Engineers and designers at Aston Martin have sought to enhance the performance of their sports cars — by reducing drag, wind noise and other types of aerodynamic instability such as “lift” — for the best part of a century. But alongside this essential function, few of its rivals have focused with such sustained commitment on the art of their cars’ form and, indeed, worked on technical solutions that inform their elegance and beauty.
The near-vertically chopped-off rear of a car greatly reduced rear-end lift
One of the earliest recorded instances of Aston Martin using aerodynamic elements was on the 1934 Ulster, a model made available to amateur racers. The 100mph car featured a deliberately low frontal area, adding to its racing poise while also reducing aerodynamic drag along with a full-length under-tray. Based on the MkII chassis, it was essentially a replica of the racing Aston Martins that won the Team Prize in the RAC Tourist Trophy (TT) event in Ulster, Northern Ireland. The car also featured a fold-flat windscreen and aero-screens that could be used for competition purposes.
Only 21 Ulsters were made, but it kick-started a trend for aerodynamic thinking within the firm, which was continued in the mid-1930s’ 15/98 2-litre Speed Model C-Type variant, with its early attempts at streamlining, before the breakthrough represented by the unique Atom prototype, developed in 1939. With aluminium body panels wrapped round or screwed to the space-frame superstructure, the Atom appeared futuristic and aerodynamic, with novel centre-hinged doors, a tiny dash-mounted gear lever, almost-flush front headlamps and subtle vertical slits in the bodywork in place of a regular grille. As Michael Bowler records in his book Aston Martin: The Legend: “Everyone who drove it in the war years was convinced they had driven the car of the future.” That list included an industrialist called David Brown, who was so impressed that he bought the company.
Aston Martin’s renewed focus on racing throughout the 1950s with the various DB-badged models brought great success. The DBR1, with its streamlined, lightweight space frame chassis, helped Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori beat Ferrari at the 1959 Le Mans 24-hour race and also win the Nürburgring 1,000km with Sir Stirling Moss at the wheel. Both successes helped the marque to clinch the World Sports Car Championship of the same year.
The lightweight yet powerful engine of the associated DBR2 racer then found its way into the stunningly beautiful 140mph DB4 grand tourer during the car’s late-1950s and early 1960s production run. Beautiful Italian coachwork on the GT version (by Touring) and GT Zagato (by Zagato) paved the way for the 1963 DB5 and a starring role in the film Goldfinger as the GT of choice for fictional British agent James Bond. It would be the start of an enduring relationship.
Throughout this period, Aston Martin kept up its GT racing through several development cars based on the DB4GT platform — including Project 214 and 215 — on which its engineers made some significant aerodynamic modifications, based on their competitive experiences. One big change was the addition of a Kammback Tail. So named after the German aerodynamicist Wunibald Kamm — who discovered that the near-vertically chopped-off rear of a car greatly reduced rear-end lift — the racing feature found its way on to the 1965 DB6, replete with its distinctive, upward-angled spoiler lip.
Aero benefits even surfaced on the chunkier 1977 V8 Vantage. Its big bonnet bulge intake was blanked off along with the main grille area, with air diverted to the engine via new intakes in the lower bumper, while a separate spoiler was grafted on to the rear. Forward-wind through the 1990s and the 1994 DB7 revealed a beautifully curvaceous design — penned by designer Ian Callum — while details in the svelte DB9 (2004-2016), from its grille shape to aero rear boot-lid lip, hark back to the 1960s DB6.
Aston Martin describes its most recent sports car, the DB11, with some justification as an “aesthetic revolution” and it features innovative aerodynamics that cleverly manage airflow both over and through the bodywork without disturbing the car’s clean design. In particular, front-end lift is reduced by the gill-like Curlicue-shaped detail above the front wheel, which releases high-pressure air from inside the wheel arch via a concealed vent within the redesigned side-strake.
At the back of the car, rear-end lift is reduced by the Aston Martin AeroBlade. This trademarked device is a virtual spoiler fed by discreet air intakes located at the base of each C-pillar. Air is ducted through the bodywork, before venting as a jet of air from the AeroBlade aperture in the rear boot lid and allowed the design team to give the DB11 its distinctive sloping tail without any compromise in performance.
When maximum stability is needed, a small active spoiler automatically deploys from the boot lid to increase the effectiveness of the AeroBlade with negligible increase in drag. When no longer required at lower speeds, it retracts neatly into the surface to preserve the DB11’s uncluttered lines. As Aston Martin’s Aerodynamics Senior Manager Darren Coe puts it: “We’ve really pushed the boundaries with the DB11. Working alongside the design team, we’ve created not only a cleaner and more beautiful shape, but also an incredibly effective and efficient aerodynamic instrument.”
Instruments of speed don’t come much sharper than the AM-RB 001 hypercar collaboration between Aston Martin and Red Bull Racing. Built around a lightweight carbon fibrestructure, the AM-RB 001 boasts truly radical aerodynamics for unprecedented levels of downforce in a road-legalcar, courtesy of the know-how of Red Bull’s Chief Technical Officer and legendary F1 designer, Adrian Newey. Interestingly, much of the AM-RB 001 hypercar’s downforce is generated through underfloor aerodynamics, which was a feature — albeit in a much simpler way — on the Aston Martin Ulster in 1934. All of which goes to prove that Aston Martin has a genuine history in aerodynamic excellence that results in cars whose form is as great as their performance.
We've created an incredibly effective and efficient aerodynamic instrument
Marek Reichman, Aston Martin’s Chief Creative Officer, sums up the marque’s innovative approach as he regards its latest project: “By definition, the objectives we’ve set ensure there has never been an Aston Martin — or any car, actually — quite like the AM-RB 001. Its style reflects its revolutionary nature, while possessing the form and beauty that makes it unmistakably an Aston Martin.”
Many thanks to Stephen van Rooyen for the loan of the Aston Martin DB6 featured in this article.