RM Sotheby’s Monterey Sale Preview
1963 Aston Martin DP215 Grand Touring Competition Prototype

Knotty Nawadhinsukh Words by Knotty Nawadhinsukh
DP215 original seats were found and refurbished

Grabbing the headlines as one of the major finds of this year’s RM Sotheby’s Monterey Sale during the 24th and 25th of August would undoubtedly be this one and only Aston Martin Design Project 215 or “DP215”—the fastest front-engined racer ever to be clocked at Le Mans’ fabled Mulsanne Straight.

The great Phil Hill managed to take it just a shade under 200 mph on the Mulsanne during '63 Le Mans qualifying

The prototype, built to take on the might of the all-conquering Ferrari 250 GTOs in GT racing in the early Sixties, carries with it a tremendous background and quite a colourful history.

With then company owner David Brown’s intention of a world sports car racing programme based on the existing DB4 GTs, DP215 as it turned out was the final incarnation of the works team effort under Brown’s reign, following the previous DB4 GT Zagatos, the DP212s and DP214s. As it was designed to be the lightest and the fastest among these Aston “Specials”, with the more powerful  4.0-litre Inline-6-cylinder dry sump unit engineered by Tadek Marek, one could say that this DP215 was the “ultimate” of them all before the company decided to withdraw from motor racing officially by 1964.

Very subtle visual differences of the prototype compared to DP214 included a mere one & a half inches lower front hood

The car’s first outing was no less than the 1963 Le Mans 24 Hours. Co-driven by Lucien Bianchi and 1961 F1 World Champion Phil Hill (who already severed ties with Ferrari by then), the lone DP215 ran with a pair of DP214s at the sharp end before gearbox problems led to its retirement. its most notable achievement though was the fact it was the first and fastest car to go over 300 kph (319.6 km/h to be precise) on the original chicane-less Mulsanne Straight.

Originally "ENP 246B", the GT road racer was re-registered as "XMO 88" after second restoration

It raced again later that year on another French countryside at Reims 12 Hours where it too retired because of transmission woes in the hands of Jo Schlesser. After stepping away from competition and with a better sorted 5-speed transmission, DP215 became more of a development car. That is until it was involved in a road accident and the remains was sold off.

The current gearbox from DP212 was expertly crafted by Crosthwaite & Gardiner to perform just like the lost S532 transmission

The one-off Aston Martin went through a series of attempts to rebuild it back to its original 1963 form for decades after. That proved to be quite a challenge throughout much of its life, given that the original engine and the transmission went missing after the crash! Instead an alternative motor in the form of a 4.2 Litre Cooper-Aston was fitted and mated with a ZF gearbox to allow the prototype to continue to enter and compete in a number of historic races during the Nineties.

Interior now included a speedometer (and door pockets!) to be road-legal

But under the current ownership of father and son, Neil and Nigel Corner, DP215 is now as close as it can be like when it was first conceived. The chassis and body had been faithfully restored, thanks to having the actual original designer of DP215 Ted Cutting be involved with the project since the Corners’ acquisition, as well as assisting with the re-engineering of the existing gearbox to resemble the original (which was the better S532 unit used after it retired from racing)  with noted historic racing parts specialist, Crosthwaite & Gardiner. Crucially however the original engine, number 400/215/01, which had previously been with one of the two DP214s after all these years, was finally reunited with the car.

“Reunited And It Feels So Good”—It took several decades to get the original dry sump engine back, with +300 bhp on tap

It will therefore be extremely interesting to see how this one-of-a-kind grand tourer, which is very much a part of the Aston Martin motor racing history, will fare at RM Sotheby’s auction this coming month.

(Estimate: US$18,000,000 – $22,000,000)

“I Coulda Been A Contender…”—Glorious lines of the Ted Cutting-designed prototype. Imagine what could have been, had Aston Martin stayed on with the sorted gearbox and took the fight to the Ferrari 250 GTOs and the Cobras for the ’64 season…

All Photos and Video Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s