• George Oliver

The Lost Car of Carroll Shelby | 1959 Aston Martin DBR4

Updated: May 20, 2018

Cobras and Mustangs are the automotive wild life associated with the Shelby brand, but to focus on the name misses the man and his many other machines.

He might be more Texan than the Alamo in a Stetson but his greatest racing successes are as French as a Brie wearing a beret and as English as a pint of bitter and a flat cap. Rarely mentioned is the 1,2 formation finish he led across the line at Le Mans in 1959, the Aston Martins a full 26 laps ahead of 3rd placed Ferrari. His largely unknown Formula One career also at the wheel of an Aston is overshadowed by his big game exploits in the sports cars of AC and the V8 muscles of Ford.

Shelby and his team mate Roy Salvadori made their racing debut with the Formula One Aston Martin DBR4’s at Silverstone in the 1959 B.R.D.C. In their first outing, against the established names of Hill and Lotus, Moss and BRM, Brooks and Ferrari, they came second only to Brabham and his Cooper Climax.

In spite of this promising start, Aston’s time in Formula One would be short lived, making Aston F1 cars some of the rarest in the brands history. A total of just 4 DBR4/250’s were built by Aston Martin’s racing design chief Ted Cutting. This “what might have been” however, was not due to a lack of success but rather because of a surfeit of it.

David Brown had not intended to contest the World Sports Car Championship that year and instead concentrate on F1. Stirling Moss however, managed to persuade both him and team boss Reg Parnell into a half-hearted attempt in the 1000km at the Nürburgring. Much to the surprise of not just Ferrari and Porsche but also Aston Martin, Moss and Jack Fairman soundly beat everyone to victory.

DBR1/300 would go on to claim the World Sports Car championship that year by putting the drivers at the top of the rostrum in Germany, France and England, although this would be a first for a British team it would be at the expense of success in Formula One.

From 1960 the four Aston Martin DBR4/250’s went on to see success with different teams and different drivers. Salvadori’s car, chassis DBR4/1, hammered the tacks of Australia under Lex Davidson, it then returned to Europe where it saw action with gentleman racer the Hon Patrick Lindsey before entering the hands of Geoffrey Marsh. After a successful spell of racing at Marsh Team with Richard Bond and Gerry Marshal at the wheel it moved to Germany where it remains.

The third car, chassis DBR4/3, had further development with Aston to have a stressed skin and spent time racing with Salvadori in 1960. It then followed its sister to Australia with Bib Stillwell but it essentially led a very sheltered life and is now a museum piece.

Chassis DBR4/4 was never raced by the Aston Martin team and was sold along with DBR4/1 to Lex Davidson, it then passed to a man with a name for motor racing; Neil Corner. He enjoyed enormous success and arguably had more glory than anyone else piloting an Aston Martin F1 car. It then moved through a number of hands, including Alain De Cadenet who famously "went racing for the women but got to like the cars" and is now residing in Belgium.

Then there is DBR4/2, the car raced by one of the most recognisable names in motoring; Carroll Shelby. This story nearly ended with the ’59 season, Ted Cutting lived up to his name and without a whiff of sentiment, started cutting up Shelby’s car to build the successor. The new car, DBR5 adopted the layout and structure of its predecessor, therefore during early design phase it is believed the chassis of Shelby’s car became the test mule. This means DBR4/2 is likely to have become DBR5/1 losing its identity and becoming effectively a new car.

This would have been the end of Carroll Shelby’s DBR4/2 had it not been for owners of Salvadori’s car DBR4/1. Patrick Lindsey may have been a racer but he was also a collector. He amassed a huge amount of the original car but it wasn’t until the whole collection including the DBR4/1 was purchased by Geoffrey Marsh that it became apparent what he didn’t have and given the rarity of these original components and the other 3 cars so well accounted for the only likely source of these must have been Shelby’s original DBR4/2.

Missing was the bare bones of Shelby’s car, the chassis but Marsh had more than just a skeleton, he had the skin, the beating heart and the vital organs. The original components were photographed in period when the car was dismantled, all of these are virtually unique to the four DBR4’s and all of the important, irreplaceable ones are there. The engine, the cylinder head, the David Brown Transaxle gearbox, suspension links and uprights, the fuel tank, the oil tanks, and wishbones, but this was not all.

Marsh had the parts that truly connect you to DBR4/2 and Shelby, the steering wheel and the pedals, the front-end body work, the Borrani spoked racing wheels, the dash panel with its original instruments still in place, and also Salvadori’s original DBR4/1 chassis. In 1982 and under the pedantic eye of the VSCC, using DBR4/1 as a template Marsh was able to reconstruct the lost chassis of Shelby’s car with absolute precision, combining this with the original Aston Martin components to produce the DBR4/2 seen today.

Then in 1986 it was reunited with Carroll Shelby who drove the fully reconstructed car along with Ray Salvadori in his DBR4/1 for the first time since they raced in 1959. After passing to well-known Aston aficionado John Pearson it moved to David Wenman and now, in all of its esoteric glory, ready for the next chapter with a new owner.

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