Aston Martin

The Aston Martin DB5 was first popularized when it was featured in the James Bond film “Goldfinger.”

Aston Martin is the quintessential British maker of elegant, low-volume performance cars. Lionel Martin and Robert Bumford, who had been selling Singer-brand automobiles, founded Aston Martin in 1913. Racers at heart, the pair drew on the Aston Hillclimb event for part of the name of their new enterprise.

Their early cars dominated English auto “trials” and speed events. But competition success didn’t spell financial security, and in 1947, British industrialist David Brown bought the company. In the pages that follow, you can read about Brown’s DB1 and DB2 models, and about the DB4 that followed. The DB4 of 1958 was the first truly modern Aston and its successor; the DB5 was the most famous, having played the role of James Bond’s movie spy car, most notably, in the film “Goldfinger.”

Since the DB2, Aston’s had built good performance around a strong inline six-cylinder engine. The increasingly cash-strapped Aston introduced a 5.3-liter V-8 with the DBS in 1969, and through the 1970s and 1980s relied on a trickle of high-priced grand touring cars built around this evergreen engine.

Models such as the Vantage V-8 and Virage were heavyweights that garnered more respect than passion. That began to change in the mid 1990s, when Aston returned to the inline-six formula, with the DB7, a pretty coupe that signaled a resurgence of Astons as objects desired for their looks as well as their brute performance.

We'll get started on the next page by taking at look at an early Aston Martin, the DB1.

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Aston Martin DB1

The most famous DB1 was driven by "Jock" Horsefall and Leslie Johnson, and was named winner of the Belgian Spa 24-Hour race in 1948.

Tiny Aston Martin was in financial trouble by the time industrialist David Brown bought it in 1947. Of course, the firm already had a checkered history. The very first Aston Martin was built in 1914, though sales didn’t begin until 1921, while the 1930s brought hard times, several changes of ownership, and no radically new models.

But by 1947 there was a new design, laid down during and after the war by Claude Hill. Code-named “Atom,” it featured a box-section multi-tube chassis with all-coil suspension -- independent trailing arms at the front and a live rear axle located by radius rods -- plus a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with pushrod-actuated overhead valves. Trouble was, the old Aston Martin company (then based at Feltham in Middlesex, near London’s still-small Heathrow airport) couldn’t afford to tool up for production.

But the David Brown takeover made fresh funds available, and the Atom duly arrived on the market in 1948 as the Aston Martin DB1, the designation obviously standing for “David Brown, first model.” However, it was only intended as an interim offering. Brown had also acquired Lagonda in 1947 and was busy getting out an all-new Lagonda sedan whose twincam engine would power a forthcoming new Aston.

Though nicely engineered, the DB1 chassis was suited to only very limited production. This undoubtedly made the whole car quite expensive to build. It certainly wasn’t a profitable project, but that didn’t seem to matter. As Brown later admitted, he’d bought Aston and Lagonda merely to “have a bit of fun.”

In truth, the DBI was underpowered and only 15 were ever sold. Its 2.0-liter engine produced a respectable 90 horsepower (SAE), but this was largely negated by the heavy four-seat convertible bodywork fitted to most examples. However, there was one light -- and successful -- DB1: a sparsely equipped two-seat sports racer that won the Belgian Spa 24-Hour race in 1948 in the capable hands of “Jock” Horsefall and Leslie Johnson. No replicas, however, were ever produced.

The standard convertible shell was styled by ex-Lagonda employee Frank Feeley, who had been responsible for such luscious creations as the 1930s V-12 Lagondas and the new 2.6-liter Lagonda sedan then reaching production. The Aston Martin DB1 bore the characteristic front-end treatment that would be carried forward on the more famous DB2, and had long, sweeping lines.

The Aston Martin DB1 engine was never used in any other Aston or Lagonda. And since no tooling and few spare parts were ever produced, keeping this British rarity on the road won’t be easy or cheap. Such is the price of history.

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Also known as Two-Liter Sports, the first David Brown Aston was handsome in its way and not that fast, but it bridged the gap between prewar Astons and later DBs.

Aston Martin DB2

Although it was the second sports car model to carry the "David Brown" label, the Aston Martin DB2 was sleeker, faster, and more successful than the DB1 -- thus considered the first "real" David Brown Aston.

The Aston Martin DB2 that was the first real David Brown Aston, despite the fact the DB1 also beared his name. Brown, who’d made his fortune in transmissions and farm tractors, decided to have “a bit of fun” in 1947 by acquiring the financially ailing Aston Martin and Lagonda motor companies. Both were located just west of London, both were saddled with antiquated facilities, and neither could afford to put its new designs into production. Brown took control, moved Lagonda business into the Aston Martin factory at Feltham, and began to look to the future.

