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Lionel Martin

 Lionel Martin







 1956 DB3S

You can tell racing is in Aston Martin’s blood: even its name has racing links. Lionel Martin had begun by selling and servicing Singers from a garage in Chelsea in 1912, but when he built a car of his own he linked his surname with that of a famous hillclimb, Aston Hill near Aylesbury, to form ‘Aston Martin’. But Martin spent so much time and money on motor sport that he neglected the road cars that were supposed to pay Aston Martin’s bills – and the company went bust in 1924.

Aston Martin reappeared in 1926 with new cars designed by A.C. Bertelli, who put production on a proper footing but also took Aston Martin back into racing. The 1.5-litre Astons couldn’t compete with the bigger cars of the time for outright pace, but they gleaned class prizes at Le Mans and won the Team Prize at the Ulster Tourist Trophy in 1934 and 1935.


After the war Aston Martin was bought by industrialist David Brown and a new racing car, the DB3, design by Robert Eberan von Eberhorst – who had been involved with the pre-war Auto Union Grand Prix cars.

Though the DB3 proved too heavy to be competitive, its lighter replacement the DB3S turned Aston Martins into real rivals for the all-conquering Jaguar C-types. Though the Jaguars had bigger engines and more power, the Astons had better handling and were lighter on their tyres, which meant fewer pit-stops for fresh rubber. A win in the TT in 1953, on the abrasive new surface of the Dundrod road course, proved the point.

The even lighter and more powerful 2.9-litre DBR1 was introduced in 1957, but it was dogged by gearbox troubles – ironic given that the company David Brown’s grandfather had founded had made its name producing high-quality gears – and always struggled against the Jaguars with their more powerful 3.4-litre engines. But in 1958 the racing rules changed to limit cars to 3.0-litres, and finally Astons scented victory. Yet 1958 would be an unhappy seasons, with yet more reliability problems leaving the DBR1s on the sidelines all too often.

Le Mans 1959

The following year, 1959, Aston Martin attacked only the Le Mans 24-hour race, sending three DBR1s: Stirling Moss was partnered with ‘Fearless’ Jack Fairman, regular Aston driver Roy Salvadori shared with Texan driver/engineer Carroll Shelby, and the third car was run by the French pairing of Maurice Trintignant and Paul Frère.

DBR1s and DBR3

Stirling Moss behind the wheel of a DB3S

The big Ferraris were the main competition, but the fast early pace that Moss put up slowly caused each of the Italian cars to expire with mechanical trouble. Before night fell the Moss/Fairman car was out too, with fluctuating oil pressure, but that left the Salvadori/Shelby Aston to win with Trintingnant/Frère just a lap behind – and finally Aston Martin had triumphed at Le Mans.

The win left Aston Martin in a good position in the World Sports Car Championship, and despite managing to set their pit buildings on fire during a re-fuelling stop, they won the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood to take the Championship from Ferrari and Porsche. It was Aston Martin’s finest hour.

Grand Prix Car

Aston Martin had also developed a front-engined Grand Prix car, the DBR4, which could have been very competitive in 1958 – but instead spent most of the season under a dust-sheet as Astons concentrated on sports car racing.

The DBR4 GP Car


Project 215 (1964)

By the time it saw action rear-engined cars, pioneered by Cooper and Lotus, had emerged as the future of Formula 1 and the Astons were old hat.

Aston Martin supported privateer teams in the early 1960s, notably John Ogier’s Essex Racing Stable who ran DB4GTs and then lightweight DB4GT Zagatos. But pressure from dealers prompted a return to Le Mans in 1962 with DP212, a car based on the DB4GT: DP stood for Development Project. Driven by Richie Ginther and Graham Hill it proved to be quick, but holed a piston after six hours and retired.

Three more ‘Project’ cars were built for 1963, a pair of DP214s to run in the production class and a more radical DP215 for the prototype category. All three used very special box-section chassis which made them technically illegal…

Again the Astons proved fast but fragile, DP215 retiring with an axle failure and the two DP214s going out with engine trouble. But DP214 would go on to record the final victory for Aston Martin’s works team, at Monza, where Roy Salvadori beat Mike Parkes’ works Ferrari.


Though that was the end of the works team, privateers still flew the flag for Aston Martin at Le Mans. Two Aston V8-engined Lolas appeared at in 1967, and then in the 1970s Robin Hamilton campaigned a very special Aston Martin V8 – ultimately in twin-turbocharged form. Hamilton then teamed up with Victor Gauntlett, who had helped to save Aston Martin from more money worries, to create the Aston-powered Nimrod Group C sports-racing car.

Rule changes made the car too heavy, and neither the Nimrods nor the Emka and Cheetah cars which also used Aston V8 engines could achieve more than an occasional finish in the top 10 in sports car races.

1989 - AMR1

AMR1 Debut at Dijon in 1989


DB9, AMR1 & DBR1

Aston Martin returned to the track again in 1989 with the AMR1, a Group C car designed by Max Boxstrom. AMR1 had a Formula 1-style central tub, and full-width venturi tunnels front and rear providing enormous downforce, giving the car plenty of grip but also generating a lot more drag than its competitors – and that limited its top speed. Even so the team put in some good performances, the high spot being a fighting fourth place for Brian Redman and David Leslie at Brands Hatch.

Despite the promise the team had shown, 1989 was to be the only year the AMR1 ran in anger. Ford now owned both Aston Martin and Jaguar, and did not want the two marques fighting each other out on the track. Jaguar’s racing programme got the nod, even though the AMR1 had humbled the TWR-run cars on more than one occasion in 1989.

For Aston enthusiasts it has been a long wait for a return to the track. A one-model race championship for DB7s was mooted, but never got off the ground, but now work has begun on a racing version of the DB9 road car. It will take a great British racing marque back into motor racing, where it belongs: it’ll put Aston Martin back on track. 

Comments (6) Join the discussion on the forum

  • actech 16 Apr 2004

    Great article!

    I had the pleasure of getting a few laps in the DBR1 that Salvatori and Shelby drove last year and my god does it shift!

  • Andrew Noakes 16 Apr 2004

    actech said:
    Great article!


    actech said:
    I had the pleasure of getting a few laps in the DBR1 that Salvatori and Shelby drove last year and my god does it shift!

    Aston Martin did some acceleration tests on a DBR1 in 1957. Two up, with a fifth wheel attached, it did 0-100 in 11.2sec - that's about the same as a TVR Griffith 500. Not bad for a 47-year-old car.

  • dazren 16 Apr 2004

    Good stuff, a new DB9 racing car. Any idea what series it'll be racing in?


  • Andrew Noakes 16 Apr 2004

    dazren said:
    Any idea what series it'll be racing in?

    The official line is Aston Martin Racing is aiming to run a number of teams in various sports car series around the world and will be evaluating these during 2004 so if you want them in the 2005 British GTs now is the time to write to Ulrich Bez.

  • williamp 16 Apr 2004

    The DB9 will be in the GT or GTS category at Le mans in 2005. I have arranged a visit to Prodrive for the AMOC area for later this year, to "check on build progress"...

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