When David Brown answered a small ad in The Times in late 1946, he didn’t realise his initials would eventually be transformed into two of the most evocative letters in automotive history. The advert offered a sports car company for sale (for £20,000), and Brown was sufficiently interested to make an offer, bringing the expertise he had gained in building gearboxes and tractors to a far more glamorous world. In early 1947, Brown bought Aston Martin, attracted by the possibilities and potential of this famous British marque.
The first DB car was originally named as the “Two Litre Sports”, although history now knows it as the DB1. Outright winner of the 1948 Spa 24 Hours, the production model that followed cemented an auspicious relationship between the track-going Aston Martins and their road car siblings; each supported the other while bringing innovation, performance and elegance to customers.
The DB1, however, simply paved the way for the DB2 of 1950, an elegant and contemporary saloon version of the successful race cars. The DB2 sowed the seeds of a shape that was to evolve over many decades, doing away with any visual hangover from pre-war cars. In contrast, the car that bore the name DB3 was never intended for the road. First introduced in 1951, this beautifully engineered machine evolved first into the DB3S and then the DBR1, the Aston Martin that conquered Le Mans in 1959 in the hands of Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori.
The DB2 continued to evolve throughout its lifespan. The DB2/4, DB2/4 Mark II and DB Mark III were all built on Claude Hill’s elegant chassis design, with each variant honed and enhanced, inside and out, to reflect the technical innovations of the era. The DB2/4 was a particular milestone, a sporting hatchback that created the classic profile of the 2+2 GT car. The DB4 was announced to the world at the 1958 Paris Motor Show. Visually, it was a sensation. Styled by Touring of Milan, the DB4 also utilised the Italian Carrozzeria’s patented method of body construction, Superleggera, which used a tubular frame to support the hand-beaten aluminium body panels.
The DB4 bears strong traces of the DNA of a modern Aston Martin: the overall proportions, the front grille, the side strake, the relationship between the bonnet, cabin and the rear flank that sets up a long, swooping roofline. The DB4 also formed the basis of one of the most famous DB cars, the DB4 GT Zagato, a bulbous concoction of curves and power lines that prefigured the bold, muscular Aston Martins of the next two decades. The final run of DB4 road cars were also GTs, and they bear a strong resemblance to the car that followed, the Aston Martin DB5 of 1963.
What can be said of this legendary machine that hasn’t already been written? The DB5 brought the DB line ever closer to the Grand Touring ideal, with a new alloy 4.0-litre straight six engine and a luxuriously finished interior. It was refined, comfortable and, above all, stunningly beautiful. From every angle, the design had a lightness of touch that blended its expressive Italian origins with a neatly delineated British simplicity — cut from the finest cloth, if you like.
The DB6 followed suit two years later, briefly sharing the Newport Pagnell production facilities with the short-chassis Volante version of the DB5 (now highly sought after). Longer, wider and heavier, the DB6 was simpler but lacked a certain delicacy. Its most striking innovations were the abrupt Kamm tail and revised rear tailgate, but the car’s size and ever more refined interior made the DB6 a true full four-seat luxury grand tourer. It was also the last iteration of a chassis and mechanical arrangement that had debuted with the DB2.
The 1970s saw Aston Martin build on the muscular GT template. The DBS, designed by William Towns in 1967 but strongly influenced by the sharp-edged designs coming out of Italy, was to be the final DB car for nearly two decades. Brown’s involvement with the company ended in 1972, and the DBS developed into the Aston Martin V8, with a new engine, new styling and even more emphasis on brawn and power. The V8 era evolved through numerous variants and the market for luxury sports cars ebbed and flowed with the global economy. Aston Martin’s focus was on the bespoke, so production numbers were strictly limited. When the company came under Ford’s control at the end of the 1980s, it suddenly had access to investment, technical support and cooperation like it had never known before. The result was the DB7 in 1994, an instant classic and a worthy bearer of the famous “DB” appellation.
The reappearance of the initials forged an unbreakable bond with the “golden era”, of course, but the new car also delivered the kind of beauty and performance that had all but vanished from the industry. Truly the successor to the famous DBs of the 1960s, the DB7 was an exercise in line and proportion, a fluid form that can be described with just a few simple lines.
Under the skin, the DB7 evolved from a supercharged straight six to a V12, yet the form remained pure and constant throughout. Some 7,000 DB7s were built before production ceased in 2003, making it by far the most successful design the company had ever created up to that moment, and accounting for a third of all Aston Martins ever built.
“DB8” remains the great lost name of Aston Martin history, and it will probably stay that way. Officially, it was decided that “8” implied an eight-cylinder car, when the DB9 was intended from the outset to carry Aston Martin’s bespoke V12. But in terms of technology, power, performance and output, the DB9 was also a ‘quantum leap’, a generational shift — the debut of the VH Platform and the first model to come from the new factory and headquarters at Gaydon — so a leap seemed entirely appropriate. The DB9’s debut at the 2003 Frankfurt Motor Show launched Aston Martin’s new era. The acclaimed new 2+2 looked to the future in terms of technology and performance, but also celebrated Aston Martin’s past by representing the ultimate evolution of the proportions, forms and elements that have embodied the marque since the early 1950s.
And now we have the DB10, with the promise of much, much more around the corner. History will recall the DB10 as a break with the past, a bespoke creation for a very singular — and demanding — customer, someone who knows Aston Martins intimately. The DB10 takes the classic GT shape and injects it with purity and dynamism, its surfaces unbroken and smooth and proportions taut and stretched. From the tapered tail and flared rear haunches, running down the simple shoulder crease, through to the sleek headlights and deep, near-vertical grille, the DB10 is a symphony of harmonious elements, brought together to create a strikingly original interpretation of the DB legacy. It’s instantly recognisable as an Aston Martin, of course, but it also hints at what’s to come.
As the company’s second century progresses, the “DB” name will surely remain as strong as ever.