What he inherited with these acquisitions were a fine new Aston Martin chassis and a splendid 2.6-liter twincam six-cylinder engine from Lagonda. The engine had been designed under the guidance of the legendary W.O. Bentley, Lagonda’s technical director since 1935. In an inspired move, Brown had the Aston DB1 chassis modified to accept the Lagonda engine and transmission. The result was an excellent new Aston, the Aston Martin DB2. This car and its descendants would carry Aston Martin successfully through the Fifties.

Three DB2 prototypes were built in 1949, given smooth fastback coupe bodies (shaped by Frank Feeley, who’d styled the DB1), and entered at that year’s Le Mans 24-Hour race in France. Two ran the four-cylinder DB1 engine, the other the new Lagonda six. There was no success that first time out but, two weeks later, the six-cylinder Aston Martin DB2 prototype finished third overall at the Spa 24-Hour race in Belgium.

The Aston Martin DB2 carried a six-cylinder engine from Lagonda, designed under the guidance of the legendary tecnical director W.O. Bentley.

Conceived as a rather spartan open and closed two-seater, the Aston Martin DB2 was more civilized when it went on sale in 1950, with proper bumpers and more complete equipment. Its multi-tube chassis was an evolution of the DB1 design, still with trailing-arm independent front suspension but revised rear axle location.

Like all the best British sports cars of the day, it also had center-lock wire wheels. The engine produced 105 horsepower in standard form, but a 125-bhp “Vantage” version was later offered at extra cost. The 4-speed manual gearbox, a David Brown Industries product, was available with either steering-column or floor-mounted shifter.

Though undoubtedly beautiful, the Aston Martin DB2 was initially more a competition car than a full-fledged road machine. Its aluminum body, with panels handcrafted at Feltham, featured a hinged front section -- hood, nose and both fenders -- that tilted forward for engine access, handy for the track.

The coupe’s rearward vision was restricted by a small backlight, and there was no exterior access to the luggage space. The only opening rear panel was a top-hinged lid covering the spare tire compartment. Some thought the drophead coupe looked even better than the fixed-top model, but only 49 of the 409 DB2s built were open.

Pundits, owners, and magazine road testers all agreed that, though an expensive proposition, the Aston Martin DB2 had a superb chassis, great performance, and an immense amount of character. Even better, it became progressively more civilized over its four-year production run. Original racing-oriented features like engine bay-louvers were abandoned in favor of more and better-quality trim and improved seating. The simple three-piece grille was displaced by a more stylish one-piece design in 1951.

At Aston Martin, however, there was never much time for a design to settle in. Thus, the Aston Martin DB2 was displaced in 1953 by an even more refined version, the DB2/4.

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Aston Martin DB2/4

The Aston Martin DB2/4 was the first ever sports car to have a new top-hinged hatchback, which allowed for access to a much-enlarged luggage area.

The Aston Martin DB2/4 bowed in the autumn of 1953 to replace the DB2, and was an altogether better version of it. The designation tells the main story, for this was still the “David Brown” Aston, only now with four seats. Of course, it helped to have a sense of humor about that, because wheelbase was unchanged, and squeezing in those extra seats required a good deal of shuffling, including a smaller fuel tank repositioned above the spare. In fact, there was really no room for a rear passenger’s legs with the front seats pushed all the way back.

As before, there were coupe and convertible body styles, but the coupe’s appearance was subtly altered. A one-piece windshield replaced the previous divided glass, and the rear roofline was bulged out to provide some semblance of headroom for those unfortunate enough to have to ride in the new back seat. The biggest improvement was a new top-hinged hatchback -- the first ever fitted to a sporting car, by the way -- for access to a much-enlarged luggage area.

As on so many of today’s cars, the Aston Martin DB2/4's rear seatback could be folded forward for even more cargo space. Coupe bodies were contracted to H.J. Mulliner and Sons of Birmingham, famous for its Rolls-Royce coachwork and which had recently begun building TR2 shells for Standard-Triumph. Under the hood, the more powerful 125-horsepower Vantage engine was now standard.

The result of all this was an exciting sports tourer that was more practical and versatile than ever. Independent tests showed the DB2/4 capable of 111 mph maximum and 12.6 seconds in the 0-60 mph sprint, making this a fast car by early-1950s standards. No wonder sales surged.

Although the Aston Martin DB2/4 had four seats, the rear passengers lacked enough leg room with the front seats pushed all the way back.

Demand swelled even more beginning in mid-1954 when a larger 2922-cc engine with 140 bhp became available. A third body style arrived in 1955, a notchback coupe version of the convertible. By that time, Mulliner had moved closer to Standard-Triumph (which would take over the coachmaker in 1958), so David Brown shifted coupe body production to Tickford at Newport Pagnell, which already built the convertible; final assembly continued at Feltham for the time being. With this change came a conventional hood and front fenders fixed to the chassis.

