During its early years, Aston Martin veered into confusion. Not surprisingly, his management was more like that of a craft workshop than that of a company with serial production. To begin with, economic problems were a constant. Always struggling to meet commitments on time, a very low sales rate, and even poor budgets when developing new projects. In addition, the technical aspects were also somewhat chaotic. In fact, the first car under the Aston Martin trade name was based on mixing a Coventry-Climax engine with an Isotta Fraschini chassis.
In short, all that was in the antipodes of generating a stable industry based on profit and mass production. Thus, that small sports house was lurching until, in the mid-twenties, Augustus Bertelli took control of it. A designer and pilot, this man trained in a Cardiff steelworks also demonstrated good financial management skills. Thanks to that, Aston Martin straightened its course by presenting the Ulster model. Light, fast and with an engine of only 1,5 liters, this design finally put the British brand on a stable march. What's more, he managed to reconcile good sales with remarkable results at Le Mans.
All this using both the official team and various private teams explicitly supported by the brand. In this way, Aston Martin became one more reference within the sports Olympus of the moment. However, economic problems appeared again in the second part of the thirties. Something that, in truth, was not entirely negative since forced the company to focus more on street models. However, the Second World War broke all the novelties prepared in this regard. Presented in the Atom from 1939 -one of the first “concept car” of history-, these went through reducing weight and increasing both rigidity and grip thanks to a chassis welded with steel tubes.
After all this, Aston Martin arrived dying and disrupted in 1947. The year in which it was rescued - they had already gone three times - by a new benefactor who would put it on the lane of solvency. The industrialist David Brown, responsible for starting the successful DB saga. Undoubtedly, the most classic and golden time for this brand that, after overcoming seven financial bankruptcies, today it is satisfactorily listed on the London Stock Exchange in addition to being present in F1. A category where Aston Martin did not start off on the right foot. Starring in a setback that, in the end, served to light up the DP1963 in 215. The experimental model created to stand up to Ferrari creations at Le Mans.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF A BAD DECISION
Until the mid-fifties, the models of the World Championship for Makes had to be derived from street cars. In this way, the factories with less technological capacity were at a clear disadvantage. Ballasted by not being able to afford the efforts linked to creating a highly competitive vehicle, also adding the cost of its hypothetical series production. However, when the FIA changed this rule things became very different. Especially for Aston Martin, which concentrated on the 1 DBR1956. Clearly superior to the DB3 and DB3S, this model with six cylinders in line and more than 250CV managed to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959.
A moment of glory in which, paradoxically, the problems began. Not surprisingly, David Brown decided to abandon everything related to endurance racing to focus on F1. Category to which he wanted to enter since, at least, the end of 1957. In this way, the DBR1 of the official team passed into private hands at the same time that the competition department turned, radically, to the creation of single-seaters for the premier class. Thus, in that same year the DBR4 was presented. Basically a DB3S with the wheels in sight, adapted to the regulations and approvals of F1.
At this point, things were not as easy as they seemed. What's more, Aston Martin's results were truly disastrous. In fact, not even the new DBR5 presented in 1960 -lighter and more powerful as well as with a new system of independent suspensions- could amend the situation. With all that, at the end of its second season the British house painfully withdrew from F1. In fact, it was one of the most paradoxical moments in its history. Having reached a high technological level at the time that, due to the decision taken in 1959, it no longer had an official presence in the World Championship of Makes.
ASTON MARTIN DP215, THE SUBLIMATION OF THE GT
In 1959 Aston Martin presented one of its most iconic models, the DB4 GT. Lighter and with a shorter wheelbase than its large-series matrix, both its cylinder head and its carburetion have been substantially improved to thus deliver 302CV. Likewise, for a time it was the fastest series production car of the moment. All this taken one step further thanks to the GT Zagato version presented in 1960. Equipped with a lighter and more aerodynamic bodywork by the Italian Ercole Spada.
However, that did not seem to be enough for the brand's distributors in Europe. Not surprisingly, they had noticed how the official absence of Aston Martin in GT racing was affecting sales. Even more so at a time when, precisely, the opposite was happening to Ferrari thanks to its constant successes on the circuits. In this way, in 1962 David Brown was convinced of the need to return to Le Mans with special models officially covered by the brand itself. Thanks to this, in 1962 one of the most interesting sagas in the entire history of Aston Martin was born. That of the DP Design Project.
First, the DP212 was based on the DB4 in order to make numerous changes. For starters, the chassis was made lighter thanks to swapping its stock design for one with sections made up of box frames. In addition, the wheelbase was lengthened. At the same time, the very light bodywork in aluminum and magnesium covered the whole with a shape as aerodynamic as it was stylized. Obviously, the Aston Martin engineers had focused more on the Mulsanne straight than prioritizing good cornering. However, the lack of downforce on the rear axle made the DP212 a particularly unstable car at high speeds.
In fact, although Graham Hill took it to leading positions at Le Mans 1962, he himself pointed out how this was an unsuitable design to exceed 250 kilometers per hour. Fortunately, just during that same year the brand was working on the DP214. With a Kammback rear very much in the style of the one exhibited by the Ferrari 250 GTO as well as a six-cylinder engine and almost four liters of displacement. Nevertheless, Aston Martin's main efforts were concentrating on the 215 DP1963. The model that, on paper, was going to be the definitive option to question the SWB and GTO manufactured in Maranello.
Designed to remedy the weight problem -since in terms of power the British were already equal to Ferrari-, the Aston Martin DP215 managed to put the scales at 200 kilos less than a DB4 GT. Quite an achievement. Only possible because these special projects did not have the slightest claim to come to series. In fact, the DP215 could only enter Le Mans by being approved within the Prototypes category. Not in the one reserved for production-derived GTs. As was the case with the GTO evolved for Group 3 from the chassis and mechanics of the SWB.
What's more, although the DP215 finally mounted the same four-liter inline six as the DP214, it was initially raised with the idea of equipping a V8 by the iconic engineer Tadek Marek. Unfortunately, that engine could not be in time for the 24 1963 Hours of Le Mans. However, intensive work on weight reduction, aerodynamics and improved stability made this Aston Martin a model with many ballots to win its class. in the world of resistance.
In fact, checking times at Le Mans the DP215 was 12 seconds quicker than the 250 GTO and was even on a par with mid-engined Ferraris. What's more, speeds of over 300 kilometers per hour were recorded on the Mulsanne straight. As it was, it seemed so. That Aston Martin had managed to find the machine called to mark a new era as Ford would soon do with its GT40 or Porsche with the 917.
However, there was a problem. A problem based on the reliability of the gearbox. Derived from the one used in the old DBR1 with 2,5 liters and, therefore, unable to manage the torque delivered by the 4-liter DP215. Put in this position, the Aston Martin withdrew within two hours of starting Le Mans 1963 to finally discourage David Brown completely regarding a hypothetical continuation of the Racing Department. Which, by the way, ended up closed after a few months in the midst of a hostile financial climate.
Anyway, the Aston Martin DP215 has gone down in history as fastest front-engined model at Le Mans thanks to the mark of 319,6 kilometers per hour. A feat that many followers of the brand consider to be on a par with that achieved by the winning DBR1 in 1959. With all this, this prototype is one of the most iconic and fascinating designs of the entire period with David Brown at the helm of Aston Martin. Undoubtedly, one of the most refined racing cars of all time.
Photographs: RM Sotheby's