As­ton Martin DBS FI

When an As­ton Martin DBS came in for new leather, re­storer Paul Richards wasn’t ex­pect­ing quite such an in-depth project. It turned into a to­tal re­build and the re-in­state­ment of a rare and tem­per­a­men­tal fuel in­jec­tion sys­tem

Classic Cars (UK) - - News - Words NIGEL BOOTHMAN Pho­tog­ra­phy JONATHAN JA­COB

Back in 2013, Alex Pana­siuk found an As­ton Martin DBS for sale. It had been off the road for a lit­tle while, and be­cause val­ues still lagged a long way be­hind ear­lier DB mod­els the in­ten­tion was to im­prove it, paint it and sell it on. ‘I had some restora­tion work done and a re­spray in Ba­hama Yel­low by a com­pany in Lin­colnshire,’ he says. ‘Then it went up to Richards of Eng­land the fol­low­ing year for some trim work.’

‘I thought all it needed was trim,’ says boss Paul Richards. ‘Dur­ing the process of re­cov­er­ing the seats and pok­ing about in the cabin, we found some wor­ry­ing signs, like a patch in the floor and some rot in the base of an A-post.’

Alex Pana­siuk took the car away again but be­came less and less happy with the stan­dard of the work per­formed by the first re­storer. Add this to Richards’ dis­cov­er­ies and the fact that by 2015 the DBS mar­ket fi­nally be­gan to climb as steeply as other As­tons had done, and he re­alised he had a de­ci­sion to make.

‘I told Paul we should start again, and that we’d do the job prop­erly this time,’ he says. So far, so sen­si­ble, but af­ter the work was well un­der­way the restora­tion took a sur­pris­ing turn. As far as both owner and re­storer knew, the car was a 1970 DBS 6 man­ual. And it was – but with one im­por­tant dif­fer­ence.

‘I got a call one day from the Her­itage Sales Man­ager at As­ton Martin,’ says Pana­siuk. ‘We’d con­tacted them be­cause the car was wear­ing FI badges, de­spite be­ing fit­ted with car­bu­ret­tors. Af­ter check­ing the chas­sis num­ber, he told me that it was in­deed one of just 15 six-cylin­der DBS cars made with Brico fuel in­jec­tion.’

Such were the teething trou­bles of the in­jec­tion sys­tem, only one other DBS 6 FI was known to sur­vive with fuel in­jec­tion. So the mis­sion changed again – the new aim was to re­store the car to orig­i­nal 1970 ‘FI’ spec­i­fi­ca­tion... and some­how make it work prop­erly this time. But be­fore that, there was the small mat­ter of a to­tal body restora­tion to sort out.

Un­cov­er­ing the dam­age

‘There was more than just rot,’ says Matt Purvis, who worked through the car’s strip-down and re­assem­bly. ‘The floor­pans had been crushed in places where they’d bot­tomed out. The sills and boot floor were full of rust and the in­ner wings were re­ally badly re­paired – patches all over. But the worst bit was the back end.’

Purvis scraped and chipped away at the Ba­hama Yel­low paint and found more and more filler be­neath.

‘It had clearly had a thump. It was full of filler and the style line in the rear wing had van­ished.’

This very sub­tle crease is easy to miss un­less you know what to look for. Ev­ery DBS should have a straight con­tour that starts be­hind the front wheel and con­tin­ues at tyre-top height through the door and rear wing. It would prove to be a key chal­lenge later in the body­work re­pairs, but first the DBS needed blast­ing.

With the ex­tent of the dam­age fully ex­posed, the blast­ing com­pany ap­plied a light pro­tec­tive primer and sent the car back. The DBS is clothed with alu­minium, but un­der­neath it’s hefty Bri­tish steel, so with nose and tail sec­tions re­moved, Purvis set about cut­ting and weld­ing in the nec­es­sary re­pairs to the mono­coque.

‘The in­ner sill is where the strength is,’ says Purvis. ‘It’s a tall box-sec­tion and we had to brace and re­place both sides. The outer sill is just cos­metic.’

