The Aston Martin DP series of cars
Part 1. Background and Factory Races of 1962 and 1963
Enough about Alfa’s and their Italian brethren, (did I really say that???)
Inspired by KK’s lovely build of Aston’s DP214 I thought it might be appropriate to have a look at a British car this time, specifically one of Aston’s lesser-known series of cars. As always I am grateful for the work from many sources in compiling this information.
KK’s Aston Martin DP214
After winning Le Mans outright in 1959 with a DBR1 driven by Roy Salvatori and Carol Shelby, David Brown had initially hoped to carry his Le Mans success over into Formula 1 with the DBR4 and DBR5 cars. For the next few years he concentrated the small firms racing efforts to that end. Sadly these front engined cars were introduced just as F1 was switching over to rear/mid engined cars and the Aston’s never met with any on track success and that plan was abandoned by 1960. But that’s another story….
Back to Sports Cars
In a controversial move, the sports’ governing body decided to run the World Sports Car Championship using production-based GT cars in 1962. Production based ‘prototypes’ would be permitted to run in just six events: the Daytona 24 Hours, the Sebring 12 Hours, the Targa Florio, the Nurburgring 1000km, the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Auvergne Trophy at Clermont-Ferrand. A three litre engine limit was imposed on the Prototypes and points towards the inaugural Coupe des Sports that was organized for this kind of car were only awarded at three rounds: Sebring, the Targa Florio and the Nurburgring.
This rendered the existing fan favourite, purpose-built sports cars, obsolete and also left Le Mans organizer, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), none too pleased. Unhappy at the prospect of fewer crowd-pleasing prototypes attending their event because points were not being awarded, the Le Mans governing body unilaterally decided to introduce a new ‘Experimental’ category with a four litre engine limit. The new class attracted entries from Aston Martin, Ferrari and Maserati.
At Aston over that ’60-’62 period of Grand Prix racing focus there was increasing pressure from Aston Martin dealers around the world, which by 1962 were trying to sell a somewhat long in the tooth DB4 with no racing program or other headline making efforts to enhance the Aston Martin name. John Wyer recalled that the French distributor was being especially vocal about the need for Aston Martin to have a factory effort at Le Mans in order to boost sales. The new experimental class for 1962 offered Aston Martin the opportunity to do just that without interfering with the privateer efforts of their customers in the GT class. Aware of the prestige a Le Mans victory would bring, in addition to Aston Martin, old rivals Ferrari and Maserati also set about preparing ‘experimental’ cars specifically for that year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In Italy, Ferrari stuffed their four litre V12 engines into two cars. The first was a 330 TRI/LM; an open top Prototype based on the regular 250 TRI/LM. The other was a long wheelbase 250 GTO christened the 330 LM. Yet a few more stories…
Not to be outdone, Maserati created the Tipo 151. It featured a V8 engine derived from the 450 S, a custom tubular space frame chassis and a Berlinetta body. Three cars were supplied, two to Briggs Cunningham and one to Maserati of France.
With little time before the 1962 season began, Brown commissioned the construction of a single car. It never received a proper name, and became known only by its internal code, DP212. The DP stood for ‘Design Project’ (although other sources say it stood for Development Prototype) and together with the three related cars that followed, are now known as the ‘Project Cars’.
Dubbed “Project 212” or “DP212”, the new Aston Martin sports racer was loosely based on the existing DB4 GT that had been in production since 1959. DP212 was upgraded with a lightened chassis, bigger engine, a special gearbox plus improved braking and suspension. It had a more streamlined magnesium-alloy body designed to maximize top speed on the fast Le Mans circuit.
DP212 in its original configuration (no Kamm tail)
DP212 was a bit of a parts bin car; the heavy box-section chassis was similar to the DB4 GT but lightened where possible by drilling and using aluminum floor panels. The double-wishbone front suspension was carried over directly from the DB4 GT, while the rear-end consisted of the DeDion axle previously used on a stillborn Lagonda saloon. Girling sourced disc brakes were used on all four corners.
The all-alloy straight six engine was also derived from the DB4 GT, bored out from 92 mm to 96 mm in order to bring it up to the four litre displacement limit. It was equipped with twin-plug ignition and three Weber DCO 50 carburetors. It was claimed to produce 345 bhp but it was later revealed that the power output was closer to 327 bhp. The new four litre engine was bolted to a David Brown produced gearbox with synchromesh on all four forward gears.
