|Vehicle:||1956 Aston Martin DBR1|
|SCM Valuation:||$22,550,000 (this car)|
|Chassis Number Location:||Ledge on left side of scuttle|
|Engine Number Location:||Rear face of engine block|
|Club Info:||Aston Martin Owners Club|
|Alternatives:||1954–57 Jaguar D-type, 1957–58 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, 1955–58 Maserati 300S|
This car, Lot 148, sold for $22,550,000, including buyer’s premium, at RM Sotheby’s auction in Monterey, CA, on August 19, 2017.
This was a world-record auction price for a British car — and a world-record price for an Aston Martin at auction.
At first I thought everyone had confused this car with the 1959 Le Mans winner — DBR1/2 — for which the money would have been spot-on.
Although our subject car — DBR1/1 — had a long, worthy and eventful history, it never quite managed to win the jewel in the crown like its sister, DBR1/2, as driven to the 1959 victory by Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori.
Bad luck seemed to dog our subject car until its win at the 1959 Nürburgring 1,000 Km, with Stirling Moss (mostly) and Jack Fairman. After that race, it was retired, as Aston Martin withdrew from sports car competition to focus on the DBR4 F1 car.
Our subject car was relegated to one more Works appearance as a practice car for the 1959 Goodwood Tourist Trophy — which Moss won, having taken over DBR1/2 from Shelby and Fairman.
None of this history makes the metal less worthy, as luck and team tactics on the day always come into it.
Bought to run in the Revival
It’s important to remember that quite a lot of that metal is new, as this car was specifically purchased in 2009 to secure an entry to the Goodwood Revival — the best old-car race meeting in the world.
At Goodwood, they actually race — hard — and at this level everything has to be right, as breakages can prove fatal. Some corners at this fast, flowing circuit have very little run-off, as Stirling Moss found to his cost in 1962.
The annual Revival always exacts a fair number of serious and expensive automotive casualties, even though personal injuries are thankfully rare.
Restoration and rebuilds
So this car had a complete going-through and restoration, which was wise, and it also ran a replica engine, which is also wise to save the original.
The front bodywork was replaced following that crash in 1962, and it might have been even newer. That said, bits of racing cars were swapped in period due to damage or modification, and nobody minded.
However, at this level of price and rarity, just how much of the original car still exists becomes an issue.
I’m not suggesting that this car is anything other than what it purports to be — the real thing. But I do remember visiting the shop of a race preparer who looked after a “very original” 1950 sports racer. I asked what the chassis leaning up against the back wall was from. “Oh, that’s the original chassis from the ,” he replied, breezily.
To the men who have to get these things to the track, pragmatism sometimes wins out.
Anyway, back to this car.
A rich racing history
Following Aston Martin’s withdrawal from sports car racing in August 1959, DBR1/1 raced twice for Essex Racing Stables in the Nürburgring 1000 Km, with Jim Clark/Bruce McLaren retiring from 4th in 1961 when a con-rod failed at 500 km.
McLaren/Tony Maggs finished fourth in 1962, at the end of which Aston sold the car (with 2,992-cc engine, RB63003) to the Hon. John Dawnay — later the 11th Viscount Downe and longtime Aston Martin Owners Club president — and his brother the Hon. James Dawnay). Both raced the car until the latter crashed at Silverstone in 1963, sustaining heavy frontal damage.
The car was taken to Aston Martin’s Feltham Works, and the removed body was saved from being scrapped nearly a year later. Then the car was taken to Aston specialist RS Williams.
After sitting untouched for 12 years, our subject car moved in 1976 to Aston enthusiast/race entrant Geoffrey Marsh. Marsh, having made a body buck from DBR1/2, which he was rebuilding, had a new front section fabricated for DBR1/1, and the remaining body refurbished. The mechanical components and engine were also rebuilt.
Once finished, DBR1/1 returned in 1980 to RSW for race preparation. With former Le Mans winner Mike Salmon as driver, it took many victories/podiums in Lloyds and Scottish Historic Championship/AMOC races during the early 1980s — including winning outright the 1982 Lloyds & Scottish Historic Car Championship.
In 2000, it was sold to American-based John McCaw, and the seller acquired DBR1/1 from him in January 2009.
