RM Sotheby’s Is Auctioning Amazing Aston Martins At Pebble Beach This Year
View the Aston Martin Motorsport collection on RM Sotheby’s
Every August, much of California’s Monterey Bay transforms into a place for the most amplified automobiles in the world. It becomes a mecca, where learned enthusiasts with large wallets and couture hats share space with people who’ve spent the past night camped out at Laguna Seca to celebrate all that is beloved about the automobile. And the week wouldn’t be complete without the many auctions scattered around the bay, each with their own set of important cars ready to trade hands.
There is plenty to see crossing the blocks, though there are always special groups that stand out each year, and RM Sotheby’s generally offers some if its top cars at its annual Monterey auction. This year’s edition exceeds the high standards set in the past, and the pack of Astons are a helpful illustration of why this is case; the cars below represent one of the most astounding assemblies of Aston Martins ever to appear at a single auction. Each is worthy of its own chapter in the book of the marque’s racing heritage. They range from pre-war legends to the sort of monumentally quick modern machinery that’s marks the progress of technology with a massive wing and a carbon fiber infection. At least one of this lot will blow past the eight-figure barrier like it’s a backmarker at Le Mans—the race that, incidentally, every single one of these cars competed in.
Ulster Competition Sports
Expected Auction Price: $2,500,000 to $3,000,000
Why It’s Amazing: Ascension to the rank of “poster car” is generally the peak of iconography, the automobile in question attaining cultural immortality as a result. For a highly select few, though, there is an even greater honor; this exact car (as proven by the license plate) was the basis for its very own Matchbox model. Such was its fame in England.
In 1935, it finished 8th overall at Le Mans, then went on to compete in races like the Mille Miglia as one of Aston Martin’s works entries. That’s a fine pedigree for any car, but it barely scrapes the surface here, as after the car retired from its “official” duties, the owners, one of which is considered among the world’s foremost Aston Martin authorities, raced it almost continuously for the next 40 years.
With an astonishing 650 events on its CV, this is the most raced Aston Martin in the world. Almost equally unbelievably is the fact that it’s still nearly entirely original, despite living the best on-track life any car could possibly hope for.
Expected Auction Price: $20,000,000+
Why It’s Amazing: If you were searching for the Holy Grail of Aston Martins, it’s unquestionably the DBR1. Our recent film on this very car should go a long way toward proving that point. Just one man, Ted Cutting, was responsible for the engine, the chassis, and the bodywork. Despite such paucity of engineering staff, the DBR1 went toe to toe with the likes of the Jaguar D-Type and Ferrari 250TR. And it won. Good for 212hp in its debut form, the 3.0L straight-six under the hood evolved, and was eventually capable of a much more robust 268hp. By 1959, the DBR1 secured an outright win at Le Mans—to date, Aston’s lone overall triumph. For good measure, it then added the World Sportscar Championship to its list of achievements, leading home the likes of Ferrari and Porsche.
This particular car is known as DBR1/1. It’s the very first, and the list of legends that drove it in anger is staggering. It’s filled with names like Carroll Shelby, Roy Salvadori, Sir Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, and Bruce McLaren. At the 1959 Nurburgring 1000km, Moss and Jack Fairman drove it to a dominating victory that helped clinch that year’s World Sports Car Championship. In so doing, they set the Nordschleife lap record. In this very car. On 16 separate occasions.
Considering that last year at this auction, an Ecurie Ecosse D-Type went for north of $21,000,000, it might be safe to say you can expect a similar figure for DBR1/1 this year.
DB4GT Prototype (DP199)
Expected Auction Price: $6,000,000 – $8,000,000
Why It’s Amazing: In the 1950s, the legendary John Wyer, whose name became synonymous with Gulf-liveried cars after a string of Le Mans victories with Ford GT40s and Porsche 917s, was also the team manager for Aston Martin’s racing program for a time. Long before the first DB4 reached customers, Wyer and his team grabbed an early prototype and set to work building a race-ready yet road-legal version. The car they built would eventually become the DB4GT.
