The Aston Martin DB2 Excelled on Both Road and Track

[Editor's Note: this article originally ran in 2010. Some information and prices may be different today.]

Story and Photography by John Webber

Long before James Bond first slid behind the wheel of an Aston Martin DB5, the British manufacturer bore a reputation for building fast and stylish cars that appealed to wealthy, sporting gents with a taste for adventure. The firm’s history dates back nearly a hundred years.

Way back in 1914, Lionel Martin built a car to compete in the popular Aston Clinton hillclimb, giving birth to a legendary automotive name. Martin was a partner in the London-based Bamford and Martin garage, which sold Singer automobiles. 

After World War I, Bamford pulled out of the partnership and Martin took over. He had built about 50 cars by the mid-1920s, but he was struggling to survive financially. In 1926 William Renwick bought the company and brought in director Augustus Bertelli. Bertelli became responsible for Aston Martin’s distinctive aesthetic and growing reputation for building outstanding and exclusive cars. 

In the years leading up to World War II, the tiny company struggled through a succession of failures and ownership changes. Despite the internal turmoil, Aston Martin bolstered its public reputation by fielding cars in high-profile sporting events such as Le Mans. In the midst of the war, however, the company stayed afloat thanks to another venture: Like so many firms, Aston Martin produced aircraft parts for the war effort during this period. 

After the war, the company again found itself for sale, and in stepped industrialist David Brown. He loved flying, foxhounds and fast cars. He was also chairman of the gear manufacturing company that bore his name. 

Not long after he bought Aston Martin, Brown also purchased a motoring company called Lagonda. He was attracted by the potential of their twin-cam six-cylinder engine, which was designed by W.O. Bentley of Rolls-Royce fame. Brown soon launched the long and successful Aston Martin DB series, which lives to this day.

The DB Era Takes Wing

The first car to carry the DB designation—retroactively known as the DB1—appeared in 1948 as an open two-seater powered by a 1979cc pushrod four. Only about 15 of these cars were produced, but the follow-up model would make a bigger splash: In 1950 the company began installing the 2.6-liter Lagonda engine in a Frank Feeley-designed body. The DB2 was born. 

Following Aston Martin’s racing tradition, Brown had three early production cars prepared for the 1950 24 Hours of Le Mans. One of these cars crashed while being driven to the race, but the other two fared quite well. They finished first and second in the 3-liter class, fifth and sixth overall. One of the prototypes also took home the coveted Index of Performance award. This stellar showing occurred only two months after the DB2 was introduced at the New York Auto Show, and it generated a healthy buzz for the company.

The car wasn’t about to become a bestseller, however. While the DB2 was plenty fast and sporty, it was also plenty expensive, selling for about twice the price of a Jaguar 120. From 1950 to ’53, only 411 examples were produced, including 102 drop-head coupes. 

For those who could get their hands on a DB2, it didn’t disappoint. The car featured aluminum bodywork, including a distinctive front end that tilted up for complete engine access. It also sported drum brakes front and rear, worm-gear steering, an independent front suspension setup, and a trailing arm rear suspension with coil springs. The jewellike Lagonda engine delivered 105 horsepower and could propel the car from zero to 60 mph in just over 11 seconds. Top speed was 116 mph. 

Buyers who wanted more oomph could choose the Vantage engine option, which increased the compression ratio while adding larger carburetors. Output jumped to 125 horsepower. 

The four-speed manual transmission was available with a column or floor shifter. Enthusiasts and magazine road testers agreed that the DB2 offered a superb chassis, great performance and, best of all, a combination of styling and character that seemed to define the essence of British motoring. In short, a legend was born.

Racer Turned Restorer

Frank Rubino, a Miami-area collector who owns this beautiful DB2 drop-head, is no stranger to fast cars. He started racing in the 1970s and spent the next few years in the SCCA. By the early 1980s, he had moved up to IMSA while piloting a Mazda RX-7. 

He continued to graduate to faster cars. After gaining a ride in a Ferrari 512, he moved up to 935 Porches, including the distinctive Pink Panzer he piloted with Doc Bundy in the 1983 24-hour race at Daytona. In the 1986 Daytona enduro, Frank co-drove an Argo-Mazda to a GTL class win and seventh place overall. 