Naturally enough, this second-generation DB2/4 became known as the Mark II, and was built for two years. It was capable of 120 mph, which was almost on a par with the much heavier and less nimble Jaguar XK140, yet retained the same feline roadholding of earlier DB-series Astons. It’s interesting to recall that these cars were sold with drum brakes, for disc-brake technology was still in its infancy.

Though DB2/4 production was low by most any standard, this was a successful car for Aston Martin. Exactly 566 “Mark Is” were built, 199 Mark IIs.

At its peak, the DB2/4 was being produced at the rate of six or seven a week even though it was strictly a handbuilt car. Of course, it’s very collectible today, but David Brown had an even better Aston in the works, the DB Mark III.

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Aston Martin DB Mark III

The Aston Martin DB Mark III was the final evolution of the original DB2, and it was faster, more secure, and better-looking than ever.
The Aston Martin DB Mark III was the final evolution of the original DB2, and it was faster, more secure, and better-looking than ever.

The Aston Martin DB Mark III, third and final derivative of the DB2 Aston Martin, appeared in March 1957 (originally for export only) and was produced for two years. Almost everything about its technical development, equipment, and marketing was logical except the name. After the DB2/4 and DB2/4 Mark II, it rightly should have been called DB2/4 Mk III, but it wasn’t. Neither could it be the DB3, for that designation had been used on a sports-racing car in the early 1950s.

So, the short-lived DB Mark III carried a name that made little sense in the progression of Aston Martins built before or after. But that doesn’t detract at all from the last, excellent flowering of the basic DB2 design: faster, more secure, and better-looking than ever. Styling was only slightly altered compared with the DB2/4 Mk II.

The nose and grille were more delicately sculptured and very graceful, visually quite similar to that of the aforementioned DB3S sports racer. At the rear were modestly revised fenders incorporating the taillamps of the Rootes-built Humber Hawk. Inside, a new instrument panel designed by Frank Feeley grouped all gauges directly ahead of the driver instead of in the center.

The Aston Martin DB Mark III coupe styling foreshadowed that of the coming Aston Martin DB4/DB5 models.

But the most notable improvements on the DB Mark III showed up in the engine, transmission, and brakes. Standard horsepower was up to 162, and a more efficient twin exhaust and dual SU carbs were optional to boost that to 178 bhp. In 1958, both gave way to a final version of the 3.0-liter “Bentley/Lagonda” engine with triple Weber or SU carbs and higher compression (8.68 vs. 8.16:1) for 180 or 195 bhp. Girling front disc brakes were optional through the first 100 cars, then standard, while electric overdrive for the manual gearbox and a new Borg-Warner automatic transmission also became optional extras.

By this time, Aston Martin had decided to concentrate assembly at the old Tickford factory at Newport Pagnell. All DB4-series cars were assembled there, as were the last DB Mk IIIs. Although the DB Mark III was primarily intended as a fast, superbly finished road car, it could be ordered with all manner of competition-oriented goodies: special engine, close-ratio gearbox, engine oil cooler, competition clutch and suspension, and an extra-large (33.6 U.S.-gallon) fuel tank. It was the sort of car that contract team drivers like Stirling Moss were proud to use on the road.

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Aston Martin DB4

The very popular Aston Martin DB4 was the first truly modern Aston sports car.

The Aston Martin DB2 had been on sale five years before Aston Martin began contemplating a successor. Christened Aston Martin DB4, it was all-new, which helps explain why it took three years to be finalized, delaying its public launch until autumn 1958.

Key personalities behind the new Aston Martin DB model were general manager John Wyer (who would mastermind the birth of the Ford GT40 in the 1960s), chassis designer Harold Beach, and engine designer Tadek Marek. David Brown himself took a major step forward by agreeing to the development of an entirely new car, for every major component in the DB4 was new, and there was never any thought of compromise by using carryover parts.

Wyer concentrated as much of the new model’s manufacturing and assembly as he could in the modernized Newport Pagnell factory. One unanticipated consequence, however, was that longtime stylist Frank Feeley declined to move to Buckinghamshire, forcing Aston Martin Lagonda to seek outside design help.

The Aston Martin DB4 chassis was simpler and more rigid than that of the DB2s. Wheelbase was an inch shorter but tracks were wider, and improved packaging allowed more reasonable four-place seating. The previous multi-tube design was abandoned for Aston’s first pressed-steel platform-type frame, which in one form or another would persist at Aston through the 1960s and 1970s.

Conventional coil-spring/double-wishbone independent front suspension was retained along with rack-and-pinion steering. Chassis engineer Beach had wanted to use a De Dion rear end, but this would have to wait a full decade and an ordinary live axle was used instead.

