Is the Red Dragon really the "ultimate Aston Martin"?
It’s regularly billed as the ‘ultimate’ Aston Martin. It boasts an incomparable race history. And it even enjoys some very close ties with the Goodwood Motor Circuit. Just three of the reasons which made the 1936 ‘Red Dragon’ Speed Model one of the weekend’s historic highlights at the 2017 Revival.
Red Dragon’ is fairly understated in the paddocks. The casual fan could easily wander by without a second glance. It’s only once you get close to this wonderful machine – which is famously marked on its haunches with a Red Dragon, placed there by Welsh racer Dudley Folland – that you start to understand its significance in British motorsport.
At Revival, the car was here to compete once again in its natural habitat, taking part in the pre-war Brooklands Trophy. Looking after ‘Red Dragon’ is Ecurie Bertelli, a UK-based company who specialise in pre-war Aston Martins.
Managing Director Robert Blakemore took a moment within the paddocks to run us through the car’s extensive history once it had returned from Sunday’s run.
“It’s got a fantastic racing history. Probably better than any Aston Martin in the world”, starts Robert. “It’s one of just 23 Speed Models ever produced. It was built within Aston Martin’s experimental workshop.”
It was in that very workshop in 1936 that ‘Red Dragon’ was designed to be the ultimate ‘Ulster’ Aston Martin for British driver, Richard ‘Dick’ Seaman. The team and Seaman hoped to mount a genuine challenge against Germany’s sophisticated new BMW 328s in the most important UK race of the period: the RAC TT held in Northern Ireland.
Interestingly for Goodwood regulars, Seaman – the finest British racing driver of the 1930s and later a winner of the prestigious 1938 German Grand Prix in his works Mercedes-Benz W154 – was born at Aldingbourne House, which still stands today within earshot of the famous Goodwood Motor Circuit.
Unfortunately, for both Seaman and Aston, the Ulster win wasn’t to be with the British driver failing to deliver on race day behind the wheel of ‘Red Dragon’.
“Following that race, it was sold by the works team to Eddie Hertzberger. It went on to do a staggering number of races including two Mille Miglias, two Le Mans 24 Hours, it’s a double Grand Prix-winner and a double Spa 24-hour car.”
After the war, John Wyer and Dudley Folland acquired the services of ‘Red Dragon’. Folland was well-known as a leading Welsh privateer and one of the first internationally-known owner-drivers to compete at Goodwood, not least in the first Ferrari V12 ever to appear in England. Yet another fascinating link between the circuit and this special British car.
John Wyer – who later went on to win the Le Mans 24 hour for Aston Martin as a team manager in the DBR1 – continued to develop ‘Red Dragon’ throughout the post-war period with the car later racing at Goodwood in 1952 with Jack Fairman at the wheel.
“It’s pretty much as it was when Jack Fairman raced it here in 1952,” says Blakemore as he goes on to explain the experience of racing this pre-war classic in 2017 at the Brooklands Trophy.
“The Speed models were the ultimate evolution of pre-war Astons. They’ve got amazing hydraulic brakes which are as good as disc brakes on a modern car, a 2-litre 4-cylinder engine, lots of magnesium alloy components. They are just the ultimate design for pre-war cars. And ‘Red Dragon’ is the ultimate development of the Speed Model.”
“I was testing the car here a few weeks ago. The handling is epic. It is such a delight to take around this track. It is such a sophisticated car for its age.” All good things which held ‘Red Dragon’ in good stead for the weekend’s action, which thankfully was backed up by some very solid final results.
Watching the sleek, elegant vintage race-car hammer round the circuit was a genuine highlight. The car almost always found itself in clear air, making good headway in an efficient, refined, British sort of way. Just as it should be.
“Red Dragon’ was qualified 23rd in the wet, but has now got up to 9th position in the dry, which is a fantastic result for us.” beamed Blakemore.
“It was scary in the wet. But you just put that out of your mind and get on with it. It handles so well which helps. But overall, we’re very happy with the result. All four of our Astons finished well and we’ve had a lovely time.”
It’s cars like ‘Red Dragon’ which truly make all the difference to events like the Goodwood Revival. The car is a competitive, living, fire-breathing dragon even in 2017 and it continues to delight motor racing fans lining the historic Goodwood Circuit, a full 65 years since it last stretched its wings in the Sussex countryside.
Photography by James Lynch and Jochen Van Cauwenberge
Words by Andrew Willis