The ultimate Aston Martin racer?

Originally designed to compete at Le Mans and considered to be “the most significant one-off Works Aston Martin” in existence, the 1963 Aston Martin DP215 Grand Touring Competition Prototype is also one of the most valuable collectible cars in the world. Exuding an almost mythical presence, the history of DP215 is one of heartbreak and accomplishment that marks the end of an era for the British automaker. Lovingly restored over a 40-year period with extensive consultation from the car’s original designer, DP215 now heads to the block later this month at the RM Sotheby’s event in Monterey, where it may very well become the most valuable British car ever sold at public auction.

Continue reading to learn more about the 1963 Aston Martin DP215 Grand Touring Competition Prototype.

The Story Behind The Car

1963 Aston Martin DP215 Grand Touring Competition Prototype
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Aston Martin’s dealer network clamored for a new race program. After all, if selling sports cars is the name of the game, it helps to have a presence in motorsport.

The story of DP215 begins in 1959, after Aston Martin’s title victory in the World Sportscar Championship. Thanks to top-place finishes at Silverstone, Le Mans, and the Nürburgring, Aston Martin’s owner, David Brown, felt compelled to wrap up its successful factory racing program, and instead shift the focus over to its road-going vehicles.

In 1960, Aston’s racing efforts lost even more internal support after poor results in the Formula 1 Championship. The team’s front-engined racers were unable to keep pace with the dominant rear-engined competition of the time, and as a result, Aston shelved its racing department entirely.

Despite this, Aston Martin’s dealer network quickly clamored for a new factory racing program. After all, if selling sports cars is the name of the game, it helps to have a presence in motorsport to up the brand’s competition credentials.

1963 Aston Martin DP215 Grand Touring Competition Prototype
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Owner David Brown gave the green light for a line of specialized sports car racers, starting with the DP212.

As such, Brown gave the green light for a line of specialized sports car racers, starting with the DP212. Built as an evolution of the old DB4GT racer, DP212 incorporated a longer wheelbase and a number of box-frame sections for the chassis as well. Outside, the car’s body panels were pieced together using a combination of aluminum and magnesium, while up front, the engine capacity was uprated for more power. Topped with triple Weber carburetors, the new DP212 managed an impressive 175 mph at the top end, which helped it snag a fifth-place qualifying start at Le Mans in 1962, courtesy of drivers Graham Hill and Richie Ginther.

Although DP212’s speed was undeniable, the car’s rear end would get light at speed, with as much as 25 percent of the weight over the rear axle lost due to aerodynamics. To fix the issue, Aston’s boffins fitted it with a rear spoiler, as well as a new nose that was both longer and lower than before. Both the nose and spoiler would carryover into successive DP models.

Next in the line was the DP214, which was designed to compete against Ferrari in the GT class. To help make it competitive, Aston cut weight by drilling out the box sections in the chassis, while simultaneously adding lightweight aluminum floorpans, both of which contributed to a 30-pound decrease on the scales. Engine capacity once again saw an increase, while the engine mounting location was moved rearwards in the chassis by 8 inches, a modification intended to combat rear lift. The new Kammback rear tail section also helped in this regard. Finally, the larger engine was mated to a new four-speed gearbox.

The DP214 went onto collect a number of high-profile finishes, including wins at the Coupes de Paris and Coppa Inter-Europa races, not to mention victory over Ferrari at the three-hour supporting race for the Italian GP at Monza.

1963 Aston Martin DP215 Grand Touring Competition Prototype
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In 1963, Aston set about building a new race car to compete in the Prototype Class at Le Mans - just two months prior to the race start.

And that brings us to our featured car - the DP215. In 1963, team manager John Wyer ordered chief engineer Ted Cutting to put together a winning new race car designed to compete in the Prototype Class at Le Mans - just two months prior to the race start. Afforded a budget of just 1,500 pounds, Cutting got to work, eventually creating what would become the final Aston Martin racer of the famed David Brown era.

That following June, DP215 arrived at the Circuit de la Sarthe in France. The initial results were overwhelmingly positive, with DP215 managing both impressive pace down the straights, and a good deal of composure in the corners as well. In fact, the car was so fast, it managed to not only post lap times six seconds ahead of the rest of its class, but it broke a speed record down the Mulsanne Straight as well.
DP215 quickly became the favorite to win, but unfortunately, Aston was forced to retire just two hours into the race following a gearbox failure.

The following month, Aston brought DP215 to Reims, where Jo Schlesser took the helm as driver. Once again, the car ran at the front of the pack and looked lined up to take the win, but misfortune struck yet again when the newly rebuilt gearbox caused Schlesser to miss a gear and over-rev the engine, leading to a DNF.

Later that year, team manager John Wyer resigned, and in November of 1963, Aston’s racing department officially closed shop. Although the rest of the Works racing cars were sold off, Aston retained DP215 in the hopes of returning to motorsport in 1965.

1963 Aston Martin DP215 Grand Touring Competition Prototype
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Although the rest of the Works racing cars were sold off, Aston retained DP215 in the hopes of returning to motorsport in 1965.

