On a summer’s evening in 1959, while the rest of France slept, two men nursed their race car through the warm night, squeezing every ounce of speed from the corners, caressing the hot brakes, before finally, many hours later the following day, they claimed victory. The race, of course, was the epic 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, the two men Roy Salvadori and Carroll Shelby, and the car the Aston Martin DBR1.
Anyone wanting to glimpse an example of that famous machine had only to turn their eyes to the sky this summer, to see it piercing the clouds above the Goodwood estate in West Sussex. The DBR1 crowned the Brobdingnagian sculpture, traditionally dubbed the Central Feature, which sits proudly on the lawn outside the front door of Goodwood house, dwarfing not only the stately home of the Duke of Richmond, but the entire Festival of Speed event.
Budding mathematicians will have spotted that the above date means it’s 60 years since that famous win. It’s also 60 years since the DBR1 won the World Sports Car Championship with top honours in the RAC Tourist Trophy at the nearby Goodwood Circuit, courtesy of Stirling Moss, Jack Fairman and, once again, Carroll Shelby. Moss’s bid for victory in the race, in another DBR1, looked doomed when the car caught fire during a pit stop, but the Aston team put Moss into a DBR1 driven by Fairman and Shelby, and they went on to triumph over the entries from Ferrari and Porsche.
One of the best-known racing cars of the 1950s, the Aston Martin DBR1 was first produced in 1956, three years before it claimed honours at Le Mans. In 2017 it became the most expensive British car ever sold at auction, with a 1956 example driven by Stirling Moss fetching £17.5m at auction.
All of which explains the DBR1’s position at the top of this impressive form. The sculpture was designed by Gerry Judah, the British artist responsible for the Festival of Speed’s central feature each year, in close collaboration with Marek Reichman, Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer, Aston Martin Lagonda. The double anniversary proved as irresistible as the car itself when it came to choosing what would grace the artwork for this celebrated four-day festival of motoring and motorsport, crowned “the world’s largest garden party”.
It’s a bold monument. It has a different aesthetic from every angle
This 31m-high sculpture was particularly striking in that it only bore a single car. The past few years have seen brands position their entire racing lines and line-up of models on the enormous artworks; this year’s solitary DBR1 was all the more striking for its lone position, magnifying its iconic stature in the pantheon of great racing cars.
“This year we feature a single, perfect Aston Martin DBR1, the classic racing-green sports car zooming off into the sky,” said Gerry Judah at the unveiling in July. The structure itself, an arcing loop representing an infinite racetrack, was an impressive piece of engineering, comprising one “impossibly thin” (the thickness is just 10mm in parts) piece of steel weighing around 50 tonnes. It was created by Diales and fabricated locally by Littlehampton Welding before being transported in nine parts to Goodwood, where more steel was used to support the foundations. As stunning as the proportions of the silhouette were, the paintwork of the sculpture was equally awe-inspiring — a white matt paint, sprayed on to the surface, which created a streak of white light carving across the green of the lawn, the brown gravel of the drive and up into the cobalt blue sky. “It’s a bold monument,” agrees Reichman. “My favourite element is that it has a different aesthetic from every angle.”
All weekend, visitors to the event stood in its shadows, taking hundreds of photos on their phones for Instagram. In these narcissistic days of the perfect selfie, there can surely be no finer contemporary tribute.