1967 DBS; The James Bond Aston Martin you have probably forgotten about
Recalling the forgotten Bond Aston and my minor connection to the model
I'm sure if the TV game show Pointless asked the question ';name a model of Aston Martin James Bond drove', the highest scoring answer would be the DB5, mainly because it has featured in so many movies. Daniel Craig's barrel rolling VH platform DBS would probably score well too. A smart contestant might go for the rocket assisted ski jumping V8 from Timothy Dalton's The Living Daylights or the Vanquish from Pierce Brosnan's terrible Dire (sic) Another Day. However I suspect the lowest score and possibly even a pointless answer would be the DBS driven by George Lazenby in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (OHMSS).
The reason for this is perhaps, unlike the other cars, this olive green Aston does not play a significant role in the movie, other than in the final scene when (spoiler alert but hey it's a 51 year old movie) Q branch inexplicably forgets to fit a bulletproof windscreen. Actually the car doesn't appear to posess any gadgets at all, although keen Bond movie watchers will spot that the car makes a cameo appearance in the background of Q's workshop, having what appears to be a missile launcher fitted, in Diamonds are Forever. You can see Bond's DBS in the clip from OHMSS's opening sequence below (also featuring the recently departed Diana Rigg RIP).
Even if the DBS is small footnote in Aston Martin's long history with Britain's most famous secret agent the car itself is an interesting and an important part of Aston's own story. Let's head back to 1965 when Aston Martin launched the DB6. The badge may have indicated it was a new car but even the most casual observer could see it was really an updated DB5, which in turn had only been a mechanically updated DB4; a car that dated all the way back to 1958.
The updates for the DB6 brought a revised rear end with a kamm tail to improve aerodynamic stability and a raised roofline to liberate more headroom. While these were worthy changes customers reaction to the updates was muted, and it was obvious the basic design was showing its age, and an all new design would soon be needed.
Aston Martin DB6
The first attempt at this was the DBS (retrospectively known as the DBSC) by long time Aston Martin coachbuilder Touring Superleggera of Milan, unveiled in 1966. This was a very Italian looking sports coupe with clear hints of the Maserati Mistral and Lamborghini 400 (also a Touring design) and it was dubbed the 170mph Aston. However Touring was already in serious financial difficulty when they completed the car (actually two were made) and it was obvious they were in no condition to see the design through to production.
Instead Aston turned to British designer William Towns to create the new car which would be unveiled in 1967. Whereas the previous Astons had strong Italian influences in their styling, Towns was more interested in the car design from the United States and the burgeoning pony car sector. The resulting design was a much bigger car that many compared (favourably or otherwise) with the Ford Mustang fastback.
Aston Martin DBS, the rear is where most of the Mustang influence can be seen.
Being a bigger car than had gone before and inevitably meant it was heavier too. As a result the venerable Tadek Marek designed 4.0 litre straight six which again dated back to the launch of the DB4 was probably not going to cut it when Italian rivals such as Maserati were introducing multi cam V8 engines in the likes of the Ghibli.
Aston Martin's solution was to develop it's own V8, which was again the work of Tadek Marek. The initial version of the V8 was a race engine fitted in the back of John Surtees run Lola T70's. A single car was entered in 1967's Nurburgring 1000km and a pair of cars at the Le Mans 24 Hours the same year. After an inital hickup at the start the car ran reasonably well at the Nurburgring until suspension failure forced Surtees into retirement. At the Le Mans test weekend the car showed good pace enough for the Ford and Ferrari teams to take notice, but the actual race was a disaster. Surtees car retired after 3 laps with piston failure and the sister car also retired after four hours with engine trouble. After this Surtees replaced the engines with Chevrolet V8's and the race project was abandoned.
It was clear the advanced V8 with it's quad cams and fuel injection needed a lot more development which stretched the resources of what was a very small company . Aston Martin however needed the new car launched as soon as possible and as a result the DBS was unveiled with the existing 4.0 straight six unit almost entirely carried over from the DB6.
The result was well.... slow. The DB6 had been independently tested at 145mph in standard form and 152 mph with the uprated Vantage spec engine. The DBS could just about crack 140mph and had a zero to sixty time of 7.1 seconds. This is against a back drop of rivals Maserati and Ferrari offering cars that were, claimed at least, to crack 160mph.
The new car did bring improvements in other areas such as an improved chassis , with De Dion rear suspension being a notable upgrade. Towns' shape even with the American influence was far more modern than the late fifties based DB6. The DB6 incidentally stayed in production until 1970 and received some upgrades from the DBS.
The distinctive front end of the DBS
When it came to pricing, for the home market pre UK entry into the common market import duties on foreign cars meant the Aston at a list price £4,473 held a significant price advantage over the Italians , but the situation was reversed in much of mainland Europe (it was 30% more expensive than a Ferrari 275GTB/4 in Italy), and in the all important US market, at around $17,000 the Aston was priced more or less at parity with its latin rivals.
