Following a number of rallying successes in the hands of privateers, Aston Martin decided to add international rallying to their racing program. The 1955 season was the first and only time they were to enter works prepared cars for such events.
Three cars were transferred to the racing department for the necessary rally preparations, all of which are fully documented in team manager John Wyer’s fascinating period report. Maurice Gatsonides, winner of the 1953 Monte Carlo Rally, was taken on as lead driver, with Aston Martin being keen to ensure success. At the request of Gatsonides, his car (55 DMF) would be left hand drive and was co-driven by Marcel Becquart. The other two works cars were right hand drive, driven by Reg Parnell/Louis Klemantaski and Peter Collins/Graham Whitehead. All three cars were finished in a light metallic green.
In the hands of Gatsonides, 55 DMF built up a comfortable lead in the 1955 Monte Carlo Rally, however during the closing stages Marcel Becquart reputably announced to Gatsonides ‘I am chairman of the local motor club here, you can go as fast as you like – and we can have a coffee’. Unknowingly, they passed a secret checkpoint several minutes ahead of schedule, resulting in a penalty demoting them to 17th place. Following this error, Gatsonides/Becquart had to work very had to finish 7th overall. Their achievement was recognised with being awarded the ‘Grand Touring Class for over 2000cc car’ and the RAC Challenge Trophy for road safety, comfort and rally performance.
The other two works cars, driven by Parnell/Klemantaski and Collins/Whitehead, did not fare so well, 153rd and 95th respectively, but well supported by the privately entered DB2/4’s which finished 3rd and 4th in the over 2000cc class. Nevertheless, the three DMF cars were able to secure the team prize. Additionally, the three works cars’ high standard of equipment and turn-out won them a newly-created team prize. Their list of equipment shows how much preparation had gone into the cars: twin chronometers on the dashboard, matt painted; an extra windscreen-wiper, high-mounted and vacuum-operated; electric demisters; a spare dipswitch, and more. Then came the navigator’s equipment, including a map table, map box, torch, camera and duplicate horn button. The list of extra equipment was almost endless and is referred to in Nick Walker’s book ‘Aston Martin: DB2, DB2/4 & DB3 In Detail’.
Following the Monte Carlo rally success, 55 DMF was entered in the 1955 RAC Rally driven by Gatsonides/Males, but on this occasion they suffered a heavy crash. Aston Martin repaired 55DMF, including fitting a new engine block and liners, before selling it to T. L. Secombe of Leominster on 13th April 1956. This was 55 DMF’s first private owner. One can only assume Mr Secombe was either an enthusiastic driver (or a very unfortunate driver) as the car was back at Aston Martin for accident repairs on two separate occasions during 1956.
Michael Spiegel, serving in the US Airforce, acquired 55 DMF in 1959 and exported the car to America. It is said that he parted with the car as ‘it was too fast for me!’ Little more is known of the car until its reappearance in 1980 when owned by Nick Fasola, who restored and raced the car between 1980 – 1985.
In 1997, 55 DMF had returned to UK soil and was purchased by Paul Merryweather of Parkside Motor Company. Paul was renowned in classic rallying circles and commissioned Brown & Gammons to carry out a full and detailed restoration to prepare the car for competitive rallying once again. Ron Gammons was the owner of the sister car 54 DMF, so had the best reference material available to complete an accurate and thorough restoration. At this time the car was painted Aston Racing Green and converted to right hand drive, so power steering could be fitted.
In 2001, Merryweather commissioned Bonhams to auction the car when it was purchased by Richard Williams on behalf of Peter Reed, a Californian based collector. RS Williams were then commissioned to fettle and prepare 55 DMF to Peter’s requirements and in 2002, Peter participated in the Classic Malts of Scotland Rally.
In 2004, the present owner approached Peter Read with a proposal, namely, ‘If I can get an entry to the Mille Miglia, will you sell me the car?’ On this basis, a deal was struck. In the hands of the current owner, 55 DMF has participated in many events including the 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2015 Mille Miglia.
In 2008, the car was invited to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California and shipped to America where it was so exhibited. 55 DMF has also participated in the 2004 Silvetta Classic and 2004 Rally of the Tests.
As part of the car’s constant improvement and preparations for such events, the power steering system has been removed in favour of the original type steering box. The engine has recently been subject to a total rebuild by marque experts DAVRON, and as a consequence, 55 DMF is in first class running order and is ready for more classic rallying or the show field.
Works prepared Aston Martins rarely come to market, and 55 DMF is important being one of three factory prepared team cars to contest in international rallies during 1955. This was the only season where Aston Martin supported such events as a manufacturer. Today, 55 DMF remains an excellent and capable rally car, well proven in several recent Millie Miglia events. The car presents and drives extremely well whilst retaining patina and character. It is a car which would be welcomed at many of the world’s finest motoring events.