Luck­ily, some re­pair pan­els are pos­si­ble to find for the DBS, but Purvis had to fab­ri­cate sev­eral ar­eas. Hav­ing fit­ted a new boot floor and per­formed in­volved re­pairs to the mess at the base of the A-pil­lars, he even­tu­ally com­pleted the struc­tural job and pro­tected both new and old steel with fac­tory-spec red ox­ide. Af­ter Purvis ap­plied the cor­rect black tex­ture coat­ing to the en­gine bay, in­te­rior, boot and un­der­side, the car moved on to body­worker Ian Jones, who would re­move, re­pair and re-fit the dam­aged alu­minium skin.

The cor­ro­sion that Purvis had found and fixed at the base of the A-pil­lar was mir­rored in the ad­ja­cent alu­minium, so Jones had to cut out and re­place a piece at the rear of the front near­side wing. ‘I let in new alu­minium with the TIG welder, then panel-beat it to shape,’ says Jones. ‘The doors were another prob­lem – a mix­ture of ac­ci­dent dam­age and cor­ro­sion made the skin on the near­side too bad to re-use. Matt made re­pairs to both the rot­ten steel door frames and I fit­ted a new skin to one of them.’

No quar­ter given

The tough­est re­pair in­volved un­do­ing the sec­ond-rate job on the rear quar­ter. ‘That rear style line had gone – the panel was flat when I started on it,’ says Jones. ‘I had to knock it out­wards with a spoon, then put the line back very gen­tly with a chisel, then re­move any dam­age with a file be­fore feel­ing and look­ing for the right pro­file. I called in Ja­son, our painter, and we worked out to­gether when it was right.’

This in­volved a lot of trial fit­ting of the large alu­minium sec­tions back onto the steel struc­ture. They’re not wrapped round small tubes like ear­lier Su­per­leg­gera As­ton Mar­tins, but mostly pop-riv­eted. For the nu­mer­ous on-and-off-again fit­tings that Jones and Ja­son Rush­ton had to per­form, self-tap­ping screws were used in the rivet holes.

‘You have to get all the clos­ing pan­els gapped prop­erly at this stage,’ says Jones. ‘It’s also vi­tal to get both sec­tions spot-on for screen fit­ting, though the orig­i­nal wind­screen was chipped and had to be re­placed. But you can use it to help pre­cise po­si­tion­ing when you’re do­ing a dry build.’

In case there was any doubt about the car’s orig­i­nal Az­zurro Blue, Ja­son Rush­ton found a good trace of it on one of the door check straps.

‘When the car came back to us fol­low­ing the first time we’d fit­ted the in­te­rior – and re­al­is­ing that we had to not just re­move it all again, but com­pletely re-trim it too!’

‘Sourc­ing an orig­i­nal AE Brico FI sys­tem al­most as soon as we re­alised what the car was… that was hard to be­lieve’

‘Our paint fac­tor put it in the spec­trum anal­yser and pro­vided us with an ex­act match for the new paint,’ he says. ‘I used a two-pack epoxy to seal ev­ery­thing be­fore fill­ing. Then it was a guide coat and block­ing back with 180-grit to find highs and lows. Any fi­nal panel beat­ing could then be done.’

Af­ter that Rush­ton ap­plied a very fine skim of filler, blocked back again, then two or three coats of polyester filler-primer and fur­ther block­ing with finer grades. He ap­plied primer next, fol­lowed by five coats of colour.

‘It cov­ers prop­erly with three or four coats,’ says Rush­ton, ‘but I’ll add at least one more to be sure. This car got 20-25 min­utes be­tween coats and also a wipe with a tack rag to elim­i­nate any dust on the sur­face. Fi­nally I used two coats of ul­tra-high solids lac­quer and then baked the car for an hour at 60°C.’

Left overnight to set­tle, it was fin­ished the next day with a first flat­ting us­ing 1200-grit, then two more coats of lac­quer and a care­ful flat­ting and pol­ish­ing process through finer and finer grades.

