Less is more, so the saying goes, and the more time you spend behind the wheel of an early DB4, the more you appreciate the purity, lightness and agility of these first-of-the-line Newport Pagnell DBs.
Take this car. First deliveries of Aston Martin’s all-new DB4 started in late-1958. The stunning, Touring designed 2+2 was a rival to anything from Ferrari or Maserati for exclusivity and performance. It was more advanced than Jaguar’s XK 150, and with all-round disc brakes, an all-alloy, twin-cam 240bhp ’six and 140mph capability, for wealthy industrialists and the European jet set it immediately became the car to have.
So much so that the first DB4s were eagerly taken up by well-heeled Italian playboys who immediately set off, pedal-to-the-metal, on record runs down long sections of the autostrada in their new DB4s over hot bank holiday weekends. Aston Martin needed extra time to fully develop the car and the Series 2 that appeared in January 1960 was a more rounded machine, with subtle technical changes incorporated for improved durability.
Looking back at the DB4 of that time, you can’t help concluding that it was a gorgeous car. It was the first of the great 1960s David Brown DBs, one eventually to run to five series, each slightly different and more developed, gradually moving away from the simple original to a slightly longer and heavier version, almost identical to the DB5.
For marque enthusiasts, the Series 2 has it all: aggressive bonnet scoop, square-section stamped grille, famous ‘cathedral window’ rear lights and short boot. Other than minor details, the only difference from the first DB4 was that the S2 has a front-, rather than rear-hinged bonnet. For the Series 3 Aston dropped the iconic rear lights, for the Series 4 the onepiece grille was replaced by a new multi-section version and the Series 5, with its longer boot, was 9cm longer.
If you want simplicity, a car most faithful to Carrozzeria Touring’s original, then it’s either a S1 or S2. So when Nick and Neal asked me to try a restored Series 2 I jumped at the chance.
This car was first delivered in 1960 via Yorkshire main agents Charles Sydney. The Bradford-based buyer chose a rare colour from Aston Martin’s palette, Wedgwood Blue. It’s quite possible that fewer than 10 cars were made in this colour. For comparison, at least 97 DB4s were Dubonnet Rosso. To complement the delicate blue exterior, when delivered the interior was Off-White, since restored to a more practical – and now immaculate – medium-blue hide.
This is a DB4 to be appreciated. The doors open and close effortlessly, their lighter weight a result of windup, rather than electric windows. The engine catches immediately and the slim David Brown four-speed gear-lever, with its charismatic Bakelite knob, clacks! home with the precision of a Holland & Holland overand-under. With its narrow tyres and willowy woodrimmed steering wheel, the car has a delicate feel – it’s some 100kg lighter than a DB5. The performance from the standard twin-SU engine just seems sharper in this car.
Works driver Roy Salvadori made much of the seating in the DB4 when he tested an early car for Road & Track in May 1959. “At last a British manufacturer has seen fit to include as standard the Chapman Reutter seat mechanism,” he said, declaring that the seats “give support where it is needed and allow a relaxed driving position.” Hear, hear, they do – although those accustomed to Herr Reutter’s modern Recaros might take a while to settle in. Cornering fast in a 1960s Aston requires willpower and concentration, much as does wearing a hat a stiff breeze. If that makes sense.
Inside, the classic Aston Martin cabin of black enamel, black leatherette, blue leather and carpet is a joy. Ed Barton-Hilton favours the Series 2 DB4 and I can see why. In fact, sitting there with a quivering rev counter and a view over the long bonnet with exaggerated power bulge and air intake reminded me of my times racing a DB4. It’s a good place to be.
The slender A- and B-pillars are typical DB Aston and provide a superb, airy view of the road ahead. It wasn’t appropriate to follow Salvadori’s example and, at over 100mph, “feel a definite kick” when you change up into top, but isn’t it wonderful that, separated by 100 or so chassis numbers, I’m in the cabin of the same model Aston as the winner of Le Mans? Salvadori and Shelby’s feat was accomplished only a month after the Englishman’s DB4 test was published in the US.
And really, that’s what Aston Martin ownership is all about. The connect with the brilliant David Brown Racing team, an engine that was developed in the DBR2 sports-racer, the photos of an AML-owned DB4 behind the pits at Le Mans when the Project Cars hit 180mph in the early 60s.
Delicate, lightweight and the purest of them all, the Series 2 is the connoisseur’s DB4.