Imagine you wanted to build your own car. Not a Caterham, where you buy all the pieces and assemble it yourself, but your own original car. Sounds like quite a challenge, doesn’t it? Well it’s exactly what Chicago man Stanley ‘Wacky’ Arnolt wanted to do in the early 1950s, and the result was this: the Aston Martin DB2/4 Competition Spider by Bertone.
The Arnolt Aston Martin DB2/4 Competition Spider saved Bertone
Before you start shouting at your screen telling me it’s an Aston Martin, you’re right, it is, but it would never have existed were it not for Arnolt, and the Bertone name might not exist today, either.
Stanley Harold Arnolt was a Chicago based businessman who imported European cars to the USA. Having met Gruppo Bertone himself at the 1952 Turin Auto Show Arnolt’s ambitions grew, and so he met with Aston Martin in early 1953 to discuss buying seven running chassis of the upcoming DB2/4 to send to Bertone for bodywork. Aston Martin agreed, and before the end of the year Arnolt had four cars, LML 505, a road car, and the racing-spec LML 502, 503 and 507, the three of which with bodies penned by Bertone’s star designer Franco Scaglione. Once Aston Martin’s execs saw the racers, casually known as Aston Martin Arnolt Competition Spiders, the rug was pulled from under Arnolt’s feet.
Today LML 505, the road car, resides in America, as does racing chassis LML 502. LML 503 is thought to no longer exist, meanwhile, and LML 507? Well that’s the car you see here, now the prized possession of amateur racer Heinz Stamm, who we were lucky enough to talk to at the 2019 Spa Classic.
How did he come to own it? “I was at an auction in Villa d’Este in 2011 when I saw this car, and my wife induced me to buy it.” Bravo, Mrs Stamm. Bravo.
The challenge from there, Stamm explained, was restoring LML 507 to its former glory. Shown to the world at the Chicago Auto Show in 1954 it was then raced by Arnolt’s works racing driver Phil Steward, and from 1955 to 1958 it was campaigned by Carl Kiekhaefer, the owner of Mercury Engines and a twice-NASCAR championship winning team. It continued to be driven regularly but, over time, it was used less and less until, eventually, it was entirely unfit for racing.
“It had 16,000 original miles and nothing had ever been done to the car,” Stamm explains. “Not to the engine, not to the body, nothing. It’s the original paint, everything was original. But the car was not driveable. You could move it, the engine was running, but you couldn’t drive up the road with it, so my question was what do I do with a car like this? Preserve the originality? My conclusion was it had to go back to the racetrack.”
What followed was a thorough restoration, but, as Stamm details: “Everything you see from outside is untouched, and everything underneath that is relevant to racing and safety and security has been repaired to good racing order. So I have ended up with an original car that is good fun to race on a track, let’s put it that way.”
After the restoration Stamm stayed true to his goal and took the Spider to Brands Hatch. “The first race I was going to win my class,” he says. “But there was a Jaguar that ran into the back of my car and I ended up with a ripped tyre and a big dent. So I did the next race and I won my class there against a DB3S – it was quite exciting really, to see that the car was so quick at the beginning.”
Six years after the car’s competitive return, Stamm still moves the car from country to country, track to track, weekend in, weekend out. “In 2017 I had the car out racing 11 times and I finished every single race,” he says.
That reliability started to falter in 2018, however, and while all seemed to be well following an engine overhaul ready for the 2019 season, the problem reared its ugly head again at Spa.
“On our engine, at the front, actually bolted to the crankshaft, we have a vibration damper, which is a small wheel that has some liquid in it. This helps to dampen engine vibration, and this damper started to wear out but we didn’t realise. Instead of damping it ended up causing a vibration, which had a knock on effect on everything else… No one had a clue what was happening.
“Once you know why you have an issue you can fix it. The problem is when you don’t know the cause!”
With everything now fixed, Stamm is pushing the Spider as hard as ever. “I especially love Spa when it’s wet,” Stamm reveals.
“We had one wet race, and it was a lot of fun. The car gets lively, you start sliding – even on the long straight at about 160km/h (99mph) I started to lose the car. It’s those moments, when you lose the car at high speed, it’s pure adrenaline.”
As our conversation comes to an end, Stamm reveals two gems of information. The first is that Bertone built the car out of steel rather than aluminium, simply because that’s what he had lying around: “This shape, it would have been much easier to build with aluminium. But Bertone had used up all his aluminium – he had no aluminium in stock and he had used all his money – but he had steel sheets sitting there so he decided to use steel. So I carry around 90-100kg more as a result!”
The second fun fact, and one that’s more consequential to the wider motoring world, if not Stamm on a race weekend, is that Arnolt’s project kept Bertone in business: “This was the period when Bertone, after the war, nothing much happened – he was on the verge of bankruptcy. Wacky Arnold saved the company.”
A thank you is in order, then, to Stamm for being an absolute hero, pushing a car as rare as the DB2/4 Competition Spider by Bertone rather than tucking it away in a museum or private garage. But a thank you is due to ‘Wacky’ Arnolt, too, for without him, cars like the Lamborghini Miura, Lamborghini Countach, Lancia Stratos, Iso Grifo, Fiat 131 Abarth, the original Alfa Romeo Giulietta and so many more might not have looked the way they do.
Photography by Pete Summers and Heinz Stamm.
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