Under the DB4 hood was a big, rugged, and visually beautiful twincam six inspired by, but altogether larger than, the Jaguar XK engine. Displacement was 3.7 liters even in its original form, good for a dead-reliable 240 bhp, though a lot more was possible (and realized in future models). Because this was much too lusty for the existing DB2 transmission, a new David Brown 4-speed unit was produced to suit. A few automatic-transmission cars were also produced towards the end of the model run. Naturally, there were disc brakes all around. A good thing, too, for even early DB4s weighed nearly 3000 pounds and were capable of 141 mph.

Aston Martin DB4 styling and body construction were “imported” from Italy. Carrozzeria Touring of Milan, which had already produced several Aston specials, was hired to design the car and supply bodies for it built according to the firm’s patented “super light” principles. This Superleggera construction employed aluminum panels over a lattice of small rubes laid out to define the body shape, an ideal process for a small-volume producer like Aston.

Initially, the DB4 had a Mark III-like grille, shaped rather like a squashed loaf of bread seen head-on, flanked by single headlamps on the corners of the front fenders, but this treatment would undergo five minor variations over the subsequent five years. Series 1 cars’ rear-hinged hoods changed to front-hinged on Series 2 models (built from January 1960). The Series 3 (from April 1961) had minor cosmetic changes, while the Series 4 (from September that same year) had a new-style grille and the high-power Vantage models received headlamps recessed behind sloping covers. The final Series 5 (from September 1962) had more legroom and trunk space and a higher roofline. A four-seat convertible joined the introductory fastback coupe style in late 1961.

DB4 running changes also encompassed mechanicals. Overdrive was added as an option beginning with Series 2, while the Series 4 offered a tuned 266-bhp option called Vantage. A slew of axle ratios was available right from the first, almost anything the customer demanded.

Though the DB4 was much larger, heavier, and costlier than the DB Mark III it eventually displaced, it was the first truly modern Aston and very popular because of it. A total of 1113 were produced — a new high-water mark for the firm — before the closely related DB5 took over in late 1963.

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Aston Martin DB4GT and DB4GT Zagato

Though lighter than the standard DB4, the short wheel-base two-seat Aston Martin DB4GT was too heavy and well-equipped to be a serious track competitor.

Aston Martin reached the pinnacle of sports-car racing in 1959. Helped by victory in that year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, it won the World Manufacturer’s Championship with the very special DBR 1/2. Of course, ordinary folk couldn’t buy a DBR 1/2, but they continually asked for faster and more specialized DB4s. Aston Martin responded between 1959 and 1963 with two distinctly different cars: the DB4GT and the DB4GT Zagato.

A year after the DB4 arrived, a modified version called DB4GT was announced, a prototype having already won a production-car race at the British Silverstone circuit in early 1959. Trimmer than the Aston Martin DB4 in both size and weight, this new high-performance Aston rode a five-inch shorter wheelbase. Its cabin was cut down accordingly with shorter doors and no rear seats. More visual distinction was provided by a more rounded nose/front-fender ensemble, with headlights recessed behind Plexiglas covers. Trim and equipment were simplified where possible, so weight dropped from the DB4’s nominal 2885 pounds to 2705. Under the hood was a new version of the all-alloy 3.7-liter six with high-lift camshafts, higher compression (9.0:1), and three dual-choke Weber carburetors. Output was a smashing 302 horsepower at 6000 rpm, enough for a top speed of more than 140 mph.

A handful of super-light DB4GTs was also produced for favored racing teams. In long-distance contests like the British Tourist Trophy race they proved almost as fast and nimble as the famous Ferrari 250GT Berlinettas. Still, the DB4GT was too heavy and, crazy as it sounds, too well equipped to be a competitive racer. Though 75 roadgoing models were built in little more than a year — which, by Aston’s standards, made this a successful and profitable project — it was time to try harder.

What emerged was a curvy new Zagato-bodied variation, logically designated DB4GT Zagato and first seen in late 1960. Nothing could be done to reduce chassis size and weight (nor did prevailing homologation requirements permit it), but the Italian coachbuilder produced a very light fastback coupe shell that was quite unmistakable. Its overall appearance was marked by the curious combination of curves and angles associated with this carrozzeria, definitely smoother than the standard-issue GT and a little bulbous. Yet despite show-car styling, and publicity claims to the contrary, this was a circuit racer that might, if you insisted, be driven on the road. The fact that only 19 were called for (with a good number of detail differences among them) suggests that most GTZ’s were used on the track.

The lighter-bodied Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato was more competitive than the Aston Martin DB4GT, but Aston never mounted a serious campaign.

The DB4GT Zagato body was completely different from the DB4GTs in both style and construction. Normally the car was supplied without bumpers, though you could get them if you insisted. Rolling chassis were sent to Italy for body installation, but painting and final assembly were performed at Newport Pagnell.