A re-trim reprise

For the car’s sec­ond re-trim back to 1970 fac­tory spec Paul Richards and Rus­sell Davis worked to­gether, em­ploy­ing var­i­ous tech­niques that are old hat to any­one in their trade but which are rarely seen or un­der­stood by cus­tomers.

‘The seats are steel frames with rub­ber Pirelli web­bing straps fixed to them, with foam and then leather over that,’ says Richards. ‘We started from scratch, strip­ping the frames to bare metal, paint­ing them and re­plac­ing all the web­bing. Each strap is pinned at one end, then hand-ten­sioned and pinned at the other end – it takes judge­ment be­cause the ten­sion de­fines the shape of the bow in the seat-back.’

Next comes a layer of chip-foam, the dense foam made from multi-coloured chips bonded to­gether. Af­ter that, a softer foam helps form the shape of the bol­sters. Pleat­ing varies from model to model but once Richards and Davis have worked out the cor­rect form, they make a pat­tern from cal­ico and card.

‘We make the pleats us­ing a method called tuck and roll,’ says Davis. ‘You lay out the hide on a piece of thin scrim foam, fold it back on it­self, then stitch through the leather and the foam. Fold it for­ward again to the next mark, fold back on it­self and stitch to cre­ate the next pleat, and so on. You al­low more leather than foam; the pat­tern is used to make sure you get the pleat sizes just right.’

Davis points out another neat trick of the trade. ‘Be­cause tucked and rolled pleats are not sym­met­ri­cal, you can see the stitches from one side. So you fit a pleated panel to a driver’s seat with the stitches fac­ing away from the door, and you flip it the other way round for the pas­sen­ger seat.’

Richards also shows us As­ton Martin’s sen­si­ble in­no­va­tion for the head­lin­ing. ‘It’s a thin alu­minium panel with foam ribs run­ning down it. We can eas­ily mimic the pleats in the seats by scor­ing West of Eng­land cloth into the grooves be­tween the ribs and fix­ing it on with a high-tem­per­a­ture con­tact ad­he­sive called Al­pha – it would have to get right up to 120°C inside the car be­fore the head­lin­ing would ever droop!’

In all, the DBS used six hides of Con­nolly Vau­mol VM3282 from the Luxan range. ‘It’s thicker and softer and has a nice smell which is less chem­i­cal than other mod­ern hides,’ says Davis. ‘It’s top-fin­ished, mean­ing the hide is stretched out and sprayed, so the colour is only on the top sur­face where the grain is. It’s £650 a hide, but it’s about the best there is.’

An in­jec­tion of mys­tery

The piv­otal mo­ment in this project came when Paul Richards con­tacted As­ton Work­shop in Beamish, County Durham, to ask about spare parts for Brico fuel in­jec­tion. ‘I could hardly be­lieve it, but they said they had a com­plete sys­tem, still wrapped in waxed pa­per. So we bought it.’

The sys­tem even had the ana­logue ECU the size of a shoe­box. How would en­gine spe­cial­ist Den­nis Vessey make it work? ‘When Paul brought me the car it was wear­ing SU car­bu­ret­tors and the en­gine needed a full re­build,’ says Vessey. ‘We were al­ready well into that when he told me about this Brico kit he’d dis­cov­ered. I looked at it and said that while I couldn’t prom­ise any­thing, I thought it could be made to go – though I would never have at­tempted to use that old ECU.’

Be­fore Vessey could get his teeth into the prob­lem, he had to res­cue the sickly twin-cam straight-six. The cylin­der block was cor­roded to the point where it needed weld­ing and re-ma­chin­ing, and while the cylin­der heads, cams and crankshaft were also saved, the pis­tons, bear­ings and much of the valve gear was re­newed. With the en­gine com­pleted in the sum­mer of 2017, Vessey fit­ted the Brico man­i­fold and be­gan to as­sem­ble a sys­tem to make it run.

