1963 Aston Martin DB4 Series 5 Vantage
“All in all, the DB4 Vantage leaves the driver with an almost unhealthy hankering after The Good Things of Life. It is the sort of car that makes you feel a better man than you are both in terms of its intrinsic quality and roadworthiness. Its faults are few and far between and its virtue numerous” – the Sporting Motorist conducts the first British road test of the DB4 Vantage in June 1962
If any car warranted the epithet ‘timeless’, the all-new Aston Martin DB4 that debuted at the 1958 London Motor Show was it.
Nominally a four-seater, the DB4’s Touring-designed Superleggera coachwork combined Italian flair and subtle elegance with the British tradition of craftsmanship and understated style. It was a Savile Row suit crafted from the finest Italian cloth.
Production of the DB4 ran through five series, finally ending in June 1963, each one more capable and technically evolved. A Special Series, high-performance engine was available from late-1961 onwards and these cars – when combined with the faired-in headlights of the DB4 GT – were sold as Vantages, a reprise of Aston’s traditional name for its most potent production models. Much rarer today, the final Series 5 Vantages are the most valuable DB4 saloons after the two-seater DB4 GT and DB4 GT Zagato.
This car, in seldom-seen and desirable left-hand drive, boasts a superb specification.
The Aston Martin DB4 Vantage
By the early 1960s, three years on from its launch, the DB4 had become a firm favourite of high-living socialites, businessmen and scions of the great European industrial dynasties. Its 3.7-litre, all-alloy straight-six produced a published 240bhp – enough to propel the generous 2+2 to around 140mph.
Fine-handling came courtesy of race-bred suspension, and the large Dunlop disc brakes endowed owners of the British GT with, in Car and Driver’s words, the security of stopping “faster than anyone else.” Various small changes to trim, radiator grilles and rear lights marked the first four series of DB4s. Mechanically, the engineers at Feltham and Newport Pagnell constantly improved the car with better oil cooling, a twin-plate clutch and other smaller revisions.
A Special Series (SS) engine was introduced in September 1961 as an option on the Series 4. Now producing a claimed 266bhp, Tadek Marek’s latest design had the bigger valves of the DB4 GT and a raised compression ratio (from 8.25:1 to 9.1:1). All SS engines were equipped with three SU HD8 carburettors. In addition, buyers could specify the same, faired-in headlamp treatment of the competition-focused DB4 GT. These cars – although with any bespoke car variations exist – were officially referred to as ‘Vantages’.
A year later, in September 1962, Aston Martin introduced the final version of the DB4. Retrospectively referred to as the ‘Series 5’, the latest car was longer by some 4in and had a slightly raised roofline – almost imperceptible changes that made the car more comfortable and practical, yet retained its original sporting wheelbase. The wheels were now 15in as standard and the instrument panel of the GT was fitted to most cars. As before, buyers could choose the high-performance SS engine with, or without, faired-in headlamps.
Of the 1,110 DB4s, marque experts suggest that c.145 were Series 5s. Of these, Vantages were built in two batches: most likely 55 cars and 40 cars. Whilst no exact records exist, the most recent (2000, 2005) Registers of the Aston Martin Owners Club list just 10 left-hand drive examples, including the car seen here.
This Motor Car
According to a copy of the original factory build sheet that accompanies the car, DB4/1134/L was shipped on 11 January 1963 and delivered on 22 May 1963. It was a left-hand-drive Aston Martin DB4 with triple SU HD 8 carburettors and engine number 370/1102/SS. Its Body Type was listed as ‘Vantage’ and the quaintly titled Particulars of Non-Standard Equipment note: ‘Vantage spec, Ace No. Plates DB4V-63 loose in car’.
The speedometer read in kph and ‘1134/L’ had the David Brown four-speed gearbox with a 3.31:1 final drive. Tyres were Dunlop RS5s. As delivered, the car was finished in the popular period shade Dubonnet (ICI MO35-2642) with extrovert ‘White Gold’ Vaumol 3323 leather. In correspondence with Jonathan Connolly in 2018, he confirmed that Aston’s White Gold is Connolly’s Cream – a shade with a subtle, reddish second-colour Luxan in the grain.
The car was consigned to a Mr Nilens, 52 Avenue de la Station, Vilvorde, Belgium. This is the address of Belgian engineering firm Charles Nilens S.P.R.L, a company that specialised in pile-driving equipment and manufactured American Vulcan steam-hammers under licence. Vulcan’s first agreement with Nilens came in June 1963, so it’s quite possible the purchase of DB4/1134/L was made in celebration of the deal.
The build sheet does list two additional keepers, both Luxembourg residents: Rudy Cloos (date unknown) and Georges Leurs (January 1984). A copy of a Luxembourg registration document dated 7 September 1984 lists the owner as civil servant Jos Berg of Brouch, a small town in the west of the country. The registration is ‘26585’ and the colour Rouge Foncé (certainly the original shade of Dubonnet). On 7 February 1992, the still red car is presented by Roos Engineering for a Swiss Prufungsbericht (road worthiness certificate ‘13.20’) at the Bern testing station.
By March 1992, Lausanne and London resident Olivier Rochat had ownership of ‘1134/L’. In conjunction with marque specialist Fast Line Ltd (now Rene Wagner, then Thomas Knecht) of Fällanden, east of Zurich, the decision was taken to embark on a full restoration that included a colour change to its present, understated combination of British Racing Green with tan interior. Managed by Fast Line, the comprehensive work took some three years and cost in excess of CHF 200,000.
Our Swiss collector client purchased the car in early 2005 and, in correspondence with Mr Rochat, the previous owner confirmed that after its restoration he hardly drove it from 1997 to 1999, though did keep up regular maintenance.
In 2010, the car was dispatched – via Aston Riviera Cars of Lausanne – to renowned marque specialist Aston Engineering of Derby, UK, for a complete engine rebuild. The engine was removed and stripped down for painstaking appraisal by the engineers who have prepared countless winning racing cars including celebrated Aston Martins DBR1/5 and DP212. In line with recent practice, the 3.7-litre liners were removed and replaced by new 4.2-litre ones with pistons – by Cosworth – to match. The head was machined to accept lead-free valves, guides and seats. On reassembly, the carburettors were tuned to suit a 4.2-litre set-up and new HT leads and discrete electronic ignition fitted.
It was at this point that old overstampings on the engine block were corrected by Aston Engineering to read ‘370/1102/R’. The invoice for the comprehensive rebuild at that time does not, however, include mention of a new or reconditioned block. Unquestionably an authentic, rare and desirable left-hand-drive DB4 Vantage, it cannot be proved that its cylinder block is original to the car.
Today, this rare, stylish and useable Aston Martin can be driven with gusto on tours, holidays or road trips. Top up the fuel, grab a Michelin map and head for the Alps. Sean Connery would surely approve…