Aston Martin DB5 Review
The Aston Martin DB5 is a masterpiece of British brawn and Italian style…
1963 to 1965
What Is It?
A car that should need no introduction whatsoever, the Aston Martin DB5 is arguably one of the most instantly recognisable classic cars around. We needn’t dwell on one of the major contributory factors to that fame, mainly because it’s just such a wonderful car in its own right.
Building on the winning combination of Tadek Marek’s muscular straight-six motor and the crisply styled Superleggera bodywork from Touring of Milan, the DB5 may not have the ultimate sporting chops of contemporary V12 Ferraris but its elegant combination of Italian style and understated British luxury have stood the test of time. And then some.
Arguably this combination of grand touring luxury with just enough rawness to get the blood pumping is the template Aston Martin lives by to this day. The DB5’s production run of just over 1,000 cars (of which 123 were convertibles) makes it the least numerous of the later DB-models as well, and this rarity, its stunning looks and – inevitably – movie stardom ensures its enduring appeal.
Front & Rear Suspension mounting points
- Visually the Aston Martin DB5 is all-but identical to the Series 5 version of the previous DB4, though benefits from a bigger 4.0-litre engine
- Iconic aluminium bodywork fits over a steel structure so if there is rust it will be starting from the inside and working out
- Any visible bubbling in the panels could suggest electrolytic corrosion with the steel beneath and be a cause for concern
- Most cars will have led pampered lives in recent years but don’t be complacent and check for corrosion in the footwells where the bulkhead meets the floorpan, in the sills, jacking points, suspension mounts and spare wheel well
- Vantage-spec cars swapped the standard triple SU carburettors for Webers for extra power – if you’re paying extra for a ‘Vantage’ make sure the history supports that claim and it’s not a regular car that’s been retrospectively upgraded
- Coolant channels towards the rear of the block can become clogged, risking dangerous overheating if not spotted – if the car ‘warms up’ suspiciously quickly it may be a sign the coolant isn’t circulating round the entire engine the way it should
- The engine is fundamentally sturdy but requires frequent oil changes to stay in top form – make sure these have been done and that the timing chain has been replaced every 60,000 miles
- Gearbox should shift smoothly; any chuntering, clonks or slipping out of gear are concerns
- Some very early cars may have a four-speed manual but most will have the more desirable five-speed ZF gearbox; a three-speed automatic was available in period but doesn’t really fit the sporting character
- Steering and suspension should feel precise and firm; any sloppiness could be down to worn bushings but could also be corroded mounts on the chassis that could, in extreme cases, cause suspension arms to come adrift
- By this stage most cars will have been through one or more complete restorations so make sure you have evidence of the quality of the work, ideally fully documented with photographs and with the reassurance of it being done by a respected marque specialist
How Does It Drive?
With plenty of power, a short-shifting five-speed gearbox and disc brakes all round, the Aston Martin DB5 has the foundations to make sense of the performance and goes, steers and stops well enough to make it a viable car to enjoy on modern roads.
The engine, rightly, takes centre stage, with a crisp growl that opens up into a proper bellow as the revs rise, the brawny power delivery making it exploitable in pretty much any gear. For those more accustomed to modern cars, the heavy steering may take some getting used to; the DB5 is a more physical car to drive than the later DB6 with its option of power steering.
While the ride is firm there’s also quite a lot of body roll to deal with, the DB5 being a car you drive with due deliberation rather than grab by the scruff of the neck. Performance still looks good today, with 0-62 in the hot-hatch category for the standard car and quite a bit quicker in triple-Weber Vantage spec.
Like you need to ask! The DB5’s balance of muscularity and elegance are the perfect expression of what Aston Martin is all about, the sense that this is a car for gentlemen (if not necessarily gentlemanly behaviour) evident in every angle and detail.
True, it’s a degree of separation from the racing success of the DB4 GT and Zagato, to which those of a sportier persuasion may be drawn. But the DB5 is still a fast, powerful car more than capable of transcending those iconic on-screen appearances in its own right. It’s also the kind of car to score nods of approval from everyone who sees it, not just the petrolheads. And the feelgood factor of being seen in it will be second only to that of actually driving it.
Symbolically it’s also nice that the DB5 represents the diversity of the industry at the time, given it’s powered by an engine designed by a Polish engineer, styled by Italians yet somehow at the same time unmistakably English in its character.
Well, everyone wants one and they only made so many. Never a cheap car in its day, the Aston Martin DB5 is now up there at the elite levels of the classic car world and, as a result, likely to end up in the hands of matching numbers fetishists more interested in showing it off on clipped grass lawns than actually enjoying it for what it is. Which is a crying shame, because cars like this should be driven, and driven properly. But there comes a point where they cease to be cars and instead become commodities to be traded between collectors. That makes living the dream all but unobtainable to anyone on a real-world budget, while the restoration costs of bringing a car up to the standards the market expects will be astronomical, and way beyond the means of your average classic car fan.
Which Model To Choose?
Given the DB5 was only built for a couple of years and, even then, in small numbers there’s not a whole lot of choice to ponder, and in reality it’s going to be down to finding the best one you can at whatever budget you can afford. Of the 1,059 total production it’s reckoned 60-odd were built to the more powerful Vantage spec in period (some may have been upgraded to this since) while 123 of them were convertibles.
Purists would probably prefer the coupe – or ‘saloon’ in Aston Martin’s official description – but the soft-tops are apparently coveted in the market. Rarest of all are the shooting brakes built by Radford, of which apparently 12 were made. Our choice? We’d be happy with a standard DB5 saloon. Perhaps in any colour other than Silver Birch, just to be different.
4.0-litre six-cylinder, petrol
286PS (210kW) @ 5,500rpm
380Nm (280lb ft) @ 4,500rpm
Five-speed manual/optional three-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive