1963 ASTON MARTIN DB4 SERIES 5 VANTAGE
CHASSIS NO. DB4/1156/L
ENGINE NO. 370/1140/SS
This Aston Martin DB4 Series 5 Coupe is one of six of its series and type built with a super-performance GT twin-plug engine. A fuller appreciation of this spectacularly rare automobile's scarcity, desirability and performance capabilities may be gained through the following review of its attributes.
Ranking among the most prominent and storied British builders of sports cars, Aston Martin traces its roots to 1913, when Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford, partners at the time in a Singer car dealership, built a hill-climb special. Martin's strong showing with the car at the Aston hill climb spurred the duo's decision to build a marketable car. The nameplate chosen leveraged both Martin's fledgling celebrity as a racing drive and the prominence of the Aston event. A prototype Aston Martin was completed in 1915, but WWI intervened and it was set aside.
By 1922, Martin, now proceeding without Bamford, was building race-winning and record-setting Aston Martins, cars that would early on firmly establish the marque's status in British motorsports. After Lionel Martin departed his floundering concern in 1926, new owners tried with limited success to sell rather conventional passenger cars. Fortunately, they also continued to develop and market sports cars. Subsequent offerings such as the Le Mans sport car and Ulster racing model endeared Aston Martin to an interwar generation of young English enthusiasts—although of course few actually obtained one of these always very exclusive cars. Fewer than 700 Aston Martin cars of any type were built before the onset of World War II brought production to a halt.
In 1947, Sir David Brown brought both Aston Martin and Lagonda into his newly expanding manufacturing combine. The first Aston Martin to emerge from the new group was a prototype sport roadster dubbed the Atom. The well-received concept led to the Aston Martin 2-Liter Sports (retroactively known as the DB1) introduced in 1948, of which only 15 were built. The DB2—"DB" of course signifying David Brown—followed in 1950 and went on to win major victories at LeMans that same year. The stylish sports coupe was powered by a W.O. Bentley-designed DOHC 6-cylinder Lagonda engine. The DB2 was the first Aston-Martin to achieve international acclaim and its success led to the DB2/4 of 1953-1957, with an interim Mk II version introduced in 1955. The DB3 Mk. III (or simply, "Mk III") was introduced for 1958 and its performance marked the zenith of the venerable Bentley Lagonda engine, with ratings of 162 to 195bhp available.
Although unmistakably an Aston Martin, the DB4 revealed in late 1958 was an all-new car. Engine designer Tadek Marekt started with a clean slate when he created its twin-carbureted DOHC inline six, which pumped out 240hp. The DB4 body was evolutionary and revolutionary at the same time. Carrozzeria Touring of Milan had designed the body, which utilized their patented “superleggera” lightweight tube-frame structure. DB4 bodies were produced at the company's newly opened Newport Pagnell works in Buckinghamshire.
The DB4 was produced in five sequential series, loosely correlating with annual model change cycles. Visible changes were minimal for Series 2 through 4—window frames were added to the Series 2 body and Series 4 introduced a bar-type grille in place of the prior eggcrate design.
Introduced in September 1962, the DB4 Series 5 was transitional to the evolutionary DB5 that followed in late 1963. The Series 5 body was longer and taller than those of earlier DB4s (a reduced wheel diameter left overall height unchanged, though) and its wheelbase was extended by 3.5 inches. The new design provided more interior room. Most Series 5 cars featured Vantage/GT-style sloping front fenders with covered headlamps; the appearance would also be standard on the DB5 to come.
Aston Martin produced 185 Series 5 DB4 cars, 40 of which were convertibles. Six non-GT Series 5 coupes were built with the GT Twin-Plug engine and, as earlier noted this car is one of them. Add in that the Series 5 wheelbase was 3.5 inches longer than the earlier DB4s and we have here what amounts to a long-chassis GT.
Aston Martin first offered an optional higher performance "Vantage" engine for the 1951 DB2. The first Vantage upgrade offered on a DB4 was introduced for the Series 4 in 1961. The Series 4 Vantage engine breathed through three SU carbs and used a special cylinder head to develop 266bhp (198kW). Most DB4 Series 4 Vantage cars were also equipped with the DB4 GT-style front end, with its recessed, clear-cover headlamps.
A DB4 Vantage was used to create the DB5 prototype and was later modified into the famous gadget-laden Aston Martin driven by James Bond in the film Goldfinger.
The DB4 GT engine found in the offered Vantage GT was the heart of the DB4 GT high-performance model. The GT Coupe, introduced in late 1959, combined the most powerful Aston Martin production engine with a shortened chassis carrying a special lightweight body that was paneled with extra-thin aluminum. Special rounded front fenders, with inset headlamps protected by Perspex transparent covers, distinguished the early DB4 GT cars. The GT frontal appearance was later shared with Vantage-equipped DB4s and would eventually become the standard Aston Martin look, on DB4 Series 5 and DB5 models.
Over its production run, the GT engine was built in 3.7 and 3.8 liter displacements. Rated at 302bhp (225kW), it enabled the GT Coupe to accelerate to 60mph (97km/h) from rest in 6.1 seconds, while propelling it to a top speed exceeding 150mph (241km/h). Special equipment included three twin-choke Weber carburetors and an ignition system that utilized two distributors to look after the twin sparkplugs provided for each cylinder. A 9.0:1 compression ratio also helped. Fewer than 100 GT chassis were originally produced. Seventy-five were works GT models, with an additional 19 cars completed to DB4 GT Zagato specifications. One chassis bodied by Bertone was shown as the “Bertone Jet” concept car.
Fourteen specially ordered non-GT DB4 Aston Martins were factory-equipped with the higher-performance GT engine. Surviving examples are and always will be some of the most sought-after Aston Martins ever. They are frequently described in a short-form manner as Vantage GT cars, although the factory never used such a designation. Three non-GT DB4 Series 3 cars received the GT engine and five Series 4 and six Series 5 cars accounted for the remaining installations. The half-dozen DB4 Series 5 cars uniquely combined the refinements, longer wheelbase and added interior room of the DB 4 Series 5 with the prestige and distinction of the Vantage appearance and truly awesome power of the twin-plug GT engine. It is to be expected then that the offering of one of these cars has set the Aston Martin fraternity atwitter.