DBS AT FIFTY

This year sees the 50th birth­day of the DBS. We take an early, Van­tage-spec ex­am­ple for a cel­e­bra­tory drive

VANTAGE - - Contents - WORDS JOHN BARKER PHO­TOG­RA­PHY ANDY MORGAN

The orig­i­nal six-cylin­der DBS is fifty this year. We go for a cel­e­bra­tory drive

MOD­ERN CAR SHOWROOMS smell of fresh tyres, that in­de­fin­able but un­mis­tak­able ‘new car’ aroma and oc­ca­sion­ally the sales­man’s af­ter­shave, but not this one. There’s a gleam­ing dis­play of Lo­tus’s lat­est in the main show­room, but the scent is de­cid­edly old school. It’s the smell of car­bu­ret­tors and fuel tanks vent­ing to at­mos­phere and, sure enough, around the cor­ner from the sun­lit main show­room at the Strat­ton Mo­tor Com­pany is the source: a pulse-rais­ing col­lec­tion of clas­sics, mostly As­ton Martins.

While MD Roger Ben­ning­ton searches for keys, pho­tog­ra­pher Andy Morgan and I scan the col­lec­tion, spot­ting cars Top Trumps-style, point­ing and try­ing not to shout like ex­cited kids. In one cor­ner is an ex­am­ple of the car most com­monly as­so­ci­ated with the clas­sic DBS, a V8, and in the cen­tre, glow­ing red, the car we’ve come to drive: an orig­i­nal, six-cylin­der DBS.

It was the six-cylin­der ver­sion that was re­vealed to the press and po­ten­tial cus­tomers at Blen­heim Palace on Septem­ber 25, 1967. In truth, the fact that it didn’t have the V8 en­gine that it was con­ceived to carry un­der that wide bon­net was prob­a­bly a slight dis­ap­point­ment. It had been a poorly kept se­cret that As­ton was de­vel­op­ing its own V8 and at the Rac­ing Car Show at Olympia in Jan­uary that year As­ton had wowed the crowds with a hand­some dark blue Lola-as­ton, a Lola T70 coupé fit­ted with the new en­gine. The in­ten­tion had been to prove the V8 in the heat of com­pe­ti­tion, but it be­came a bap­tism of fire with lots of fail­ures and poor results, hence the en­gine’s de­lay. It would be an­other cou­ple of years be­fore it fi­nally ar­rived.

Ben­ning­ton has found the keys and, af­ter a bit of pre­flight, fires up the DBS. It sounds ut­terly glo­ri­ous. Andy and I turn to each other and si­mul­ta­ne­ously ask: ‘Why would you want a V8?’ There’s some­thing very English about a straight-six, which is prob­a­bly a legacy of years of straight-six As­tons and Xk-en­gined Jaguars. They have an un­mis­tak­able char­ac­ter and a cer­tain class, and this one, breath­ing a lit­tle hes­i­tantly ini­tially through a trio of twin-choke We­bers, is among the best I’ve heard, even though it has a pair of tailpipes so mod­est that their com­bined di­am­e­ter would be less than one of the four pipes on a cur­rent Audi S1.

Out in the day­light it’s such a hand­some car, though it seems odd that it’s on wire wheels. My first ex­po­sure to the six-cylin­der DBS – though I didn’t re­alise it at the time – came from the early-70s TV show, The per­suaders! I adored the open­ing cred­its, the split screen that rolled to John Barry’s theme tune with its plink-plonky-plink pi­ano and swirling, ooz­ing bass line. Hear­ing it was my cue to hot-foot it to the TV to see the two main pro­tag­o­nists – not Tony Cur­tis and Roger Moore, of course, but the Fer­rari Dino 246 and the DBS. Moore, as Lord Brett Sin­clair, drove the Ba­hama Yel­low DBS, wear­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate plate BS1 – used with the per­mis­sion of cir­cus owner Billy Smart – and wear­ing the GKN al­loy wheels of the V8. In fact un­der­neath it was a six, but as the V8 had just been launched and As­ton wanted to pro­mote it, they dressed the DBS to look like the new model.

What­ever, it was per­fect cast­ing: a hand­some, con­fi­dent Brit and a highly strung Ital­ian, though in fact the As­ton very nearly came from an Ital­ian styling house it­self. Tour­ing of Mi­lan had pro­posed evolv­ing its DB6 into a sleeker, lower-snouted and sharper-edged two-seat coupé with a long, slop­ing rear screen like a hatch­back. Two prototypes were built but de­vel­op­ment stalled when the Ital­ian firm ceased trad­ing soon af­ter. Hap­pily, As­ton had an al­ter­na­tive pro­posal, and it came from a re­cent re­cruit its de­sign de­part­ment, one William Towns.

Towns had worked for Rootes and also for Rover, where he de­signed the body of the Rover-brm Le Mans racer be­fore join­ing As­ton in 1966, os­ten­si­bly to de­sign seats, though William al­ways had big­ger ideas. His pro­posal for the DBS was a crisply drawn four-seater, de­signed to ac­cept the V8. Logic says it should have been called the DB7, but Tour­ing’s pro­posal had been touted around var­i­ous shows and es­tab­lished the DBS name, coined to in­di­cate it would be a lim­ited-run spe­cial. And so this was adopted for the Towns de­sign, a car that proved so spe­cial it would be the ba­sis of As­ton Martins for the next two decades.

It’s an im­pos­ing, beau­ti­fully pro­por­tioned shape that looks great from al­most ev­ery an­gle. And it looks just as good with the orig­i­nal, four-head­lamp treat­ment as with the later, more sculpted, twin-lamp de­sign. Recog­nise the tail lights? They’re the sim­ply styled units from the Hill­man Hunter, while the triple vents on the rear pil­lars are one of the defin­ing details of the early DBS – and a nod to the Tour­ing de­sign. These early cars also went with­out a chin spoiler, in­tro­duced later to im­prove high-speed sta­bil­ity.

The doors are very long, which is great for get­ting ac­cess to the rear sofa – sorry, seats. In­deed, the doors are so long they have an ash­tray at both ends, the ones at the rear for those sit­ting in the back. The plump front seats look un­promis­ing in terms of sup­port but, un­like mod­ern seats, they com­press when you sit in them so the cush­ion cups and sup­ports you quite well. Their lack of head re­straints is mildly con­cern­ing, as is the lack of an in­er­tia reel seat belt, ba­sic things we take for granted in mod­ern cars.

The driv­ing po­si­tion is im­pres­sively square, with seat, wheel and ped­als in line, but for me the non-ad­justable steer­ing wheel is a tad low. Its large di­am­e­ter helps ma­noeu­ver­ing though – de­spite power as­sis­tance (a £133 op­tion on the six-cylin­der DBS) it’s still pretty heavy at park­ing speeds – and its slim rim has a flat front pro­file that gives a good, er­gonomic grip.

Road tests of the day con­veyed slight dis­ap­point­ment

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