GRR

Is this one-off Aston Martin DP215 about to become $22million record breaker?

02nd August 2018
Bob Murray

Another Aston Martin may be about to challenge for the highest-priced British car at auction record. RM Sotheby’s has put an estimate of US$18-22million – that’s £13.7-16.7m – on the DP215 it is selling at its Monterey sale in California on 24 August.

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Twelve months ago the same auction house at the same auction sold Aston Martin DBR1 chassis number one for US$22.5m, including the premium, deposing the Jaguar D-Type as most expensive British car ever.

The impending auction is the latest in a series of high-profile sales to reinforce Aston Martin’s pre-eminence among collectors, including most recently at the Goodwood Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard sale where Bonhams sold a DB4GT Zagato for £10m.

Can the DP215 really beat that, and even match or top the DBR1’s millions? Design Project 215 might have been driven at Le Mans in ’63 by Phil Hill – and it might have been 12 seconds a lap faster than the Ferrari 250 GTOs, as well as the first car to hit 300km/h (186mph) down the  Mulsanne Straight – but it never won a race.

At Le Mans in ’63 what everyone thought was a sure-fire winner was out after two hours when its gearbox failed. It never raced again in period. Team manager John Wyer quit, Aston Martin Racing shut up shop at the end of ’63, and any thoughts of a comeback were smashed when the one and only DP215 was damaged in an accident on the M1.

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It could have been an ignominious end to a brilliant but stunted career, but what followed was anything but as its significance as a one-off Works Aston Martin was recognised, and one of the most remarkable restoration stories unfolded.

DP215 was the final of four project cars developed from the DB4GT chassis to take Aston back racing after winning the World Sportscar Championship in 1959. DP215 was a more specialised competition car than the 212 and brace of 214s that preceded it. It was lighter and more powerful with 326bhp from a dry-sump, twin-plug 4.0-litre version of the Tadek Marek-designed six-cylinder motor. More tellingly it handled a whole lot better thanks to independent rear suspension, the engine relocated ten inches further back in the chassis and new aerodynamics to cure previous models’ rear lift.

It was all the work of Aston chief engineer Ted Cutting. It took him two months and his budget was £1500. The result was the ultimate evolution of Aston’s GT racers as well as what would become the last racing car built by the factory. At Le Mans in ’63 this six-cylinder, front-engined car hit an incredible peak speed of 198.6mph.

Ted Cutting, architect of all Aston racecars from the mid 1950s and whose DBR1 won at Le Mans in 1959, was again the main man when it came to the car’s restoration. Thankfully he had more time and a larger budget…

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Over the years and with different owners, the car had lost both its original engine and its gearbox. As a road car on the Isle of Wight in the ‘70s, it was fitted with a DB6 engine and ZF ‘box. Subsequent owners made their contributions to restoring it to 1963 originality. Eventually even the original engine was found and refitted. As were the original seats, now recovered in period green corduroy. The decades-long restoration touched every aspect of the car and involved Ted Cutting (who died in 2012) as consultant.

But the gearbox, the Aston S532 transmission – only six of which were ever made in period – eluded them. So they made their own: with specialists Richard Williams and Crosthwaite & Gardner, 1,000 parts had to be made and assembled.

The finished article today is said to be a joy to drive and easy to manage on public roads with a light clutch and steering, good synchro gears, torquey engine and “better build quality than virtually any other competition car of the period”, according to the owner. He has driven the car for 10,000 miles – probably more than all its previous owners combined – on rallies and events all over Europe and Scotland, even through the centre of Paris in the rush hour.

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His one outstanding memory of the car? “That was when I was following the DP215, driven by Paul Vestey, in Paul’s GTO. We were driving on some magnificent roads in Italy, passing and repassing each other at speeds in excess of 130mph. The sound of the two old warriors was unforgettable. The Aston’s six-cylinder bark perfectly complementing the Ferrari’s V12 howl.”

Two of the greatest, for sure. But one thing to remember: at a predicted $22 million the Aston is exactly half what RM Sotheby’s its expecting the Ferrari 250 GTO to make in the same auction….

Photography courtesy of RM Sothebys.

  • Aston Martin

  • DP215

  • RM Sothebys

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