Thank Frankel it's Friday: A DB3S on the road is a real unicorn
I know one should always keep an eye on the mirror, but to my shame I heard the overrun crackle of its exhaust as its driver was forced to lift before I saw its shape behind me. One glimpse, a jab at the indicator and I was out of its way.
As it came past I remember thinking it was one of the best looking replica Aston DB3Ss I’d seen. And then I saw the plate: 62 EMU. This was no replica. Hard to believe though it was, but thundering along the M4 on Wednesday morning was not only a genuine DB3S but one of just ten works cars – carrying the chassis number DB3S/6. This is the chassis number that was raced in period by Stirling Moss, Peter Collins, Tony Brooks, Roy Salvadori, Reg Parnell and Paul Frere. And there it was, honking down the road past Membury Services.
I always get nervous when writing about famous old warriors like this because sometimes all is not what it seems to be. For instance a car with this exact chassis number raced at Le Mans as a DB3S coupe in 1954 alongside the similarly bodied DB3S/7. Aerodynamically unstable to put it mildly, both had enormous accidents during the race from which its drivers were lucky to emerge. So is this car that car? It seems not: the DB3S/6 and DB3S/7 that raced in 1955 were completely new cars and those are not my words, but those of John Wyer who ran the team, so I guess he’d know. So why not just issue a new chassis number? Well that would involve registering a new car, which would have involved a certain amount of tax to be paid…
Not just a real @astonmartin DB3S on M4 this morning, but works factory car 62EMU. 2nd place at Le Mans in 1958 to name just one of its successes. Sorry pic is fuzzy but it was going rather rapidly and almost out of shot by time Mrs F managed to grab the iPhone. Incredible sight. pic.twitter.com/ux0WHHf6Qf
Anyway, I think the unique claim of DB3S/6 is that it’s Aston’s only chassis number to have finished on the Le Mans podium twice, first as a works car in 1955 with Collins and Frere driving, then again as an apparently obsolete privateer in 1958 driven by the Whitehead brothers in a race where barely a third of entry finished.
And, as luck would have it, a while back, I drove it. I wasn’t at the wheel for long and nowhere as exalted as Goodwood, but I was on a race track and had enough time to reach some reasonably meaningful conclusions about it. First, it felt fast in a way I had not expected. I guess because I always thought of the DBR1 as the first of the really brutal Astons, I’d not expected the DB3S to feel quite so rapid. But it was, its engine powerful and sufficiently free spinning for me to be extremely careful about making sure each new gear was selected before I trod on the throttle again, not that there was any problem with that for, unlike the DBR1, the 3S had a delightful gearbox.
But I remember most the handling and understand entirely why the car was so loved by the drivers of the day, even when it couldn’t keep up with a D-type at Le Mans or a 300SLR anywhere at all. I can remember being amazed by how small it felt, smaller than a Healey at least subjectively, and how easily it could be placed. It’s just about the worst cliché in the motoring writer’s book to say you could think it around corners, but its ability to always to end up where you expected, even if not always at an entirely orthodox angle of approach was uncanny. I can remember wondering to myself what you’d have to do before it finally spat you into the scenery and then reckoning that by the time those thoughts are in your head it’s probably time to hand it back to its owner.
I’ve been blessed to drive most of the types of cars against which the DB3S would have competed – even an SLR if you count the Uhlenhaut coupe which you absolutely should – and while all have been incredible and humbling experiences, if I could have one more go in any one of them, it would be a factory specification DB3S, not just because it is a knee-wilting beauty but because it is the one I’d enjoy the most and which would frighten me the least. 62 EMU? That would be a dream.