The lightweight rolling chassis was clothed in an all-new coupe bodywork designed by Ted Cutting, who had also been responsible for the lines of the Le Mans winning DBR1. Specifically designed for Le Mans’ long straights, the body featured a slippery nose with covered headlights and the rear wheels were partially covered to further reduce drag. It was constructed in a magnesium-aluminium alloy and as a result the DP212 tipped the scales at just 980 kg.
DP212 was created under the supervision of Aston Martin team manager John Wyer who had supervised the1959 DBR1 Le Mans success and later went on to author Ford’s Le Mans successes. The project was approved in December 1961, began in January 1962 and the car was ready for the Le Mans Test April 6/7 1962. Project 212 had gone from green light to Le Mans in just five months!
Built at the very last minute, there was only limited time available to test and develop the car ahead of its debut at Le Mans. Aston Martin hired BRM works Formula 1 drivers Graham Hill and Richie Ginther to drive the DP212 at what was the first works competition effort since 1959. Hill was fourth fastest in practice and briefly grabbed the lead on the opening lap. He was in the lead again before the first pit stop but then was delayed due to a generator failure. Sadly, the race ended after 79 laps when a ruptured oil line, possibly damaged during the earlier generator repair, resulted in a piston failure.
Le Mans 1962: No Kamm tail
Despite the early retirement, the Le Mans effort was promising particularly considering how new the car was. The biggest problem discovered at Le Mans was high-speed stability and cutting off a section of the rear bodywork, creating a ‘Kamm’ tail, cured this issue.
DP212 at Goodwood showing the revised rear bodywork for 1963
Buoyed by the DP212’s performance in 1962, David Brown sanctioned the production of three new DP cars for 1963. A pair of DP214’s to run as GT class entries and an even lighter DP215 to run as a ‘prototype’.
Plenty of eyebrows had been raised when the Maranello firm’s 250 GTO was accepted as a modified version of the 250 SWB and therefore an eligible GT car. With that precedent set, it allowed not only the lightweight Jaguar E-type to race in the GT category, but also the Shelby Daytona Cobra, the car that would in time soundly beat the GTO.
So this year Aston took a leaf out of its old rival’s book and built perhaps the car that took the greatest liberties with the regulations, -the Aston Martin DP 214- that was to run as a production GT car while in fact it was nothing of the sort!
To comply with GT regulations, the DP214’s were based on DB4GT chassis’, and given production serial numbers #0194/R and #0195/R. Constructed ostensibly on a DB4GT chassis to comply with GT regulations they were substantially different under the skin. It didn’t have the beefy DB4 chassis, but a new lightweight box-section frame Wyer knew and would later admit that it was ‘strictly illegal’. With a body based on lessons learnt from DP212 it used features such as the Kamm tail, was wider than DP212 though, and the nose was a completely new design. Unlike DP212’s larger prototype 4.0-litre engine, the DP214’s would also use a production 3.7-litre straight 6, retaining the twin plug head DB4GT engine but bored to 3,750 cc from 3,670 cc. as allowed by the rules. Fitted with Weber 50DCO carbs the engine was set over 8” further towards the centre of the car and was mounted somewhat lower in the chassis than the DB4GT but did retain the latter’s Aston 4 speed gearbox. The suspension was modified, too. The only mistake made was to specify 5.5in wheel rims in the homologation papers when shortly thereafter Dunlop produced a new tire size that required a 6.5in rim and would provide vastly more grip.
Wyer hoped that the scrutineer’s wouldn’t ‘notice’ these slight modifications and always wanting a good show the French either didn’t notice or didn’t care about the tires or the other issues, and for once the DP214’s were ready on time.
Developed as a true GT ‘prototype’ and therefore successor to DP212, it incorporated the lessons learned from the earlier car. It was intended to carry the Tad Marek designed V8, which later appeared in the Lola Aston T70 MkIII, and later in much modified and refined form in the road cars. Never fitted with V8, it made do with a dry sump 4-litre version of the well proven 6 cylinder, with twin plug head. More contentiously, it was also fitted with the weakest link from the older and lower powered DBR1/300, its 5 speed trans axle, clearly a big mistake and one admitted later by John Wyer! Visually and dimensionally, the body was similar to the 214’s but with a flatter bonnet line enabled by the dry sump engine.
