BULLETIN: NEWS & EVENTS
Car production returns to Newport Pagnell with the DB4 GT Continuation
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.