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|Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato|
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|Full ‘Works Service’ restoration|
•One of just 19 examples built
•The most desirable Aston Martin GT car of all time
•Unique original colour scheme and factory restored to ‘as new’ condition
•Offered for sale for first time in over a decade
•Original British road registration (EU tax paid)
Lionel Martin founded Aston Martin to construct competitive automobiles for private entrants like himself. Developed through a half century’s evolution, the DB4GT Zagato combined the enthusiasm of Aston Martin’s owners, employees and clients in a glorious synthesis of concept, design, materials and assembly. It is the ultimate expression of Aston Martin’s philosophy of building high performance, responsive, beautiful automobiles for a select clientele. It cemented Aston Martin’s reputation at the pinnacle of British grand touring automobiles, at once beautiful, powerful and responsive.
One of only nineteen built, DB4GT/0189/R combines a race-bred pedigree with the comfort and luxury of a true granturismo.
Aston Martin commissioned Tadek Marek, who had joined Aston in 1954, to create a new six for the DB4. It was designed in iron but produced in aluminum, a lucky consequence of suppliers’ capacity which in the end complemented the lightweight coachwork of Zagato. Simultaneously Aston turned to Milanese coachbuilder Touring for the design and, particularly, Touring’s proprietary superleggera construction for the DB4. Touring required a platform chassis to integrate with the superleggera technique’s armature of lightweight steel tubing supporting a skin of thin aluminum panels, a departure for Aston Martin but one that would prove once again to be fortuitous in the development of the Zagato-bodied DB4GT.
Touring’s design for the DB4 derived directly from Aston Martin’s earlier GTs, with a gently curved continuous line from the front wings through the doors culminating in the rear wings and a sloped fastback roofline with large rear glass with complementary tapered quarter windows. Based on suggestions from Don Hayter, the DB4 was contemporary, shapely and embodied now-traditional features like Aston’s characteristic radiator grille and a functional bonnet air scoop. Touring added details that have become part of Aston Martin’s visual repertoire, particularly the front wing air extractor vents. A four-seater like the DB2/4 and DB Mark III before it, the DB4’s light weight and powerful 3.7 litre engine made it England’s fastest GT, a worthy counterpart to the best from its Italian and German competitors.
The short wheelbase DB4GT appeared in 1959 to meet clients’ desires for an even lighter, more responsive Aston Martin for competition and high performance road use. A two-seater built on a shortened platform chassis, it also boasted a 3.7 litre engine cast in lighter alloy, dual ignition, triple Weber carburettors, high lift camshafts, 9:1 compression ratio, dual plate clutch, close ratio transmission, Salisbury Powr-Lok differential and large diameter Girling disc brakes, specifications which left no doubt about the DB4GT’s serious performance intent.
Only a few months later Aston Martin introduced the first of its ultimate granturismo series, the DB4GT with competition-inspired coachwork by Zagato. The limited run of Zagato-bodied lightweight DB4GTs arose out of an unplanned meeting at Earls Court between John Wyer and Gianni Zagato. It was designed by Ercole Spada, then only 23 years old, a perfect blend of Spada’s gifted balance of its surfaces and the seductively curved profile of the DBR1. With its subtly refined air intake and elongated headlight tunnels with aerodynamic covers, the Zagato’s nose explored the limits of efficient air penetration, even pressing the bonnet so low over the engine that dual bulges – like Zagato’s trademark roof bubbles – were needed to accommodate the engine’s cam covers.
The gently sloping roof blends cleanly into the diminutive rear deck, leaving barely enough roof for a 30 gallon fuel tank and spare wheel and tyre. The front wing tops taper downward through the doors, then rise aggressively, like the haunches of a beast prepared to spring, over the rear wheels before tapering down and in to integrate cleanly with the rear deck. It is a symphony of refined elegance, purposeful and devoid of superfluous embellishment.
Marrying the best of contemporary Italian design with a 9.7:1 compression ratio, 314bhp version of Marek’s 3.7 litre six and Aston Martin’s proven and now highly developed suspension, the DB4GT Zagato debuted at the 1960 London Motor Show. Its potential was immediately apparent and is acknowledged to have encouraged Ferrari to replace the 250GT Short Wheelbase Berlinetta with the legendary 250 GTO, about as sincere a form of flattery as can be imagined. Built by the craftsmen at Zagato in Milan and hand finished in the workshops at Newport Pagnell, only nineteen were ever completed.
