Aston Martin reborn as good as new: What determines whether a rebuilt vehicle can still be described as original? Stephen Ward examines the case of a rare car being auctioned tomorrow

THE CENTREPIECE of an auction tomorrow will demonstrate how little of a car needs to be original and yet remain officially genuine.

One of the rarest, most sought-after British cars, a 1955-type 3-litre Aston Martin DB3S competition two-seater is to be sold in London by Brooks, the auctioneers. Even in a depressed classic car market, the guide price is pounds 220,000 to pounds 280,000.

Yet, to the layman, it would seem to fall into the same category as George Washington's axe, which had a new handle then a new blade but was still said to be the original.

The auction catalogue quotes Ian Barnwell, the owner of the car from 1961 to 1969, saying: 'It was really a beautiful car, a very forgiving car, very fast and powerful . . .' His use of the past tense is appropriate because when he last saw the car it was a pile of wreckage lying around on his estate in Malaysia.

He had won the 1961 Malaysian Grand Prix in the Aston Martin, known as '106' from its engine number, but practising for the 1963 Singapore GP he crashed at 120mph and recalls that the chassis and body were 'smashed beyond repair'. He was badly hurt. 'It was only an old racing car, so we salvaged the useable mechanical bits . . .' After that, it was used as scrap whenever some aluminium was wanted.

Then, in 1969, it was given to an English collector, Patrick Lindsay, who shipped it to England. The packing cases contained the original engine, gearbox, back axle, one front suspension, four drum brakes, hubs and spare wheels. Two years later, Mr Lindsay passed it to the current owner, - listed in the Aston Martin owners' register as a Mr C Aston - who has been building a car from it ever since.

He found the original works chassis drawings, and a specialist at Loughborough University produced a new body-mould from the original wooden styling model used at the Aston Martin factory in the 1950s. He also fitted some original suspension parts, a radiator and fuel tank he had bought earlier from the factory, and two specialist coachbuilders and a classic car restorer completed the job.

According to Robert Brooks, of the auctioneers, the criteria used to define an original car - one that is allowed to race in the Historic Racing Car championships - are that it must have three original features from five key components: engine, chassis, body, suspension and gearbox. This Aston Martin would qualify on that basis. But, Mr Brooks added, even that rule is not foolproof because the D-Type Jaguar has two separate chassis parts and there are a dozen cases of D-Types with the same chassis number, and both equally genuine.

(Photograph omitted)