Aston Martin DBR1
The world of historic cars is getting very excited by Fifties endurance race cars. As banal as it may be to reduce the performance of a car like the DBR1 to its fiscal value, it’s inevitable: In August 2017, the original Aston Martin racer sold at auction in Monterey for £17.5 million. According to Joe Kosinski, the car in the movie is the real thing, so assuming Pete “Maverick” Mitchell doesn’t have a sideline in Grand Theft Auto, it’s just another part of the movie that requires audiences to suspend their disbelief. How could a naval captain afford such a thing?
I ask Kosinski if he knows how much the DBR1 is worth. Stupid question. “I do. That’s why I didn’t dare drive it. But I thought Tom could cover it if he crashed it. [He] took me for a spin in it. They lit it one day, took about half an hour to heat it up, and they said, ‘Would anyone like to take it out?’ And Tom said, ‘I’ll do it!’ He dropped the clutch, peeled off and took me up the runway at about 130 mph. I got a great photo of the two of us. It was amazing.”
Why the mysticism? In the 1950s, the DBR1 was part of a cadre of race cars in which form and function came together in spectacular fashion: rivals included the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, Jaguar D-type, Maserati 450S and Mercedes 300 SLR. They were designed to run for 12 or 24 hours, which pushed the engineers and drivers to their limits, in an era when auto racing was still an often deadly endeavor. They are now among the most sought-after and valuable of all, examples hailed by Ralph Lauren, to name a few as a leading collector.
Aston Martin’s patron at the time was British industrialist David Brown, who coveted victory in the greatest race of all, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The DBR1 featured a custom spaceframe chassis, engine and rear transaxle, all clad in an ultra-lightweight, thin aluminum skin. There were highs and lows from his 1956 debut, including a fantastic win for Stirling Moss at the Nürburgring, but victory at Le Mans finally came in 1959 when American, er, maverick Carroll Shelby and co-driver Roy Salvadori broke what would be a seven-race winning streak for Ferrari in the French classic. In fact, a DBR1 scored a one-two at Le Mans in ’59, prompting David Brown to wrap up the race schedule and retire with Aston Martin leading the way.
The presence of the car in Top Gun: Maverick might test our credulity, but it’s clear evidence that the key figures know their trade.