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Aston Martin DB4 buying guide (1958-1963)

2016-05-30 Read: 95x

It’s a tragedy that the Aston Martin DB4 – as well as its DB5 and DB6 successors – have now become so valuable that generally the only people buying them are collectors who have no intention of using them. Beautiful, superb to drive and genuinely usable grand tourers in the classic mould, it’s easy to see why the DB4 is so highly revered.

Featuring an elegant Touring-designed coupé bodyshell, Superleggera construction and an all-alloy 3.7-litre twin-cam straight-six, the DB4 arrived in 1958, dragging Aston Martin into the modern age at the same time. After the ancient DB MkIII the DB4 was a revelation as it was agile, fast and more practical. The car would evolve to become the even more valuable DB5 and then the DB6, which is marginally more affordable. But only marginally...

Which one to buy?

It’s amazing how many barn-find projects still come onto the market – what’s even more incredible is how much money they tend to fetch. It seems that many buyers assume that values of these cars are now so high that they can always be restored economically but that’s not necessarily the case; a full rebuild will be hugely expensive so you might be doing well just to break even.

The regular DB4 is very valuable but the GTs, convertibles and Zagato-bodied cars are even more so (see prices). Which derivative you buy will possibly be dictated by your budget as well as what’s available, but assuming it’s the standard car – which is by far the most common of the various DB4 derivatives – you don’t have too many choices to make.

All of these cars came with a four-speed manual gearbox, but later on there was a Vantage engine option which is sought after so it fetches a premium. Colour schemes tend to be on the sober side and most cars have now been restored – some better than others. So the best piece of buying advice is to make sure that you’re getting what you think you’re getting as tarted up or poorly restored cars aren’t rare. If in doubt engage an expert to inspect any potential purchase for you – they’ll almost certainly spot things that you won’t and could save you a lot of money.

Performance and specs

  • Engine 3670cc, six-cylinder
  • Power 240bhp @ 5500rpm
  • Torque 240lb ft @ 4250rpm
  • Top speed 141mph
  • 0-60mph 8.5sec
  • Consumption 15mpg
  • Gearbox Four-speed manual

Dimensions and weight

  • Wheelbase 2489mm
  • Length 4480mm
  • Width 1676mm
  • Height 1321mm
  • Kerb weight 1308kg

Common problems

  • The DB4 uses Carrozzeria Touring’s Superleggera construction techniques. This consists of a stiff steel structure of welded, lightly pressed panels, topped by small-diameter steel tubes which are all welded together to form a stiff tub which is then clad in lightweight aluminium panels. Such a complicated construction combined with poor rustproofing when new means there’s plenty of potential for wallet-wilting repair bills.
  • Start your checks with the sills, which can be hugely expensive to repair properly. Brittle aluminium panels are sometimes irretrievable so major panel replacement becomes the only option, along with a full repaint.
  • The whole of the chassis needs careful inspection and look for electrolytic corrosion where the bumper tubes pass through the body. The doors are aluminium-skinned over a steel frame and rot from the bottom up. Also check the boot floor and on convertibles look for stress cracks in the bodyshell between the boot and the fuel filler flap.
  • The engine doesn’t have any weaknesses as such, but it won’t take neglect and it wears out eventually. With any rebuild work fiendishly expensive you need to make sure none is needed, so look for blue exhaust smoke under acceleration. Expect oil pressure of at least 80psi at 3000rpm on a healthy engine when hot.
  • Undertake the usual checks for failed head gaskets plus oil and water leaks, and make sure the anti-freeze concentration is correct, to stop the all-alloy engine from corroding internally.
  • Look down the right-hand side of the engine block, where there are weep holes from the cylinder liners. Brace yourself for a complete overhaul if there’s any significant staining or leaks present.
  • If the timing chain hasn’t been replaced within the last 75,000 miles it’ll need doing soon or it’ll snap, leading to bent valves. If properly maintained, a DB4 engine will notch up well over 100,000 miles between rebuilds with nothing more than routine maintenance.
  • The four-speed manual David Brown gearbox is strong but eventually the layshaft bearings wear leading to chattering when idling in neutral. Also expect tired synchromesh eventually, but rebuilt transmissions are available and the costs aren’t ridiculous.
  • If you’re planning to buy your DB4 to use it, it’s worth pinning down exactly which diff ratio is fitted as there were various ones offered. It’s worth having a higher ratio for more relaxed cruising.
  • The suspension needs to be lubricated every 2500 miles or so if it’s not to wear. For many cars this represents several years’ use, which is why it’s often overlooked.
  • These cars originally featured crossply tyres but most now sport radials. Anything over 185-section rubber will make the steering very heavy at manoeuvring speeds which is why power steering conversions are popular.
  • The interior trim is straightforward, so overhauling everything won’t trouble a competent trimmer. It won’t be cheap, but compared with the value of the car it’s not a deal-breaker.

Model history

  • 1958: The Aston Martin DB4 coupé is introduced.
  • 1959: The DB4 GT arrives. It’s a two-seater that’s five inches shorter and features a twin-spark engine that produces a claimed 302bhp. With a kerb weight 80kg lighter than for the regular DB4, the GT can do 0-60mph in just 6.1 seconds and tops out at 152mph. Just 75 are built, along with 19 ultra-light Zagato-bodied cars.
  • 1960: The bonnet is now front-hinged and the capacity of the sump is increased.
  • 1961: Overdrive is now available as an optional extra, the thickness of the body panels is reduced and triple rear lights are adopted. The heater is improved, a Vantage engine option is introduced (with triple SU carburettors, bigger valves and a higher compression to give 266bhp) and a DB4 convertible is now offered; 70 are built.
  • 1962: The length is increased by 3.5 inches to increase rear seat leg room. At the same time, 15-inch wheels are adopted, in place of the previous 16-inch items.
  • 1963: The DB5 supersedes the DB4, after 1040 have been built.

Summary and prices

The DB4 is perhaps one of the most desirable Aston Martins ever built, and that’s partly why values have been continually rising for many years. The cheapest model is the standard DB4 derivative, which today ranges from £300,000-£400,000 for a car in average condition. The absolutely top cars can cost up to £550,000. 

Convertible models are very rare, and values are significantly higher. Pay £600,000-£800,000 for an average car, with the very best pushing £1m. The short wheelbase GT models are in a different league, with average cars selling for £1.3m-£1.5m, although some will go for more than £2m. Zagatos range from £5m-£8m.

 
 

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