He wanted to enter the Goodwood Revival, and as is often the case, felt its original engine was too precious to risk racing. So he had RS Williams make a new unit with new cylinder block and heads, patterns being available as new castings had already been made for Geoffrey Marsh’s DBR4.
Since 2010, DBR1/1 has been successfully raced at Goodwood by Brian Redman, with a best place of 8th in 2013, the same year that Sir Stirling Moss drove it during Aston’s centenary celebrations at the Nürburgring.
What the DBR1 lacked in power, it made up for in nimbleness, and drivers loved the cars for their handling, although the motor now produces nearer 300 bhp at nearer 7,000 rpm than the original’s 240-odd at 6,500 rpm. The new stick-on redline is at 6,750 rpm, superseding the printed-on original at 6,000 rpm.
In great shape
As presented, our subject car was straight and shiny — and possibly better than original, save for the merest hint of a bruise under the left headlight. The car has perfect check-weave seats, and even the parts of the chassis near the driver’s right knee, plus the headrest, are upholstered in the same material.
According to the auction catalog, the owner commissioned former AML employee and motoring journalist Michael Bowler, with the late Ted Cutting’s help, to produce a comprehensive report of DBR1 dashboard variations to ascertain the correct layout.
The switches and even their securing screws were the originals. The dash’s green crackle finish has been painstakingly replicated.
The St. Christopher plaque riveted to the back of the bellhousing cover is a rather poignant touch, given the fragility of the transaxle.
The front of the car was almost perfect, although it lacked the blue nose band it wore mostly in period.
The rear wheelarch profiles and radii differed slightly from side to side, which helps support the claim that the rear half of the body is original. Engine RB63003 was included with the car, which if not the original, is the one installed when the car last raced for the Works.
Rather nicely, the car has recently been reunited with its original road registration of 299 EXV, which it received on October 5, 1962.
As stated, our subject car set a world-record price for a British-made car, topping the $21.8 million paid for a Jaguar D-type last year.
That was exactly in line with the “in excess of $20m” that RM Sotheby’s had predicted — plus premium. Still, I would have thought that huge price more appropriate for the most successful of the five cars — the 1959 Le Mans winner DBR1/2, which was offered for £20m (then $32m) in 2012 before the market cooled.
Perhaps it’s a chicken-and-egg situation, as without one we wouldn’t have had the other. With its Nürburgring 1000 Km victory, DBR1/1 did lay the foundations of Aston’s eventual World Sportscar Championship win.
It’s also a question of availability, as the other four cars appear fairly well lodged with their owners. The chance of grabbing one is slim, as Dr. Fred Simeone acknowledged when he purchased his from Japan (via Symbolic, in a deal that involved swapping it for an Alfa 2900 B) in the mid-1990s.
The four other DBR1 cars
DBR1/2, which had shrouded wheels when it won at Le Mans in 1959, was restored by Tim Samways in the 1990s. It became a regular in historic races before Talacrest bought the car from Harry Leventis in 2012. It was sold via private sale to its current European ownership for more than DBR1/1 fetched at RM Sotheby’s 2017 Monterey Auction.
DBR1/3 was rebuilt after being badly damaged in a refueling fire at Goodwood in 1959. It was sold to the Border Reivers team and finished 3rd at Le Mans in 1960. Since 1995, it has been with the Simeone Foundation in Philadelphia.
DBR1/4 has been in English private hands since the mid-1990s. Ironically — having started life as the 3.7-liter DBR3 — it is considered one of the most original, even after sustaining heavy damage in a crash at Castle Combe in 2015.
DBR1/5, which was sold in period to Graham Whitehead, was last known to be in German ownership. It too has raced at Goodwood in the Revival and Festival of Speed Hillclimb.
Interestingly, all the cars have right-exit exhausts except the first, DBR1/1, which is on the left.
Opportunities to buy these fabulous sports-racing icons are few and far between, and that meant the price was always going to be robust. But I’m sticking to my guns in maintaining that because our subject car wasn’t the Le Mans winner, which is the most market-desirable of the five, it was well sold in today’s market.
One wonders what the price would be if DBR1/2 came up for auction during a future Monterey Car Week. Since this fine car brought $22.55 million, the sky’s the limit for the Le Mans-winning DBR1/2. ♦
(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)