Posts Tagged ‘Aston Martin DB2’

Frank Feeley, Designer (right) and Aston Martin’s owner David Brown with a clay model of Feeley’s Aston Martin DB3S in the Feltham design studio, 1954…

It would be interesting to know the occasion of this factory PR shot, the DB3S first appeared at Charterhall in May 1953 so it seems unlikely it was about that model Aston. The clay model is also notable, in comparison with the final design, for the distance behind the rear wheel arch which is shorter on the production car than the clay. The DB3 was much more slab-sider than its younger sibling too wasn’t it? The cutaway front arch, such an outstanding feature of the DB3S design is clearly shown. The rendering on the wall behind the two fellows is also intriguing, I wonder what it is?

I wrote an article about one of Aston’s sexiest models, the DB3S, not so long ago, click here to read it;

https://primotipo.com/2017/09/28/david-mckays-aston-martin-db3ss/

Two of Frank Feeley’s designs at Le Mans in 1949. #29 DB1 driven by Lawrie/Parker to 10th and #28 DB2 driven by Marechal/Mathieson DNF. Race won by the Chinetti/Thomson/Selsdon Ferrari 166MM (unattributed)

Feeley is said by some to be a forgotten man of Aston Martin…

 It seems odd really as he shaped all post-war Astons up to but excluding the DB4, most notably the DB3 and DB3S racers.

Feeley, whose father also worked there, joined Lagonda as a teenager at 14, initially he was the office boy under Arthur Thatcher, the assistant works manager.

By 25 he was their ‘Body Designer’, succeeding Walter Buckingham. The commercial viability of Lagonda as an independent firm was weakened when Briggs Motor Bodies exited an agreement to build Lagonda’s bodies to take on more profitable and larger deals with Jowett and Ford. Lagonda had closed their own body shop, with times being tight, Feeley and WO Bentley were shown the door.

David Brown bought Aston Martin, famously spotting a ‘For Sale’ advertisement in ‘The Times’, he paid the princely sum of twenty thousand- five hundred pounds for the business. Shortly thereafter he also bought Lagonda, creating, you guessed it, Aston Martin Lagonda. Needing a body man Brown approached Feeley who took on the role despite some misgivings.

Aston DB2 in 1949. It is the #28 car in the 1949 Le Mans photo above when first built. The car was without brakes for a long period of the race, Pierre Marechal crashed at White House on Sunday, then rolled with the unfortunate driver dying of his injuries the following day. ‘LMA/49/1’ was scrapped, the engine transferred into a DB1 (unattributed)

Feeley’s first work for the nascent AML was a roofless, rebodied Atom which ‘…was a sweeping open tourer derived from his pre-war ideas to modernise the Lagonda V12 and featured a new design of radiator grille. This had a vertically slatted centre section based on the original Aston radiator and a pair of low side grilles flanking it. Fifteen were built with the car retrospectively called the DB1’.

No doubt Cisitalia and Ferrari influenced the shape of the DB2 which was built on a shortened version of the Claude Hill designed ladder frame chassis- the car was created quickly to run at Le Mans in 1949. ‘We drew the chassis in and I immediately drew up the whole thing around it, the whole shape. Their was no time to change my mind once I had done it’ Feeley recalled.

The DB2 continued the DB1’s three-piece grille form, in a simplified one piece design, which set the template for the Aston grille shape which continues today.

David McKay’s first Aston DB3S ‘102’ in the leafy Sydney North Shore suburbs in the mid-fifties (pallas1970)

The DB3S is favourite car for so many of us such is its purity of curvaceous line. Cutaway front arches were its innovation, the practical element of this approach was to draw heat out of the engine bay. ‘Feeley had got fed up with the chassis engineers never knowing where they were going to put the exhaust pipes, so he decided it for them by running the pipes through the cutaways’. By this stage Frank’s duties extended to managing the body-builders, initially Mulliners of Birmingham and later Tickford in Newport Pagnell, a David Brown acquisition.

But times were changing, John Wyer was instrumental in the rejection of Feeley’s proposal for the coming DB4 in favour of Touring of Milan. This, and the concentration of activity at Newport Pagnell, where the DB4 was to be built, rather than at Feltham near Feeley’s home signalled it was time to leave. He worked in the aircraft industry and continued to live in his native Staines until his death in 1985.

In terms of contribution post-war Feeley is up there with Astons best- Claude Hill, Harold Beach, Ted Cutting, Tadek Marek, John Wyer and David Brown himself. Not a forgotten man at all me-thinks?

