1959 was a special year for Aston Martin. Not only did the DBR1 finally win the Le Mans 24 Hours, the British company launched the first of what was to be its era-defining range of ‘DB’ six-cylinder Astons, the DB4.
This now iconic design featured coachwork styled by Carrozzeria Touring of Milan, and used its innovative Superleggera construction method, where a framework of small-diameter steel tubes supported handcrafted aluminium body panels. All work was completed in Britain, using the ‘English wheel’ to roll the bodywork. The interior was classic and understated, with a metal dashboard, Bakelite and chrome switches and dials, best quality Wilton carpet and Connolly leather trim.
Under the new car’s bonnet was a race-proven, all-aluminium straight-six. The 3,670cc engine had already proven itself in the DBR2 racer, and was to power (as a 3.0-litre) a prototype DB4GT also entered at Le Mans in 1959.
Someone buying a new Aston Martin DB4 would, therefore, be able to enjoy a car from the winners of the world’s most famous motor race, a 140mph coupé with generous room for two – plus occasional rear seating – and elegant Italian styling effortlessly combined with traditional British craftsmanship.
The DB4 was gradually developed over five series before being succeeded by the DB5 in July 1963. During that period a limited run of shorter-chassis, twin-plug DB4GTs was built for the more committed Aston driver who might also enjoy some racing. It was an uncompromising car, with just two seats, minimum room behind them and a boot dominated by a massive fuel tank.
So, for owners wanting the continent-crossing capability of a DB4 and its comfortable ‘St James’s Club’ characteristics – yet more performance – for the Series IV the factory came up with a solution. It was the ‘Special Series’ engine.
Later to be named with Aston’s signifier of enhanced performance, ‘Vantage’, the DB4 SS engine was quoted as developing 266bhp at 5,750rpm. The changes included fitting triple SU HD8 carburettors, bigger valves and raising the compression ratio to 9:1. The additional cost was £125 in 1962. It’s believed around 20 Series IV cars were built to this specification, with only a fraction in left-hand drive. Some had the faired-in headlamps first seen on the DB4GT, although most owners preferred Touring’s original design.
One such was Standard Oil heir Count Peter Salm, of Southampton, Long Island, the son of Millicent Rogers. Via her grandfather, Rockefeller associate Henry Huttleston Rogers, Rogers was an heiress to the Standard Oil fortune and had married Austrian count, occasional film star, playboy and Davis Cup tennis player Ludwig von Salm-Hoogstraeten. It was the first of her three marriages and Count Peter Salm was their only child.
He was also a typical client for the fabulously expensive GT cars made by Ferrari, Maserati and Aston Martin. This car, chassis DB4/890/L, was delivered in June 1962 via German agent (and talented amateur racing driver) Peter Lindner. In addition to the ‘SS’ engine, the car had an overdrive David Brown gearbox, Powr-Lok limited-slip differential, oil cooler, chrome wire wheels, ‘Richmonds’ safety harness and a DB4 owners’ spares kit. The usual radio was deleted.
The Black Pearl with black hide ‘saloon’ (in Aston speak) was clearly intended for some serious motoring. Perhaps Lindner had influenced the specification, making it a car he would have added to a stable of GTs that included a 250 GT SWB, very special Mk2 Jaguar and Lightweight E-type.
Count Salm appears to have kept the car until 1973 when it passed into new ownership. The history file shows two more owners since then, the first a Greek collector based in Gstaad, followed by the current Swiss owner since 2010. In recent years, extensive restoration and maintenance has included visits to Aston Martin Works Service in Newport Pagnell.
Today, this ‘matching-numbers’ DB4 SS presents almost like a new car following comprehensive restoration to its original Black Pearl paintwork/ black hide livery for its bodywork and interior by Aston Martin concours specialist Spray-Tec. All mechanical work has been executed by Chris Shenton Engineering. The car is UK registered so EU import taxes are paid.
This rare DB4, in ultra rare and desirable left-hand drive with all-important overdrive and Special Series engine from new, is an Aston Martin from the Newport Pagnell factory when it was at the top of its game. Add in the Peter Lindner connection, Long Island, an Austrian-American playboy aristocrat and the Standard Oil dynasty, and one sees not only a snapshot of 1960s High Society but a quintessential, powerful GT from an age now long passed.