GRR

Doug Nye: How this Zagato Aston lived to fight another day

02nd March 2018
new-mustang-tease.jpg Doug Nye

John Surtees was surprisingly restrained about one of his greatest career disappointments. It was on August 18th, 1962, that he was leading the RAC Tourist Trophy at Goodwood, and looking well set to win in the plum-maroon Bowmaker-entered Ferrari 250 GTO owned by Tommy Sopwith. 

doug_nye_aston_martin_zagato_goodwood_2vev_02031801.jpg

He hammered past the pits to begin a new lap, and at the first corner, Madgwick chose his line with his usual impeccable, motor-cycle bred judgment. He braked, steadied and set up the car aiming just inside the notional apex because he knew the notorious hump in the track there would nudge his car just that extra foot or so to the left.

As he tore into the turn, up ahead of him he would have been watching the shapely tail of a metallic mid-green Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato. It was the Essex Racing Stable entry – effectively a proxy works car – which was being driven by Team Lotus Formula 1 star Jim Clark. It was fresh from a pit stop, refuel and wheel-change, still building speed after rejoining the race... 

Just imagine that sun-soaked scene. First into Madgwick, about to be lapped by the leading Ferrari, was the Italian-bodied but otherwise all-British Aston Martin driven by the young Scottish driving genius who was the hottest Formula 1 property of the period. Jimmy had just scored the first World Championship-qualifying Grand Prix win of what was to be his illustrious – double-World Championship-winning – career in that year’s Belgian GP on June 17th, followed by his second great win, in his home British Grand Prix at Aintree on July 21st. In the German GP at the Nurburgring on August 5 he’d finished fourth after having “stupidly forgotten” (his words) to switch on his works Lotus 25’s fuel pump on the starting grid. 

That German Grand Prix had seen John Surtees finish second in his Bowmaker-liveried Lola-Climax, 2.5 seconds behind Graham Hill’s victorious BRM V8, but 1.9 seconds ahead of Dan Gurney’s flat-8 Porsche in third. John – already a seven-time Motorcycle World Champion – had been establishing himself within the four-wheeled racing world. In the Lola that year he had already finished second behind Jimmy in the British Grand Prix, and now in the Goodwood TT – thirteen days after the Nurburgring race (which was run on a Sunday, whereas the TT was, of course in England in those days, took place on a Saturday) – he was leading the great race in the gleaming V12-engined Ferrari 250 GTO, about to gobble up Jimmy in the delayed Aston Martin Zagato.

It was Jimmy who reached the Madgwick hump first. His Zagato ‘2 VEV’ was lightweight, with tremendous power and torque from its latest 3.8-litre straight-six engine – much bigger than the 3-litre Ferrari closing fast behind. The Zagato crested the hump, settled, and lurched as its rear tyres lost adhesion. This slide was one too many even for the great Jim Clark to catch. On its fresh, still-cold rear tyres, ‘2 VEV’ careened into a broadside. Surtees almost missed it, but the Aston ‘s course took it reversing across the available track-width, and, as if by magnetic attraction, Maranello rammed Feltham. In those days on treaded Dunlop Racing covers one could hear tyres scream. Amidst a flurry of blue rubber smoke, the future World Champions spun in unison onto the left-side grass verge and thumped into the retaining bank, the Aston tail first, the Ferrari more nose-on.

Jimmy in the replacement 1962 ‘2 VEV’ in the 1962 Goodwood TT - aiming for an appointment with John Surtees’ Ferrari 250 GTO… and the Madgwick bank… Spot the ‘MP209’ body differences...

Jimmy in the replacement 1962 ‘2 VEV’ in the 1962 Goodwood TT - aiming for an appointment with John Surtees’ Ferrari 250 GTO… and the Madgwick bank… Spot the ‘MP209’ body differences...

As the smoke cleared and the BARC track marshals – uninformed (as they weren’t) in those days in casual slacks, neat sports jackets, maybe a pullover and tie – ran to assist, Jim Clark and John Surtees slithered from their battered cars’ driving seats and – for a moment – stood and glanced at one another. John would have glared, Jimmy chewing his lower lip – then his fingernails – hands out-stretched in mute apology for having spun in the first place, and having taken out the entirely innocent race leader...

In his autobiography John would dismiss the incident in very few words, recalling simply: “During the course of ’62 I was also able to sample a racing Ferrari for the first time, for Bowmaker hired a Ferrari GTO from Maranello Concessionaires, the English importers. Possibly the most promising outing in this machine was in the Goodwood Tourist Trophy… I took an early lead and was feeling pretty confident when I came up to lap Jimmy in the Essex Racing Team Aston Martin DB4 Zagato, only for him to spin across my bows at Madgwick, taking us both into the bank fairly hard…”.

