Tiny Aston Martin was in financial trouble by the time industrialist David Brown bought it in 1947. Of course, the firm already had a checkered history. The very first Aston Martin was built in 1914, though sales didn’t begin until 1921, while the 1930s brought hard times, several changes of ownership, and no radically new models.
But by 1947 there was a new design, laid down during and after the war by Claude Hill. Code-named “Atom,” it featured a box-section multi-tube chassis with all-coil suspension -- independent trailing arms at the front and a live rear axle located by radius rods -- plus a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with pushrod-actuated overhead valves. Trouble was, the old Aston Martin company (then based at Feltham in Middlesex, near London’s still-small Heathrow airport) couldn’t afford to tool up for production.
But the David Brown takeover made fresh funds available, and the Atom duly arrived on the market in 1948 as the Aston Martin DB1, the designation obviously standing for “David Brown, first model.” However, it was only intended as an interim offering. Brown had also acquired Lagonda in 1947 and was busy getting out an all-new Lagonda sedan whose twincam engine would power a forthcoming new Aston.
Though nicely engineered, the DB1 chassis was suited to only very limited production. This undoubtedly made the whole car quite expensive to build. It certainly wasn’t a profitable project, but that didn’t seem to matter. As Brown later admitted, he’d bought Aston and Lagonda merely to “have a bit of fun.”
In truth, the DBI was underpowered and only 15 were ever sold. Its 2.0-liter engine produced a respectable 90 horsepower (SAE), but this was largely negated by the heavy four-seat convertible bodywork fitted to most examples. However, there was one light -- and successful -- DB1: a sparsely equipped two-seat sports racer that won the Belgian Spa 24-Hour race in 1948 in the capable hands of “Jock” Horsefall and Leslie Johnson. No replicas, however, were ever produced.
The standard convertible shell was styled by ex-Lagonda employee Frank Feeley, who had been responsible for such luscious creations as the 1930s V-12 Lagondas and the new 2.6-liter Lagonda sedan then reaching production. The Aston Martin DB1 bore the characteristic front-end treatment that would be carried forward on the more famous DB2, and had long, sweeping lines.
The Aston Martin DB1 engine was never used in any other Aston or Lagonda. And since no tooling and few spare parts were ever produced, keeping this British rarity on the road won’t be easy or cheap. Such is the price of history.
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