The works Aston’s before the off- Le Mans 1949: #27 is the Jones/Haines 7th placed DB2, the #28 DB2 in front of it, then the #19 Johnson/Brackenbury DB2, DNF water pump (unattributed)

Bibliography…

 Article by John Simister in ‘Vantage’ Magazine November 2014, ‘Aston Martin: The Racing Cars’ Anthony Pritchard

 Photo Credits…

 Getty Images, pallas1970

 Tailpiece: It’s a winner I think…

 

 

duke assen

British multiple world champion Geoff Duke on his way to 2nd aboard his Manx Norton 500 at Assen in 1952, winner Umberto Masetti, Gilera…

Duke was world champion six times with 33 GP wins and dominated 1950’s racing. He won three of his titles on Nortons (1950/51/52).

Duke’s pace was critical to Norton who were fighting to maintain competitiveness as their ‘singles’ struggled against more advanced, powerful multi-cylinder engines of the Italians and AJS at home.

Their ‘Featherbed’ racing frame was at the cutting edge though. Isle of Man TT racer Harold Daniell was quoted as saying that it was like ‘riding on a featherbed’ compared to conventional racing frames.  The frame featured a lower center of gravity and shorter wheelbase, combined with careful engine placement to maximise handling.

duke 350

Duke more successful in 1952 350cc GP at Assen, victorious. Norton. (unattributed)

In ’53, being underpaid by Norton he moved to Gilera, the pay deal sweetened by inclusion of a new Lancia B20. He repaid Gilera’s faith in him winning three 500 championships ‘on the trot’, from 1953-5.

Duke also dabbled in cars, securing a podium finish in the 1952 Goodwood Easter handicap in a works Aston Martin DB3 behind 2 Jaguar XK120’s.

Aston Martin Team Manager John Wyer, wrote of Duke’s immediate pace in his autobiography; ‘Duke really was sensational right from the start. The car was one of the lightweight DB2’s and he asked me not to time him during the first session as he was just going to go out and get the feel of the car. In fact i did time him, just for my own interest and in that first spell he was only a second slower than the best time any of our drivers had done on that track. In the very next session he lapped faster than any of our team drivers had ever done-i promptly signed him up!’

berne

Reg Parnell in DB2 #14 with Duke immediately behind him at the start of sports car race at the 1952 Berne GP meeting. Benz SL300’s, Lancia B20, Ferrari et al. (Vantage)

In May 1952 he and Reg Parnell contested a sports car race at Berne during the Swiss GP meeting, Duke was 4th in an Aston DB2 behind 3 factory Mercedes Benz 300SL’s, having qualified 5th but starting at the rear of the grid, having used his teammate Reg Parnell’s car in qualifying. Duke’s car was the only car not to be lapped by the Mercs’ until his car lapsed onto 5 cylinders for the last 2 laps of the race. Alfred Neubauer was so impressed he offered him a Mercedes test drive on the spot, 2 years before the same offer was made to Stirling Moss.

In a demonstration of his virtuosity Duke also won the 350cc Berne GP for bikes aboard his Manx Norton on the same weekend.

moss and duke

A youthful Geoff Duke and hirsute Stirling Moss at the ‘British Empire Trophy’ meeting IOM 1952. Moss drove Frazer Nash Le Mnas Rep DNF. Handicap race won by Pat Griffith in a Lester MG. (unattributed)

Duke was to win the Isle of Man TT 6 times, his circuit knowledge put to good effect by Astons’ who entered him in a DB3 in the British Empire Trophy race in late May 1952. His car, DB3/1 was the 2.6 litre engined prototype which had already done considerable miles at Monthlery. Duke led for most of the race and set the fastest lap but retired with a broken crankshaft. ‘Motorsport’ magazine observed that ‘His run was a fine introduction to long distance motor racing’.

He also led the 1953 Sebring 12 Hour in another DB3 until crashing the car he shared with Peter Collins, the two young Brits retired on lap 52. Duke recalled; ‘ Peter was a very fine driver, he drove the first stint and built up a commanding lead, which i then managed to maintain. Unfortunately i went for a gap on the inside of an MG on a slower corner when i really should have waited and powered by on the next straight..anyway i drifted into a collision with the MG and then spun into a concrete filled oil drum which broke the suspension.’

duke iom

Geoff Duke, Aston Martin DB3, ‘British Empire Trophy’, Isle of Man 1952. (unattributed)

