Not only is this historic Aston Martin DB4 the first Series III ever made, it served as the factory demonstrator and appeared in promotional literature and adverts proclaiming the new model to be: ‘The ultimate symbol of success’.
According to its factory build sheet, chassis number DB4/601/R was ‘appropriated’ by Aston Martin in April 1961. It had been fitted with engine number 370/611 – running on twin SU carburettors – and was finished in Caribbean Pearl with a Dark Blue interior. The car was specified with the optional extras of overdrive, an oil cooler and chrome wire wheels, and it had been registered 4 MY on 24 March.
Its service records show that the cylinder head from DB4/257/R was fitted at the factory on 4 April 1961, and on 10 April a 4.09 rear axle was installed. Those records include an engine and gearbox rebuild that was carried out in October 1964, by which time the DB4 had covered just over 24,000 miles.
Once 4 MY had served its purpose as a factory demonstrator, it was sold into private ownership and subsequent keepers included R Callaby of Bedford and the York-based Eclipse Copper Company. In the process, it was re-registered 862 BDN.
In 1979, the DB4 was acquired by John Winsor, who had recently founded GTC Engineering and had been a marque enthusiast since going on a factory tour with his school in the mid-1960s. Winsor bought the car for £2000 from Mike Ridley – a successful Aston Martin racer – and it drove it home from Shropshire.
He later noted that ‘the lack of brakes and unusual handling were of concern’ and resolved to embark on a full restoration. It was during his research into the car’s history that he discovered its status as the first Series III and its previous life with the factory as 4 MY.
The DB4 was completely stripped down, the body was removed from the chassis, and all body panels were removed with the exception of the roof. With assistance from Clive Smart at Shapecraft, all corroded areas were replaced and Winsor did much of the paint preparation himself.
With GTC becoming increasingly busy with Aston Martin restorations, Winsor admitted that DB4/601/R ‘had to take a bit of a back seat’, but along the way the engine was rebuilt with larger valves and different cams, and a limited-slip differential was installed.
It was discovered that the gearbox was not the original but had apparently come out of 4 SMY, the DB4 that was used on the 1962 Monte Carlo Rally. The gearbox was rebuilt with a new overdrive unit, while the suspension and steering systems were also overhauled. The interior, meanwhile, was done by an ex-Aston Martin trimmer who had worked on the car when it was originally built – and factory DB4 GT Zagato seats were installed.
The rebuild was eventually finished in the early 1990s and former Aston Martin boss Victor Gauntlett apparently expressed ‘a keen interest’ in buying the car – only to be turned down by Winsor.
Used sparingly since that restoration and now being offered for sale at The Classic Motor Hub in exceptional condition, this Aston Martin DB4 recently benefitted from extensive work at marque specialist RS Williams that totalled almost £30,000. An alternator conversion was carried out, RSW-spec brake discs and pads were fitted all round, a stainless-steel exhaust was installed, and the steering and front suspension were rebuilt.
This historically significant car featured on the cover of the programme for the DB4’s official 50th anniversary event and is offered with an extensive history file that includes invoices going back to the late 1970s, plus copies of period advertising in which it appeared.
When the Aston Martin DB4 was launched in 1958, it marked the beginning of a new era for the British marque. John Wyer had been dissatisfied with the styling of a 1956 prototype for the proposed ‘next generation’ of Aston Martin, and insisted that the company should turn to an Italian design house.
A deal was therefore done with Touring of Milan – from which Aston Martin also licensed the Superleggera method of lightweight construction, which involved using a framework of small tubes on a rigid platform chassis. Touring’s attractive bodywork was then fitted around a new 3.7-litre six-cylinder engine that produced 240bhp on twin SU carburettors.
Suspension was via coil springs and wishbones at the front, with a live axle at the rear plus coil springs and lever-arm dampers. Rack-and-pinion steering was fitted in place of the steering box used on the earlier DB2 series, while servo-assisted Dunlop disc brakes were used all round.
‘It combines the skills of David Brown engineering and the Italian design artistry of Carrozzeria Touring,’ stated the DB4 brochure. ‘The body is aerodynamic without rakishness, it is pleasing without ornamentation, it is superbly appointed and bears the stamps of the quality standard to which it is built.’
The new car had performance to go with its looks, and was capable of going from 0-100mph and stopped again within 30 seconds. When The Motor tested a DB4, it concluded that, ‘Performance, controllability and comfort have combined… to make it a highly desirable car’.
The DB4 was regularly updated throughout its production run, from the 1958 Series I to the Series V of late 1962. Modifications for the Series III – of which 165 were built – included different rear lights, optional overdrive and an improved heater.
From 1961 onwards, there were also the options of a convertible body style and the more powerful Vantage model. In addition, there was the short-wheelbase, competition-focused DB4 GT, which had won first time out at Silverstone in 1959 with Stirling Moss at the wheel.