The DBR4 Wasn’t An F1 Champion, But This Particular Aston Chassis Still Has A Story To Tell
Photography by Patrice Minol
Back in the time of this cigar-car’s racing prime, it was possible to open the bonnet of a Formula 1 car with a coin—just turn a screw or two—and you could also find “El Maestro,” Juan Manuel Fangio, in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Today there are crossover drivers and quick-release body shells in all kinds of car racing, but of course, it just isn’t the same.
The green Grand Prix machine you’re looking at today was part of the much-lauded line of DBR competition cars, and it was built to capitalize on the success of the company’s sports car success in the 1950s. Specifically known as the DBR4/250, development began in 1957 and the first DBR4 chassis debuted at Silverstone where it was driven by the same team that would go on to win Le Mans that year in a DBR1.
Despite a strong finish in the non-championship race at Silverstone—2nd—Roy Salvadori and Carroll Shelby couldn’t get much, if anything, out of the DBR4 F1 during the first season of its motorsport career. Fact is, it was pretty much outdated before it set a tire to the track despite its tube frame chassis (the fastest marque’s having already adopted the mid-engine layout that would spell the end of the long-nosed cars like this one), and soon enough, David Brown et al shifted focus again towards sports car racing and the F1 project faltered.
In total, four DBR4s were built, though the second chassis DBR4/2 was parted out in the period. The rest went into historic racing series in the ensuing decades, but Aston collector Geoffrey Marsh—who owned the Le Mans-winning DBR1 and the first DBR4 chassis—wanted to build said second chassis from the spread of original parts that had survived.
So it’s a recreation, yes, but the pieces it’s comprised of aren’t without their history. Marsh had gathered up an original 2½-liter DBR4 engine, a David Brown /4-type transaxle, the rear-mounted gearbox, and a list of addition original components like suspension uprights and those beautiful Borrani wire wheels. This car was put together from those surviving pieces and completed in 1982, whereafter it changed hands a few times before being disassembled again for preservation. Clearly, it’s been put back together since then, and following a restoration and rebuild carried out in the early-2000s, it’s been a regular historic racer despite an engine failure along the way, competing at the Goodwood Revival six times between 2004 and 2014.
I had the chance to see the DBR4 in action thanks to historic car sales specialist Pendine and the Classic & Sports Car Show in association with Flywheel, which was holding a pre-event media day at Bicester Heritage. Seeing it going to work at the former RAF airbase was something to behold, the suspension on full display and full compression as it flicked between corners, often with a bit of tire smoke or at least a slight slide granted by its anorexic tire width.
The Classic & Sports Car Show in association with Flywheel will take place on the weekend of June 23 at Bicester Heritage with a host of iconic cars set to participate, so if you’re keen and nearby, perhaps you’ll have the same opportunity to see some F1 history in motion