When the next race at Silverstone ended in disappointment and frustration after clutch problems, the atmosphere in the team also tense as the ‘mere motorbike rider’ was the subject of some resentment from the established drivers and ‘starlet’ Peter Collins; Duke decided to quit cars and focus on a lucrative ‘bikes only’ deal with Gilera. As related above, Geoff then won 3 500cc titles for the Italians on the trot. The Gilera deal meant he never did take up the Mercedes test drive offer…

duke and collins

Duke at the wheel with Peter Collins testing or demonstrating a DB3 Aston. Despite the frivolity their was tension in the team between ‘newbee’ motorcyclist Duke and some of the drivers, including, according to Duke, Collins who was also recruited in 1952. (Vantage)

His 1955 World Title with Gilera was his last, he lead a riders strike over privateers pay and was then banned from racing for 6 months. Injuries and Gileras’ withdrawal from racing interfered with the following seasons, he finally retired from ‘bikes in 1959 returning to cars one last time.

He contested several 1960 Formula Junior events in a Chequered Flag entered, front engined Gemini Mk2 Ford, his best result 7th in the International Trophy at Silverstone in May, Jim Clark won in his Lotus 18. It was a good run, future GP drivers, Jim Clark, John Surtees, Peter Arundell and Mike Spence were in front of him in mid-engined cars.

He raced at the Monaco GP FJ curtain raiser in May but spun on the first lap. He qualified 10th, those in front of him included Henry Taylor, Trevor Taylor, Jim Clark, Peter Arundell and Colin Davis.

monaco

Monaco GP, FJ pits. #102 Graham Warner 15th # 98 Geoff Duke DNF spin Gemini Mk 2 Fords. Thats Duke in the driving suit to the right of his car. #60 Kurt Lincoln Cooper T52BMC 5th. (Brad Ward)

He also raced a Reg Parnell Racing Lotus 18 Climax in several later 1960 F2 events at Aintree, Snetterton and Brands Hatch in August DNF in all events.

His final race was also Duke’s only F1 race. He was entered in the Fred Tuck owned, outdated Cooper T45 Climax in the 1961 Non-Championship ‘Kanonloppet’ at Karlskoga, Sweden on 20 August. The cars gearbox locked on lap 10 causing a huge crash which damaged his ribs, broke a collar bone, cracked his pelvis as well as causing a collapsed lung and trauma to the heart muscle…

It was a sad end to a great racing career by any measure.

duke on bike

The schoolboy idol at the start of an Ulster GP year uncertain. Manx Norton. Duke was ‘British Sportsman of The Year’ in 1951, a ‘Superstar’ before the term was invented. (Vantage)

From a car racing viewpoint, and hindsight is a wonderful thing, Duke was 37 when he returned to four wheels. He should have focused on sports cars, or if hell bent on single-seaters he should have, given the promise he showed in the outmoded front-engined Gemini in 1960 done another year in FJ in a Lotus 20 and used any success as a launchpad into a decent GP car, racing an ‘old nail’ Cooper in F1 was not a smart thing to do. Hindsight of course as i say…

The last word on Duke’s potential in a car from Astons’/JW Automotive’s John Wyer; ‘The generally accepted judgement is that Duke was a very great motorcyclist who failed to make the transition to cars. But i maintain that i had more opportunity to evaluate him than anyone else and i am convinced he had great potential. I will always regard his early retirement from the Aston Martin team as a real loss to motor racing’.

iom gilera

Duke aboard one of his beloved Gilera fours at The IOM. (unattributed)

He ran his own motor cycle racing team in 1963, ‘Scuderia Duke’ running John Hartle and Derek Minter on old Gilera’s. Duke ran one of his old bikes in a demonstration at Oulton Park and was immediately quick on modern tyres. Hartle took a 500cc win at Assen but only after Mike Hailwood retired his dominant MV. It was a brave season and largely funded by Duke when promised backers withdrew.

Geoff then focused successfully on a number of business interests mainly centred on The Isle of Man, where he lived, including hotels, shipping and the Duke Video company which was run by his son.

He died on 1 May 2015, born 29 March 1923.

duke astons

Duke in Aston Martin racing ‘clobber’ 1952. (unattributed)

Click on this link to a tribute to Geoff Duke…

Et cetera…

duke cartoon

(unattributed)

duke lancia

Duke and his Gilera company car, a Lancia B20. (unattributed)

Credits…unattributed/Russell Burrows, selvedgeyard.com, Brad Ward, ‘Vantage’ magazine, Patrick Ryan Collection, John Wyer ‘The Certain Sound’

Finito…