Based at St Denis, Seine, Ateliers de Construction Mécanique l'Aster was best known for engine manufacture, supplying many of the infant motor industry's smaller manufacturers. France, of course, led the world in motor car development in the early years of the 20th Century, and Aster was there at the forefront. Commencing motor car manufacture in 1900, the firm displayed a 3½hp quadri-cycle at that year's Paris Salon. Engine sizes were progressively developed and multi-cylinder engines soon followed. In the UK, the West-Aster and Whitlock-Aster were built in small numbers, while quality French manufacturers such as Aries and Gladiator were major Aster customers.
There are few London to Brighton-eligible cars that tick as many of the right boxes as this magnificent 1904 Aster. Four cylinders, mechanically operated valves, four-speed gearbox, five-seat coachwork, and an engine of around 2.7 litres capacity, to which it adds a windscreen, canopy, and roll-down side screens. Each of the engine's four cylinders is separately cast with T-head valve configuration, and fuel is supplied via a Zenith carburettor. A later distributor has been fitted for reliability, and the car also enjoys the benefit of a self-starter.
The body carries the builder's plate of Carrosserie Automobile Renaudin Fils Besson of 50 Rue Jenner, Paris and, although not original to this car, was acquired by the preceding owners as a perfect match to an exceedingly good Veteran chassis. Remarkably, this period coachwork retains much original upholstery to the rear, while the varnished wooden panelling has survived over 100 years in remarkably intact condition.
The car is handsomely presented in maroon livery with plentiful varnished woodwork, including the wheels, and is generously equipped with brass fittings throughout. The headlamps are BRC - Generateur Alpha, self-contained acetylene, and the oil side lamps are Lucas 'King of the Road'-type. Additional equipment includes a bulb horn, four dashboard oilers, and a Shaffer & Budenberg pressure gauge. Side-mounted wicker picnic hampers provide for the longer journey, while the roll-down side-curtains hang from the canopy to provide full protection in inclement weather. The practical nature of this London to Brighton-eligible Aster and its suitability for long distance motoring is evidenced by its participation in the Paris-Vienna Rally in 2002; an epic drive from Brisbane to Sydney, Australia in 2005; and the successful completion of the 1,000 Miles Trial Re-enactment in 2000. In addition, 'AK 268' also participated successfully in many London to Brighton Runs with previous owners.
The Aster has benefited from considerable refurbishment since its acquisition by the current vendor at Bonhams' Olympia Sale in December 2007 (Lot 608). Works carried out include renewing the wheel bearings; fitting a drip-feed oiler to the brass timing gear case; altering the alternator drive to charge the battery more efficiently; rebuilding the water pump with a new impeller; re-manufacturing the rear axle and fitting new shackles and shackle pins; rebuilding the transmission chain tension rods; relining the clutch and restoring the clutch brake mechanism; fitting a new clutch brake lining and new brake disc to the flywheel; restoring the driveshaft and flexible link to the flywheel; overhauling the carburettor with a re-manufactured jet; re-coring the radiator; and re-trimming the interior in black leather.
While in the vendor's possession, 'AK 268' has participated in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run on five occasions (2011-2015), only failing to complete the course on one occasion: in 2012 when the transmission gave trouble. The car comes with a V5C registration document and a copy of 1904 Yorkshire registration records showing Aster car registration number 'AK 268'. This car has been known to the Veteran Car Club for many years and was officially dated in September 1961 (Certificate number '904'). A copy of that certificate forms part of the accompanying history file, which also contains various photographs, expired MoT certificates, and correspondence with previous owners.
'AK 268' is one of the most practical Brighton cars, with a proven ability to carve its way through the field and achieve an early finish on the sea front at Madeira Drive. What more magnificent way to arrive at Brighton - come hail or come shine - and all this backed up by the cacophony of sound that comes from a powerful engine with final drive by chains.