The Ferrari 250 GTO which recently sold for a new world record price at auction obviously turned out to be a real attention-grabber. But over the same weekend, a direct competitor to the GTO, a much rarer Aston Martin, also sold for a world record sum.
That Aston was the DP215, raced at Le Mans in 1963 where it was in fact even faster than the Ferrari 250 GTOs. But the DP215 broke after two hours. Nonetheless the Aston became famous for being the first car to officially record a top speed of over 300 km/h down the Mulsanne straight of Le Mans. It was also the last competition car ever to be built by Aston Martin. That legend sold for just short of $ 21.5 million at the same sale as the famed Ferrari GTO.
But where did the DP origin from? Well, as the better known DB4 GT and Zagatos were not really competitive, Aston Martin upped the ante with a project focusing on advanced aerodynamics. Which worked, i.e. that famed top speed of the DP215. But that car was in essence a true prototype and entered at Le Mans as such. The beginning was humbler: The DP212 of 1962 was the first DP and retained much more of the production DB4-basis.
In that respect the DP212 might in fact be the most important one: It set off the program of Aston Martin’s project cars – and it is not least, just like the DP215, a true one-off. However, contrary to the DP215, the original 212 is no more – at least not in its original form. Which makes it something of a unicorn.
It is indeed unique – in the true sense of the word. It was built solely to compete at Le Mans in 1962 and focused on aerodynamics even more so than did Zagato with the fabulous (and common-as-GTOs…) DB4 GT Zagato. Even though the underpinnings were much the same, the DP212 did in fact prove a lot faster. In addition, the same Tadek Marek-designed straight-6 received an extra serving of displacement to reach over four-litres and in this form it dished out in excess of 300 horsepower. Instant succes, as the DP212 was so fast that it led Le Mans in 1962 – just after the start with the talented Graham Hill behind the wheel. But after six hours, the DP 212 died – from ninth place. With an engine failure – but at least the aerodynamics had worked just as intended.
At least in part: At this time in the history of automotive aerodynamics, the balance between low wind resistance and high directional stability was not fully understood. You obviously need both at Le Mans, and during the race in 1962, it became obvious that with the DP212 the balance had tilted too much towards slipperiness, resulting in the car being quite unstable at high speed. Not particularly reassuring as the car was one of the fastest on the long Mulsanne straight; at that time six kilometers of unrestricted, pedal-to-the-metal, full power!
As a result, development carried on after the race and DP212 eventually received a radical new rear end treatment – namely with a sharply cut-off Kamm-tail. With this new bodywork, DP212 went to the training at Le Mans again in 1963, where Aston Martin also brought two brand new DP cars, the 214 and 215. Superficially looking much the same as the (now modified 212), but the 214 and 215 were in fact much further developments of the DP-theme – to the degree where they were more prototype sports car racer than they were modified road cars.
Sadly, DP212 never got any further than training at Le Mans in 1963, and only the two newer cars took part in the 24-hour race. Phil Hill was behind the wheel of one of them, and he is said to be the first man to exceed 300 km/h down the famed Mulsanne straight before chicanes were introduced. So it seemed the aerodynamics were indeed even better than on the 212 from the year before.
But despite the further development of these DP race cars, the DP212 was still the first and in many ways the most important DP. I even want to add that it might also be the sexiest. In truth, I have never really liked the abruptly cut off Kamm-tail of the later bodywork – although it seems that Aston Martin themselves found it appealing, as it was later recycled onto the DB6 road car.
In addition, DP212 was also the most active of the DPs. Yes, even though it did not run at Le Mans in 1963, it was in fact never truly retired: In 1964, it was registered for road use! Incredibly, then fitted with an even more powerful 4.2-litre engine, it must have been any British motorway’s horror. Ahhh, those were the days, weren’t they?
DP212 was also campaigned in several lesser races, and from there its new career path was set: During the seventies this most active race career continued as it was raced extensively in club and amateur racing – and with quite some success too. The tradition continued, and DP212 was even a contender at the very first Goodwood Revival Meeting in 1998, reaching a second place in the epic TT race for GT cars. In 1999, it was damaged during the same race, and then received a thorough restoration of the exquisite aluminium bodywork. After that, it was a very frequent visitor at Goodwood, and the name of its new owner Wolfgang Friedrichs will probably be familliar to many ViaRETRO readers with an interest in historic motorsports: He is diligent to vent his Aston Martins, also at Spa and Nürburgring on mainland Europe. Finally in 2013, he and DP212 won at Goodwood in a very wet race where more powerful cars could not take full advantage of their extra muscle: Fifty years after the Le Mans failure, DP212 finally won what had by now become a major (historic) race.
Considering the fact that the DP212 is both unique and as such also practically invaluable, it must surely be considered as sportsmanship of the highest degree and very much in the original spirit of the cars history, that Friedrichs continues to campaign the car as it was originally intended – racing it to the limit. I have had the immense pleasure of experiencing it race at both Goodwood and Spa, and this is clearly the next best thing when one simply wasn’t born early enough to be there in 1962.