GT VARIATIONS

Si­mon Draper, for­mer Vir­gin Records boss, has one of the great As­ton col­lec­tions, in­clud­ing the trin­ity of DB4 GTS

VANTAGE - - Me & My Astons Simon Draper & His Db4 Gts - Words PETER TOMALIN PHO­TOG­RA­PHY GUS GRE­GORY

It’s al­ways fun to spend time with Si­mon Draper. I could hap­pily spend a day just lis­ten­ing to him talk about his life in the mu­sic busi­ness: how he ar­rived in Bri­tain from South Africa in the early ’70s fresh from uni, joined sec­ond cousin Richard Bran­son at his fledg­ling mail order busi­ness that be­came Vir­gin Records, and ran the cre­ative side of Vir­gin for some 20 years, work­ing with everyone from Mike Old­field to the Sex Pis­tols to Sim­ple Minds.

Al­ter­na­tively we could ex­plore his im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of mod­ern art. Or chat about Palawan, the com­pany he set up post-vir­gin to pub­lish high-end books, in­clud­ing sev­eral weighty tomes on As­tons. If there were time, he could walk us around his fab­u­lous col­lec­tion of cars, rang­ing from pre-war rac­ers to cur­rent su­per­cars.

But today we’ve come to talk about his pas­sion for As­ton Martins, and to focus on three cars in par­tic­u­lar. In fact they’re only one small part of his As­ton col­lec­tion, but, in this spe­cial celebration of the DB4 GT, the three cars you see here are surely the holy trin­ity… DB4 GT, GT Za­gato and Project 214.

We’ve come to his place in Sus­sex, not far from Good­wood, where a string of garages ring a huge paved court­yard. Draper, now in his 60s but as sharp and fit as ever – he has al­ways been a keen recre­ational tennis player – watches as the cars are ma­noeu­vred out into the sun­shine. Where to be­gin? How about with the start of his As­ton ob­ses­sion.

‘Like everyone, the cars that are the most ex­otic and de­sir­able when you’re ten years old

are the ones that re­ally res­onate with you,’ he says. ‘Liv­ing in South Africa, we didn’t see many ex­otic cars, but at my prep school one of the fa­thers had a DB4. And I can’t tell you how ex­otic that was. To have a DB4 in South Africa in 1961 you had to pay dou­ble what you’d pay in the UK – it was 100 per cent duty. To me it was just amaz­ing, out of this world.’

The flame was re­ally ig­nited, though, when he came to Eng­land. ‘Roger Tay­lor [the Queen drum­mer] had a V8 Volante,’ Draper re­calls, ‘and I had oc­ca­sion to go in it. It was a fan­tas­tic car and I re­ally, re­ally wanted one af­ter that!’

It was the pub­lic flota­tion of Vir­gin Records in 1986 – ‘sud­denly there was quite a bit of money float­ing around’ – that al­lowed him to be­gin to scratch his As­ton itch. The car he wanted was a V8 Van­tage and Rod Vick­ery, later mar­ket­ing direc­tor of Benet­ton F1 but then Vir­gin’s fleet man­ager, was tasked with find­ing him one. ‘Roger Ben­ning­ton [Strat­ton Mo­tor Co] had a Van­tage X-pack. It was red, which was cer­tainly not my num­ber one choice. But I just wanted an As­ton Van­tage! I had it re­painted…’

Did it live up to the dream? ‘Yes,’ says Draper. ‘Yes it did. It was fast, beau­ti­ful, pow­er­ful. And it was a hand­built Bri­tish car, which I liked.’

He was hooked. Collecting As­tons, he ad­mits, soon be­came an ob­ses­sion. ‘I wanted to as­sem­ble a de­fin­i­tive col­lec­tion of the best As­tons. In fact I wanted an ex­am­ple of ev­ery car they’d made.

’I must have had fifty at one point. I had ex­am­ples of all the post-war cars, spe­cial-bod­ied cars by Tour­ing, Ber­tone and Za­gato, and ex­am­ples of all the Team cars: the DB3 that won the Good­wood Nine Hours in 1952, the DB3S that won the Nine Hours in ’55, the DBR1 that came sec­ond at Le Mans, DBR4 chas­sis no1, and then Project 214, af­ter which As­ton stopped rac­ing for many years. I was tempted to get an AMR1 [the Group C car that marked As­ton’s re­turn to Le Mans in 1989] but that was much later and I re­sisted the temp­ta­tion. DP214 was a natural place to stop.’

And that sounds like the per­fect cue to focus on the three fab­u­lous cars now glint­ing in the Sus­sex sun­shine.

