Image of classic silver Aston Martin DB4 parked on marble floor

Aston Martin DB4

BUYER’S GUIDE

Aston Martin DB4 Review

The blueprint for every Aston Martin that followed, the DB4’s style and influence make it a hugely significant classic, with desirability to match

What Is It?

While the DB5 it evolved into is more famous thanks to you-know-who the DB4 is arguably the more significant and important car, given it set the technical and aesthetic template Aston Martin lives by to this day. Developed alongside and launched at the same time as the more traditional DB MkIII, the DB4 was a much more modern car thanks to its combination of a new all-aluminium straight-six engine, exotic Superleggera construction and the Italian styling of the panels draped over it.

Though the overall look is similar, DB4s can be told apart from the DB5 by their daintier round headlights and sleeker shape, while the more potent shorter-wheelbase DB4 GT and its Zagato-bodied derivative gives it a direct racing bloodline. For purists and collectors this makes the DB4 perhaps the more interesting choice than the DB5 and DB6, the earlier car also the rawest expression of the breed before it gained weight, size and more luxury trimmings.   

Corrosive Areas

Any bodywork where steel chassis joins aluminium panels

Lower door edges

Front bulkhead and sills

Checklist

  • Following launch in 1958 DB4 production evolved over five ‘series’, 1961 one of the more significant years with cowled headlights, the arrival of the Convertible and the factory Vantage engine upgrade; later Series 5 car from the following year had longer body with reshaped roof and provided basis for the DB5
  • DB4 GT launched in 1959 as a more powerful and lightened competition variant based on a shorter wheelbase; 75 were built in period with 25 continuation models more recently by Aston Martin based on the lightweight specification used for racing
  • DB4 GT Zagato took the GT as its basis but with restyled bodywork, more power and even less weight – just 19 were made at the time
  • Iconic aluminium bodywork fits over a steel structure, so if there is rust it will be starting from the inside and working out
  • Any visible bubbling in the panels could suggest electrolytic corrosion with the steel beneath, and should be a cause for concern
  • Most cars will have led pampered lives in recent years but check for corrosion in the footwells where the bulkhead meets the floorpan, in the sills, jacking points, suspension mounts and spare wheel well
  • Vantage-spec cars swapped the standard twin SU carburettors for a triple set-up with twin spark plugs – if you’re paying extra for an original ‘Vantage’ make sure the history supports that claim as many cars have been upgraded over the years
  • Coolant channels towards the rear of the block can become clogged, risking dangerous overheating if not spotted – if the car ‘warms up’ suspiciously quickly it may be a sign the coolant isn’t circulating round the entire engine the way it should
  • The engine is fundamentally sturdy but requires frequent oil changes to stay in top form – make sure these have been done and that the timing chain has been replaced on schedule
  • Four-speed manual demands attention to use properly; a three-speed automatic was also available in period but doesn’t really fit the sporting character
  • Steering and suspension should feel precise and firm; any sloppiness could be down to worn bushings but could also be corroded mounts on the chassis
  • By this stage most cars will have been through one or more complete restorations so make sure you have evidence of the quality of the work, ideally fully documented with photographs and with the reassurance of it being done by a respected marque specialist
  • Visually the DB5 is all-but identical to the Series 5 version of the DB4, though benefits from a bigger 4.0-litre engine and a five-speed gearbox

How Does It Drive?

While the later DB5 got a syncromesh five-speed gearbox, and power steering and automatic gearboxes became more popular on the DB6, the DB4 is a more raw, traditional driving experience. That may make it appear less liveable for some, though the flipside for purists is it rewards drivers willing to make a bit more effort. Other than that it’s much the same as any of the DB cars, which is to say a delightful combination of a hugely charismatic and tuneful engine, strong performance, sure-footed handling and above average stopping power for a car of its vintage given the all-round disc brakes.

The 3.7-litre engine is a little down on power compared with the later cars, but the DB4 is lighter overall and GTs, those with the uprated triple-carb Vantage motor or examples that have been upgraded to similar spec at some point in their lives, can give you 300hp-plus and all the performance you need. With its shorter wheelbase and useful 85kg weight saving over the standard DB4 the GT is clearly the more dynamic choice, and perhaps the sportiest driving of all the DB models bar the even lighter Zagato.

What’s Good?

Classic Astom Martin DB4 Car

Like you need to ask! The DB5’s balance of muscularity and elegance are the perfect expression of what Aston Martin is all about, the sense that this is a car for gentlemen (if not necessarily gentlemanly behaviour) evident in every angle and detail.

True, it’s a degree of separation from the racing success of the DB4 GT and Zagato, to which those of a sportier persuasion may be drawn. But the DB5 is still a fast, powerful car more than capable of transcending those iconic on-screen appearances in its own right. It’s also the kind of car to score nods of approval from everyone who sees it, not just the petrolheads. And the feelgood factor of being seen in it will be second only to that of actually driving it.

Symbolically it’s also nice that the DB5 represents the diversity of the industry at the time, given it’s powered by an engine designed by a Polish engineer, styled by Italians yet somehow at the same time unmistakably English in its character.

What’s Bad?

Beautiful looks, a rock solid reputation and rarity are all very well, the flipside inevitably being that buying a DB4 of any type is going to be a very, very expensive business. Even if it all goes to plan. And if it doesn’t the potential to spend even more money is always there, especially with the temptation of barn finds, restorations and other money-draining projects. Never forget, the DB4 was an exotic, expensive car in its day and the nature of its construction means getting one up to standard is going to cost an awful lot of money.

That aluminium bodywork may not rust but the complex steel structure beneath it certainly can, while any sections where the two meet can mean an electrolytic reaction and further expense. Mechanically the news is better and engines and gearboxes are generally strong, but only when looked after properly. Given the value many cars will have spent many years sitting idle and not driven, so even if they polish up nicely for auction will require expensive recommissioning if you intend to use it properly.

Which Model To Choose?

Image of green classic Aston Martin DB4 parked in front of large stately home

How much do you have to spend? Obviously, a GT or a Zagato would be at the top of any classic car buyer’s wishlist, but originals are very much blue chip investments attracting values into the multiple millions. And with that in mind how much would you actually be able to enjoy it? Money no object you’d like to think you would but the reality may well be different. Convertibles are at the opposite end of the spectrum and have an attraction of their own but a coupe – or ‘saloon’ in Aston parlance – is probably the more appealing. Late-model Series 5 DB4s are, meanwhile, pretty much impossible to tell apart from a DB5 so you may as well go for the latter with its bigger engine and five-speed synchro ‘box, which leaves the earlier cars with their round, uncowled headlights. For the fact this visual signature is what sets the DB4 apart from others in the family we’d be tempted by one of these, perhaps with a sneaky Vantage engine upgrade for the extra power.

Specifications

 

Engine

3.7-litre six-cylinder, petrol

Power

243PS (179kW) @ 5,000rpm

Torque

325Nm (240 lb ft) @ 4,000rpm

Transmission

Four-speed manual/optional three-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

1,308kg

0-62mph

9 seconds

Top speed

140mph

Production dates

1958-1963

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