Lifestyle

Fast Last Aston from the Past


The last standard-bodied DB4GT produced, this '64 Aston Martin recently fetched a record $1,265,000 at auction

Introduced in September 1959 as a higher-performance version of the DB4, the DB4GT took the already-powerful (240 hp) DB4 engine, added twin ignition from two distributors/coils and twelve small (10 mm) spark plugs, three twin-choke Weber carburetors, and an increased compression ratio to boost the power to an honest and impressive 302 hp.

The Dana-Salisbury rear had a Powr-Lok limited-slip differential and was offered in five ratios ranging from 2.93 to 4.09. The DB4's wheelbase was chopped by five inches, thus eliminating its tiny rear seat area, and a 36-U.S.-gallon gas tank was fitted with fuel fillers on either side of the car.

With a lighter curb weight and more powerful engine than the DB4, the DB4GT could jump from 0–60 in a whisker over six seconds and go from rest to 100 mph in a bit over 14 seconds. Top end was measured at 153 mph with the 3.54 axle ratio. To provide effective braking, Girling four-wheel disc brakes were employed as standard equipment.

Of the 75 "standard" DB4GTs, only six are known to have full Factory Lightweight construction details. The half dozen Lightweights are divided into two sub-species. We can describe the first of these as "BUILD SHEET GTS" since they were originally ordered with this specification and are so described on the factory build sheets and in the Aston Martin Owners Club (AMOC) Registry. The other lightweight type is the "BESPOKE" or Service Department-created GT. Ex Aston-Martin Chief Engineer and Head of Racing, Ted Cutting, wrote to this author on November 11, 1994, with a clarification of the two types:

"The cars ordered as built as lightweights from the start were so described on their build sheets and completed by the Competition Department or in some cases by the Service Department, depending on the work load of each group at that time. The "Bespoke" GT chassis were modified to lightweight spec after build completion, but before their final assembly by the service shop."

AML Service Department-modified GTs like 0175/L, the example presented here, are not listed as a Lightweight on their build sheets, but a close examination of the the factory features of this car leaves little doubt as to its origins.

The GT we have the pleasure of offering here was actually the last DB4GT built and sold by Aston's Newport Pagnell Factory.

The SCM Analysis

This car sold for $1,265,000 at RM's Phoenix auction, January 19, 2007.

You can sense the climax of a great movie scene when you hear the following words: "Choose your words carefully, they may be your last." I have to admit my personal favorite is when Gert Frobe lashes out at Sean Connery in "Goldfinger" with the immortal phrase, "Choose your next witticism carefully, Mr. Bond, it may be your last." Gets me every time.... And with our topic here, an Aston Martin, it is especially fitting.

Auction catalogs choose their words carefully, and in the case of DB4GT0175L, extremely carefully, but at the same time, they can still be confusing.

Go faster, go lighter

Here's what I think is plenty enough undisputed merit to sell this GT, in and of itself, at this price.

(1) Lot #252 was the last standard bodied DB4GT produced—cool beans. The last of anything is a nice fact for collectors; the first or last always generates more buzz.

(2) A factory build sheet that confirms matching numbers showing once again, this is the real deal.

(3) This is one of 30 DB4GTs in LHD. That's the 40% minority and always a plus on these shores—probably a 15%–20% value bump over RHD.

(4) A solid timeline of ownership and recent restoration history—no condition mystery here.

(5) Shows nicely, great overall patina/feel for race, tour, or street use. (Personally, I would remove the vintage boy-racer add-ons such as the bonnet bug deflector, the foglights, the rear air exit venting, and so on that in my view cheapen the look. I would also fit a correct steering wheel. But that's a matter of taste and these things are easily changed).

(6) This car seems to possess period lightweight modifications, perhaps carried out by the Aston Martin factory after it was built as a standard DB4GT. This happens. I know this for a fact as a car I sold a few years ago—one campaigned by the German driver Peter Linder—had the same modifications. Super. You want to go faster, you make them lighter. For someone who wants to run at the front of the pack, this is all good stuff. (And is not dissimilar to the way Alfa Giulietta Sprint owners add lightweight components to their cars to make them emulate the Alfas that were so successful in the mid-'50s).

And that's where, in my opinion, the prolific prose should stop. That's it. That's all. Leave it at that. The world record price for the above stated car should make all of us in the Aston world glow. There must have been at least two buyers who stumped up $1million-plus for this car and that's a cool blog topic.

I have no complaint about the outcome; on this day it was worth what was paid for it.

But the catalog reference to what Aston designer Ted Cutting wrote to an unnamed catalog author in 1994, as to how lightweights were created, and the lumping in of this car with the five "no questions" lightweights just muddies the water. (See sidebar for RM's response.)

I can't find the term 'bespoke' anywhere

I've read Cutting's baffling line 20 times and I still don't understand it. "The Bespoke GT chassis were modified to lightweight spec after build completion, but before their final assembly by the service shop."

"Bespoke GT" may be Cutting's phrase but I challenge anyone to find the term in Aston Martin's archives, AMOC registries, or countless books written over 40 years.

I think I can translate. A GT was finished on the assembly line and then wheeled around to Works Service at the customer's request and de-contented and made lighter to go racing, which this particular car seemed never to have done anyway. Not a lot of roundy rounds planned by the original Swiss owner or the second Beirut owner, I'm guessing. David Brown's Economics 101 made simple: Aston got paid twice, once to build the car and once again to disassemble it and make it lighter.

Works Service is in business today to carry out customer requests line manufacturing cannot cope with; they exist precisely to further customize your car.

Nobody has explained when, how or if Aston actually made these changes. Could it have been done by an Aston dealer, a private garage, or the even the owner's manservant? That's my question, and I don't find the answer in the auction catalog. It doesn't mean an answer doesn't exist, it just means that it wasn't directly addressed.

Record-setting DB4GT, period

Perhaps Cutting used the term bespoke as a polite way of saying this car wasn't a true lightweight ordered from scratch. In such cases, there is a back page to the original build sheet that confirms service work carried out at the factory. I'd expect lightweight features to be mentioned there.

To my knowledge this car has never ever been grouped as a factory lightweight with the other five known lightweights, until now.

More importantly, Charlie Turner, who was a past owner of 0175L, only referred to his other car, 0168L, one of the five documented lightweights, as a lightweight.

This Aston was a record-setting standard DB4GT, period.

Certainly things have improved in the Aston Martin market of late; this car was a late entry and a "no sale" at RM's Waldorf NYC auction in September 2000 for $285,000. (There was no mention of it being a lightweight then.)

At the end of the day, in my opinion, the new owner has a nicely documented GT, with a bunch of neat go-fast stuff added on, with the somehow, sometime, and somewhere part of the conversion to lightweight specs completely undocumented. However, this equipment both makes the car go faster and gives it some added panache in the "My Aston's got more neat bits than yours" enduros that go on in the lobby of the Ritz each year.

The new owner paid a price that was slightly ahead of the market, but not by much, and will probably be exceeded the next time a GT comes up for public sale. And if somehow documentation turns up proving that this car was modified to lightweight specs while under construction at the factory, the new owner just won the Aston lottery, big time.


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