DB2/4 passed into the ownership of James Vandergrift, who returned it to Pebble Beach in 1997 and also finished Third in Class. It was then sold to renowned American collector Gene Ponder. The car was offered and sold, in its present, eye-popping red livery, to enthusiast Michael Schudroff, who again displayed it at Pebble Beach, this time as part of the featured Aston Martin class in 2007, and it finished Second in Class. Later, it was acquired from Schudroff by his friends Paul and Chris Andrews, who had been the underbidders on the car at the Ponder Collection sale and had never forgotten it.
Astonishingly, for a car that’s restoration is now two decades old, the Ward Aston Martin is still beautifully preserved, with nary a flaw in its beautiful crimson paint or its tight leather interior. All of the original accoutrements, including the picnic hamper, the tool set, and all the special monogrammed and engraved bits, are still intact and exactly where one would expect them. Most importantly, as a favorite in the Andrews Collection, the car has been lovingly maintained and occasionally exercised, and today, it runs and drives well. It is also accompanied by a thick file of documentation, history, and correspondence that had been compiled by Mr. Dunsworth and has passed with the car ever since.
What was true in 1953 is still true today. Charles A. Ward’s sublime Bertone-bodied DB2/4 is the perfect gift, or acquisition, for the chief who has everything.