As for its engine, the DB4GT Zagato was treated to a new-design cylinder head with twin spark plugs for each cylinder and still higher compression (9.7:1), which pushed peak power to 314 bhp at 6000 rpm. As the body weighed about 100 pounds less than the normal DB4GT’s, and likely suffered less air drag, the Zagato was that much more competitive on the track. Had Aston Martin mounted a serious competition program for this car, it might have had the measure of Ferrari.

But there was no money for that because Aston Martin was still a tiny operation, smaller even than Enzo’s company (though Ferrari had grown quite a bit by this time, relatively speaking). And in the high-stakes, high-visibility world of European road racing (or any form of racing, for that matter), better to make no effort than a halfhearted one. Besides, Aston had already proven its point by winning Le Mans and the 1959 championship.

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Aston Martin DB5 and Volante

The Aston Martin DB5 became an international star when it played the role of James Bond's spy car in the film Goldfinger.

After five years, the DB4 had evolved so far from its origins that it deserved a new name. It got one in the autumn of 1963: the Aston Martin DB5. But though it retained the basic chassis, body style, and running gear of late-model DB4s, Aston’s newest was once again a different car in many respects. Interestingly, it would be built for only two years and 1021 examples yet became one of the most famous of all Astons. Such is the power of Hollywood. A specially equipped DB5 served as James Bond’s spy car in the film Goldfinger, thus instantly making this model an international star.

The best way to begin describing the Aston Martin DB5 is to start with the DB4 from which it was developed. The solid 98-inch-wheelbase pressed-steel platform chassis and the basic dohc six-cylinder engine were retained, as was the choice of four-seat coupe and slightly less spacious convertible models. However, a 4-mm bore increase swelled engine displacement from 3670 to 3995 cc. In original standard form (with three SU carburetors), the DB5 thus carried a rated 282 horsepower. The coupe, complete with headlamps recessed behind sloping covers, looked almost exactly like the last of the DB4s, while the convertible now adopted this treatment (DB4 Convertibles always had exposed headlamps). A detachable steel hardtop remained optional for it. As before, both models carried Touring Superleggera bodies.

Initial DB5 transmission choices were as for late DB4s: 4-speed David Brown manual gearbox, the same with extra-cost electric overdrive, and optional 3-speed Borg-Warner automatic. But there was also a third option now, an all-synchromesh ZF 5-speed manual (also used in six-cylinder Maseratis of the period) in which fifth gear was effectively an overdrive. It became standard by mid-1964 and the 4-speed and separate overdrive vanished.

Autumn of 1964 brought a more powerful engine as a new Aston Martin Vantage option. Breathing through a trio of twin-choke Weber carburetors, it was rated at no less than 325 bhp, and was to be the most popular Aston “Big Six” for the remaining years of its life.

Despite its powerful engine and stunning good looks, the DB5 lacked a few modern features, such as air conditioning and power steering.

Another interesting DB5 footnote concerns the dozen “shooting brake” (station wagon) conversions produced by Harold Radford, the London-based coachbuilders. Built in 1965, they now have considerable rarity value. The convertible was somewhat revised that same year, with quarter bumpers front and rear rather than full-width blades, an additional oil-cooler air intake at the front (under the license plate), and its own surname: Volante (“flying” in Italian). Only 37 were built before the production changeover to the successor DB6.

By this time, the Aston Martin DB was not only faster but significantly heavier than ever. The typical DB5 coupe weighed nearly 3300 pounds, 400 more than the DB4 of five years earlier. Even so, it was still good for about 140 mph. But the extra heft showed up in heavier fuel consumption, and most owners found they could do no better than about 15 mpg.

Though definitely a hand-built thoroughbred in the best British tradition, the DB5 was a dinosaur in some respects. For example, air conditioning wasn’t available. Neither was power steering, so you needed strong arms to get the best out of the car on twisty roads. Strong legs didn’t hurt either. The DB5’s combination of Italian styling and oh-so-British appointments had undeniable charm, but its shortcomings seemed more intolerable — and less professional — as the years passed. Correcting them was the mission for Aston’s next-generation design, the DB6.

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Aston Martin DB6 and Volante

The Aston Martin Volante convertible arrived a year behind the familiar 2+2 coupe.

Just two years after introduction, the Aston Martin DB5 stepped aside for the larger, plusher Aston Martin DB6. Inevitably, the new model was less sporting than its predecessors, if undeniably more practical and still quite potent.

Bowing in late 1965, the DB6 retained Aston’s then-seven-year-old basic chassis design, but with a 3.75-inch longer wheelbase and a relocated rear axle (as usual, by Salisbury). The platform stretch was given over entirely to additional rear seat space. Running gear and suspension were virtual DB5 carryovers, but all drivetrain combinations — 282- and 325-horsepower engines with either ZF manual or Borg-Warner automatic transmission — now cost the same, and “Powr-Lok” limited-slip differential (first used by Aston on the DB4GT) and chrome wire wheels were standard. Announced shortly after the car itself was first-time availability of power steering, a welcome option.

