The Aston Martin DB4 was the start of Aston’s great trinity of David Brown sports cars during the late-1950s and ’60s.
Styled by Touring of Milan, the DB4 employed its Superleggera construction technique of light alloy panels over a steel skeleton. This resulted in a structure both lightweight but immensely strong. Underneath was an also-new double overhead-camshaft 3670cc engine putting out 240bhp and giving the DB4 epic performance. Variations included a convertible in 1961 and the more powerful Vantage the following year.
Power (bhp@rpm) 240bhp@5500rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 240lb ft@4250rpm
Top speed 148mph
Gearbox 5-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
uter panels are aluminium, so won’t rust although they are easily dented, so examine carefully for any dings (or disguising filler). Steel chassis are strong, but do tend to rust at the base of the bulkhead, a major task to put right. Check the rear axle trailing arm mounting points for corrosion as well as all the jacking points, sills and door bottoms. The latter suffers if the drain holes become blocked. Also look around the pedal box and spare wheel well.
The 3.7-litre engine needs proper maintenance to ensure proper longevity. Check to see what the oil pressure gauge is reading; 70psi at 3000rpm is passable for cars up to a Series 3 DB4, thereafter 95psi at the same rpm is acceptable for Series 4s and 5s. Look for evidence of regular oil changes – every 2500 miles – especially bearing in mind that the engines do tend to consume a lot of lubricant normally. Overheating can be common as a result of silted waterways, so on any test drive, monitor the temperature gauge. Aftermarket electric fans are a bonus. On the carburettor side of the block, you’ll see bleed holes. If these are weeping coolant, then fluid is getting into places it shouldn’t and the engine needs major attention.
The David Brown gearboxes don’t have a great reputation. Synchromesh cones deteriorate, making it difficult, even impossible, to change gear. However, this will only manifest itself when the oil is warm, so requires at least half an hour’s drive to make sure. Make sure the ’box doesn’t leap out of gear too and isn’t unduly noisy. If overdrive is fitted, ensure it works; issues with this are generally electrical and simply solved. Clutches become heavy and wear out quite easily, so check ease of operation during your test.
Front brake discs do tend to get worn quite quickly and are expensive items to replace. They also need a good push to give their best.
Push down (quite gently – remember the delicate aluminium bodywork) on each body corner and then release – if the car ‘bounces’ more than one and a half times, then the shock absorbers and springs need replacement. The kingpins have rubber gaiters on which can split, allowing grot in to erode the ball joints and thrust pads. There’s a similar gaiter on the steering rack, plus its rubber mountings and securing straps also deteriorate. Vague steering is a symptom of this.
Connolly leather interiors will cost a fortune to retrim; wear is most likely in the door-side bolster of the driver’s seat. Cloth headlining on earlier cars tends to get stained and discoloured. It was eventually changed to more resilient plastic material. Convertible interiors are more prone to being damaged thanks to greater exposure to sun and rain.
One does not enter into Aston Martin ownership lightly, especially at this level, and a look at how much you’ll have to pay just to buy one and then the sort of money you’ll have to spend on parts to keep it running, will dissuade most people. You cannot run these cars on a budget. However, if you have the funds, then a DB4 is one of the ultimate British motoring masterpieces and as much a passport to an exclusive world as it is a means of grand touring classic transport.