Friday 23rd August 2019,

Aston-Martin DB4 1958-1963: The First Aston Superleggera

Aston-Martin DB4 1958-1963 by Otis Blank
The Aston-Martin DB4 is a British luxury Grand Touring car described by Aston-Martin as a saloon. The car was, in fact, a very nice 2+2 fixed head coupe (FHC), beautifully hand-built at the new Newport Pagnell plant.

It was based on the DB MKIII but utilised a much improved body design with continental styling. With it`s advanced spec and extravagant finish it earned universal approval at the launch at London`s Earls Court show in 1958. It was destined to maintain it`s popularity throughout the five year production run, finally giving way to the legendary Aston-Martin DB5.

Previous Astons had used the brilliant W.O. Bentley designed Lagonda 2.6 litre engine but the DB4 engine and transmission combination was a great improvement on it`s predecessor. The DB4 was also the first of an important series of versions, which we will explore later. We will concentrate on the 1958 model and chart it`s development.

The design and construction broke new ground for Aston-Martin and is worth considering in depth. Aston-Martin decided to engage one of Italy`s best designers, Carozzeria Touring of Milan. Touring had patented a new system some years before, to facilitate fitting aluminium panels to a steel-tube space frame. It was called `Superleggera` (super-light) and effectively killed off ash-timber frames in the auto industry.

On the face of it, it may seem like nothing too important. The relevance was that fitting alloy panels to steel frames results in rapid corrosion of the alloy panels. Hence a frame made of wood. Unfortunately wood does not make a good chassis so the normal combination was steel chassis, ash-timber frame and alloy panels. Basically, rather heavy.

The Superleggera system allowed a chassis space-frame of light steel tube with the alloy body fitted directly onto it. It was expensive because no alternative was available and Touring`s patent was enforced aggressively. The result was a very light, high-performance luxury coupe. Beautiful, very fast but not cheap.

Now we get to the engine, and a man who is largely forgotten… Tadek Marek. Marek was Hungarian and is still the unsung hero behind the new Aston-Martin engine. It was loosely based on the Lagonda unit but totally redesigned and re-engineered. Still an inline six cylinder DOHC it now displaced 3.7 litres and was all-alloy with a compression ratio of 8.3 to1. Twin SU carburettors were fitted. A David Brown four-speed manual gearbox was also fitted.

The 1958 spec DB4 produced 240 bhp and 240 ft/lbs of torque. With a power-to-weight ratio of 177 bhp per ton the performance figures were impressive. The 1958 Aston-Martin DB4 had a top speed of 139 mph and a 0-60 time of 8.3 seconds. More was to come!

The aforementioned chassis was also very well-equipped. Front suspension consisted of coil and wishbones with ball-jointed pivots. The rear suspension was a live-axle on coil springs, radius arms and a Watt`s Linkage. The steering gear was rack and pinion. All-round servo disc brakes were standard. Wheels were chromed wire, 16” x 6J. A 19 Imperial gallons fuel-tank was fitted.

1110 examples rolled out of Newport Pagnell, including 70 convertibles. A few very rare cars had a works hard-top. At this point in time the convertibles were not known as `Volante`. That would come later. The Aston-Martin DB4 cost £3967 by 1961, compared to the 3.8 E type Jaguar at £2000. A big difference, you may well say, but the DB4 was twice the car.

Aston-Martin DB4 1958-1963 Specs
Body Type2+2 seater 2 door fixed head coupe/convertible
Engine PlacementFront
Drive TypeRear wheel drive
Cargo Volume255 L9 cu. Ft.
Engine3.7 Lagonda DOHC 12V
Cylindersstraight 6
Displacement3670 cc224 cui
Power179 Kw240 bhp5500 RPM
Torque325 Nm240 ft. lb4200 RPM
Power/weight177 bhp/t
Top Speed224 km/h139 mph
Acceleration0-100 km/h - 0-60 mph8.3 s
Fuel consumptionl/100 kmImperial mpg
Gearbox4 speed manual
Weight1353 kg2983 lb
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About Bev Roberts

Speed, the smell of hot oil, the roar of a straight-through exhaust and the scream of an engine at max revolutions. They have all been a large part of my life for almost 50 years. It is time to share my experiences with you, dear reader. Do you want to know more? Read on through my `Full Bio` and many articles.

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I was born in Hereford UK in 1948 and brought up in Gloucester UK. I played Rugby football internationally as a schoolboy. At the age of 17, a new and wet driving license in my paw, I entered motor racing. I was supported and financed by my parents and so my journey began.

In 1965 I bought a 1293cc Mini-Cooper `S` and campaigned it for a season. Having quickly made some good friends in the racing fraternity, several interesting opportunities came my way. I joined a sports-car team and raced in the Le Mans 24 hours in 1968 and 1969 in a Lola T70. Mechanical failure defeated both efforts. During that period I owned and raced a `D type` Jaguar and an AC Cobra. In those days cars like that were available and not too expensive, now they reside in museums and private collections. I had a chain of interesting cars through my youth including Jaguars, Minis, Mustangs and Lotus-Cortinas.

As a young driver I had my share of accidents too. Often the car would only be worth scrap-metal value by the time I got it home! I worked for an Aston-Martin/Jaguar dealership for a while, which enhanced my experience and gave me the opportunity to sample some very exotic machines, Ferrari, Facel-Vega, Iso and Maserati to recall a few of them.

At the end of 1969 I moved to South Africa to work on my uncle`s farm but the S.A. government had other ideas and drafted me into the army. After five years had passed I was thanked and released from the service. While I was there I bought a beige Cadillac Eldorado, previously the property of Marilyn Monroe. While I was away on a patrol my girlfriend had it re-sprayed pink! I was unimpressed by both the joke and the bill for the work!

When I returned to UK in 1974 I left it behind. On my return I found that the once-mighty British motor industry was in decline and was headed for oblivion. Motor racing was now very expensive so I turned to commercial transport. Driving large trucks gave me freedom and a chance to see some of the world. I don`t remember ever making a career choice but for the next thirty years a truck was my home. For about ten years in that period I owned two trucks of my own.

I also owned a famous MGB-GT, known as `Lucky`. If you`d like to read `The Story of Lucky` there is an article in Inopian`s archive. I finally retired, due to ill-health, in 2008. Since I had varied knowledge and many experiences on our subject I decided to share the stories of the cars I enjoyed (and hated) with the new generation.

Enjoy Inopian… it is constructed and written for you.

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