Launched in 1952, the first Aston sports racer was the DB3. Developed for Aston Martin by Eberan von Eberhorst, a former Auto Union racing engineer from the prewar era, the DB3 featured an all-new, tubular chassis using De Dion rear architecture, with a purposeful, chunky, slab-sided body.
Competition victory proved elusive for the DB3 however, and its performance was hampered by reliability issues never suffered by the DB2 effort. So, Brown commissioned A. G. “William” Watson to engineer an improved car. In May 1953 a new prototype appeared at Charterhill, UK called the DB3S. This car was a significant redevelopment of the DB3 and featured a lighter chassis with a reduced wheelbase as well as many other modifications, significantly altering the essence of the original Eberhorst conception. Most importantly, the Salisbury hypoid-bevel final drive was replaced with a David Brown spiral-bevel version. It was the hypoid spiral drive which retired two DB3s at Le Mans in 1952. Other changes included new rear suspension geometry.
Most impressive of all perhaps was the svelte, almost feline new body figure rendered characteristically in aluminum by Frank Feeley, designer of the DB2 for Aston Martin, and which is today considered his masterpiece. Featuring the classic cutaway section behind the front wheels, it presaged the style of the famous pontoon-fendered Ferrari 250TRs by several years. The DB3S raised eyebrows as well as expectations for success. This design was also the first to refine the “humped oval” grille theme which has become the trademark identifier of Aston Martin production cars through the present day.
It was therefore the DB3S which came to represent the quantum leap towards international conquest that Brown so intently craved. At its Charterhill debut, a DB3S driven by Reg Parnell beat out an Ecurie Escosse C-Type for an overall victory. Shortly thereafter however, three DB3Ss raced at Le Mans with little triumph. Ironically, this was the only race which Aston Martin lost in 1953. During the Tourist Trophy, Goodwood Nine Hours and British Empire Trophy, Aston Martin took overall victory against all comers. With this newfound mastery Brown was emboldened.
For the 1954 season David Brown introduced a new 12-cylinder sports racer, reviving the Lagonda name in competition. The engine, a 4.5 liter unit developed by Watson was essentially conceived as two of the standard VB6J Aston engines combined and mated to a common crankshaft. To counterbalance for the weight penalty, both the block and crankcase were rendered in aluminum. This required a whole new range of compensatory solutions to the workings of the engine internals, including tighter bearings, which resulted in problems at start and low temperatures until the engine was running up full temperature. Though based upon the DB3S shape, the appearance of the Lagonda could be described as “corpulent” in comparison to the graceful DB3S. Overall the Lagonda was plagued with problems and proved a frustrating distraction from continued development of the parallel DB3S program until the Lagonda sports racer was abandoned in 1955.
Meanwhile, by 1955, the DB3S was to benefit from the 3-litre limitation on engine capacity in the sports car championship. Victory was seen at Silverstone with a Second place overall at Le Mans, with drivers Peter Collins and Paul Frere fiercely tracking the winning new Jaguar D-Type piloted by Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb. This was the best overall Le Mans result Aston Martin achieved to date. Subsequently the DB3S went on to demolish the Jaguar competition at the British GP, and to win the Goodwood Nine Hours for the third time.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in August 2009 at the Portola Hotel & Spa and Monterey Conference Center, Monterey, California.
210 bhp @ 5500 rpm, 2992 cc inline six-cylinder engine, twin overhead camshafts, triple sidedraft Weber carburetors, four-speed David Brown close-ratio gearbox, independent front suspension with trailing links, torsion bar springing and lever shock absorbers, De Dion rear suspension located by parallel trailing links and Panhard rod, torsion bar springing and telescopic shock absorbers, four-wheel Alfin drum brakes. Wheelbase: 2210 mm.
Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Hugh Hamilton