BULLETIN: NEWS & EVENTS

Car pro­duc­tion re­turns to New­port Pag­nell with the DB4 GT Con­tin­u­a­tion

VANTAGE - - Contents - WORDS JOHN SIMIS­TER PHO­TOG­RA­PHY AS­TON MARTIN

A DECADE AF­TER the last Vanquish S left the old fac­tory, new As­ton Martins are once again to be built at New­port Pag­nell. The cars that emerge will be very sim­i­lar to a se­lect few built there nearly six decades ago, but there will be just 25 of them: con­tin­u­a­tion ver­sions of the DB4 GT, one of the most exclusive As­tons of the David Brown era. All 25 of the short­wheel­base two-seaters have al­ready been sold (at £1.5 mil­lion plus taxes) even be­fore the first is com­pleted, with the first sched­uled for delivery this au­tumn.

This time, the con­struc­tion will take place on the west side of Tick­ford Street, in the As­ton Martin Works com­plex. A ded­i­cated build area is be­ing pre­pared, vis­i­ble through the glass rear wall of the show­room and un­der gen­tle pos­i­tive air pres­sure, to en­sure dust doesn’t set­tle. The fac­tory cer­tainly didn’t have that when the DB4 GT was in­tro­duced in 1959.

‘It has taken two-and-a-half years to get to this point,’ says Works com­mer­cial di­rec­tor Paul Spires. ‘We needed to gather the right in­for­ma­tion, col­late it and be sure ex­actly what the car had to be. We’ve gath­ered draw­ings, looked at cars spread all over the world, scanned them, taken the data and ver­i­fied from a dig­i­tal point of view the ana­logue data we had.’

Were any of the cars ac­tu­ally the same, di­men­sion­ally? ‘It was sur­pris­ing how con­sis­tent the bod­ies were when we over­laid scans,’ says Spires. ‘But they’ve had a life – they’ve been raced, crashed, re­paired. There was one which the owner said was per­fect and had been re­painted only once, but it turned out to have sev­eral mil­lime­tres of twist. “Ah yes,” he said, “it had a bit of a bump in the 1970s.”’

Gath­er­ing the com­po­nents for car PP1, the prov­ing pro­to­type, is un­der way as this is writ­ten in early Fe­bru­ary. As­sem­bly will start in March, with an ini­tial ‘dry build’ of the chas­sis. Most of the work will be done in-house, al­though out­side spe­cial­ists will sup­ply some parts. ‘Grainger & Wor­rall, who cast our V12 blocks, will cast the blocks and heads for us,’ says Spires. ‘We wanted the qual­ity, and to be even bet­ter than the orig­i­nal.’

Spires’ team has worked with the CAD (com­puter-aided de­sign) ex­perts at As­ton Martin’s Gay­don fac­tory. ‘The whole car is now in CATIA [a de­sign pro­gram] and it’s amaz­ing to see. We have taken on the en­gi­neer­ing process we have at Gay­don, and we could in the­ory build a whole vir­tual car, as you can with a mod­ern.’

Scans of ex­ist­ing cars re­vealed some anom­alies be­tween left and right sides, as you might ex­pect, so the new GTS will be ex­actly mir­rored from the left side, as is stan­dard prac­tice today. Spires is proud that the tol­er­ance for chas­sis ac­cu­racy is even tighter than in today’s As­ton Martin pro­duc­tion cars. ‘The pro­duc­tion team thought I was mad,’ he ad­mits.

An­other mad­ness he ad­mits to is the quest to keep the weight down. Eight of the 75 orig­i­nal DB4 GTS were lightweight mod­els, and the new ones will be lighter again. ‘We’ll make some ar­eas of the car bet­ter,’ Spires says mys­te­ri­ously, but he won’t re­veal how or where for fear of giv­ing away Works’ se­crets. Adding the 25 new cars to the orig­i­nal 75 be­lat­edly com­pletes the 100 cars planned for ho­molo­ga­tion – al­though, re­veals Spires, ‘that in­cludes DP215, whose chas­sis bears no re­sem­blance to a DB4 GT.’ Car PP1, in­ci­den­tally, isn’t num­bered among the 25. Think of it as a prac­tice run.

Some com­po­nents will have to be newly tooled for from scratch, but others will come from the orig­i­nal sup­pli­ers who still have draw­ings and, in some cases, the tool­ing. The door latch is one ex­am­ple, the fuel filler cap an­other, the ‘cathe­dral’ rear lights – also used by con­tem­po­rary Alvises – yet an­other. Noth­ing will be 3D-printed.

