Shortly after buying Aston Martin and Lagonda, David Brown embarked on a very ambitious journey into motorsport, which would come to a glorious conclusion in 1959. Aston Martin's first efforts were with modified road cars, but they soon stepped up the plate and designed a series of purpose built sportsracers. The ultimate goal was an overall victory in the already legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans race. During this period the possibility of entering Formula was discussed more than once and in 1955 a car was actually tested and raced in the Tasman Series. David Brown's team remained hesitant as the elusive Le Mans victory was within grabbing distance and any distractions could prove to be fatal.
The tests and races had proven sufficiently successful to convince the team to start the development of a full blown Aston Martin Formula 1 car later that year. Around the same time the development of the DBR1 sports racer also commenced and that still had top priority. While this contributed to postponing the introduction of the new Formula 1 car, it was arguably also essential to the successes scored in the last three years of the decade culminating in the 1959 Le Mans win. It was also at this time that Aston Martin finally entered Formula 1 even though the DBR4 single seater had first been tested late in 1957. Although only a few years had passed since the development had started, Formula 1 was undergoing a complete revolution and the unfortunate Aston Martin was outdated before it first turned a wheel in anger.
Technically, the DBR4 was very similar to the successful sports racers, but of course more tightly packaged to meet the single seater requirements. The chassis was a straightforward spaceframe, suspended by wishbones and coil springs at the front and a DeDion axle at the rear. It was the very last new Formula 1 car to use this elaborate suspension, which was discarded by most in favour of completely independent wishbones. The engine was the familiar twin-cam straight six downsized to 2.5 litres. Breathing through three Weber Carburetors, the engine produced as much as 280 bhp according to factory claims, which in those days were rarely close to the truth. The engine was mated to a David Brown five speed gearbox. While pleasing to the eye, the aluminium body was not the most aerodynamically efficient shape on the grid and the big air-intake and vertical windscreen must have really slowed the cars down.
Before the 1959 season, Jack Brabham had agreed to drive for Aston Martin team, but fortunately for him he was picked up by Cooper and went on to score his first World Championship. This 'left' the British team with their Le Mans winning drivers Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori to race the DBR4s. Salvadori made a promising debut at the 1959 Tourist Trophy by finishing second behind Brabham in the Cooper. This proved to be the sole highlight in the Aston Martin Formula 1 campaign as the overweight and underpowered DBR4 struggled against the more advanced opposition. The drivers were frequently forced to push the cars harder than they could handle to keep up with the rest, which resulted in numerous retirements. For 1960 the lighter, independently sprung DBR5 was tried, but the sport had clearly moved on and front-engined Grand Prix cars were outclassed on almost every track now. After two brief years, Aston Martin was out of Formula 1 again and for good. The cars were later raced in the Tasman Series, surprisingly with some success.
Only four DBR4s were constructed, one of which was used as a basis for one of the two DBR5s for 1960. Both the DBR5s were scrapped, but the three DBR4s seem to have survived. Featured is one of them, which is frequently raced in its 3-litre Tasman specification. It is pictured here at the 2006 Goodwood Revival and Silverstone Classic.