Thanks to its starring role in the James Bond franchise, the Aston Martin DB5 enjoys Hollywood fame. But its predecessor, the DB4 is an exquisite piece of automotive history, and one of the most overlooked European grand tourers of the 21st century.
The Aston Martin DB4 was a trailblazer
While the Aston Martin DB4 was one of several cars in the “David Brown” series, it set an all-new precedent. Mechanically and stylistically, the DB4 was very different from the Aston Martin’s that had preceded it. The DB5, however, would only bring slight tweaks to the DB4’s design.
Early Aston Martin DBs were distinctly British. They were refined cars that would have looked at home in a lineup of contemporary MGs and Bentleys.
To design the DB4, Aston Martin approached Carozzeria Touring of Milan. The result was an ultralight tube frame and more “continental” body than other British grand tourers.
A retired racecar driver named Tadek Marek designed the DB4’s engine. The powerplant was an all-aluminum I6. Over the DB4’s production run, Aston Martin would bump this 3.7-liter engine’s output to 302 horsepower.
The DB4 boasted Italian styling; the first prototype caused a bit of an uproar when it debuted in London in 1958. But it was a British sports car, through and through. It was actually the first car built at Aston Martin’s new plant in Buckinghamshire.
The DB4 was a high point for Aston Martin
The very first Aston Martin DB4 had a striking design, an engine powerful enough to propel it to 139 mph, and it leveraged lightweight aluminum for nimble handling. It would prove so popular, that it set the course for Aston Martin for years to come.
As with most bespoke car companies, vintage Aston Martins slowly evolve throughout each model run. The company slowly increased the DB4’s horsepower and even reshaped its body. The car ended up taller to offer more room, compensating with smaller rims.
Aston Martin also offered GT and Zagato versions of the DB4. These cars had more horsepower, recessed headlights to improve aerodynamics, and no rear fins. In truth, the only difference between the first Aston Martin DB5 and the final DB4 GTs was a slightly reshaped rear trunk. Despite the similarity, the “name-brand” DB5 is much more sought after by collectors.
James Bond drove a DB4 first
In the 1960s, Aston Martin and Eon Productions teamed up to put Sean Connery’s James Bond in a nimble Grand Tourer. It was a bold move; in Ian Fleming’s books, Agent 007 blasts around Europe in a pre-war Bentley Blower race car. In Goldfinger, Bond even asks, “Where’s my Bentley” when presented with an Aston Marton for the first time. But the pairing would create one of the most iconic car/driver combos in film history.
Aston Martin knew the international film was a perfect opportunity to promote its upcoming DB5. But the famous car was not yet in production. So they sent a DB4 Series V Vantage to the set of 1964’s Goldfinger–though they rebadged it as a DB5 for marketing purposes.
Next time someone tells you that James Bond’s first Aston Martin was a DB5, tell them they forget the exquisite DB4.
Next, read all about James Bond’s forgotten 1980s Aston Martin V8 or see a DB4 just like the one in Goldfinger in the video below: