The factory entered the DB3 in seven races during 1952, including Le Mans. Peter Collins had joined the team, but the DB3 turned out to be a disappointment. It was too big and too heavy. It failed to finish at Le Mans, and its only win came at the season's last race, the Goodwood 9-Hours.

Willie Watson, a senior design engineer who had worked for W.O. Bentley, had joined Aston Martin in 1952. He came to John Wyer with some ideas as to make the DB3 more competitive. The result was the streamlined DB3S that featured a new, lighter weight chassis (by 167 lb), shorter wheelbase and a revised rear suspension. Although it failed to finish Le Mans, the DB3S went on to win five races in 1953.

For 1954, the Aston Martin race team added drivers Paul Frre and Carroll Shelby. Roy Salvadori had come aboard the previous year. Despite the all-star cast of drivers, none of the four DB3S cars entered at Le Mans finished, but the team did sweep the top three places at Silverstone. Frre and Collins would drive a DB3S to second overall at Le Mans in 1955. The turning point in Aston Martin racing success would come in 1956, when Stirling Moss, after Mercedes-Benz's withdrawal from racing, joined the team. Later that year, the DBR1 hit the track.

While the DB3S won half a dozen races in 1955 and three more in 1956, it was not quite enough car to meet David Brown's ultimate goal, wining Le Mans. Aston Martin had been competing at Le Mans since 1931, and finishing second only whetted Brown's appetite for victory. The DBR1 was designed to be Aston Martin's ultimate Le Mans winner.

The DBR1 featured a tubular space frame chassis as opposed to the ladder frame construction of the DB3S. Fitted with an aluminum body, it tipped the scales at a svelte 1,760 lb. It also had a five-speed gearbox. Power came from a 3.0-liter (2992cc) dohc twin-plug six cylinder that eventually developed 255 hp at 6000 rpm.

Ironically, the DBR1 debut at the 1956 24 Hours of Le Mans ended in retirement, while a DB3S driven by Collins and Moss took second overall. The DBR1's first win came at Spa in May 1957, followed two weeks later by a convincing win at the grueling 1,000Km of the Nrburgring. The DBR1 would prove its mettle by repeating this win in 1958 and 1959.

This last victory was just prior to Le Mans and was not originally part of the team's plans for that year. John Wyer had been promoted to general manager of the Aston Martin-Lagonda operations at the end of 1956. Reg Parnell had retired as a driver to take his place as team manager. They had made a decision in 1959 to concentrate only on entering Le Mans. Then the Sebring promoters prevailed on Parnell to enter a car. Wyer okayed a car to be prepared for Salvadori and Shelby only if Sebring would cover all expenses including transportation. They did, and the car was sent to Florida, where it retired early.

By Patrick C. Paternie
Enjoyed this Post? Subscribe to our RSS Feed, or use your favorite social media to recommend us to friends and colleagues!