Saturday, 12 November 2011
Sports Car Classics: A Vintage Archive
The best of Eric Dymock for £4.80. That is the promise of Dove Digital's new Classic Sports Cars, out now, packed with a selection of 50 years' road tests, feature articles and motoring columns. This two-part ebook includes material from The Motor, The Sunday Times, Autocar and excerpts from the author's books.
Sports Car Classics is available to download in two parts for Kindle from Amazon, in eBook format from Waterstone's, and for iPads and other iOS devices through the iTunes store.
Sports Car Classics Part One: AC to HRG
Sports Car Classics Part Two: Jaguar to Yamaha
Here is a sample from the section on Aston Martin:
SUNDAY TIMES: Motoring 25 April 1993
Aston will test the classic waters.
Aston Martin DB3S
At the height of the classic car boom in 1989 a good Aston Martin DB3S might have sold privately for the best part of a million pounds. Collectors will watch Robert Brooks' Olympia auction on Tuesday (27 April), to see if one makes a quarter of a million. Brooks sold a coupe in 1989 for £400,000; Tuesday's price will be a barometer of how the market is recovering from the collapse of 1990-91.
The DB3S sold new for £3,694 9s 2d (including purchase tax) in 1954, and Brooks expects it to go for between £220,000 and £280,000. Only twenty were made with the same style, speed, and exemplary handling, delightful on the road and competitive in historic racing. The whereabouts of nineteen are well known and they rarely reach the market. Clive Aston is only the fourth owner of this car which he has had since 1971 and parts with in order to restore a similar but more historically important ex-works racer.
Professor Dr Robert Eberan von Eberhorst was dismissive about Sir David Brown, the tractor millionaire who owned Aston Martin from 1947 till 1972. “His understanding of cars was zero,” von Eberhorst recalled. Yet in 1950 Brown commissioned the tall aristocratic German to design a new sports racing car, the DB3, with a tubular chassis and torsion bar springing.
Von Eberhorst's credentials were impeccable. He was responsible for the pre-war Auto Union racing cars after Ferdinand Porsche defected to Mercedes-Benz. He followed Porsche's precepts for the post-war Cisitalia, an astonishingly advanced single seater, but his DB3 Aston Martin was a disappointment.
Its 2.6litre 6-cylinder engine, designed under WO Bentley, never produced enough power for Eberhorst's rather heavy and plain-looking design. In racing it was beaten by the new C-type Jaguar until WG Watson, a junior designer at Aston, by-passed Eberhorst and went straight to David Brown.
He suggested changes, which made the DB3S as it became known, into a technical triumph shorter, lower, lighter and faster. With a new aerodynamic body by Frank Feeley, it was an aesthetic landmark as well. The exquisite proportions, cutaway wings and crisp unadorned lines were distinctive and rakish.
Although lacking the power of a D-Type Jaguar the DB3S handled superbly, twice coming second at Le Mans driven by Peter Collins, Stirling Moss, and the Belgian Paul Frere. It was one of the pivotal cars that captured the racing car industry from Germany and Italy, to establish it firmly in Britain.
There were two sorts of DB3S, those raced by the works, and a small run of production cars shown at the Earls Court Motor Show in 1954. It only had 180bhp against the rival (and cheaper at £2,685 14s 2d) D-type Jaguar's 250, - Jaguar made 87 D-types against Aston's 20 of the production DB3S.
The car Brooks is selling on Tuesday has chassis number DB3S/106 - the sixth made. It was bought new by a Singapore industrialist who raced as an amateur in the Far East, winning the Macau Grand Prix in 1958. Its next owner crashed heavily in the 1963 Singapore Grand Prix and the wreckage returned to Britain as spare parts in 1969.
The engine, gearbox, and back axle formed the basis of a painstaking re-creation under Clive Aston. Works drawings and body bucks were used to keep the result as close to the original as possible.
Driving '106' on a test track provided a convincing testimony to the eulogies written on the DB3S. Sports-racing cars of the 1950s tended to have a fierce clutch, heavy gearshift and an engine that pulled only within a tight engine speed range. The DB3S has an even spread of torque, a light clutch and the gearshift is a delight.
Clive Aston warned me about the brakes, which was just as well because there is no modern servo assistance. They feel heavy when cold but once warmed to their task cope efficiently with the car's 140mph (225.3kph) performance. Acceleration is quick even by 1990s standards, - about the same as a modern road-going Aston Martin Virage, with an invigorating bark from the 6-cylinder twin-cam engine.
The handling feels light at the front; the steering has lost some of its straight-ahead precision so taking a racing line through corners needs a little practice. The low racing windscreen deflects very little of the slipstream, which buffets the driver, catches his cheeks, bombards him with insects and demands goggles or a helmet and visor. You can drive a DB3S to the shops but best keep your mouth shut.
The car's quality is impressive and looks at least a match for German contemporaries. The detailing is good and includes an imaginative gadget for cooling the driver's feet. In the course of a long race, close to a hot engine, they could get badly burned. A beautifully-made duct leads from under the front wheel-arch to the toe-board between the pedals, and a lever by the driver's door opens a flap to let air in. It also brought in tyre fragments and brake lining dust, so drivers finished races with black faces.
I was being set up. The auctioneer thought an approving Sunday Times column might raise the price. It sold for only £120,000; anybody in the business knew the car and it had neither a distinguished provenance, nor was it especially good to drive. In 1998 one went for £293,000, in 1999 £370,000, and in 2009 another sold for $1.98 million at Pebble Beach, although described as “suspect” by one collectors’ website and extolled with a “continuous history” by another. Some of the DB3S re-creations, or replicas, look and drive every bit as well. Best memory of the works Astons was at my first Grand Prix, the 1955 British at Aintree, was watching four of them in the sports car race, driven by Roy Salvadori, Peter Collins, Reg Parnell and Peter Walker overhaul the D-type Jaguar of race leader Mike Hawthorn.
39PH, the Le Mans AC Cobra that is the subject of an Eric Dymock original feature test in The Motor (as it was then) of 17 July 1963