Aston Martin’s Formula 1 history isn’t particularly well known, mostly because the British carmaker withdrew from top-class single-seater racing in 1960, only to achieve tremendous success in sports car and endurance racing instead. When long-time motorsport partner Prodrive made several attempts at Formula 1 between 2006 and 2010, there was a chance the team could fly under Aston Martin’s flag, yet what ended up happening was a Red Bull Racing sponsorship from 2016, ended recently by the financial takeover of Lawrence Stroll, who will rebrand his Racing Point team to Aston Martin for 2021.
With the most recent race winner Sergio Perez getting replaced by Sebastian Vettel, and the Canadian billionaire’s son Lance Stroll staying right where he is, the Aston Martin name returns to Formula 1 in 2021 after having kept a fair distance for more than six decades. This gives us a great opportunity to look back at the brand’s single-seater history, highlighted by such names as Roy Salvadori and Carroll Shelby. Of course, let’s not forget about Count Louis Zborowski either, an avid racer at least as wealthy in the 1920s as Lawrence Stroll is probably today.
Aston Martin was founded by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford in 1913 in a small London workshop, only to establish itself on the hillclimb courses of Great Britain. However, by the start of the speed-obsessed 1920s, Lionel Martin wished to move into Grand Prix racing as well, which is where the wealthy son of a Polish Count and an American heiress, Count Louis Zborowski, came in.
Founding Aston Martin’s earliest side-valve open-wheel racers by supplying the brand with around £10,000, Lionel Martin built two cars to compete in the 1922 Isle of Man TT. These two-seaters featured a 1,486cc engine producing 55 horsepower at 4,200 rpm, and by weighing just 1,653 pounds, they could achieve a top speed of 85 mph. The off-set second seat was reserved for the riding mechanic, who was essential for hand-pumping the fuel tank.
In 1922, both cars retired with engine problems, which only makes the 1.5-liter’s origin story more interesting. Here’s how Aston Martin remembers its development:
“Count Zborowski’s close friend and fellow racer, Clive Gallop, had an acquaintance with Peugeot engineer Marcel Gremillion. The talented Frenchman had been a pupil of the great engine designer Ernest Henry, now at Ballot. Gremillion persuaded Henry to let him have details of the 3.0-liter Ballot engine. Henry did no more than tear his drawings in half which Gremillion then adapted into the Bamford & Martin single cam, 16-valve, lower-half in return for what was described as a substantial bag of gold coins!”
“Thus, with a blueprint torn in two, the Henry-designed 3.0-litre became the Bamford & Martin single cam, 16-valve, 1.5,” Aston concluded.