Unfortunately, the car was crashed during a test session on the M1, and subsequently sold to a private party in 1974.

After leaving Aston’s stable, DP215 was missing several of its original components, including the gearbox and engine. However, over a period of decades, as DP215 changed hands from owner to owner, the car was slowly but surely restored, and now sits as close as possible to its original state.

1963 Aston Martin DP215 Grand Touring Competition Prototype Exterior Styling

  • Kammback rear end
  • New aero kept tail from lifting at speed
  • Constructed from Hiduminium alloy
  • Fit with an original factory body
Beyond the obvious technical achievements, the Aston Martin DP215 is also widely lauded for its achingly beautiful exterior styling.

Beyond the obvious technical achievements, the Aston Martin DP215 is also widely lauded for its achingly beautiful exterior styling. Up front, the nose is long and handsomely rounded, with a quartet of circular lights providing illumination and an oval central intake to cool the engine. Ancillary ducts and intakes add both form and function, with metal surrounds and small yellow stripes on the chin enhancing the aesthetic even further.

Viewed in profile, the DP215’s sultry coupe proportions come into their own. The hood line stretches for days ahead of the windshield, while the roof line falls gracefully into a sexy Kammback tail design and upturned spoiler. The fenders round the perimeter of the tires in front, while in the rear, the fenders nip across the outer edge of the tire with a flatter line. The wheels are a polished mesh.

In back, the DP215’s recessed tail section is highlighted by a sextet of lights, while twin exhaust pipes bend towards the sky from underneath the chassis, folding along the curves of the upward-slanting lower rear section bodywork. The tail’s center section is removable, revealing a spare wheel underneath.

The overarching aesthetic is similar to the preceding DP models, but after several of the drivers complained that earlier prototypes had a tendency to lift the rear end at high speeds, the DP215 was developed with a focus on improved aerodynamic performance.

The car sports a genuine 1963 Works DP214/215 body, which is made from a Hiduminium alloy for added strength and lightness. Following a crash during testing, the factory fit the now “slightly” bent chassis with a new spare body it had on the shelf, which is still on the car today.

1963 Aston Martin DP215 Grand Touring Competition Prototype Interior Design

  • Highly original interior, down to the seats
  • Large, wood-trimmed steering wheel
  • Black roll cage
1963 Aston Martin DP215 Grand Touring Competition Prototype
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Situate yourself in the cockpit, and you’ll be instantly transported back to the early ‘60s.

Situate yourself in the cockpit, and you’ll be instantly transported back to the early ‘60s. The dash is a swath of buttons and toggle switches, while a panel of white-needled gauges provides tabs on all the vitals. The steering wheel is a large, three-spoke, wood-trimmed affair, while the polished shifter housing uses a gated design.

The seats are fixed-back buckets trimmed in cloth upholstery, while black leather covers the transmission tunnel, foot wells, and rear sections. Plastic is used for the windows, with slidable sections added to let in cool air while on the track. A black-painted rollcage stretches up into the headliner.

As befitting any top-shelf collectible, the DP215 comes with as many original components as possible. This includes the dash, instruments, pedals, and more. During the lengthy restoration process, the car was even reunited with its original seats, which are reupholstered in green corduroy to match the original fabric from 1963.

And rightfully so, considering the likes of Phil Hill and Lucien Bianchi took the helm at Le Mans in 1963. The seats matter in a car like this.

1963 Aston Martin DP215 Grand Touring Competition Prototype Drivetrain And Performance

  • Comes equipped with the original six-cylinder engine
  • Factory-correct five-speed transmission
  • Creates over 300 horsepower
  • Managed nearly 200 mph in 1963
  • Record-breaking speed down the Mulsanne Straight
  • Original suspension and differential
1963 Aston Martin DP215 Grand Touring Competition Prototype
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During restoration, DP215’s owners tracked down the original engine, which found its way to DP214, and managed to strike a deal to bring it back home.

As it stands now, the Aston Martin 215 comes equipped with its original engine, specifically engine number 400/215/01, built by the famous automobile engineer Tadek Marek. That said, the backstory on DP215’s powerplant is far more interesting than just that.

During the initial planning process, Aston created DP215 to equip an upcoming V-8 engine spec. However, the engine wasn’t ready in time, and the car was instead fitted with a 4.0-liter six-cylinder twin-plug engine, which was modified to incorporate a dry sump oil lubrication system. Redline was set at 6,200 rpm.

The original engine was pulled after DP215 crashed during testing, and eventually, the lump found its way into DP215’s sister car, DP214.

During restoration, DP215’s owners tracked down the original engine, and found that it was converted into a wet sump setup. Unfortunately, DP214’s owner didn’t want to part with it, so DP215’s owner at the time (Nigel Dawes) contacted Ted Cutting to help him find an appropriate alternative.

As a replacement, Dawes installed an Indianapolis Cooper-Aston 4.2-liter engine, which was reworked to incorporate a dry-sump lubrication system like the DP215’s original powerplant. The engine was also fitted with DP215’s three original sandcast 50 DCO Weber carburetors.