They chopped five inches out of the chassis, taken from right behind the front seats. The skin was formed with lighter-gauge aluminum to aid in keeping the mass down. What was left of the rear seating area became a luggage rack. It’s a good thing, too, because to make the car suitable for endurance racing, almost the entirety of the trunk was filled by a full-size spare and a 30 gallon fuel tank.
Even though it was a prototype with no siblings yet in existence, it raced at Silverstone, with Moss behind the wheel. He qualified on pole. Then, he not only won, but set a new lap record in the process. “All the road-going Astons seemed muscular and strong,” he said, “but the DB4GT was also quite well balanced. It had bags of power and when I drove it against Jaguar saloons, it was no contest.”
The car survived its brief racing career, which included an abbreviated run at Le Mans, and went on a photo op tour at various car shows. Eventually, Aston Martin sold the prototype to the Queen’s cousin. Since then, it’s had a handful of notable owners, including Rowan Atkinson.
Expected Auction Price: $250,000 – $325,000
Why It’s Amazing: With 625 hp motivating a sub-2,500lb car whose handling is aided by all the aerodynamic wings and winglets you’d expect from a modern day carbon fiber race car, the DBR9 was a major player in the GT category. The model won its class at races like Sebring and Le Mans, and claimed both an LMS and an FIA GT championship.
This particular car has several podiums to its credit in international competition. It never won, however, and in 2007, it crashed during the 24 Hours of Spa Francorchamps. The shunt was significant. The entire chassis needed to be replaced, and when the repairs were completed, retirement awaited.
These days, it’s a fully refurbished race car living a life of leisure. Those charged with its maintenance do so meticulously. It’s started twice a year, but not raced. That latter point is actually relevant, because starting next year, there will be a Le Mans Legends series for which this car is not only eligible, but perfectly suited.
AMR1 Group C
Expected Auction Price: $475,000 – $675,000
Why It’s Amazing: In some respects, the Group C cars are to Le Mans, what Group B was to rallying. They pushed the boundaries of performance, and even the slowest cars in the field are revered today. For Aston Martin’s entry into the top-flight prototype class, its engineers were so obsessed with aerodynamics that they insisted on mounting the engine at a three degree angle, so that the ground effect floor’s tunnels would generate more downforce.
The chassis itself is comprised of Kevlar and carbon fiber, and the whole car weighs just 2,048lbs. For the engine, Aston turned to Reeves Callaway, the famed Corvette tuner, to revamp its aging V8. The result was a 700hp fire breather that could propel the car to top speeds of 220 mph. Yet, despite all that, the car never won a race. This particular one, AMR1/04, did manage a fourth place finish at Brands Hatch before all was said and done though.
While beautiful, the AMR1 faced challenges beyond Aston Martin’s control. It competed against all time greats with years of development behind them, like the Jaguar XJR-9, Porsche 962C, and Sauber C9, the latter of which nearly swept the entire 1989 season. Further, changes to the regulations meant that Aston Martin needed to develop a brand new engine for 1991. Without adequate funding to do so, and little benefit to running a 1990 season with no hope of development, it shuttered the Group C program after just one year.
2-Litre Sports “DB1” Le Mans
Expected Auction Price: $1,050,000 – $1,300,000
Why It’s Amazing: As the name would suggest, the car that eventually came to be known as the DB1 was the first Aston Martin produced in the David Brown era. In its day, you could truly drive your car to the Circuit de la Sarthe, complete all 24 grueling hours of Le Mans, and spend the rest of your summer road tripping across Continental Europe before heading home to England. After finishing a respectable 11th in the 1949 running of the race, that’s exactly what this car’s owner did.
From there, the car’s personal history is best described as kind of insane. It had a few owners, one of whom took it back to Aston Martin in the early 1950s to have the factory upgrade the engine and paint the car blue. It then had a stint in New Zealand, before that owner sold the car to a Japanese man and sent it away on a cargo ship. As fate would have it, that “buyer” was actually a Yakuza boss, and he had no intention of ever paying for the car. After a 13 year struggle that included what had to have been one of the ballsiest sit downs in automotive history, the New Zealander won, and eventually sold the car to a buyer who, presumably, wasn’t a crime lord.