From the front, the DB6 looked much like the DB5, but was quite a departure from the cowl back, if still recognizably Aston. The designers aimed to provide more passenger space, especially in the small “ + 2” rear, and improve aerodynamic stability. Accordingly, the DB6 windshield was higher and more vertical than the DB5’s so the roofline could be raised for increased headroom. The familiar coupe remained a fastback style, but rear quarter windows now swept up instead of down, and the tapered tail of old gave way to a modern, abruptly chopped Kamm-style treatment much like that of the Ferrari 250 Berlinetta Lusso or 275 GTB.

Other recognition points included the return of front-door quarter windows, an oil-cooler air scoop low on the nose, and quarter-bumpers at each comer. Inside were the usual dazzling — and rather haphazardly placed — instruments, sweet-smelling leather upholstery, and top-quality British carpeting.

Though overall length was up two inches, the DB6 weighed about the same as the DB5 even though Aston now abandoned Touring’s patented Superleggera construction. Henceforth, all Astons would have conventional bodies, with aluminum skins and steel floor and inner panels.

Top speed for the Aston Martin DB6 was up to 148 to 150 mph in 325 bhp Vantage guise.

The DB6 was apparently slipperier than the DB5, for top speed was up to 148-150 mph in 325-bhp Vantage guise, making it the equal of the more charismatic Ferraris and Maseratis of these years, at least for all-out speed. In fast touring, the British car was still somewhat “trucky” compared with its Latin rivals — more work in spirited driving, though easier to manage than previous Astons.

Per recent practice, a new Volante convertible arrived about a year behind the DB6 coupe. Unlike the “interim” Volante built on the DB5 chassis with a DB6-style rear end, this one had the longer wheelbase and a new power-operated top mechanism. Both body styles then continued with virtually no appearance changes through the end of the series in 1970.

Aston’s next generation, the DBS, had been on the scene three years by then, but the DB6 had one last hurrah beginning in the autumn of 1969. That’s when an updated Mark II version appeared with flared wheelarches to accommodate fatter DBS-type wheels and tires. At the same time, AE-Brico fuel injection arrived as a new option, but it was a very unreliable system and found few takers. Almost all DB6s so equipped have since been fitted with carburetors.

Incidentally, the Radford works again turned out a handful of DB6 “Shooting Brake” (wagon) conversions. These closely resembled the dozen DB5-based examples, but only half as many were built, just six in all.

With the end of DB6 production in November 1970 came the end of the great line begun with the DB2 in 1950. The torch had already passed to a more modern Aston, a design that’s with us yet. For that story, read on.

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Aston Martin DBS and AM Vantage

The Aston Martin DBS was considered only the third truly new Aston in 18 years when it arrived in September of 1967, though much of its chassis and running gear reflected that of the existing DB6.  See more pictures of Aston Martin cars.

David Brown’s Aston Martin concern held out for every possible sale before discarding a car design, thus hoping to realize maximum return on investment. This helps explain why the DB2 family lasted seven years, the DB4 generation 12. Thus, when the Aston Martin DBS arrived in September 1967, it was only the third truly new Aston in 18 years. Even then, it wasn’t all-new, for much of its chassis and running gear came straight from the existing DB6 in concept if not always detail.

Work on the Aston Martin DBS began in 1966, a year that saw Aston’s fortunes at a low ebb. Touring, the firm’s Italian design and body contractor, suffered a financial collapse just after it had completed a pair of promising prototype coupes now known as DBSC, while a government credit squeeze in England deflated demand for costly cars like the DB6. Brown, however, could still afford his “bit of fun” and put the rush on yet another new design.

This styling assignment was handed to the ambitious young William Towns, who’d been hired at Newport Pagnell only to design seats. Towns knew that Brown wanted not only a new Aston coupe but a new Lagonda sedan as well, so he conjured up two closely related proposals, one for each model, differing mainly in wheelbase and roof and nose styling. By sheer persistence, he got his coupe approved. (The erstwhile Lagonda only progressed as far as a couple of prototypes.) Towns left plenty of underhood space for a brand-new V-8 then under development, though it wouldn’t materialize until 1969.

Because capital reserves were low and the sense of urgency high, the new DBS (the “DB7” designation was ruled out to emphasize just how new) rode the DB6 chassis, albeit with an extra inch of wheelbase and a significant 4.5 inches of front and rear track. Front suspension and the still-optional power steering were as before, but engineer Harold Beach finally won his battle for a De Dion rear suspension. Running gear — standard and Vantage engines with manual or automatic transmission — were also per DB6. So was the troublesome AE-Brico fuel injection option, which garnered as few orders here.

