“Be careful not to fall in love with her all over again,” said Mrs English as I prepared to visit my old Aston Martin DB5 at Piper Trimmers in Sparkford, Somerset. She’s right; the aim of the exercise is to sell the old girl that I’ve owned for 30 years, but it will be hard. In some ways, I’d rather not see the new interior and repainted bonnet without its racing bonnet pins, put there to compete in the historic FIA European Hill Climb Championship – I’ve done some insanely brave things in this old car. Nor do I want to feel the weighty chink of those Wilmot Breeden keys marked with my daughter’s nail varnish: ignition, boot, driver’s door… I’ve got to harden my heart.
Of course, there was a time when a gently breathed-on Aston Martin DB with a bit of history would sell like a shot, but not anymore. Which is why Gobbo’s history has to be expunged like Leon Trotsky from photographs of the Russian politburo. And to sell a DB5 these days, you have to enter the strange Walter Mitty-like world of the modern high-end classic-car dealer; a most expensive hall of mirrors where nothing is quite what it seems.
“Originality is king these days,” one said before showing me a series of Skyfall-lookalike DB5s in Silver Birch just out of the paint shop, on new chromium wire wheels with 4.5-litre engines and modern gearbox internals — it felt as if Paddington Bear had dumped the hat and guested on a Cardi B single dressed in sparkly pants.
And don’t mention the word originality in front of Mrs English (a qualified fine art conservator), or for that matter any of those other weaselly words of the modern classic-car business: patina and provenance. In the art game, you can’t buy or create originality, you can only lose it; squander it, in fact.
The other thing that classic-car dealers love to tell you is what it’s like to own your own car. I boggled as one did exactly this over the course of half an hour of my life I will never get back. “Every car has a story,” says one dealer as he thumbed through some terrible studio shots, forgetting that’s my business. Well, here’s Gobbo’s…
In fact, I heard those exhausts twice before I saw her and bought her. First as she throttled down into the BP station at Honiton, Devon having just won her class at the Aston Martin Owners’ Club (AMOC) Wiscombe Park Hillclimb. At the wheel was then-owner Bob Fairburn, who drove it quite brilliantly. He brimmed the big tank and gunned the engine as he turned out of the garage. With the Dunlop race tyres on the back seat, Bob was driving 440 miles back to Glasgow. The AA Route Planner quotes the journey time as some seven and a half hours; it wouldn’t have taken Bob that long.
The second time was when a friend came to a drinks party at my house, having recently and unexpectedly acquired the car with a view to selling it soon. He raced Gobbo past the front on open exhausts, the rev counter yowling past 6,000rpm. We were in the back garden and lifted our heads like the muzzles of the pack on a fox’s scent at the aristocratic wail of a four-litre, twin-cam, straight six on the red line. The entire car ticked as it cooled and I entered the fantasy world that the impoverished Aston Martin owner must keep one foot in, as I calculated how I could make her mine.
My plans came together. “Couldn’t we call it Garbo?” asked Philli, my wife. We could, but everyone else knew the car as Gobbo from its number plate, GBO500D, so Gobbo it stayed. Factory records show that Gobbo was completed on 1 April 1965, chassis number DB5/2035/R, engine number 400/2024. At that time Twiggy was in her pomp, the Rolling Stones’ The Last Time was number one and Harold Wilson was clinging to a four-seat majority in Number 10. Gobbo was delivered to Nortons of Cardiff on 2 April and first registered on 9 February 1966. That makes it one of the last DB5s ever to be registered since at that time, the DB6 was on sale. It’s been owned by numerous people, including the intriguingly named Anthony Roadknight and a Royal Navy Commander called David Jarrold (shades of Commander Bond?).
When I got it, the coachwork was in poor shape, the engine was smoky and the differential whined. I strapped my son Fergus into the perished leather seat and we drove round the M25, terrifying Mondeo drivers and getting the thumbs up from a police patrol car.
God, I loved that car, but ownership is more and less than mere love — and a bigger commitment. It’s easy to forget, for example, just how shoddily those DBs were put together. Talk to a good body beater and they’ll testify that original DB5 bodies could differ by as much as an inch on each side. With up to 3,500 components in each car, only the engine, trim and coachwork were Aston Martin’s own; the remaining parts were bought in, including the ZF truck gearbox and the Lucas electrics. One senior Aston Martin engineer described the DB5 to me at the time: “The only things that were built by craftsmen were the body and the engine. Everything else was cobbled together and how they managed to make everything rust so quickly is beyond me.”
With an Aston Martin you need to keep a steady nerve, or it will warp your view of the world. My former editor at Fast Lane magazine, Peter Dron, defined an optimist as “someone who thinks they can just afford to run a second-hand Aston Martin”. Count me among that number…
This story is an extract from an article featured in the AM47 issue of Aston Martin magazine, out now. If you're not already a subscriber, visit magazine.astonmartin.com/magazine-subscription so that you can read the full story.