So, how rare do you like your DB4 GT? Seventy-five ex­am­ples of the orig­i­nal were built. But that’s pos­i­tively mass-pro­duced com­pared with the Za­gato, of which a mere 20 were made in pe­riod. Then again, the ‘Project car’ DP214 makes even the Za­gato look com­mon. Just two were built, and only 0194/R sur­vives.

The DB4 GT was the first he bought, in 1990, ‘right at the height of the last price boom’. Si­mon prefers not to talk fig­ures, but this was a vivid snap­shot of what was hap­pen­ing in the mar­ket at that time. ‘I paid half a mil­lion for it,

which was a world record,’ he says. ‘The next time it was val­ued, it was £120,000.’ And today? Prob­a­bly around £2.5 mil­lion.

It’s a lovely, very cor­rect ex­am­ple, re­painted since Si­mon bought it in orig­i­nal Deep Car­riage Green. ‘It’s the sec­ond to last one built,’ he says. ‘The last few are dif­fer­ent to all the oth­ers, so it doesn’t have the big bon­net scoop, it has a slightly dif­fer­ent bevel on the head­lamps, and it has dif­fer­ent rear lights.

‘In re­search­ing the book [a Palawan book on the DB4 GT will be printed later this year] we dis­cov­ered it has a num­ber of ex­tra light­weight bits: drilled chas­sis, alu­minium floor­pan and doors… so that was a nice dis­cov­ery.

‘When we had to partly dis­man­tle it to fix the heater, we dis­cov­ered that ev­ery sin­gle part is la­belled with the chas­sis num­ber, so we know it’s all orig­i­nal and cor­rect.the only thing that’s not right – and I’m going to get them re­placed – is the spin­ners should have a domed centre, where th­ese are slightly con­cave.’

How does it com­pare with a reg­u­lar DB4? ‘It’s much more lively,’ he says. ‘What I par­tic­uarly like about this car – and it’s quite un­usual th­ese days – is that it still has its orig­i­nal 3.7-litre en­gine. A lot of people were per­suaded to have their en­gines bored out, or some­times the en­gines failed or were badly cor­roded and the fac­tory could only sup­ply 4-litre blocks.

‘There’s some­thing about the 3.7-litre en­gine; its re­sponse. It’s prob­a­bly got a little less torque but it re­sponds nicely and loves to rev. I’ve done a road rally in it and it was great fun. In fact my me­chan­ics drove it all the way down to Barcelona for that event, which was great for it.’

Whereas 7979 TD was the sec­ond-last built, the Za­gato, bought in 1992, was by con­trast the very first. Not only was it the 1960 Bri­tish mo­tor show car, it was also ex­ten­sively raced in pe­riod, in­clud­ing by Stir­ling Moss at Good­wood and Mike Sal­mon at Le Mans.

‘A lot of the de­tails are unique to this car,’ says Draper. ‘The ob­vi­ous thing is the chrome strip down the side, but it’s also got a dif­fer­ent roofline, lower and more ta­pered.

‘Orig­i­nally it had a longer nose, very shark­like. The rea­son it doesn’t have that nose any more is that it was crashed by Brian He­treed at Good­wood in 1963 and went back to the fac­tory to be re­paired, and I don’t think they were too both­ered about putting it back the way it was.

‘Stephen Archer [co-author of the DB4 GT book and­van­tage­con­trib­u­tor] thinks we should re­turn it to the way it orig­i­nally looked – and we do have a tem­plate, so we could do it – but I can’t make up my mind be­cause most of its life it’s looked like this!

‘It’s been raced pretty much all its life and has un­der­gone sev­eral changes to the body­work. In club rac­ing in the early ’70s it even had huge flared ’arches. I had it re­turned to its orig­i­nal look, as it was on the mo­tor show stand.

‘It’s also had a lot of dif­fer­ent en­gines. When it was raced by Mike Sal­mon at Le Mans it was a quasi Works-sup­ported drive, so it had Works en­gines, and at one stage a Project en­gine in it.

Above and be­low Draper ex­er­cis­ing 7979 TD, the sec­ond-last built of the ‘reg­u­lar’ DB4 gts. En­gine is still orig­i­nal 3.7. in­te­rior, too, is just as it was, in­clud­ing the op­tional, air­craft-spec ‘rich­mond’ har­nesses

Left and be­low All the other Za­gatos had the tra­di­tional As­ton wing vent, but this one, the first, had the unique chrome strip, along with a lower roof-line. En­gine cur­rently in­stalled is a 4.2-litre rac­ing unit built by RS Wil­liams

Left and above DP214’S en­gine was ba­si­cally the same as in other DB4 GTS, but the GT regs al­lowed it to be over­bored by 1mm, tak­ing ca­pac­ity from 3670 to 3750cc. Above: un­der its stream­lined body, chas­sis and wheel­base di­men­sions were the same, too

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