‘The good news is the car isn’t completely rooted, the bad news is I can’t get it going…’
Eric Thomson giving the Aston Martin team the sad news that the impressive run by the big Lagonda (Development Project) DP115 V12 has come to an abrupt halt. As the pictures show it was not for lack of trying. He spun and crashed the car in The Esses.
Thomson got the car mobile and back to the pits but it was retired after completing 26 laps, co-driver Dennis Poore didn’t get a drive in the race. Froilan Gonzalez and Maurice Trintignant won in a Ferrari 375 Plus, click on this article i wrote a while back;
Eric Thomson blasts the brutally handsome Lagonda DP115 towards ‘White House’ during the early hours of the ’54 Le Mans…
He was running strongly in 3rd place at that stage of the race in a field that year which included the Ferrari 375 Plus, D Type Jags making their Le Mans debut, Cunningham C4R Chrysler V8’s, the DB3S were also potential outright cars in the ‘right circumstances’, the V6 Lancia D24’s and Porsche 550 Spyders to ‘pick up the scraps’.
Lagonda’s new car during early tests on 22 April 1954.
Gearbox/transmission manufacturer David Brown bought Aston Martin and Lagonda, the acquisitions made as he admired the newly developed box-section Aston Martin chassis and the W.O. Bentley/’Willie’ Watson designed Lagonda straight-six engine. Initially he made the focus on road car development, the Aston’s used the old four cylinder engines.
One of these was hurriedly prepared for the 1948 Spa 24 Hours and won! It was the start of Aston Martin’s renewed racing efforts, both as a works team and selling racers as customer cars into the dawn of the sixties.
Using the Lagonda design as a basis, Aston Martin developed a new ‘DB3S’ sports racer at the start of the 1953 season. It was a good 3 litre class car, but as an outright car it was bested by Lancia, Ferrari and Jaguar ‘heavy metal’. The CSI didn’t mandate a 3litre capacity upper limit for Sports Cars, to slow them down, until the start of 1958.
To compete for outright victory Aston Martin needed a larger more powerful engine, but there was no road going Aston into which to fit such an engine to make the project economically feasible.
Brown therefore decided to revive the Lagonda name and design a new V12 for both a racer and Lagonda road car.
‘Willie’ Watson developed a 4.5 V12 engine. Following the basic design elements of the straight six, the new engine featured twin overhead camshafts and two plugs per cylinder. To keep weight down, the engine was cast in aluminium. Equipped with three quad-choke Webers it initially produced 280 bhp, but with development there was the potential for much more. Mated to a four speed ‘box, the engine was installed into an enlarger and ‘beefed up’ DB3S chassis. Similarly the body was DB3S derived albeit with three separate front air intakes.
During its first test, with David Brown at the wheel ‘DP115’ caught fire! The car was hurriedly repaired to contest the 1954 Silverstone ‘International Trophy’ F1 meeting supporting sportscar race, Reg Parnell finished 5th, well behind the Ferraris and Jaguars, but ahead of its 3 litre class winning sibling Astons.
By then after some fettling the engine produced circa 310 bhp, whereas the Ferrari’s claimed outputs were of greater than 350bhp. Initial problems included cold starting and handling characteristics, but there was no time to do the necessary development work before Le Mans on 12/13 June.
For Le Mans the four speed gearbox was replaced by a stronger five speeder and the nose of the modified with a single larger air-intake similar the DB3S.
Aston Martin entered 2 DP115s, but one was withdrawn and replaced by a 4th DB3S. The cars handling contributed to Eric Thompson’s spin after 2 hours, whilst lying in 3rd place. After the strenuous efforts clear in the photos he managed to coax the big V12 back to the Aston pits, but it was damaged too badly to be made raceworthy. In a poor race for the team none of the other Astons finished.
The other DP115 first raced in the 1955 British Grand Prix support sportscar race, it finished 4th behind three DB3S. Neither car was raced again.
The cars 1954 results were poor but unsurprising with a relatively new and underdeveloped chassis and engine. Undeterred, for 1955, Brown’s team built two new multi-tubular spaceframe/backbone chassis to which the engine was fitted, the cars were designated ‘DP166’.
One car was entered at the ’55 Le Mans, driven by Reg Parnell and Dennis Poore the Lagonda DP166 retired after 93 laps of the tragic race with fuel feed problems. That was the effective end of the V12 program. Encouraging for Brown was the 2nd place finish of the DB3S driven by growing GP star Peter Collins and equally developing endurance racer Paul Frere.
The focus for the next few years was the DB3S program. The chassis of both DP166s were later used to form the basis of the Aston Martin DBR2s. Le Mans and World Sportscar Championship success came of course in 1959 with the glorious 3 litre DBR1’s…
Checkout this website of Michael Green’s, his mother, father and uncle worked at Aston’s during these years, his recollections fascinating reading…
Tailpiece: Merde! Thomson gets plenty of advice from the Aston pit…