These days, Frank focuses his competitive drive on his eclectic car collection. It has grown to include mostly British examples from the likes of Austin-Healey, Triumph, Jaguar and Morgan. While he’s always been drawn to these cars, Frank is now on the hunt for harder-to-find examples like his Aston Martin DB2 and recently acquired Allard M1. 

“I’m looking for cars that people come up to and say, ‘I’ve never seen one. What is it?’” Frank explains. This machine fits that bill: Neither the DB1 or DB2 were officially exported to America, so they’re extremely rare in these parts. “I’ve only seen six drop-heads in the Aston Martin registry,” he says. “I’m only the fourth owner of this car, and I’ve got the original build sheet.”

When Frank restores a car, it’s finished to show standards. Every machine in his collection started out as a solid example before being revitalized from the ground up. Frank also takes great pains to make sure each car remains as authentic as possible. “I admit I’m the king of over-restorations,” he figures, “but I won’t chrome something that wasn’t chromed. You have to preserve originality, but that doesn’t mean your paint work, leather stitching and everything else can’t be as good as possible. But I want every nut and bolt to be original.”

By day, Frank is a high-profile trial lawyer who spends a lot of time in court. On weekends and evenings, however, he throws on some coveralls and gets his hands dirty in his well-equipped garage, which resembles the inside of a 1950s Texaco station. 

“This is great therapy,” he admits. “I love getting greasy, and we do much of the work right here.” He and his part-time assistant, David Hernandez, begin each project with meticulous research. The slow disassembly process follows, with the pair taking reams of photos and notes. “You can never take enough photos,” Frank says. 

When they finally get a car stripped to the bare frame, they know they’ve gone far enough. Then they start rebuilding, one bolt at a time. For the engine and transmission work as well as body and paint finishing, they team up with Milton Gusmao. He owns and operates Auto Technik Vintage, Inc., a Miami restoration shop. 

Milton sums up his customer nicely: “Frank is amazing. For a lawyer, he is very handy. He’s very good with tools. He did all the electrical work on the Aston, too.” 

When he bought it, Frank says his DB2 was a clean, solid driver that ran well and looked good from a distance. The aluminum body was solid, and since the car contained no wood—unlike many of its contemporaries—it was relatively easy to restore. 

The DB2 was missing a few parts, including the door-mounted armrests. A cabinet maker shaped some replacements from blocks of wood. Other small mechanical parts were created from scratch in a machine shop. The engine required only a careful inspection and valve job, and the transmission and rear end were in equally good shape. 

For this team, a typical restoration can take up to two years, and the results speak for themselves. The Aston has won its class at the Amelia Island Concours along with class wins at eight other concours. “We knew the car was technically correct,” Frank says, “but this car also has presence. It’s what I call the ‘wow’ factor.” 

No. 1 DB2

This DB2 achieves its “wow” factor with simple, elegant lines and minimal exterior trim. The drop-head is a true two-seater, with space for only a couple of small bags behind the seats. There is no trunk, and the spare tire is stowed in a hinged compartment in the rear. It’s a simple, graceful package.

The DB2 was surprisingly innovative for its time, with features such as a dash-mounted toggle switch for the turn signals and an inside release for gas tank access—the pull handle is located behind the driver’s seat.

Nearly 60 years later, Aston Martin is still building the fast and sporty DB series, and the company continues to aim these cars at sporting enthusiasts of means. Those with the backing can pick up a new DB9 coupe—power comes from a 470-horsepower V12—starting around $180,000.

No doubt the DB9 is a worthy Aston Martin, but some period enthusiasts may prefer the DB2. It still displays the character, elegance and grace that defined British motorcars for decades. After a drive in this classic, it’s not hard to imagine David Brown behind the wheel, wearing a bowler hat and a big grin.

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mapleglen New Reader
2/25/20 12:48 p.m.

Back in the middle 60s a friend and I bought a DB2, three piece grill, out of Bridgehampton, LI for $1k.

Drove it all summer and raced it at The Greene airport. Sold it to a Paul Smith's College buddy from Boston for $1K.  Those were the days.

John McNulty

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