1961 Aston Martin DB4 GT
Year of manufacture1961
Number of seats2
The ex-Donald Campbell, CBE; Works Demonstrator
1961 Aston Martin DB4GT Sports Saloon
Registration no. not UK registered
Chassis no. DB4GT/0161/R
'For many Aston Martin enthusiasts the DB4 was the best of the post-war cars. Previous cars were lacking in power while the later DB5 and DB6 put on weight and were more like fast tourers than high-speed thoroughbreds and amongst the DB4s the DB4GT was the most thorough all-round Grand Touring car of the lot...' Mike Twite, 'Motors', 1967.
Launched at the London Motor Show in 1958, the Aston Martin DB4 emphatically demonstrated that a British manufacturer could better the Italians at their own game when it came to constructing the ultimate Gran Turismo. Its specification included a completely new steel platform chassis with disc brakes all round, and a race-developed twin-cam six-cylinder engine, all clothed in a perfectly proportioned aluminium body designed by Carrozzeria Touring of Milan. Overall, the DB4 was state-of-the-art for its time, a masterpiece of robust British engineering combined with exquisite Italian styling.
Engineered under the watchful eye of Harold Beech, the immensely strong platform-type chassis replaced the DB2/4's multi-tubular spaceframe, the latter being considered incompatible with Touring's Superleggera body construction that employed its own lightweight tubular structure to support the hand-formed aluminium-alloy body panels. The trailing-link independent front suspension of the DB2/4 gave way to unequal-length wishbones while at the rear the DB4 sported a live axle located by Watts linkage instead of its predecessor's Panhard rod.
The new car's competition potential had been recognised from the outset and the factory lost no time in developing a lightweight version suitable for racing, the resulting DB4GT debuting at the 1959 London Motor Show. The model had already been proven in competition earlier that year when the prototype driven by Stirling Moss ('DP/199') won its first race at Silverstone. Extensive modifications to the standard car took 5" out of the wheelbase and replaced the rear seats with a luggage platform on all but a small number of cars. Together with lighter, 18-gauge bodywork, these changes reduced the car's weight by around 200lb (91kg).
The GT used a tuned engine which, equipped with a twin-plug cylinder head and triple Weber 45DCOE carburettors, produced a claimed 302bhp at 6,000rpm, a useful increase over the standard car's claimed 240bhp. Maximum speed, of course, depended on overall gearing but 153mph was achieved during testing with a 0-60mph time of 6.1 seconds recorded. The DB4 was also one of the first cars to go from standstill to 100mph and then brake to a dead stop on under 20 seconds, a tribute, in part, to its up-rated Girling brakes as used on Aston Martin's sports racers of the era.
Viewed from the front, the GT was readily distinguishable by its faired-in headlamps with Perspex covers, a feature later made standard on the DB5 and DB6. The rear screen and quarter windows were Perspex on many examples; bumper over-riders were deleted and the wind-down windows were frame-less within the doors. Twin Monza quick-release competition fuel fillers were added atop the rear wings, leading to a large-capacity fuel tank mounted flat in the boot. GTs were fitted as standard with lightweight Borrani 42-spoke wire wheels with alloy rims and three-ear 'knock-offs'. Trimmed to full Aston Martin road car specification, the interior boasted fine Connolly leather upholstery and deep-pile Wilton carpeting, while the GT benefited from the addition of an oil temperature gauge to the standard complement.
The DB4GT offered a strong challenge to the prevailing Ferrari dominance in GT racing, with examples entered by the works and John Ogier's Essex Racing Stable enjoying numerous victories. Driven by the likes of Roy Salvadori, Stirling Moss, Jim Clark and Innes Ireland, the DB4GT earned its stripes every weekend on the racing circuit. In December 1959, at the Bahamas Speed Week, Stirling Moss won driving a standard customer DB4GT 'borrowed' by the works following the demise of Moss's intended DBR2! The DB4GT was indeed a true dual-purpose car, equally at ease on both the racetrack and Grand Tour.
First registered '44 MY' and originally finished in Dubonnet with black Connolly hide trim, DB4GT chassis number '0161/R' was retained by the factory as its official demonstrator before being sold in June 1961 to its first private owner, Donald Campbell CBE. The famous speed record specialist who set eight absolute world speed records on land and on water in the 1950s and 1960s, Campbell remains the only person to have set both land and water world speed records in the same year (1964). He died during a water speed record attempt at Coniston Water in the Lake District in January 1967. Campbell owned '161/R' only briefly, and in November 1961 the Aston passed into the ownership of one John Somers. Accompanying documentation lists a further 10 owners including the present (German) custodian, who purchased the car in 1991.
Sixth owner Tim Frost acquired '161/R' in 1973, by which time it had been fitted with engine number '370/0182/GT', which is also stamped 'RAC' indicating that it was built for racing by the works. '370/0182/GT' had started life in the famous DB4GT Zagato, '1 VEV', campaigned by John Ogier's Essex Racing Stable. '1 VEV' formed part of the Essex Racing Stable for only some two years, the highlight of its time with team being an entry in the 1961 Le Mans 24 Hours Race for Jack Fairman and Bernard Consten. The car retired after 2½ hours with a blown cylinder head gasket.
In 1974 '161/R' was entered in the AMOC's Wiscombe hill climb, taking a 2nd place finish. Mr Frost advised the AMOC that the car had been fitted with a taller final drive ratio of 2.89:1 (3.54:1 standard) and when sold, the Aston reverted to its original registration number having carried 'TF 12' for a while.
During the period 1985-1987, the DB4GT was owned by Tim Holloway, who regularly entered it in both sprints and concours events. These included the 1984 West Wycombe concours (1st) and Silverstone St John Horsfall concours (5th); 1986 Wiscombe Park hill climb (4th), Curborough sprint (6th), and BSCC Goodwood sprint (4th); and 1987 Wiscombe Park hill climb (2nd), Curborough sprint (7th), Silverstone concours (3rd), Goodwood sprint (5th) and AC OC Goodwood sprint (5th).
Following its acquisition by the current vendor in 1991, the Aston was treated to a bare metal restoration by Max Wetzel in Maur, Switzerland. This restoration took from 1995 to 2001 to complete, and there are invoices for circa CHF 70,000 on file together with some 350 photographs. At around the same time the mechanicals were overhauled by Roos Engineering in Switzerland at a cost of circa CHF 290,000 (invoices available).
Also on file are several magazine articles about the Aston, including one in Motor Klassik (July 2004 edition) where it featured on the front cover for a comparison piece pitting it against a Ferrari 250 GT SWB. The files also contains copies of invoices from RS Williams addressed to previous owner Nicholas Springer of Gstaad, Switzerland; and original Aston Martin DB4GT sales brochure; and several German TüV certificates, the latest dating from May 2019.
Aston Martin built a mere 75 DB4GTs plus further 19 Zagato-bodied variants, one Bertone-bodied special, and five 'Team' or 'Development Project' GTs. Of these 75 examples, 45 were supplied in right-hand drive form and 30 were left-hand drive. Amongst the most beloved of all Astons, the DB4GT remains unmatched for its unique combination of performance and roadability.
Despite its tremendous rarity and value, the DB4GT remains a popular entrant at major historic racing events such as the Goodwood Revival and the numerous (and highly competitive) Aston Martin Owners' Club Championship race meetings in the UK. The DB4GT was designed for competition and '0161/R' offers a rare opportunity to acquire an original right-hand drive example capable of competing with distinction in a variety of historic motoring events.