We’re a bit overwhelmed with James Bond right now, what with a new film and the Aston Martin DB10 created especially for it. Yet what many don’t realise is that an Aston only appeared in the seventh Bond novel; before that our suave super spy liked Bentleys, a Derby drophead early on and then a battleship grey Continental. But in the Sixties, a time when Bentleys oozed languorous luxury instead of the hairpin-hugging grip needed to outrun international assassins on a mountain road, an Aston offered the right sporting mien. Ian Fleming even has Q tell Bond in Goldfinger that his Bentley “has had its day, I’m afraid”.
And it means that a DB5, like the one the extra-special agent drives in the Goldfinger and Thunderball films, unfairly overshadows its earlier brother.
“I think the DB4 is the best of the breed,” says Neal Garrard of vendor Nicholas Mee. “It’s shorter, lighter and some think prettier. Yet the Bond factor probably accounts for a 10 or 20 per cent premium for the 5 over the 4.”
Anything that is arguably better and (slightly) cheaper must have appeal, and this 1960 Series II DB4 adds an aristocratic note. Ordered new by Lord Howard, Earl of Suffolk, it arrived in time to carry him and his new bride on a 4000-mile honeymoon around Europe. It later arrived in the USA, where it recently had a comprehensive restoration at an Aston Martin specialist in New Hampshire.
Like many Astons powered by Tadek Marek’s straight-six this one has been enlarged from 3.7 litres to 4.2, adding urge.
“It’s fantastic to drive, with lots of torque,” says Neal.
Revealed in 1958 the DB4 with its beautiful Touring lines shifted the marque from a quirky car choice for the dedicated to a lifestyle device any playboy – or spy – would be happy to drive. Yes, an E-type was much cheaper, but it didn’t have the hand-built presence of its double-barrelled rival which, said Autocar, was “a constant pleasure to drive”.
It can be hard to distinguish a late DB4 from a 5 once the higher-performance Vantage version gained the cowled headlamps of the race-bred GT, which then carried over onto the successor model. But the tail of this one tells all, featuring the slim upright ‘cathedral’ lamps that from Series III on would be replaced by a trio of the ubiquitous conical Lucas lenses that even featured on the lid of early Daleks. And while in the 1960s you could see a Dalek once a week, an exclusive Aston Martin was much harder to spot.