CHAPTER 4: (A story of the restoration of) Aston Martin DB3s


00-03_Aston_Martin_DB3S-04-200pxDuring one of my infrequent visits to Auto Restorations, a collection of parts, chassis body etc, which looked as if they had come from a farmyard scrap heap, were lying where they had been dumped out of a large crate. They had come from a farmyard all right but had that look of class and dignity that only good breeding can give. A few questions elicited the information that it was an Aston Martin DB3S of 1956 vintage and in fact had finished second, with Moss and Collins driving, at that year's Le Mans.

It was one of the last of the breed of "racing sports" cars, such as Jaguar C and D types, 4.5 litre Ferrari and Maseratis, which were not too far removed from production cars, and in many cases shared components. The late 1950 and 1960s saw new breeds of purposebuilt "sports racing" cars such as Ferraris, Ford GT40, Peugeot, Porsche, Matra and so on. Aston Martin built the DBRI with which they won Le Mans in 1959. These later, no-compromi e cars were built for just one thing - winning races - and were in their own way nominally two seat Grand Prix cars.

The Aston Martin had been sold by the factory to an Australian where it had raced for some five years before being dismantled in 1962/63 by a West Australian farmer hoping to restore it.

When I decided to write on the restoration of these cars, or rather the rebirth of them, I set out to get some background on each one. I read extensively all I could find and was fortunate in that my son-in-law, Peter Blake, had quite a library on Aston Martins. The saga of the DB3S really begins back in 1946 when a North of England industrialist David Brown purchased both the Aston Martin and Lagonda car manufacturing companies. The former company was bought it is believed so as to enable David Brown to dabble in motor racing and Lagonda so as to acquire the design of a new 2.3 litre engine they had designed and developed. On racing a two litre prototype Aston Martin sports car acquired with the purchase, they won the 1947 Spa 24 hour race in Belguim. The decision was then made to build and race coupes based on this prototype using both the 2 litre engine and the ex Lagonda 2.3 litre engine enlarged to 2.6 litres. The new cars were raced at Le Mans in 1949 where a 2 litre car finished 7th.

The 2.6 litre car expired after six laps. Better results at Spa saw the 2.6 litre car finish 3rd overall and second in the three litre class. This success was enough for Aston Martin to invest in a purpose built sports car with which to contest the major races. The design was to be prepared by the recently employed Prof. Robert von Eberhorst, who had a most  impressive record, having been a designer at Auto Union in the 1930s. The mighty German Auto Union and Mercedes Benz Grand Prix cars of the 1930s were all conquering and their designers were held in the highest regard.

The new Aston Martin was designated the DB3 but was not to deliver the success hoped for. It was overweight, had handling problems and took considerable development before becoming competitive enough to give its only reasonable result, winning the nine hour race at Goodwood in August 1952.

00-03_Aston_Martin_DB3S-18-200pxBy then it was realised that a new development of what was basically a sound design was needed. Enter Willie Watson who came to Aston Martin in 1952 as a senior design engineer. He was very capable and would pursue some idea which took his fancy at the moment. By such wanderings in the otherwise organised train of events, are new directions sometimes found. Everything starts with nothing more than an idea - just a small one usually which is then bandied about, first in the original person's mind and then by a larger team until a workable package is put together. Not many are gifted enough to have an idea, work it through and then carry out the practical work which will make it happen. How often do we hear, “I thought of that a long time ago,” when some new method or invention becomes news. An idea is just that, a figment of the imagination, the easy bit really until it is shown to be a practical, worthwhile way of doing the task, be it a better race car or a mousetrap.

Watson took his concept of a new car to John Wyer first who was quick to realise the potential. The idea was that they crank the 4 inch diameter side members of the chassis outward between the front and rear wheels, lower the overall profile and narrow the car down, shorten the wheel base and generally build in lightness. A reduction of gauge in the main chassis frame from 14 and 12 gauge down to 16 and 14 gauge, reduced the tracks from 4 feet 3 inches front and rear down to 4 feet 1 inch and shortening the wheelbase from 7 feet 9 inches to 7 feet 3 inches and so produced a shorter, smaller overall profile car with weight down from 2010 lb to 1850 Ib.The reduction in frontal area was most important as a square foot less there is better value than several yards of streamlined, contoured body shape.

Another change was David Browns' Gear Works producing a spiral bevel final drive unit with an alloy casing. This was to replace the Salisbury bypoid, which had a heavy iron casing and had always been prone to give trouble as at Le Mans in 1952. With the new purpose built unit, the change was made to locate the De Dion tube by a sliding block in a slot on…

Story continued in pdf download


(Link to Aston Martin DB3s restoration gallery here)