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
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