1963 Aston Martin DP215 Grand Touring Competition Prototype
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Despite the decades of service under the hood of DP214, 400/215/1 was found to be in near perfect condition.

The car was enjoyed for some time in that configuration. However, after changing hands yet again in the early ‘90s, DP215’s new owners managed to make a deal and acquire the original 400/215/1 engine six-cylinder. Despite the decades of service under the hood of DP214, 400/215/1 was found to be in near perfect condition.

After an install into DP215, the car was put on a dynometer, where it laid out an impressive 300 horsepower - at less than the max power configuration, no less. That puts the output levels close to the original 326 horsepower DP215 made at Le Mans run in 1963. Incredible!

As before, DP215 comes with a front/mid-engine, RWD drivetrain configuration. The chassis (number DP215, hence the name) is based on the old DB4GT chassis, and comes with an independent rear suspension setup. However, DP215 was modified in several key areas compared to its predecessors. For example, the engine is mounted a full 10 inches towards the rear compared to the DP 212.

DP215 also comes with its original suspension components and rear differential unit. Routing the power to the rear axle is a period-correct five-speed manual transmission, as unfortunately, the original S532 transmission was never uncovered.

In its stead, the DP215 uses the original box from the DP212, plus more than 1,000 custom parts to make it all work as intended. Chief Engineer Ted Cutting once again provided guidance to ensure accuracy.

All told, the DP215 managed an astonishing 198.6 mph on the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans in 1963, while also setting a new record as the first car to officially surpass the 300-kph (186 mph) barrier.

Reading over these specs, we suspect the car could very well manage those numbers today.

1963 Aston Martin DP215 Grand Touring Competition Prototype Pricing

1963 Aston Martin DP215 Grand Touring Competition Prototype
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The auction house estimates the value between $18 million and $22 million.

As of this writing, DP215 is headed to auction as Lot #141 at the RM Sotheby’s event in Monterey. We’ll update this piece after the car goes under the hammer, but for now, the auction house estimates the value between $18 million and $22 million.

With a price tag like that, it’s entirely possible DP215 will become the most valuable British car ever sold at public auction. However, in order to claim the title, DP215 will need to surpass the 1956 Aston Martin DBR1/1 that sold at the RM Sotheby’s auction in Monterey back in 2017 for $22.5 million.

1963 Aston Martin DP215 Grand Touring Competition Prototype Competition

Ferrari 330 LMB

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When the DP215 first hit the scene at Le Mans in 1963, the Ferrari 330 LMB was its primary class competitor. Taking after the utterly exquisite Ferrari 250 GTO, the 330 LMB uses a front-mounted 4.0-liter V-12 for motivation, sending as much as 390 horsepower to the rear wheels. Like the DP215, the 330 LMB gets a lovely coupe profile, with a fantastically long hood line and gorgeous roofline, not to mention a Kammback tail as well. While certainly breathtaking to look at, the 330 LMB failed to secure any major competition wins. However, unlike the DP215, the 330 LMB did manage to actually finish the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1963, snagging fifth overall.

1956 Aston Martin DBR1/1

1956 - 1959 Aston Martin DBR1 High Resolution Exterior
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In order to make history as the most expensive British car ever sold at public auction, DP215 must surpass this - the 1956 Aston Martin DBR1/1. From the open top, to the curvaceous fenders, to the iconic front end, the DBR1/1 might have the DP215 beat when it comes to aesthetics, depending on who you ask, of course. However, what’s undeniable is the DBR1/1’s competition superiority, as unlike the DP215, the DBR1/1 secured a first-place finish at Le Mans in 1959.

All these factors contribute mightily to the DBR1/1’s value, and as a result, RM Sotheby’s posted an incredible $22.55 million when the car sold at auction back in 2017.

Read our full review of the 1956 - 1959 Aston Martin DBR1.

Final Thoughts

1963 Aston Martin DP215 Grand Touring Competition Prototype
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As the final competition-spec Aston Martin of the David Brown golden era, the DP215 brings history and breeding unlike any other.

There’s no denying that the Aston Martin DP215 is a truly special car. As the final competition-spec Aston Martin of the David Brown golden era, the DP215 brings history and breeding unlike any other. What’s more, the painstaking measures taken to bring it back to its original form are nothing less than heroic, and whoever has this machine in their garage will truly own a piece of racing history.

As icing to the cake, this isn’t some porcelain relic. The car has seen extensive time on the the track and on the street, and is remarkable for its ease of driving. You really can use this thing as it was meant to be used, if you dare.

And at $20 million+, that’s a mighty dare indeed.

  • Leave it
    • * Outrageously expensive
    • * Crashed during testing
    • * Unsuccessful racing career

Further Reading

1956 - 1959 Aston Martin DBR1 High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review of the 1956 - 1959 Aston Martin DBR1.

1958 - 1963 Aston Martin DB4 High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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Read our full review on the 1958 - 1963 Aston Martin DB4.

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Read more Aston Martin news.

Source: RM Sotheby’s

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