Aston Martin DB3: DNF in '52, On My Shelf in '19

This is a 1952 Aston Martin DB3 that DNF'ed at Le Mans in 1952

Le Mans in 1952 was an impossibly pretty race. With a lineup of Cunningham C4-Rs, Talbot-Lagos, Jaguar C-Types, Ferrari 340s, Mercedes 300SLs, Porsche 356SLs, Gordinis, Monopoles, Ferrari 250 Vignales, Allards, and, of course, Aston Martins, how could it not be? It must've sounded amazing, too.

The car featured here was neither the prettiest (that honor, to me, goes to the Gordini T15S) nor the fastest (I mean, it didn't even finish), but it's a beautiful car nonetheless and it did win a spot on my shelf, so there's that.

It was a Christmas present from my ten year-old son, which already makes it incredibly special, and a brilliant example of what simple lines can do to shape a beautiful car body. No line is wasted or superfluous, while the characteristic Aston shapes are easily identified. Plus, it's British racing green!

The Race

The race started pretty uneventfully for the Aston Martin team, led by John Wyer (yes, that John Wyer, of Gulf Porsche fame), even though one of the cars, the #26, had crashed during practice and had to be replaced by the spare car. However, by nightfall two of the Astons retired due to differential issues.

Around the half-way mark the race was led by Pierre Levegh, who was attempting a solo 24-hour run, followed by two Mercedes 300SLs, and then our plucky #25 DB3 driven by Lance Macklin and Peter Collins.

Noon the next day, the #25 was still in fourth (you can see it at around the 3:07 mark in the video above), Levegh was amazingly still in 1st, having driven nearly 20 hours by that point, and the two Mercedes' had switched places, but still ran 2-3. The Aston had a bit of a scare when smoke poured from its rear axle, but a quick trip to the pits (and a drop to fifth place) saw the Aston right back into things. Not two hours later, however, the DB3 experienced even more heartache, as an accident saw the final works car drop out.

As a side-note of even more heartache, Pierre Levegh would be forced to drop out just 70 minutes from completing his solo effort, when at Maison Blanche his engine failed, allegedly due to a missed gear change because Levegh didn't have a functioning rev counter at that point in the race.

The two 300SLs that had been spending basically the previous 23 hours in P2-3 now led and would go on to win, with a Nash-Healey rounding out the podium.

The Drivers

Lance Macklin is sadly not known for his impressive results on-track. Born to an automotive entrepreneur in 1919, he decided to become a race car driver after demobilizing from the Royal Navy after WWII. He spent four years in Formula one, scoring zero points, and will sadly mostly be known for his involvement in the infamous 1955 Le Mans crash that killed both the aforementioned Pierre Levegh and 83 spectators. He was the one who swerved to avoid Mike Hawthorn's car trying to enter the pit late, and then got hit by Levegh, who careened into the crowd. Macklin was unhurt, but was urged to retire from motorsports by his girlfriend after another incident in 1955 in which he again was unhurt but two other drivers were killed.

Peter Collins also started his racing career after WWII, racing in British Formula 3. His breakthrough came when at a party he met John Wyer and scored a test drive in an Aston Martin at Silverstone, leading to contracts with both Aston and the HWM Formula 2 team, where he would partner with Lance Macklin and Stirling Moss. He moved up to Formula 1 in 1952 when he replaced Moss there in the HWM. He performed well at Aston Martin throughout the early and mid-1950s, including 2nd place at Le Mans in both 1955 and 1956.

He spent most of the later 1950s at Ferrari, until his untimely death at the 1958 German GP, where he was flung from his car and hit a tree during an intense battle with Tony Brook and his Vanwall. His death caused one of his best friends, Ferrari teammate Mike Hawthorn, to retire from racing after winning the 1958 drivers championship. The closeness of their friendship can be illustrated by an episode in which Collins deliberately damaged the clutch in his and Hawthorn's Ferrari at Le Mans in 1958 to avoid having to drive during a fierce rain storm. He was then sacked by Ferrari, but Hawthorn refused to start the next F1 race unless Collins was allowed to race as well. Ferrari gave in, Collins finished 5th, and was subsequently sacked again, causing Hawthorn to storm into Ferrari HQ in Modena, telling Enzo that he would never race for him again unless Collins was rehired. Ferrari, again, relented.

The Model

This is a 1:43 by Spark, and though it didn't finish, it does have the distinction of being the longest lasting DB3 in the race. And in any case it's a beautifully executed model, as we are used to from Spark, of course. All the decals and details are there, and this being an open-top model, I can drop my favorite 1:43 test driver, Mr. Patrick Tambay!

Though it isn't a Porsche racer, and therefore does not really fit into my usual collection goals, I love the look, the shape, and the story, and that, I think, is what collecting is all about.

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Comments (4)

  • Great car/model, great pics, great write-up. I can't believe Levegh not only tried to run a 24 by himself, but also almost won it. Great post my friend.

      1 year ago
    • Thanks!! And yes! What a feat that would've been. Apparently he was having engine troubles near the start and didn't want to give his co-driver a hampered car, since I guess he had figured out how to finesse it. So he just went the whole way....

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        1 year ago
    • Pretty cool that the model was a gift from your son too. Good taste is genetic I see.

        1 year ago