Aston Martin DB MkIII buying guide (1957-1959)

2018-04-17    2 692x

There are plenty of reasons why you might be drawn to a DB MkIII. The DB name, for starters: the line of road cars that started with the DB2 in 1950 was the first enduring legacy of the David Brown era, and the MkIII – launched in 1957 – was the fastest and most refined of these ‘Feltham cars’. 

It’s practical, too, with its occasional rear seats and hatchback tail, and it’s a proper sports car, with racing in its bloodline (DB2s appeared several times at Le Mans). Fact is, in the late ’50s the MkIII was every bit as desirable as the DB4 that everyone goes gaga for today, and yet you can pick one up now for half the cost of a comparable ’4. The fact it’s not so ‘obvious’ makes it cool, too. But the main reason for coveting a MkIII has to be the way it looks.

Handsome thing, isn’t it? The earlier DB2 and 2/4 always had good proportions, but if we’re honest their rather rudimentary grilles did look rather as though they’d been bashed out by the local blacksmith. For the MkIII, stylist Frank Feeley adopted the sculpted aperture that he’d designed for the DB3S racer, and it was just what the road car needed. No more dodgy British dentistry; the Aston mouth was now a perfect blend of beauty and aggression.

That same signature shape was echoed inside with the new instrument binnacle, which finally placed all the instruments directly in front of the driver, rather than ranged across the centre of the dash in a lump of timber as they had been in the DB2 and 2/4 Mks I and II. There were also bucket seats in place of the previous benches.

The Willie Watson-designed ‘LB6’ straight-six engine had already grown from 2.6 to 2.9 litres in 1954, and now for the MkIII it was further developed, making it both stronger and more powerful. Peak power in standard tune on twin SUs was quoted as 162bhp at 5500rpm, with the option of a triple-carb Special Series engine, for which Aston Martin claimed 180bhp.

The MkIII saw the standard fitment of front disc brakes (though in fact a few of the final 2/4 MkIIs also had them), while the David Brown four-speed gearbox could be supplemented with the option of a Laycock de Normanville overdrive.

So the MkIII brought the DB2/4 up to date, and in fact it would stay in production well into 1959, overlapping with the DB4 by several months. There were drop-head and fixed-head coupé versions, but the vast majority of the 550-odd built were saloons (or, rather, hatchbacks) like the one pictured here.

Performance and specs

  • Engine In-line 6-cylinder, 2922cc 
  • Power 162bhp @ 5500rpm (180bhp in Special Series tune) 
  • Torque 180lb ft @ 4000rpm 
  • Transmission Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive 
  • 0-60mph 9.3sec 
  • Top speed 120mph

Dimensions and weight

  • Wheelbase 2515mm
  • Length 4356mm
  • Width 1651mm
  • Height 1360mm
  • Weight 1300kg (est)

Common problems

• Whereas, from DB4 onwards, Aston Martin adopted a platform-type chassis, the MkIII still retained an old-style ladder-type chassis in hefty square-section steel. The outer body is all aluminium, the rear section forming a virtual monocoque that’s bolted to the chassis. 

• The biggest challenge for the restorer is the huge ‘clamshell’ bonnet. It’s quite a complex assembly, and because the chassis are hand-made and quite variable, a lot of shimming and general jiggery pokery goes on to get it to shut cleanly with nice, even gaps. 

• The LB6 engine has shown two major weaknesses over the years. Cylinder head gasket sealing can be problematic – it’s a wet-liner engine and over time the liner seals tend to deteriorate. 

• Then there are the ‘cheeses’ – the four circular pieces of cast aluminium that carry the crankshaft main bearings in the block. The aluminum distorts with heat, and the oil tubes that locate the cheeses in the block leak, causing a loss of oil pressure. 

• The good news is that a number of specialists, including Four Ashes, Rex Woodgate and Aston Engineering, have developed fixes over the years, and with suitable upgrades both the LB6 engine and DB gearbox are generally reliable today, more than capable of standing up to the enthusiastic driving for which the Feltham cars were conceived. 

• A number of other, modern enhancements are also available – electric power steering takes the sweat out of low-speed manoeuvres, a modern alternator can be fitted within the old dynamo body to boost the electrics, a high-capacity radiator reduces the danger of overheating, and for high-speed cruising an overdrive conversion is available for cars that didn’t have it from new (though in fact most MkIIIs did).

Owners clubs, forums and websites

• – Aston Martin Owners Club and forum

• – North American-based owners club

Summary and prices

If you are drawn to the MkIII, what do you need to know? Well, prices for tidy, driveable saloons start at around £150,000, while a really good, original car – or a properly restored one – is now £250,000 and upwards, with the very best fetching over £300,000, though that’s still only half of what a DB4 or 5 in the same condition might command.

A cosmetic ‘restoration’ should put you on your guard. As Nigel Woodward, manager of Heritage Operations at Works, explains, a full body restoration is a painstaking process, with many differences between individual cars, and a mixture of steel, aluminium and even wood being used in their construction. ‘It’s very much a traditional, coachbuilt car,’ says Nigel. ‘In fact, when you close the door it should sound rather like closing the door of a railway carriage!’ 

Most of the top specialists charge £200,000 and upwards (Works considerably upwards) for a full restoration, which is why it pays to have any prospective purchase thoroughly inspected.

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