1963 Le Mans Test
As the DP215 was not ready in time to attend the 1963 Le Mans Test (April 6th and 7th), Aston Martin took the DP212 to la Sarthe along with the pair of brand new DP214s.
Bruce McLaren, Jo Schlesser, Lucien Bianchi and Bill Kimberly drove the DP212. It went fifth fastest overall and third quickest in the over three litre Prototype class. The DP214s were third and sixth quickest. Fastest overall was the new Ferrari 250 P driven by John Surtees.
Le Mans 1963 Test day. DP212 on top, DP214’s on bottom
1963 Le Mans
The DP214 made its debut with DP215 at the 1963 Le Mans race. Bill Kimberley and Jo Schlessor in 0194 and Bruce McLaren and Innes Ireland in 0195. During practice DP214 set an unofficial time of 3m 58.7s and an official time of 4m 00s, with Ireland recording 300 kilometers per hour (186.4 mph) down the Mulsanne Straight.
The race plan was for 0194 and 0195 to lap at 4m 15s. On lap 28 McLaren in 0195 pitted when leading the GT class and 10th overall. Ireland took over 0195 and took it up to 6th overall but during his stint a piston failed on the Mulsanne Straight on lap 60 (4h 06m) and forced them to retire, which was a result similar to that of DP212 in 1962. The engine failure resulted in 20 litres of oil being spilled on the track, causing a multiple accident. DP214 0194 had to stop on lap three to unblock a main jet, but had more luck during the race, reaching 5th overall in 110 laps (nearly 8 hours). By 10 hours Kimberley and Schlesser were 3rd overall and leading the GT class, however they suffered the same fate as McLaren and Ireland, with a piston failure. The piston failure was caused by inadequate strength around the underside of the piston-pin boss due to their lack of preparation time, which meant that cast pistons were used, rather than the stronger forged ones.
The other Project Car in the race fared even worse. This was DP215, by far the most radical of all despite its similar appearance. Boasting independent rear suspension and the trans axle gearbox from the DBR1 that not even Wyer could hope to conceal from the authorities, it was a pure prototype and with Phil Hill and Lucien Bianchi lined up as drivers it qualified a stunning fourth behind three Ferrari prototypes. But the gearbox had always struggled to cope with 3-litre DBR1 power so, as Wyer said, “why we thought it was going to do any better with a 4-litre engine I don’t know.” It barely lasted two hours.
That was Aston Martin’s last Le Mans of the era.
Later 1963 Races
After Le Mans, a lone DP214, driven by Innes Ireland would manage to finish in sixth place overall, and second in class at Brands Hatch, the second DP214 (0195) retiring, after spinning off. This was followed by a seventh-place finish and fourth in class in the TT at Goodwood for 0194, with 0195, driven by McLaren retiring after 95 laps with a valve failure. The two cars were certainly capable of winning the TT at Goodwood in the hands of Ireland and Bruce McLaren, but unfortunately they fell foul of the RAC inspector who refused to allow the cars to run with the 6.5″ inch rims that they had run at Le Mans, because they had not been homologated, even though by then the production cars were fitted with them as standard. As it was, they were required to race with 5.5″ inch rims, which actually narrowed the track by 4″ inches and ruined their handling. They had never run with these narrow rims in the first place, and were never to do so again. An angry Innes Ireland spent the whole race going luridly sideways in the car that he had originally put on pole.
Next was a victory at the Inter-Europa Cup at Monza driven by Roy Salvatori, setting a new GT lap record, with an average speed of 120.23 mph (193.49 km/h). This race also saw the second DP214 (0195, driven by Bianchi)) take 3rd. The next two rounds at Monthery would see the DP214s take victory (0194, driven by Claude Le Guezec) and second place in the first race. The second race would also see a DP214 victorious again, this time with 0195 winning and 0194 finishing in fifth.
That was pretty much the end of the official factory participation for the DP series of cars although they probably continued with some behind the scenes support.
Part 2 will continue with post 1963 privateer efforts of the DP cars