‘One prob­lem was the in­jec­tors,’ he says. ‘They’re meant to run at 28-30psi but mod­ern pumps and ECUS suit a sys­tem run­ning more like 35-50psi, so I man­aged to en­gi­neer a way to fit new in­jec­tors into the orig­i­nal man­i­fold.’

The man­i­fold fea­tures one large plenum cham­ber with two throt­tle but­ter­flies side by side, then one in­jec­tor per port. Fuel sup­ply is me­tered by throt­tle po­si­tion ver­sus en­gine speed, and though Vessey was tempted to switch to a MAP (man­i­fold ab­so­lute pres­sure) sen­sor, he elected to keep the orig­i­nal and vis­ually ob­vi­ous throt­tle po­ten­tiome­ter on top of the man­i­fold as part of the sys­tem.

‘To pick up the en­gine speed, I ma­chined teeth into the front pul­ley

to give a crank sen­sor some­thing to read,’ he says. ‘That lot, plus a lambda sen­sor in the ex­haust, gave the new ECU what it needed.’

The new ECU is a dig­i­tal unit a frac­tion of the size of the ana­logue orig­i­nal (which has been re­tained with the car as a keep­sake). Small enough to be hid­den un­der the dash, it was made by en­gine man­age­ment spe­cial­ist MBE. The re­sults were im­pres­sive on Vessey’s en­gine dyno, and while he is re­luc­tant to quote power fig­ures un­til the car has a fi­nal set-up on the rolling road, this re-en­gi­neered DBS FI should com­fort­ably out-run a DBS V8, yet be­have as re­li­ably as any mod­ern fuel-in­jected car.

Build-up, wiring and com­ple­tion

Get­ting the en­gine to per­form on the dyno was one thing, but mat­ing it to the ex­ist­ing loom in the DBS re­mained quite a chal­lenge. ‘The wiring we found at strip-down was a dis­grace,’ says Matt Purvis.

‘We de­cided to start afresh,’ says John But­ler. He did the wiring while Purvis looked af­ter build-up and re­assem­bly. ‘I fit­ted a new stan­dard loom, which is no prob­lem be­cause it uses UK colours and there are good di­a­grams. But to that I had to add ECU feeds, con­nec­tions for fuel pumps and in­jec­tors and so on. We also needed a lambda boss in the ex­haust, a swirl-pot in the boot, and high-pres­sure fuel lines.’

Purvis as­sem­bled the en­gine and man­ual gear­box to­gether be­fore swing­ing them into place. He’d al­ready re-fit­ted the As­ton’s run­ning gear, which needed much time-con­sum­ing strip­ping, re­paint­ing, re-bush­ing and zinc-plat­ing of com­po­nents. The chrome trim also took a lot of time, as did door catches (re­newed be­neath the orig­i­nal han­dles so they ac­tu­ally worked smoothly), quar­terlights, win­dow mech­a­nisms, etc.

‘The build qual­ity of these cars was pretty agri­cul­tural in places,’ he says. ‘Be­cause they were hand-built, noth­ing that’s new goes on quite like what­ever you took off. I also changed a lot of the fit­tings to met­ric, so you can now work on the car with three span­ners in­stead of 24!’

While Purvis and But­ler but­toned up the en­gine bay, un­der­side and ex­te­rior, Richards and Davis fin­ished the cabin with Silent Coat sound­proof­ing on the floor, then jute and new car­pets. In went the seats, door cards and head­lin­ing – and sud­denly there was not one As­ton Martin DBS FI on UK roads, but two. ‘The cra­zi­est thing about the whole project,’ says Alex Pana­siuk, ‘was that we learned the other DBS FI is just a few miles away from us. Both cars were reg­is­tered new in Lin­coln, and they’re both still in the county now. They could be the only two in the world… I know I’ll never find another one, which is why this one had to be ab­so­lutely right.’

All that re­mained at the time of go­ing to press was a fi­nal set-up on the rolling road and the rev­e­la­tion of how many horse­power it’s mak­ing

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