1959 Aston Martin DB2/4 Mark III review

By: Guy Allen, Photography by: Alastair Brook

Presented by

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This 60-year-old sports car has lived a colourful life, topped by becoming the unexpected winner of Motorclassica

 

Aston Martin DB2/4 Mark II

Picture this: you’re at the final day of Motorclassica in Melbourne, which has over the years established itself as the premium national concours event. Your car is entered. Not because you have any great hopes of winning, but because the people who restored your 1959 Aston Martin are pretty proud of their work and understandably want to show it off.

The harsh reality is they have never before entered a car in the show, which is notorious for its extremely tough judging. People have been known to plan two years or more in advance to prepare a car.

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The story goes that one desperate entrant pulled their fresh restoration apart after missing the main prize one year, and re-did the build.

This is where Anna and Simon Purcell found themselves last year – enjoying having their car finished, but having no great expectations. Simon takes up the story: "Alan (head honcho at restoration house Creative Custom Cars) drove it up to the show – we didn’t expect anything. There were 140 odd cars and a lot of people with deeper pockets than me.

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Imagine 188km/h on 6" wide wires!

"We were among the last two in our class and the winner was a Citroen. I said to Alan, ‘Don’t worry about it, that’s fine.’ He was a bit upset, I’m consoling him, and Dale, who painted it, wandered off with his girlfriend. It was the first time they had ever entered anything.

"I suggested to Anna that we go home, she said we should wait till the end. What we didn’t realise was that if you win your class, you can’t win best in show. So we thought we were miles off.

"We were standing there chatting away and they announced the final prize – a 1959 Aston Martin! We had to call Dale back, Anna went and accepted the prize. She was at a loss for words because she wasn’t expecting to be presented with anything. It was, for us at least, comical."

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The original Bond Aston

You get the sense that while the owners are bemused, restorers Alan How, Dale Osborne and the rest of the team are still in a mild state of shock. While they clearly gave the Aston their all, entry in Motorclassica was really a last minute decision and incidental to the whole adventure.

Let’s wind back the clock a little and have a squiz at what we’re talking about. The car is a late-production Aston Martin DB2/4 Mark III. It’s best known as the car written into the spy thriller Goldfinger as James Bond’s preferred wheels, by author Ian Fleming. Just 551, including dropheads, were made.

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What sets this shape apart is that this is when the road cars adopted the distinctive shaped grille used by the racers that became synonymous with the marque. That same shape is echoed by the design of the instrument cluster.

Basic spec includes the robust three-litre straight six, which could be had in several states of tune. Even in basic form it was claiming a healthy 162 horses, and could be upgraded to 214. Behind that is an all-synchro four-speed transmission, with electric overdrive as an option.

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Concours-winning details

Braking is disc front and drum rear (no assistance). Suspension is coils all round, with independent front and live axle out back.

As for the body, it sits on a steel chassis, with a steel bulkhead up front and light rectangular section tube in other areas along with aluminium panels. All up, it weighs around 1300kg.

For its current owners, the story goes back a couple of decades.

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"A friend, best man at my wedding, owned a DB4 and I liked the car but couldn’t afford one," explains Simon. "And he said if you’re going to buy a classic car, do your research.

"When I did that, I discovered the Mark III, which I liked because of its history with Ian Fleming and his mention of it when he wrote Goldfinger.

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Special when new, more so today

"They’re a fairly rare car and I started looking around. I spoke with Paul Sabine at Brooklands, who sells quite a few Aston Martins. He said there are only two or three in Australia and he laughed when I asked if he had one.

"Then he said, ‘Funnily enough there’s a guy down your way who has one and might be interested in selling.’

As I’m talking to Paul on the phone, the car he is talking about goes past me! I later caught up with the owner and we bought the vehicle."

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Beauty from stem to stern

Originally sold in Yorkshire, the Aston made its way to Australia in the early 1970s. It underwent a restoration in 1978, which included a colour change to British Racing Green and a tan interior. The engine was rebuilt by Ross Steel of Repco and at that stage was only showing 62,000 miles (100,000km).

While the restoration was probably short of the standards expected several decades later, the car won a couple of second prizes in major shows.

