The 1956 Aston Martin DBR1 is the most significant car in the British car maker’s motorsports history.
Update. August 21, 2017. The Aston Martin DBR1/1 was sold at the RM Sotheby’s Monterey sale for a price of $22,550,000, becoming the most valuable British automobile to have ever sold in an auction.
Since David Brown acquired Aston Martin in 1947, it was his dire wish to see the brand win at the 24 hours of Le Mans. While previous efforts came in the form of the Aston Martin DB2, DB3 and DB3S prototypes of 1949 onwards, they were not quite there when it came to winning, specially at the classic French endurance race.While the DB3S boasting 240bhp from its 3.0-litre engine was competitive, it was still a far cry for success when it came neck and neck with the faster, more powerful Ferrari, Jaguar and Maserati cars. As a result, Aston Martin racing car design chief Ted Cutting set out on create a new machine that would be capable of bringing David Brown’s dream closer to reality.
With a change of rules in World Sportscar racing, racing teams were no longer allowed to compete with road-legal cars or car based on them. The competition car was to be created from scratch. This gave Aston Martin designer Ted Cutting an opportunity to develop a completely new car for the endurance racing series, which was the DBR1. Evolving the bodyshape of the previous DB3S, Cutting created the DBR1 which was a completely new car under the bodywork. For its first competition season in 1956, the Aston Martin DBR1 was fitted with a 2.5-litre straight six engine. While it performed relatively well during its debut race against cars with much larger engines, it retired after problems took the DBR1 down in the 20th hour of the 24 hour Le Mans race.
For 1957, the engine was updated with the RB6, 3.0-litre straight-six engine that produced 252 horsepower. It achieved early-season success, a 2nd place at the British Empire Trophy and Easter Goodwood meetings. Its sibling, the DBR1/2 won the Spa-Francorchamps the same year, while this DBR 1/1 came in at the 2nd place. In 1958, with a bigger 2922cc engine and 255bhp at hand, Carol Shelby and Roy Salvadori raced the DBR 1/1 at the Nürburgring 1000 but a gearbox failure resulted in a retirement. However, the DBR1/3 won the same race while being driven by Stirling Moss and Jack Brabham.
Returning in full force for 1959, Aston Martin had now built two more chassis – DBR1/4 and DBR1/5 to accompany the previous three cars. While the season began with the DBR1/1 unable to finish the first race at the 12 Hours of Sebring, followed by the team not appearing for the Targa Florio, it was the third race of the 1959 endurance racing season where Jack Fairman took the victory at the Nürburgring 1000 in this very DBR1/1 while breaking the lap record 16 times in the process. This also meant that Aston Martin DBR1 had won a record three consecutive victories at the Nürburgring 1000, that would be equalled by the Porsche 908 more than a decade later. That very year the Aston Martin DBR1/2 piloted by Carrol Shelby and Roy Salbadori would finally win at the 24 hours of Le Mans with DBR1/4 driven by Maurice Trintignant and Paul Frére taking second place.
The Aston Martin DBR1 is the most significant car in the British car makers motorsports history. And while the DBR1/1 didn’t win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, its victory at the Nürburgring 1000 was instrumental in Aston Martin’s 1959 World Sportscar Championship domination. This iconic car, the first of the five DBR1s to be ever made is going on sale at the RM Sotheby’s Monterey sale that will take place on August 18 -17.
Photos by Tim Scott for RM Sotheby’s