While early DBS Astons had four headlamps, the restyled AM Vantage of 1972 and 1973 had a two-lamp front but otherwise was much the same as the DBS.

Though the new fastback coupe body showed familiar Aston shapes in its grille and side window openings, it had a crisp, clean “extruded” look, with curved bodysides and a rather angular superstructure that nevertheless harmonized well. Quad headlamps were set within a full-width eggcrate grille, and center-lock wire wheels were on hand — or rather, on ground — as usual. Overall, there was no trace of Italian influence, yet the DBS was as smart and modern as anything from Turin and offered significantly more passenger space than the DB6 despite being slightly shorter. It remains the basis of the Aston V-8s still in production at this writing, though a convertible was not part of the picture in the late 1960s; that came much later.

Because of its bulk, the Aston Martin DBS was unavoidably heavier than the DB6 — by a whopping 510 pounds — so its performance and gas mileage were predictably that much worse. Still, it could do nearly 150 mph flat out, 0-60 mph acceleration remained respectable at 8.5 seconds, and roadholding was excellent, a benefit of the wider track. On the down side, handling was cumbersome without the optional power steering. In fact, all controls — shifter, steering, brakes — demanded somewhat “masculine” effort, a good description of Aston character if plainly sexist. Fuel consumption declined to an appalling 10 miles per U.S. gallon, though few worried about it much because gas was still plentiful and cheap.

The promised V-8 duly appeared in a companion model called DBS-V8 (which later prompted some to dub the six-cylinder version “DBS-6”). However, the DBS continued, albeit with no significant changes, until 1972.

Which just happened to be a watershed year for Aston Martin Lagonda, as David Brown stopped having “fun” and sold his interests to Company Developments, Ltd. At that point, the DBS was renamed Vantage and received the 325-bhp engine as standard equipment. It also got a mild facelift, with larger dual headlights flanking a narrowed grille bearing a simple black mesh insert.

The Vantage died after 14 months, lasting through July 1973 and accounting for a mere 70 of the total DBS-series production run of 857 units. With it died the splendid Aston Martin twincam six, sad to say. All subsequent Astons have used the 1969-vintage V-8.

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Aston Martin DBS V-8/AM V-8, Vantage, and Volante

The Aston Martin DBS V-8 was one of the two or three quickest cars in the world; this mostly hand-built sports car could go from 0 to 60 in 6.0 seconds and had a top speed of 150 mph.

The six-cylinder Aston Martin DBS appeared in 1967 but had always been planned around a new Aston Martin DBS V-8. This powerful 5.3-liter unit, with light-alloy block and heads and twin overhead camshafts per cylinder bank, was actually unveiled that same year for racing, but didn’t see production until the autumn of 1969. It has powered every Aston and Lagonda built since.

Aston enthusiasts had waited a long time for something like the DBS V-8, and they weren’t disappointed. It was — and is — a magnificent powerplant: very muscular and torquey, and quite reliable with proper servicing. It’s also quite expensive — built mostly by hand, in fact — which keeps production at Newport Pagnell down to no more than four or five cars a week.

You could distinguish between the six-cylinder and V-8 DBS by the latter’s standard cast-alloy wheels — and much greater performance: 0-60 mph was now a mere 6.0-second affair, top speed a blistering 150 mph. The V-8 transformed the DBS from being very fast to stupendously fast — one of the two or three quickest cars in the world. Because rival makers often claimed optimistic (and sometimes unbelievable) power and performance figures in the late 1960s, Aston refused to quote any at all, stating only that the V-8 DBS was “sufficient” and allowing its performance to speak for itself.

Nevertheless, the V-8 initially delivered an estimated 350-375 horsepower with standard Bosch electronic fuel injection which, as experience soon showed, was rather finicky to maintain. As with the six-cylinder model it was offered with 5-speed manual (ZF) or 3-speed automatic transmission, only the latter was now the well-known Chrysler TorqueFlite. Chassis specifications were as for the six-cylinder car except that its optional power steering was standard.

The DBS V-8 has been in production nearly two decades now, surviving several management and ownership changes in the process. Today’s version doesn’t seem all that different from the original, but it’ s seen a fair number of changes over the years.

The first came in 1972, when David Brown sold Aston Martin Lagonda to Company Developments, Ltd. The DBS V-8 was renamed Aston Martin V-8 and received the facelifted six-cylinder model’s new two-lamp nose with narrowed black-mesh grille, and a hood “power bulge” (replacing the former scoop). From summer 1973, the engine reverted to carburetors, a quartet of twin-choke Webers that actually improved both performance and driveability. These continued into the 1980s, when fuel injection returned, a more modern Bosch system. (Incidentally, there was a six-month period in 1974-75 when no Astons of any kind were built, pending the arrival of new management and fresh capital.) Power was boosted by an advertised “15 percent” in 1977, and though emissions controls have since taken a toll, recent official figures list output at 309 bhp net.