One of the big­ger ‘from scratch’ com­po­nents is the gear­box: cas­ing, gears, shafts, se­lec­tors, the lot. The fact that the 25 new cars are in­tended purely for the race­track is why the gear­box is a dog­clutch unit, bet­ter able to cope with the power and torque than a syn­chro­mesh gear­box with nec­es­sar­ily slim­mer gear wheels. The orig­i­nal cars, how­ever, had syn­chro­mesh, so does this make the new ones slightly less au­then­tic?

Here, some prag­ma­tism creeps in. ‘It’s not an Fia-com­pli­ant car,’ Spires ex­plains. ‘To build an Fia-spec car would make it un­com­pet­i­tive. It could be adapted if some­one wanted to, but we wanted to build a con­tin­u­a­tion of where we were, not a 2017 model-year DB4 GT.’ Cred­i­ble evo­lu­tion, then, not re-en­gi­neer­ing.

The alu­minium body pan­els – pressed,

‘The tol­er­ance for chas­sis ac­cu­racy is even tighter than in today’s As­ton Martins’

not su­per­formed – will be fet­tled and fit­ted to the floor­pan and ‘su­per­leg­gera’ sup­port tubes at New­port Pag­nell. Car PP1 will be a steep learn­ing curve; at our brief­ing in late Jan­uary the chas­sis was be­ing built and the pan­els were pressed, but, said Spires, ‘We haven’t got full con­fir­ma­tion of the sur­faces yet.’

PP1 needs to be fin­ished by June so it can be re­vealed at Le Mans, 58 years af­ter the first DB4 GT (the pro­to­type, DP199/1) raced there. It was driven to the race, but its highly tuned en­gine from the DBR3 race-car broke af­ter an hour-and-a-half even as the works DBR1 was on its way to vic­tory. The GT had al­ready had a mo­ment of glory, though, hav­ing won its first-ever race in the hands of Stir­ling Moss at Sil­ver­stone’s In­ter­na­tional Tro­phy meet­ing.

The new DB4 GT as­sem­bly area at Works has been de­signed as a sealed en­vi­ron­ment with key­pad en­try. The cars will be built on trol­leys and there are new work­benches – new ev­ery­thing, as Paul Spires puts it. ‘The way to build a very high-qual­ity car is to give the guys a very high-qual­ity en­vi­ron­ment,’ he says. ‘It will be run by the DB11 pro­gramme man­ager. We have poached the best.’

Spires views the DB4 GT pro­gramme as an ex­ten­sion of Works’s restora­tion ac­tiv­i­ties. ‘We’re recruiting peo­ple from the race-car in­dus­try and from within the com­pany. We’re keen to bring new peo­ple in, but we also have some who built the Vanquish at New­port Pag­nell and still have a love af­fair with the idea. When the new GT comes back here in 20 years’ time for at­ten­tion, we need to have peo­ple who know how to work on them.’

The new cars will be avail­able in all the orig­i­nal colours, or the com­pany’s cur­rent colours if pre­ferred. At the mo­ment ev­ery or­der has spec­i­fied an orig­i­nal colour, mostly green. The light me­tal­lic Sea Green is pre­dictably favourite, but cars can be in­di­vid­u­alised with roundels, stripes, Le Mans light­ing and more.

As well as their new GT, own­ers will have a driv­ing pro­gramme con­sist­ing of four track ses­sions over two years, start­ing at Abu Dhabi in 2018 and in­clud­ing in­struc­tion from sea­soned rac­ers such as Dar­ren Turner. Own­ers can ob­vi­ously take part in what­ever track ac­tiv­i­ties they want to en­ter be­yond this pro­gramme – and al­though As­ton Martin can’t be seen to con­done it, there is lit­tle (be­yond the pos­si­ble cost) to stop an owner adapt­ing a new GT to meet In­di­vid­ual Ve­hi­cle Ap­proval and gain­ing a road reg­is­tra­tion.

‘We have gone completely over the top with this car,’ says Spires. ‘There would have been cheaper ways of do­ing it as a com­mer­cial propo­si­tion, but it wouldn’t have been right and I wouldn’t have been happy. This car needs to ac­knowl­edge John Wyer, David Brown and the others.’ The signs are it will do ex­actly that.

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