Ironically, however, the Zagato was not a sales success. The authors of the definitive Palawan chassis-by-chassis book on the model, Stephen Archer and Simon Harries, recall: “”The DB4GT Zagato sales effort was a contradiction in terms. No plans were made for a single production run. It was left to the market to decide how many of the cars should be built. It was, of course, tremendously exciting to drive but it was hard for many people to believe the high asking price- two-and-a-half times what an E-type cost- could be reconciled with such a lack of refinement. People who have the wherewithal to own such cars sometimes lack the confidence to drive them to their limits, so some never experience the true thrill of owning such a remarkable car. A modern judge would be entitled to observe that Aston Martin had previously done a poor job at marketing their cars.”
“Almost enough enthusiasts and connoisseurs did buy Zagatos early on. Not many kept their cars for long, however, and it was not until they began to acquire true classic status that a sense of real desirability became attached to them.”
”In the end, the final two Zagato-bodied DB4s remained unsold for nine months until Mike Harting of HW Motors in Walton on Thames bought them at a knock-down price and set out to sell them himself. Tellingly, he recalls that his principal, ex-racing driver George Abecassis, was highly sceptical of this decision. Mike, however, knew what he was doing. Once in his possession, Mike published a bold advertisement for the cars. Claiming to be the sole selling agent for the car, which was true, he put down three good reasons why any serious driver simply must have one. The final flourish which suggests Grand Touring is made easy by the Zagato because of its copious luggage space- ‘luggage for two for a month in the sun’- is especially amusing. Mike knew his clientele, however, and he quickly sold the cars at a thumping profit.”
Chassis ‘0189’ was one of those two cars. The last DB4GT Zagato built, it has an enigmatic early history. It is one of eleven right-hand drive Zagatos and one of three to receive English paint. Its striking original colour scheme is unique: Caribbean Pearl with Connolly red hide and carpets. Although completed on 14th December 1962, it waited longer than any other Zagato before being sold and was finally bought in a package with ‘0176’ by Mike Harting at HWM for £3,950. In the spring of 1963 Mike found a buyer in Mr S Miller of Horsham, Sussex, for the princely sum of £6,000. Chassis ‘0189’ took part in minor British hillclimbs but led an otherwise cosseted life. In 1970 it left for the sunny climes of South Africa, joining DBR1/5 in the collection of Howard Cohen and successfully taking part in vintage events. In 1976 it returned to the UK with Ian Campbell-Mclaren of Glasgow, and in 1983 entered German ownership. After spells in Switzerland and the UK, the Zagato was acquired in 1995 by a serious Dutch collector who entrusted it to Aston Martin Works Service for what the Palawan book describes thus: “The restoration of 2 VEV was remarkably comprehensive but this was a tour de force. The car was totally stripped down to the bare chassis…The Zagato was returned to its original state with the original colour scheme of pale blue with red leather inside. It’s now better than new. The final touch was the reinstatement of the [UK registration] number 37 PH, due to the hard work of Andrew McCloskey at Aston Martin.”
David Townsend, manager of Works Service, recalls: “We performed a total body off full restoration in 1995, bringing the car back to its original specification after being a race prepared car at a cost of £141,000.”
Acquired thereafter by the current European owner, for the past decade chassis ‘0189’ has been kept out of the public gaze in a very private collection. Outings have been limited to local trips to warm through fluids and exercise the engine, gearbox and suspension. The total mileage covered since the full factory rebuild is a mere 802 miles.
With a clear and interesting history from new, a restoration by the Aston Martin factory and a unique livery, ‘0189’ is one of the most important British granturismos in existence. Now that most DB4GT Zagatos are held by long term collectors for whom they are a prize constituent of their collections, the availability of ‘0189’ is a rare opportunity to experience the pinnacle of British high performance road cars in the Sixties and to add an important, and all but irreplaceable, component to the most comprehensive collection.
The fortunate new owner will have much to which to look forward
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