Forget about Bond, forget about Peter Sellers, forget about that ejector seat - the Aston Martin DB5 deserves cult status in its own right.
The driving position of an Aston Martin DB5 has a delightful vintage feel to it, with lots of big, round instruments set within a painted metal dashboard. Sniff the leather, reach out for the controls... and bear in mind that this was intended as a sporting carriage for a gentleman. It’s more golf club and horse-and-hounds than race track, despite the formidable Aston Martin competition heritage.
You’ll recognise instantly that this is a car that could only have been built in Britain.
Once you’ve got this grand tourer out on the open road, you’ll revel in the torque that big and slightly gruff straight-six engine develops to make every gearchange a thrill in itself.
There’s a distinctive heaviness about a 1960s Aston Martin, and that helps to give the cars a satisfying feeling of quality and solidity. You’ll certainly notice the weight under cornering and, if you’re pushing on, you might also notice that over-enthusiastic cornering will make the tail run a little wide. Steady! It’s still somebody else’s car – for the moment, anyway.
ASTON MARTIN DB5
Power (bhp@rpm) 282bhp@5500rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 280lb ft@4500rpm
Top speed 140mph
Gearbox 5-spd manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
The most expensive area of a DB5 to repair is the chassis – if it’s very rusty, it can make repairs economically nonsensical despite current high DB5 prices. Get the car up on a lift and, starting at the back, check – visually and by prodding – the radius arm mounting points, boot floor, spare wheel well, rear passenger floor, sills and jacking points.
Still under the car, examine very carefully the area where the pedal box is welded to the front jacking point. There should be no movement. At the front of the car, also look at the points where the lower wishbones pivot on the chassis. Ideally, you’ll find traces of grease as evidence of proper maintenance. The sockets on the chassis are aluminium inserts that can corrode and seize up, with results both costly and dangerous. Examine the area around the steering rack as well, checking that the rather crude-looking securing straps are intact – it’s not unknown for them to come adrift
The outer panels of the body are made of aluminium-magnesium alloy. They will corrode through electrolytic action where they touch the steel underneath, so look very carefully for lines of pimples starting to appear under the paint. Most restorers these days do their best to insulate one metal from the other, but it’s near impossible to do so completely.
Once you’ve done the regular visual examination of the engine for fluid levels, leaks and oil-filler mayonnaise, start it up and listen: the valve gear will be audible, but it should be making a regular noise with no harshness or clattering sounds. Check the oil pressure gauge for a figure as high as 100psi (or so) at 3000rpm on an engine in tip-top condition. Once warmed up, blip the throttle sharply and lift off. Listen for timing chain noises and look for blue smoke from the exhaust. The oil pressure gauge should not go haywire, but should either stay steady or rise quickly and drop slowly
Looking deeper into a car, you need to check two important structural cross-members which can rot through and will be very expensive to repair. At the front, the critical one runs above the gearbox and below the bulkhead. At the rear, it’s the cross-member above the rear "axle".
Now’s the time to take the car for a drive. Oddities like pulling to one side and sticking brakes will now show up (many DB5s see little use, so things do seize up). Listen for undue noise from the rear axle, but don’t be too worried by a little because the cars are well known for it. Driving gently in second gear, lift off the throttle and listen for clunks from the back. Get back up to speed, brake gently and listen for similar noises at the front. These noises point to suspension wear; it may only be bushes, but make sure you take a closer look as well. You can double-check for worn trailing-arm bushes during your test drive. Select reverse (from standstill, obviously!), and see how the car behaves. If the back end lifts sharply as you engage drive, those bushes are past their best
Interiors were all hand-made, so repairs will require skill levels similar to those of the original craftsmen. Those are costly these days. Cracked leather can usually be brought up to scratch with work, but also use your sense of smell for your checks inside the car. If it smells damp in there, look round very carefully to see where the wetness is getting in.
When Aston Martin began thinking about the car that became the DB5, they saw it as a new series of the DB4 range, and therein lies a tale. In most departments, it really was an uprated DB4, with bigger-capacity engine and better brakes, the faired-in headlamps that had appeared on the DB4GT and a longer tail that improved the looks.
Various things made it easier to drive than a DB4. Better brakes were just one of them; the five-speed overdrive ZF gearbox standardised after a few months’ production was another. The basic car was a two-door saloon, and 898 of the 1021 DB5s built between 1963 and 1965 had this configuration. There were elegant convertibles, too (not at this stage called by the Volante name) and Harold Radford turned a dozen cars into shooting-brakes. An uprated Vantage engine was also offered, but was fairly rare.
A DB5 is old-school British GT motoring at its best. There can be few car enthusiasts who have never wanted one, and the model’s popularity shows no sign whatsoever of abating.
The DB5 is a Great British Icon, and the car’s appearance in the James Bond movie Goldfinger means everyone knows exactly what it is. So ownership of one of these cars commands respect and awe in about equal measures.
The problem is that this kind of status also makes a DB5 more difficult to use for everyday transport. The light-fingered and the envious are always around to spoil an owner’s fun. And imagine the heartbreak of an accidental scrape from a trolley in the supermarket car park!
A DB5 is a superb piece of machinery and thoroughly enjoyable to drive on the open road, but you need to think exactly why you want to own such a piece of automotive history. For long-distance rallies with a decent parc fermé at the end of every day, it would be ideal. For the odd county show or summer steam event, it would be something of a liability.