It seems the car first actually ran in 1940 and was frequently loaned out to car magazines desperate to fill pages in those straitened times. The Autocar called it ‘the future in the present’, its great rival Motor proclaiming, ‘in this car we can see the new order of motoring.’ Even back then when criticism was not quite so trenchant as it was later to become, this was rare praise.
Aston Martin’s then boss Gordon Sutherland used it as transport during the war, at least when fuel allowances permitted, and is said to have racked up 100,000 miles in the car using at first a standard pre-war engine and from 1944 a new 2-litre pushrod four also designed by Hill. But it was in peacetime that its greatest value came to be realised. For it wasn’t just periodicals that saw the future in the Atom, an industrialist from the North called David Brown decided to buy the struggling company largely on the promise it showed.
The only problem was the lack of a suitable engine. With Jaguar now toting a 3.4-litre six cylinder motor with twin overhead camshafts, Hill’s 2-litre was hardly going to suffice, and while it was fitted to 14 2-litre Sports models (the car is known popularly today to the undisguised irritation of the cognoscenti as the DB1) which had been designed largely before Brown arrived, something else was clearly needed. It was provided by the acquisition by Brown of Lagonda and came in the form of a 2.6-litre twin-cam 6 designed by Willie Watson under the close supervision of none other than WO Bentley.
Hill’s chassis (now with a coil sprung live rear axle) complete with the Bentley/Watson engine and Frank Feeley’s taut bodywork was the recipe Aston Martin needed. Together they created the DB2 and a line of cars that would endure for another decade. Yes, it’s true that it was the depths of David Brown’s pockets far more than the meagre and often non-existent profits these cars produced that kept the Aston head above water, but in the meantime, they built Aston’s reputation as creators of beautiful, high-quality English sporting GTs that it enjoys to this day. So remember the Atom, without which it’s likely that David Brown would never have even looked at Aston Martin, let alone go on to keep it afloat for the next 25 years.
Photography courtesy of Aston Martin