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Not a bad grocery getter

By the time Anna and Simon took it over (2000), it had done a little more work and was in good running order. They used it pretty enthusiastically for several years, including a trouble-free run in the local version of the Mille Miglia. Then kids came along and it was used more sparingly.

The catalyst for its latest incarnation was a relatively minor incident several years ago. "One day I was taking it for a run to pick up some milk," says Simon. "A couple of kids came through in an SS Commodore and clipped the front. It wasn’t too bad but the bonnet was out of alignment and it didn’t look right. The guy I took it to, to be repaired, said at some point I’d have to get a full restoration."

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It was this engine that made Aston Martin famous

That was the beginning of a long process that saw the car go to one restorer where the project effectively stalled and then was rescued by Alan and his crew.

"When we got the phone call, the car was already in colour in another shop, we had a day to get it," explains Alan. "When we got the car we realised they’d used old Coke cans and other stuff for sheet metal. And the colour was wrong – it wasn’t the right shade.

"We had to sift through this workshop that was full of parts and get instruments out of one room, glass in another, other parts from another – it was a dog’s breakfast.

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"Because the car had been restored before, we had some challenges determining what was real. For example there were sill panels that were welded in the wrong position, which gave us the the wrong datums."

This is one of those situations that will seem very familiar to a lot of restorers. Not only are you dealing with a car that was effectively hand-built in tiny numbers, but you’re having to unpick what has been done to it by successive and probably well-meaning workshops over several decades.

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Plus, the records for cars like this are often poor and/or contradictory. That’s something Alan quickly discovered, to his ongoing frustration. "We even rang specialists in the UK asking them for info and I was getting conflicting stories from them," he says.

The big breakthrough was being able to find a local car that had been resprayed during its life but was otherwise unmodified. That gave the crew enough info to work out where everything should be.

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Something which strikes anyone who sees the Aston Martin is the ‘soft’ pastel Primrose Yellow paint. That is the original colour, though establishing exactly the right tint was a mission in itself.

"We had to look internally for any traces inside the car," says Dale, "Such as under seats and inside the floor. Then we had to formulate a paint, spray it out and check it. There were only three of this model in this colour."

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In fact, Dale ended up having to formulate the colour twice, for two different paint systems to cope with the special requirements of the construction.

Without doubt, a major challenge was presented by the huge curved aluminium panels. Not only did they require special treatment to ensure the paint would adhere, but they were completely unforgiving of even minor flaws.

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Could *almost* be a family car

When asked what was the most difficult aspect of the project, Dale is unhesitating:

"Reinventing yourself every day or week when you found yourself doing the same thing again and again.

"It was a repetitive process, you had to revisit and revisit. We really had to almost sneak up on it in a way. There’s nowhere to hide with no moulds and no stripes."

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Alan points out you nevertheless need to have understanding owners to get a car to that level. "We can only do what a customer allows – they need to have the confidence to let you bring out the best in the car."

After all that hard work, what’s it like to drive? Simon describes an experience that is very physical: "You’ve got two hands on the steering wheel as you’re taking hairpin bends. It gets along, but the braking isn’t for the faint-hearted. It would have been fine on old English roads when there weren’t a lot of people around – you wouldn’t drive it in traffic.

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"In the country, it’s a delight. It’s not a difficult car to drive by any stretch of the imagination. I think about it as a go-anywhere car. The engine feels sweet and never lets you down.

"The bonnet, when you’re sitting in it, seems to go on forever. It was the last of that series before they went to the DB4 and clearly the DB4 is more stylish, but it doesn’t seem to have the same charm a Mark III has. I can fully understand why at the time Ian Fleming wrote about it, because then it would have been something quite special."

By our reckoning, it still is…

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1959 Aston Martin DB2/4 Mark III

NUMBER BUILT: 551 (including Dropheads)
BODY: Separate steel body & chassis two-door coupe
ENGINE: 2922cc Inline-six with dual overhead cams and twin SU carburettors
POWER & TORQUE:
120.8kW @ 5500rpm,
244Nm @4000rpm
PERFORMANCE:  0-96km/h: 11 seconds
TRANSMISSION: 4-speed all-synchro manual
SUSPENSION: Independent, coil sprung, trailing arm (f), live axle, coil sprung (r)
BRAKES: disc (f) drum (r)
WHEELS: 16"x6.0"

 

From Unique Cars #446, November 2020

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