Stiff upper Brit

93 ASTON MARTIN DB4

WORDS MICHAEL STAHL

Beautiful yet brawny Aston was the unlikely holder of a production car record

McLAREN praising Aston Martin? Itís not likely today, especially given the latterís supercar ambitions with the Valkyrie. But go back to Bruce McLarenís 1964 autobiography, From the Cockpit, and there it is from the man himself: ďI took out the Aston on a drying circuit and found it one of the best-handling cars I have ever driven.Ē

McLaren was referring to his 1963 Le Mans test in the Aston Martin DB4 GT, the production-class racing variant of Astonís already five-year-old DB4 road car. If the GT had been a revelation to this three-time grand prix winner, the DB4 itself had been the same among grand touring coupes.

Aston Martinís pre-war cars had been worthy enough for their time, but the companyís limited resources Ė even under new owner, David Brown Ė meant the post-war cars, while increasingly attractive to look at, remained dated. A big step was taken in 1957 with the DB 2/4 Mk.III, which would introduce front disc brakes, a new clutch and four-speed overdrive transmission and, no less significantly, the brandís new signature grille.

That car paved the way for the more revolutionary DB4. It was faster, more graceful and more advanced in (almost) every way. Its beautiful bodywork was designed and constructed by Touring of Milan, in that firmís superleggera method of a fine framework of steel tube, supporting hand-formed aluminium panels.

The gorgeous body sat on a steel platform chassis designed by Harold Beach, all new but carrying over the Mk.IIIís antiquated rear suspension.

Under the bonnet was a new 3.7-litre, inline six-cylinder engine. Along with four-wheel disc brakes, it enabled this 1308kg 2+2-seat grand tourer to become the first production car to go from rest to 100mph and then back to standstill again in under 30 seconds.

Being effectively a hand-built car, the DB4 went through five recognised (mainly cosmetic) running changes through its model life, although the Series IV gained a longer wheelbase. In 1959, the factory turned its hand to a run of 75 homologation DB4 GTs (shorter, lighter, more powerful) and in 1961, the DB4 Convertible and high performance Vantage joined the fray.

In total, 1040 DB4s had been built when construction ended in 1963 to make way for the DB5.

Fast & factual 05

1 In safe hands

DB4 development was overseen by John Wyer, later JWA team mastermind of Gulf-sponsored Ford GT40, Porsche 917 and Mirage.

2 Dodgy Bond?

The most famous DB4?

James Bondís DB5.

DP/216/1, the DB5 prototype first loaned for Goldfinger, was really a facelifted DB4.

3 Rebirthing with optional overdrive.

Late last year, Aston Martin announced it would produce 25 Ďcontinuationí DB4 GTs to original specs, at around £1.5m each.

4 Main road access

The DB4 was the first new model produced at the Newport Pagnell factory, which soon had the UKís first motorway (M1) handily adjacent.

5 Landie donor

The DB4 Series III and IV cars (1960-í62) had triple tail lamps from a Land Rover, and Ford Zephyr bumper overriders. d riple d yr

In detail

Hammered by hand

The labour-intensive DB4 chassis was a platform of sheet steel inner panels, topped with a thin framework of steel tubing, supporting aluminium outer panels. Front suspension double wishbones, coil springs and telescopic dampers, the coil-sprung, live rear-had antiquated lever-arm dampers. Rack and pinion steering and four-wheel Dunlop discs were top-notch stuff. ubing, ter was rings while axle unlop f.

A sweet half dozen

The all-alloy, 3670cc inline six was designed by Aston legend Tadek Marek. The new 3.7-litre, dohc, 12-valve unit premiered in the DBR2 racer (1957), and in standard guise had twin SU carbs and 179kW at 5500rpm.

Vantage gained triple SUs and 198kW, while GT made 225kW at 6000rpm. Drive was via an in-house four-speed manual,

Welcome to the club

The DB4 was a new breed of GT, performance and greater comfort.

All-new dash design mimicked the grilleís shape in its instrument cluster, at full expense of ergonomics. Upholstery was in rich Connolly leather, surrounded by deep pile carpet. Wipers had two speeds, horn had two tones. Rear accommodation improved with Series IVís 90mm stretch, carried into gentlemanís GT bringing higher m wheelbase nto DB5.

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