In 1959, Stirling Moss drove an Aston Martin DB4 GT to victory on its race debut at Silverstone. Half a century on, it’s as though we’re stepping back in time. There’s a freshly minted DB4 GT in the Silverstone pit lane, its straight-six idling smoothly, driver’s door open, daring us to climb inside and attempt to mimic Moss’s heroics. But we haven’t invented a time machine and this is no ground-up restoration. We’re about to drive the DB4 GT Continuation, the first “new” car to be built at Newport Pagnell since the final Vanquish S was completed in 2007.
It’s a welcome return for one of the most prized Aston Martins of all time. Later driven by Innes Ireland and Roy Salvadori and raced at Le Mans, just 75 examples of the original DB4 GT were produced at Newport Pagnell until 1963. These cars took the regular DB4 as a starting point, but shortened the wheelbase by 13cm to lower its weight by 85kg and increase its agility. A twin-plug cylinder head was also added to the straight-six engine for extra performance.
Only eight of the 75 were built in Lightweight trim, for an even more focused driving experience — non-essentials were deleted and the floorpan and bulkheads were manufactured from aluminium, not steel, with holes drilled in them to save weight. Today, these cars command prices in excess of £3m.
The Lightweight provides the blueprint for the DB4 GT Continuation, 25 of which will be produced for track use. Programme Manager Simon Hatfield has previously worked on the DB11 coupe and Volante, and recalls the challenge in taking the Continuation from concept to reality. “It was a very hard project, because the original car already existed,”he says. “You’re trying to replicate it perfectly, but you don’t have all the precise information required.”
There’s a freshly minted DB4 GT in the pit lane, its straight six idling smoothly, driver’s door open
The solution was to digitally scan “eight or nine” original cars and study something in the region of 450 original drawings. The attention to detail is staggering. The 1.2mm aluminium panels are the exact gauge of the originals, despite being substantially harder to shape than a thicker gauge. Original suppliers have been used wherever possible: the door locks are made by the original manufacturer; Borrani reproduced the 16-inch wire wheels it first supplied in 1959 to the exact specification.
Each car takes an estimated 4,500 hours to complete and costs £1.5m. All of which weighs heavily on my mind as I take to Silverstone’s greasy track. The steering feels slow after a modern car, but it’s nicely weighted and responds with great accuracy; the slender gearstick needs a good solid tug to engage each of the four gears, but the clutch is perfectly user-friendly; there’s a little float as the DB4 GT settles into a corner, but the chassis clearly communicates how much grip you have in reserve.
Generous performance and weighing just 1,260kg — less than many modern hatchbacks — means the DB4 GT’s rear tyres spin easily on the greasy surface, so it feels natural to select fourth gear on the exit of the normally super-fast Copse Corner and let the fantastic engine haul you out of the bend from low revs. Yet, speed builds effortlessly, the engine’s deep induction bellow when you first flatten the throttle, rising to a sonorous howl
as the rev needle jumps round the gauge in period-accurate spasms.
While the DB4 GT Continuation is extremely faithful to the original, it has been upgraded in key areas. The roll-cage is built to modern safety standards, so too are the fuel tank and the bucket seats. The engine is around 40bhp healthier at 340bhp and the gearbox features more durable straight-cut gears, which bring a distinctive mechanical whine. The brake-pad material is also more effective and the suspension rose-jointed — the latter replaces vaguer-feeling rubber bushings with a stiffer, more precise solid connection.
Some might quibble over such details, but these are sympathetic upgrades that increase crash protection, durability and driver enjoyment. As I carry a little too much velocity down the Wellington Straight into Brooklands, I can vouch for the improved brakes, which somehow wipe off the optimistic speed without locking up the cross-ply tyres in these very tricky conditions. The DB4 GT gives you confidence to work the chassis harder, to feel it shifting around benignly beneath you, clearly communicating the onset of understeer or oversteer through the delicate wooden steering rim.
After a few heady laps, I’m equally elated and relieved to return this incredible machine to the pits unscathed. To misquote the apocryphal local policeman, there’s little chance of passing myself off as Stirling Moss. But the 25 lucky owners could get a great deal closer, courtesy of a two-year international driving programme that covers some of the world’s best circuits, Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi among them. They’ll even receive instruction from current Aston Martin racing drivers, including Darren Turner.
Envious as that makes me feel, it’s still a huge privilege to have experienced the DB4 GT Continuation on the very circuit where Moss proved that the original was truly a force to be reckoned with.