With drop-dead styling and strong performance, the DB4 is now among the most prized of all grand tourers. Buy carefully, though, as these Aston Martins can hide various issues.
How much to pay
• Project £200,000-300,000 • Good £300,000-600,000 • Concours £600,000-3,000,000 •
• Most expensive at auction: £9.45 million (DB4 GT Zagato)
Running costs ★★
DIY Friendly ★★★
When David Brown decided to replace the ageing DB2/4 line, it marked the beginning of a succession of models that would come to define most people’s idea of a classic Aston Martin. Tadek Marek designed a new twin-cam six-cylinder engine, while Touring provided its patented Superleggera construction method, as well as the new car’s sleek lines.
It was a landmark cocktail at a time when Aston’s sporting profile was reaching its height – in 1959, the team won both Le Mans and the World Sportscar Championship with its immortal DBR1. The DB4 went racing, too, courtesy of the GT, which was campaigned by the likes of Stirling Moss and Jim Clark.
On-track or off, the DB4 remains one of the great grand tourers. It was tweaked more or less continuously through its life, with the Vantage gaining triple SU carburettors, bigger valves and an increased compression ratio. There was the option of coupé or drophead bodywork, too.
Whatever your preference, there are many key points to consider if you’re not to be caught out in a very expensive way.
Your AutoClassic Aston Martin DB4 inspection checklist
Tadek Marek’s 3670cc straight-six is a fabulous engine and durable if properly looked after, but there were early lubrication troubles due to the difference in tolerances between hot and cold. The increase in sump capacity and addition of an oil cooler were attempts to combat that.
Like so much to do with a DB4, engine work can be eye-wateringly expensive if required. Basic servicing needs to be rigorously adhered to. Check that there aren’t any fluid leaks – especially from the weep holes down the right-hand side of the block – and ensure that antifreeze levels are adequate, something that’s vital on an all-alloy engine. There should also be no signs of oil and water mixing.
During the test drive, you don’t want to see blue exhaust smoke under acceleration, and oil pressure should be 80psi at tickover when warm. Check the paperwork for evidence of the last timing-chain replacement. If it fails, you’ll be left with bent valves and a huge bill.
As you’d expect from a company that specialised in gears, the David Brown four-speed unit is pretty robust. Difficulties selecting gears once everything’s warmed up could point towards synchromesh cones, while worn layshaft bearings will reveal themselves via a chattering noise while the car is in neutral and idling.
Check which differential ratio is fitted to the car you’re inspecting. Various options were used by the factory, and higher ones are better suited to cruising and modern motoring.
Overdrive was an option from the Series II onwards, with a Borg-Warner auto being introduced for the Series V – but very rarely specified.
Suspension and brakes
The DB4 uses independent front suspension via wishbones, coil springs and telescopic dampers. At the rear, there’s a live axle, coils, lever-arm dampers, trailing arms and a Watt linkage.
Make sure that the bushes and gaiters aren’t worn or perished – while you’re down there, look for rust or poor repairs around the mountings – and that there’s firm rebound in the dampers.
It’s vital that the recommended lubrication interval of 2500 miles is adhered to, otherwise wear can be rapid. The original crossplies are likely to have been replaced by radials, but wider rubber can make the steering even heavier at low speeds.
The DB4’s Superleggera construction comprises a main ‘tub’ of pressed and welded steel panels, topped by a frame of steel tubes. It’s a complicated but stiff structure, with aluminium panels being used to clothe the exterior. Restoring it is an extremely costly business, so you’ll need to check everywhere for corrosion. Even the aluminium panels will often need replacing if they’ve become brittle.
Inspect the sills, notably around the jacking points, then move on to the area around the rear trailing-arm mounts. The doors feature aluminium skins over a steel frame and can rot along their bottom edge.
Check the boot floor and, on soft-tops, look for cracks between the fuel filler and the bootlid. Electrolytic corrosion can occur where the bumper tubes pass through the body, so look at both the front and rear valances. Poor sealing in the front wheelarches, meanwhile, can cause the steel side members to rot.
If a car’s been fully restored by a respected specialist, then modern techniques – such as powder-coating the entire sub-structure – should help to protect the end result. Poorly restored cars, on the other hand, might not show themselves until it’s too late, so have a trusted expert inspect it before you buy – however pristine it looks on the surface.
The advantage of the DB4’s interior is that a specialist shouldn’t have any problem reupholstering the leather seats. The disadvantage is that, as you’d expect, it will be expensive.
Instrumentation is comprehensive, with a wonderfully charismatic dashboard layout, but make sure that it all works. An improved heater was fitted from 1961 onwards.
Although parts supply is generally good, some interior components are getting harder to find. These include quarterlight catches, heater control levers and seat runners.
The last-of-the-line Series V was lengthened by 3.5in to give more rear room, while the short-wheelbase GT is at the opposite end of the spectrum and is a strict two-seater.
- 1958: DB4 introduced in October.
- 1959: DB4 GT – 74 built, plus 19 Zagato-bodied cars and one by Bertone.
- 1960: Series II introduced with front-hinged bonnet and larger-capacity sump.
- 1961: Series III gains triple tail lights, then Series IV arrives with smaller bonnet air intake, twin-plate clutch and oil cooler. Vantage and Drophead variants added.
- 1962: Series V is lengthened by 3.5in and uses 15in wheels instead of 16s.
- 1963: Production ends after 1040 have been built.
Values of Aston’s DB models have gone through the roof in the past decade or more. Even project cars are commanding serious money.
But even with prices being what they are, anything you save by buying a project will be quickly cancelled out once the enormous cost of a proper rebuild is factored in. After all, these are complex, hand-built cars.
The Vantage models are more desirable than the standard cars, with dropheads being more valuable than the coupes. The lighter, race-bred GT is now comfortably into seven figures, with the Zagato-bodied cars being the domain of only the wealthiest collectors. After a period in which upgrades such as power steering and a bigger engine were relatively common, originality now seems to be back in vogue.
Seek out the help of a marque specialist before you take the plunge. Their inspection will be the best money you spend. Buy wisely and a DB4 of any type will reward you like few others.
Aston Martin cars for sale here.
Picture courtesy of Aston Martin UK Media
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