Every year in August, Monterey Car Week in California - which attracts vintage car enthusiasts from all over the world - holds several auctions. One of the cars offered by RM Sothebys, the Aston Martin DB1 that finished 11th at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1949, carries with it an incredible story, as does its first owner Robert Lawrie.
There was once a British bootmaker who dreamed of competing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. After learning how to make shoes with his father, seasoned mountaineer Robert "Rob" Lawrie began specializing in the fabrication of shoes for Himalayan expeditions in the 1930s. As a result of his success, the adoptive Londoner soon began providing customized equipment necessary to hikers and pole explorers, which earned him a glacier in his name in Antarctica.
In his spare time, Robert Lawrie - who supplied the Army during World War II - decided to compete in the first post-war edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, after overcoming every obstacle one by one. The word impossible was not in Rob Lawrie's vocabulary!
First of all, he managed to convince Aston Martin to design a 2-Litre Sports - which would become the DB1 retroactively (the first car produced under the helm of David Brown who had bought the British manufacturer) - expressly for him, and as a frequent visitor to the 24 Hours circuit, he managed to score an invitation to the 17th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Once he had the invitation in hand, he requested a license from the Royal Automobile Club (RAC), sine qua non condition, to enter the race. The RAC, aware of the official invitation and in the face of Robert Lawrie's unfailing determination, issued the license to a complete and total novice in motorsports!
Determined to cross the finish line, Lawrie, joined by amateur Robert W. Parker, brought his car to 10th position. Shortly before the end of the race, Parker made a quick pit stop to allow the driver-owner the honor of crossing the finish line. To his dismay, only the top 10 were rewarded and Parker's classy gesture relegated the car to 11th place overall. Still, it was an exceptional performance for a rookie, especially given that only 19 out of 49 competitors made it to the finish line!
On the heels of its success, the duo returned to Great Britain by road with the Aston Martin DB1 sporting the #29 and headed to Aston Martin's workshops to be refurbished. Soon thereafter, the car was sold by Robert Lawrie and shortly before his death was involved in a traffic accident. Its green Suffolk livery was then traded for its current Botticelli blue.
Many years later, a New Zealander came into possession of the AMC/49/5 chassis and became embroiled in an unbelievable story, straight out of a Hollywood movie. Believing he had sold the car to a respectable Japanese buyer, Colin Gordon expedited the car to Japan, but the car was stolen from a port warehouse and fell into the hands of a member of the Yakuza.
In good faith, the New Zealander traveled to Japan to attempt to assert his rights, but the long arm of the country's mafia made him understand, by way of a few broken ribs, that he would do better to go home. As resolved as was Robert Lawrie to take the start at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1949, which Lawrie repeated three times until 1952, Colin Gordon was ultimately successful in the Japanese courts after the Yakuza member died a violent death...in 2007!
Nearly ruined financially by the court battle, Colin Gordon sold the AMC/49/5 chassis. It will once again be for sale at auction in Monterey by RM Sothebys on August 18th at a value estimated between 1,050,000 and 1,300,000 dollars (between 900,000 and 1,100,000 euros). Indeed, the Aston Martin's track record is minimal, having only participated in one race, but its history and that of its owners, is enough to inspire screenwriters in Hollywood, just around the corner from Monterey…