First Drive: Aston Martin DB4 GT continuation

30th January 2018
Andrew English

From 1960 to the present day, this car has been no stranger to Goodwood Motor Circuit. Aston Martin's DB4 GT might not be the most successful racer, but it's certainly one of the most charismatic. So much so, in fact that Aston Martin is making them again; 25 of these 'Continuation' models will be constructed over the next 18 months or so at Newport Pagnell where the originals were built, priced at a cool £1.5 million each. 


DB4 GT was a cut-and-shut version of the Aston Martin DB4, a homologation special, launched, along with the DB4, in 1959 the year Aston Martin won the World Sports Car Championship with the DBR1. In essence it was a DB4 two-door coupé, with five inches out of its wheelbase and its Superleggera Touring of Milan aluminium coachwork wrapped over the remodelled fine-tube frame. Tadek Marek's 3.7-litre, straight-six-cylinder, twin-cam engine design was uprated with three twin-choke Weber carburettors, wilder cam timing, a 9:1 compression ratio and twin-plug ignition. Aston optimistically claimed 302bhp at 6,000rpm. The gearbox was an all-synchro, close-ratio four-speed David Brown unit, the solid rear axle had a Powr-lok limited slip differential and there were all-round Girling disc brakes. Headlamps had Perspex covers and most cars had a 30-gallon fuel tank with twin fillers, with some clad in 18-gauge magnesium aluminium coachwork.  

Aston's competition manager, John Wyer wanted a car that was "a little closer to the edge" and so it was, with the short-wheelbase and 190lbs out of the kerb weight making an all-round sharper car. Out of the box it was good for 153mph, with 0-60mph in just over six seconds and 0-100mph in 14 seconds. A standard DB4 cost £4,000, and a DB4 GT cost £4,500 with those lovely Borrani wheels an optional extra. In total 75 were built, plus 19 Zagato derivatives, one Bertone-bodied car and several Project endurance-racing cars. Paul Spires, commercial director of Aston Martin Works at Newport Pagnell says he reckons exactly 100 of these closely related specials were built.   

While the originals were great looking, they struggled against rivals such as Ferrari's 250SWB and Jaguar's E-Type. The DB4 GT prototype, DP199/1 made its racing debut at the International Trophy meeting at Silverstone on the 9th of May, 1959. Stirling Moss drove it and wasn't impressed.

“It was a bit of truck,” he said. “Might be worth a lot of money now, but I’d take the short wheelbase [Ferrari], which is what it raced against, that was such a lovely car, light, powerful, it made the Aston’s lack of breeding stand out.” 

After that inauspicious start, the same car was fitted with a three-litre engine from a DBR3/1 and run at Le Mans that June, with Swiss drivers, Hubert Patthey and Renaud Calderari, where it lasted just 21 laps, though Aston has painted Swiss colours on this Continuation model to commemorate the occasion. The following year Aston Martin factory built five lightweight DB4 GTs, with one going to Tommy Sopwith’s Équipe Endeavour and two going to John Ogier’s Essex Racing Stable. Stirling Moss drove the Sopwith car to victory at the Goodwood Easter Monday meeting and Jack Sears drove that car winning at Aintree, then Oulton Park, Snetterton, and Brands Hatch against fairly soft opposition. Ogier’s cars faced a tougher test at the Goodwood Tourist Trophy in August, in the form of six Ferrari 250GTs including Rob Walker’s example with Moss at the wheel who finished first a lap ahead of anything else. It was the same story for the rest of the year, the Stentorian and beautiful DB4 GT proved too heavy, not fast enough and very heavy on tyres. 


So what's a new old version going to feel like; a wonderful re-enactment or a gorgeous disappointment? Spires's team has gone to considerable lengths to get these cars correct and working well, to the extent that this is almost a new car program. They've tracked down original suppliers, sought permissions, jigged the chassis to ensure straightness, fitted an eight-point FIA roll over cage for strength and safety, augmented with a fuel tank, modern bucket seats and harnesses. The quality of workmanship is exemplary as I can see sitting in the wet pitlane of Silverstone where this car once debuted. 

Under the bonnet is a newly built version of Tadek Marek's engine bored out to 4.2 litres and conservatively tuned to give a solid 340bhp. The original four-speed gearbox wasn't a highlight of the original cars so Continuation models get a straight-cut gear set with dog-clutches; strong if not the most refined driveline. Rose joints all round for the suspension and hand-built dampers including lever arms at the rear and a slightly larger anti-roll bar. None of these cars will be road legal, so this track refugee specification is perhaps understandable. 

Spin it up and the engine booms and roars filling the empty grandstands with bluster and fury. Crash into first and weave down the pit straight dodging the puddles. Simon Dickinson – works development driver – has been out this morning and tells me "it's incredibly slippery out there". A million and a half, so no pressure there, then. 

Crash through into second and the gears whine and chatter, but the clutch is light and the throttle action progressive. Just as I'm thinking how this could be OK, the Dunlop L-section race tyres hit a greasy patch and that gorgeous front bodywork threatens to wipe itself out on the pitlane Armco; oh blimey. 

Out on the circuit, the tail wags as the engine's magnificent torque piles up. This six-cylinder always had an aristocratic wail, but that extra swept volume and the big-bore exhaust gives it a magnificent roar that you simply don't get with a modern car. Out past Maggots and the tail hangs while I saw at the slightly smaller than standard diameter riveted wooden steering wheel. Finally, I can nail it down the National circuit straight and it doesn't disappoint. The gears shriek, the engine booms, the uninsulated body reverberates and the whole thing feels like a fighter aircraft about to take off. Fortunately, the brakes are strong and progressive so you can just about get it stopped on this treacherous surface. 


And while there's still that feeling of being in a runaway train as there is in all Astons of this era, the Continuation car feels stiffer and more of a piece than an original. Perhaps it's just the better steel in the chassis or that formidable safety cage, but the steering is more precise and notwithstanding the slippery surface, a slightly better bite. Not that you can take liberties with a car like this, as Dickinson notes; "this is driving in its purest form, there's nothing to help you or get you out of trouble other than yourself." 

Lucky owners will be offered personal track day tuition from Aston's drivers at the four events they are planning this year and next. 

So what's the point? If you want a DB4 GT, Aston Martin made 75 perfectly acceptable ones between 1959 and 1963. Isn't this fantasy replica market (Jaguar's recently announced 'missing' lightweight E-types included here, too) just a cynical cashing in on a classic car market that's starting to look like overdone toast? 

"I've had to search my conscience," says Spires. "But in the past there have been too many standard DB4s changed into something they are not and people don't know what they are buying anymore. At least these cars are built by the factory in a controlled way and everyone knows what they are." 


I understand what he means and current values of the originals mean that few owners will risk them on the track, so these Continuation cars will help bolster dwindling grids and help introduce these lovely Astons to a new generation. But they also dilute the breed, they'll make it difficult to justify racing the originals and they seem somehow disrespectful of the past. 

Don't get me wrong, they are lovely things indeed. They've been put together with love and care by people who know their stuff and those 25 lucky owners are going to have something of rare worth on their hands, I'm just not totally sure whether the factory should have done it.

The Numbers  

Engine: 4.2-litre straight-six cylinder with twin overhead camshafts 

Transmission: four-speed crash gearbox, rear wheel drive via a Salisbury type limited-slip differential 

Power/Torque: 340bhp @ 6,000rpm/na 

0-60mph: 6.5sec  

Top speed: 150mph

Price as tested: £1.5 million 

  • Aston Martin

  • DB4

  • DB4 GT

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