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Automotive Traveler Magazine: 2011 04 Aston Martin In The Barn Page 1

Not Found on eBay: Aston in the Barn

Here in America, we've all heard the tales of finding a Shelby Cobra or a fuel-injected Corvette in a barn. But a rare Aston Martin DB4 convertible? Richard Truesdell unearths the details.

Mention a classic Aston Martin from the David Brown era, and most people immediately think of the Silver Birch DB5 driven by England's most famous secret agent, James Bond. Yet the car's genesis dates to the 1958 London Motor Show, when the Aston Martin DB4 debuted to universal acclaim.

With its sensuous four-place aluminum body stretched over an underlying superleggera (tube frame) structure, Aston Martin had produced a vehicle that was, agreed the enthusiasts of the day, the equal of anything coming from Modena. It was also the first Aston Martin built at the company's Newport Pagnell works.

At introduction, the car was available only as a two-door 2+2 coupe (although the factory did claim it could seat four adults comfortably).

Styled by Carrozzeria Touring in Milan, the body was an instant classic, boasting perfect proportions with design cues such as the distinctive front grille opening, a shape retained to this day.

Sales benefited from the car's success on the world's racetracks, as Aston Martin claimed the Sports Car World Championship while winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the second time.

Considering the car cost £3,967 (more than $7,000) at introduction, sales of the Aston Martin DB4 remained brisk during its production life. A total of 1,110 cars in all variants ran through 1963.

Depending on the gearing selected, the standard-spec DB4 was capable of a continent-crushing top speed of 150 miles per hour. It could accelerate to 60 miles per hour in 9.3 seconds--quick for its era --while delivering 15 miles per gallon.

Between the start of production until it was replaced in 1963 by the uprated DB5, the DB4 was available in five series.

The most visible changes were the addition of window frames in Series II and the adoption of a grille with vertical bars in Series IV, replacing the egg-crate grille of the earlier cars.

The final Series V cars, introduced in September 1962, featured a taller and longer body to provide more interior space. The front of the Series V cars was updated with more aerodynamic styling, a look incorporated by the DB5.

Noteworthy was the introduction of a convertible version of the Aston Martin DB4 in 1962. Styled in house but retaining the overall look of the coupe, 70 DB4 convertibles were built before production ended in 1963.

After the DB4 Zagato, those 70 vehicles (six fewer than the legendary DB4 GT) represented the rarest of all the David Brown-era Aston Martins. Brochures from the 1962-1963 period show the car adorned with an optional hardtop, quite rare for the period--and even rarer today among the cars that have survived.

Under its hood, the DB4 featured a Tadek Marek-designed 3.7-liter DOHC aluminum straight six. Producing 240 horsepower, it was mated to a David Brown all-synchromesh four-speed manual transmission. Disc brakes were fitted to all four corners, Dunlops at the start of production to be replaced as a running change with units supplied by Girling.

Mechanicals were attached to an all-new frame. Designed by Harold Beach, it replaced the DB2/4's multi-tubular space frame considered incompatible with Touring's superleggera-style body construction.

Underneath, the trailing-link independent front suspension gave way to unequal-length wishbones. At the rear, the DB4 sported a live axle located by a Watts linkage instead of its predecessor's Panhard rod.

The DB4 was available only as a closed coupe until September 1961, when the convertible version was unveiled at that year's motor show. Priced at £4,449, it was £250 more expensive than the coupe. Passenger space was little changed, although there was more headroom than the coupe could offer.

Combining Aston Martin's traditional virtues of style and performance with the joys of open-air motoring, the DB4 convertible is highly prized today.

The sellers at Bonhams note that this particular DB4 has flown under the radar for decades, never having been listed in the Aston Martin Owners Club Register. Even better, DB4C/1104R has had only two documented owners.

The current owner purchased the car in 1978 from its original owner, agronomist Geoffrey Emett Blackman. Blackman was the Sibthorpian Professor of Rural Economy at Oxford University and director of the Agricultural Research Council Unit of Experimental Agronomy there. His 1970 St. John's College parking pass, reading "Authority to park in the President's drive," is still affixed to the windscreen.

The original engine (no. 370/1134) had been replaced during Blackman's ownership (by the factory, it is believed). In 1980, the current owner removed the replacement unit (no. 370/472) with the intention of rebuilding it.

The DB4 was last MOT'd in 1979 (certificate on file) and has been laid up in dry storage ever since. The odometer reads a mere 60,000 miles.

The engine is now back in the car, which is presented in "barn find" condition, ripe for sympathetic restoration. The purchaser will also receive the instruction manual, workshop manual, parts catalog, and Swansea V5 registration document.

Pre-auction estimates for this rare Aston Martin DB4 convertible range from £80,000 to £140,000. With a recent DB4 convertible selling for £285,600, there's clearly an upside potential to bringing this car back to life. Its restoration promises to be an exciting and potentially rewarding project for any avid Aston Martin enthusiast.

Bonhams' Aston Martin Sale is scheduled for Saturday 21 May 2011 at the Aston Martin Works Service center, birthplace of the DB4 convertible in Newport Pagnell. For complete details, visit Bonhams online.