Jimmy recalled, somewhat ruefully: “I had just come out of the pits when John Surtees’ Ferrari caught up just as we were going into the first corner at around 120mph. I decided I’d let John go round the outside of me in the first part of the corner, but as I kept the Aston over to the right it, unfortunately, needed a bit more road than I wanted to give it. So it just spun clockwise but off to the left, straight onto the bit of road John wanted, and we both whistled off into the bank. John had been leading the race, and in the circumstances, I think I’d have been more upset than he was if I’d been leading. In fact, he was very good about it…”.

But that was then, in the heady days before instant video replays and endless media questions seeking to apportion blame. Back in 1962 – quite simply – both drivers were cheesed off at having been denied a decent result – and a decent payday – but both were content to have survived another motor race. It really could be as simple as that…

Jim Clark threw the big, powerful ‘2 VEV’ around manfully during the ’62 TT. Here entering St Mary’s.
And slam on the other lock - exiting St Mary’s...

And at the 76th Members’ Meeting, visitors to the Bonhams marquee will have the chance to examine Jimmy’s former Essex Racing Stable-entered Aston Martin Zagato ‘2 VEV’, which is to be offered for sale by auction back at Goodwood come the summer’s Festival of Speed.

If you look up references to the DB4GT Zagato family you will see that only 19 of these Anglo-Italian Coupes – or ‘British Berlinettas’ – were manufactured. In fact, that number is wrong, there were 20, with the original 1961 version of ‘2 VEV’ having been written-off after Belgian driver Lucien Bianchi rolled it, flattening the roof, in the 1962 Spa Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. He was leading all the Ferraris entered at the time, so that might have had something to do with it… 

In any case, with great foresight, owner John Ogier and the Aston Martin factory, for whom his Essex Racing Stable was a proxy works team, had actually insured the car. And the insurance paid up, apparently good as gold. And in fact what Aston Martin did was to take the very latest just-completed ‘MP209’ ‘Super Lightweight’ DB4GT Zagato competition Coupe, stamp it up with the original ‘2 VEV’s chassis number ‘0183/R’ – and send it out the door with ‘2 VEV’s registration number and documentation unchanged. Not only did this get former Major John Ogier MC’s team back racing again more quickly than would have been the case with a time-consuming crash repair programme, it also – most conveniently – saved some 40 per cent purchase tax for buying ‘a new car’.

Now the ‘MP209’ Aston Martin Zagato specification was very special and very rare. Where Ferrari’s 250 GTO family of cars would extend to more than 30 individual identities, that of the Aston DB4GT Zagato as such was (officially) 19, and in reality only 20. So the Zagatos are inherently more rare today than the Ferrari 250 GTOs. But then ‘2 VEV’ as she survives today is one of only three of the Anglo-Italian cars built to 1962 ‘MP209’ spec – so she survives as the most prominent not merely of 19 (or 20) but indeed of just that very rare trio.

Ooh, err - that wasn’t meant to happen…  By modern values the $72-million shunt. All the cars abandoned here at Madgwick were speedily repaired, the Robin Benson/Chris Kerrison Ferrari 250GT SWB (left) completely re-bodied in streamlined Drogo form.

Ooh, err - that wasn’t meant to happen… By modern values the $72-million shunt. All the cars abandoned here at Madgwick were speedily repaired, the Robin Benson/Chris Kerrison Ferrari 250GT SWB (left) completely re-bodied in streamlined Drogo form.

So what otherwise makes the ‘MP209’s so special? 

Well for a start the Ercole Spada-styled Zagato body shape was modified to provide more aerodynamic download at the nose, combined with less aerodynamic lift around the hind-quarters and tail. Weight was saved by the body being panelled in ultra-thin 20-gauge aluminium sheet. And then the entire car was assembled upon a brand-new redesigned box-section ladder chassis which was sparse, saved even more weight, and – to be honest – required a little more race development than it received during 1962…  

However, into 1963 that chassis structure piloted within ‘2 VEV’ became the foundation of the excellent Aston Martin ‘Project’ cars which were deployed by the revived in-house works racing team at Feltham. So ‘2 VEV’ today is indeed far rarer than a GTO and can be viewed as an immediate development stage just short of the definitive Project 214 works cars. 

Add its 3.8-litre magnesium engine and lightweight magnesium-cased gearbox, and this rumbustious ‘real man’s car’ was also endowed with greater horsepower, and much greater torque, than the rival Ferrari GTOs – and all in a car weighing overall no fewer than 507lbs less than the standard production Aston Martin DB4GT from which the Zagato family had been developed. 

By any standards, Aston Martin Zagato ‘2 VEV’ was an artillery shell just waiting to be fired, and right here at Goodwood was where, in Jimmy Clark’s hands, it wowed the TT crowd as the most spectacular Gran Turismo on track… until that tyre-smoking spin and collision between the two superstar drivers at Madgwick Corner. Even with ten World Championship titles between them, racing on the limit has always been a hair’s breadth affair. Time to contact the Prudential, perhaps?

Photography courtesy of The GP Library

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