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 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.