Today, Aston Martin is known for making some of the most effortless and opulently styled grand tourers around. These cars are known for their ability to cross long distances with ease and find themselves to be a compelling style statement in modern day culture thanks to their appearances in the James Bond movies. This adulation though, seems to have overshadowed Aston’s heritage as a company which built itself largely on the basis of motorsport success. However, if ever there was a car to bring focus back to this aspect of Aston’s heritage, it would have to be the DB4 GT Zagato.
Unveiled at the 1960 London Auto Show, the Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato was a development of the DB4 GT (in itself a shortened, lightweight, more powerful version of the standard DB4). The body was styled by Ercole Spada from the Milan based coachbuilder Zagato. The body was now smaller, lighter and more aerodynamic while also having clear Italian design characteristics like smoother, more rounded surfaces. To further save weight, many steel components were exchanged for aluminum replacements. Elements non-essential on the racetrack such as bumpers were deleted and Perspex was used instead of glass. All of this lead to a 100 lbs. (45 kg) weight reduction over the DB4 GT.
While the 3.7 litre twin spark straight six was carried over from the DB4 GT, it now featured a higher compression ratio of 9.7:1. This meant the engine now produced 314 bhp and 240 lb/ft (325 Nm) giving the Zagato a top speed of 153 mph (246 kph) and a 0 to 60 mph (96 kph) time of 6.1s. The transmission was a four speed manual and the suspension was a telescopic shock absorber with anti roll bar in the front, while the rear came with a double action lever arm setup.
Only 19 examples of the Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato were built in the original run. These included 2 Works cars, atleast 4 road going examples while the rest were sold to privateer outfits – a further 4 Sanction II cars were made in 1988 as Works approved replicas. While the Zagato wasn’t quite as accomplished as its competition like the 250 GTO or the 250 GT SWB, it did enjoy enough success to make it a noteworthy part of Aston’s heritage. While there weren’t any allout Le mans wins, these cars enjoyed success in smaller competitions throughout Europe and were driven by the top drivers of the era.
The car seen here and up for auction at Bonhams’ Goodwood Festival of Speed sale in July 2018 is probably the most notable of all the Zagato bodied cars. Built in 1961 and registered 2 VEV, it is one of two cars used by the factory backed John Ogier’s Essex Racing Stable and one of only three built to the DP209 specification. This spec came with even more weight – saving, a lower roofline, larger rear wings, a reshaped tail and a flatter, longer front end. Jim Clark, the two time F1 champion drove this car throughout 1961 and 1962 in the Le Mans 24-Hour race and the Paris 1,000 Kilometres in which it finished 6th. Other notable appearances include the RAC Tourist Trophy race at Goodwood in 1961, where it finished 4th and in 1962 where it was involved in a crash with both a 250 GTO and a 250 GT SWB. Since being retired the car has been under single ownership for the past 50 years and regularly features in classic racing events.
The Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato is unique for being one of the last few greats from the glory days of the British car industry. While there were other great British cars in the 60s, what further adds to its appeal is its rarity and exceptionally good looks. Car making in Britain would start its terminal decline in the 70s due to a host of social and economic factors making cars like the Zagato increasingly rare. It wouldn’t be before the 21st century that Aston Martins and British cars in general would have the appeal of their Italian and German counterparts.