Curbside Classic: 1960 Aston Martin DB4 – Do You Ekshpect Me To Talk?

“No, Mr T87, I expect you to write!” With the obligatory Goldfinger reference out of the way, I hope we can proceed together, with minimal drooling, at admiring at an absolute automotive work of art. I trust this will complete this week of British ‘60s Luxury with the correct amount of Englishness, a healthy dash of swingingness (is that a word? It is now!) and exclusivity galore. Or should that last one be?… Never mind.

I realize the Bond car was a DB5 (1963-65), but those were a pretty straight evolution from the DB4, which was the real game-changer. Launched in late 1958, the DB4 featured both an incredibly beautiful lightweight body designed by Touring and the latest race-derived Aston Martin 3.7 litre straight-6. A potent mixture that left the pundits shaken and disturbed.

David Brown brought Aston Martin back to life – not once, but twice. First, by buying the struggling carmaker right after the war, then by buying Lagonda, whose engine technology was the key to success. Originally displacing 2.6 litres, the DOHC 6-cyl. designed by W.O. Bentley grew to 3-litres and powered Astons to unprecedented sales and track successes throughout the ‘50s. Starting in 1956, engineer Tadek Marek was tasked with revising (more like redesigning) the Lagonda six, turning it into an all-alloy 3670cc beast the churned out 240hp in its initial state of tune.

The rejuvenated engine was tested out at LeMans in DB Mark IIIs, then deemed ready for prime-time in a truly revised chassis. The first series DB4s that came out of Newport-Pagnell in 1959 were still imperfect, though. A lot of work was done throughout that year to iron out most of the kinks (especially lingering engine cooling issues), leading to the Series II cars being launched in January 1960.

One of the main innovations was the inclusion of a Laycock-de Normanville overdrive (on 3rd and top gear) and very minor exterior modifications, such as bumper overriders, a front-hinged bonnet and redesigned door frames. However, the Lucas rear lights were carried over – incidentally, these are the same that were used on the contemporary Alvis 3-Litre and some coachbuilt Bentleys. Later cars, all the way to the DB5, had the three round lamps in place of these units.

The DB4 quickly became Aston’s best ever seller – production struggled to keep up with the orders pouring in. The new engine was a huge part of the attraction of course, but brilliant mechanicals are nothing without a beautiful body. Previous Astons were decent lookers, but a tad ponderous, both figuratively and literally. To avoid this problem, David Brown contracted the DB4’s design out to the best Continental specialists.

There is a reason why everybody flocked to Italy for automotive styling in the ‘50s and ‘60s – there were some real masters at work there. In the present instance, Aston Martin went to the Milanese coachbuilder Touring. Not only was their head stylist, Frederico Formenti, at least as talented as Michelotti or Frua (but far less publicity-hungry), but the firm was specialized in lightweight bodies. That’s what superleggera means, after all.

The aluminium skin over steel tubing was a welcomed weight-saving device, helpfully offsetting the extra length and width of the body. The result was that the DB4 turned out slightly lighter than the Mark III it replaced, while being a bit roomier inside.

Only a bit, mind you. The chassis is relatively high and the roofline not particularly low, so those rear seats are highly symbolic.

The business end of the cabin is a real delight of functional design. As per the fashion of the times, it is mercifully unincumbered by wood inserts or other affectations, but it’s not been thrown together at the last minute like certain older specialist cars, particularly the prewar ones, seem to be.

Earlier DB4s like this one still have the mesh-like (or tiny eggcrate-style) grilles sported by Aston Martin Mark III, where this more modern-looking maw was pioneered. This would soon change to the more iconic seven-vertical-bar look with the DB4 Series III.

If you felt as though your DB4 could use a few modifications, both body and engine, there were a few choices available. First from Aston themselves, who introduced a drop-top variant with the Series IV in late 1961 (top left). The DB4 GT (top right), launched in late 1960, featured the famous headlamp covers that were soon adapted to the whole Aston range, reduced weight and no rear seats, as well as a special 3.8 litre engine developing over 300hp. Said DB4 GT could be fitted with a slippery Zagato body (bottom left) – nineteen people opted for that. A single Bertone special dubbed “Jet” was made in 1961 (bottom right), designed by a very young Giugiaro.

But why would you want to pay extra for any of that when the standard issue DB4 coupé was such a beautiful machine to begin with? The Vantage option – i.e. the standard car with a 266hp engine – was an interesting proposition, but only available from MY 1962 on the Series IV.

In total, just over 1000 units of the “standard” DB4s were made before switching seamlessly to the DB5. An additional 200 more special cars (cabriolets, GTs and Zagatos) can be added to this total – a real hit for Aston Martin.

Some may prefer the GT’s covered headlights, but there is a lot to be said for the original design. If there needed to be one nit to be picked, this particular car’s colour would not be my first choice. But short of winning the lottery or taking on Fort Knox, that’s the sort of problem I’ll never have to think twice about.