Aston Martin quickly realised the perfomance gap needed to be closed and offered the Vantage performance upgrade of Weber carburettors and uprated cams as a no cost option. This lifted power from 280bhp in the standard car to a claimed 325bhp. Now in the history of performance cars I can't recall another car that offered a power upgrade as a no cost option (suggestions in the comments please).
A year later and the DBS V8 was finally ready. In production form the new engine was a 5.3 litre unit producing something over 300bhp (the exact output was not stated by Aston but 320-340 bhp is often quoted). It finally made the DBS a 160mph car and the rear seats allowed it to be claimed as the fastest four seater car in the world. The V8 cars were distinguished from the six cylinder cars by alloy wheels that replaced the wires and a front air dam that gave a slightly more purposeful look.
Aston Martin DBS V8
The DBS V8 never got to be a Bond car but it was driven by a James Bond, as Roger Moore's character Brett Sinclair drove a Bahama yellow example in the TV series The Persuaders, except he didn't. The actual car used was a six cylinder car dressed up to look like a V8.
With the arrival of the DBS V8 you might expect the six cylinder car to be quietly dropped. However the bigger engined car came at a price premium of some 20% so Aston kept the smaller engined car in production. The fact that the V8 car was also developing a reputation for unreliability, thanks to problems with the complex Bosch fuel injection, may have also influenced this decision. Aston even offered another upgrade on the six in the form of fuel injection from AE Brico. Yes Aston Martin was offering two entirely different fuel injection systems on its cars at a time the technology was in its infancy. There were few takers for this though.
In 1972 long time Aston Martin owner David Brown sold the business (actually more gifted it for the nominal sum of £101 having paid off its debts) to new owners. This coincided with the cars receiving an update. The DBS title was dropped (although some early examples of the revised car still retained this badging) and the V8 became known simply as the AM V8 and most significantly featured a revised front facia with two headlights rather than four. This revised shape ran through a number of revisions through to the late 1980's.
The six cylinder car also continued and controversially adopted the name AM Vantage. The title previously reserved for the performance option was now the name for the base model. The name today is also historically confusing as in the late seventies Aston would release a high performance version of the cosmetically similar V8 also known as the Vantage.
A mere 70 of these six cylinder AM Vantages were built making it one of the rarest regular production Astons. Of the 70 cars, 68 were right hand drive and sold in the U.K. They were fitted with the Weber carburettor engine of the DBS Vantage. The last two were left hand drive and fitted with the SU carburettors of the standard DBS, possibly for emission reasons in the market they were sold too?
Aston Martin AM Vantage note the wire wheels
At this point I should declare an interest, as the very first car I ever rode in as a two week old baby was one of those 68 RHD AM Vantages. My father owned two of these, the first of which was unfortunately rear ended by a transit van, and it was the second, a silver blue example, that he and my mother brought me home from hospital in.
I don't have any real memories of the car as a couple of years later my Dad traded it in for a six carb V12 car from Maranello that followers of my Tribe will already be familiar with. In later years when I talked to him about it he recalled that it seemed fast at the time (it was his first 'exotic' car having moved up from a Jaguar XJ6) but in retrospect compared with other performance cars of that era he subsequently owned it wasn't.
Like most classic cars the DBS' have had their ups and downs in the market place. The six cylinder cars have, for most of their lives, been the cheapest entry into ownership of a Tadek Marek six Aston Martin. Today whilst prices have risen with the best examples somewhere between £100,000 and £200,000 that is probably a quarter what you would pay for a DB4 or DB5. The Bond association has not brought the same price premium that the DB5 enjoys.
The DBS V8 also suffered in the market place for many years but for a different reason. The Bosch fuel injection blessed the car with a reputation for unreliablity to the point that Aston replaced it with Weber Carburettors on the series 3 version of the V8 in 1973. Today however specialists understand the setup better than mechanics (and indeed Aston) in period and value wise they are now on a par with the rest of the V8 Astons, with the best ones prehaps even enjoying a small premium over other standard V8 models.
I'm not sure either car is for me though as if I was going down the classic Aston route I would rather have a later V8 Vantage, but it I did it would be one of the six cylinder AM Vantage cars, almost entirely for sentimental reasons. I'm curious to experience what the first car I rode in was like and how it compares to the Daytona that Dad traded it in for. To that end if your reading this and happen to own a silver blue (or one that was originally that colour) AM Vantage that was probably supplied by HWM motors in Surrey please feel free to get in touch.
All pictures my own, copyright on youtube links with their owners.
I do not have any images of my own of the DBSC but check out astonmartins.com where I also sourced some of the information for this article.