That same year, 1977, brought a souped-up Vantage V-8, a British reply to Italian supercars like the Lamborghini Countach and Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer. It was easily identified by a deep front airdam with engine-cooling slots, big Cibié driving lamps ahead of a blanked-off grille, fat Pirelli P7 tires, and added-on (later faired-in) rear lip spoiler. Suspension was modified to suit to the new tires and the higher performance of a V-8 tweaked to 400 bhp initially; current output is 406 bhp. Given the right conditions the Vantage can exceed 170 mph, thus vying with the legendary V-12 Ferrari Daytona as the world’s fastest-ever front-engine production car.

Aston hadn’t offered a Volante convertible since the last DB6 model in 1970, but June 1978 brought a new drop-top version of Bill Towns’ original DBS design, looking just as good — maybe better — than the fastback coupe, which by that time was an elderly 11 years old. Supplied with most every luxury, the Volante was first offered with just the normal-tune V-8, but has been available with Vantage power since 1986.

Although big and heavy (around 4100 pounds at the curb with all options), the V-8 Astons are beautifully balanced and handle surprisingly well, though they’re still high-effort tourers, “man’s” cars rather than a “woman’s” in the best Aston tradition. If you could forget about price (well over $100,000 by the early 1980s) and attracting unwanted police attention, you could throw one around with the same abandon as an MG Midget — but at considerably higher speeds, of course.

How long they’ll hang around is questionable at this writing. Aston recently renewed ties with Zagato in Italy for a limited run of special-body coupes (50) and convertibles (25), and this could possibly spawn a replacement for the Towns’ design. But it won’t render the hairy-chested V-8 Astons collector’s items. They achieved that status long ago, and it’s well deserved.

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Aston Martin DB7

Aston Martin DB7 was the first Aston Martin developed under Ford Motor Company, and the DB7 qualifies as the highest-volume Aston Martin ever.

Dynamically, the Aston Martin DB7 is as good as it needs to be, and at $125,000 ($135,000 for the convertible), it needs to be plenty good. But the obligation of a car like this is to provide its owner that which isn’t measured by stopwatch or skidpad.

Introduced in Europe in 1995 and in America in 1996, the Aston Martin DB7 was the first Aston Martin developed under Ford Motor Company, which took control of Aston in 1987. Ford also owns Jaguar, and the DB7 shares with the new Jaguar XK8 a Jaguar XJS central floorpan; its engine block is also of Jaguar origin. Ford money helped develop, test, and certify both cars, but the DB7 was designed by Aston to be an Aston — to carry on its defining DB series, in fact.

Thus it has a refined dohc inline-six enhanced by an Eaton supercharger. Acceleration is best described as rapid; the DB7 is too heavy to be quick. It feels sportiest with the Getrag five-speed, though virtually all U.S. cars get a General Motors four-speed automatic. Ride is composed on every surface, braking is strong and, despite uninvolved steering, the car is balanced, sticky, and predictable in turns. This is a sporting machine that makes few demands on its driver, but it is not the DB7’s performance that will compel a purchase. Neither will the 2+2 cabin, which relies on Connolly hides and gleaming walnut to divert attention from generic switchgear.

Thus it has a refined dohc inline-six enhanced by an Eaton supercharger. Acceleration is best described as rapid; the DB7 is too heavy to be quick. It feels sportiest with the Getrag five-speed, though virtually all U.S. cars get a General Motors four-speed automatic. Ride is composed on every surface, braking is strong and, despite uninvolved steering, the car is balanced, sticky, and predictable in turns. This is a sporting machine that makes few demands on its driver, but it is not the DB7’s performance that will compel a purchase. Neither will the 2+2 cabin, which relies on Connolly hides and gleaming walnut to divert attention from generic switchgear.

The Aston Martin DB7 has a central floorplan and engine block of Jaguar origin, which is a popular sports car also owned by Ford Motor Company.

A stronger lure is the voluptuous body. The mix of steel and composite panels is unique to the Aston Martin DB7, despite a visual similarity to the XK8. Styled by Aston’s Ian Callum, formerly of Ford’s Ghia studio, the shape is contemporary but respects the magnificent DB4, DB5, and DB6, especially in the charismatic grille opening.

Combine that look with exclusivity — production of just 650 per year, a scant 200 for America — and the DB7’s nature is revealed. The new sports car from Aston Martin represents discriminating taste, a certain breeding. It is not Italian, and it certainly is not German. In a realm where price is irrelevant, a car must make its owners feel special. The DB7 does.

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