Driving Astonâ€™s Â£1.5m classic recreation (gingerly)
Take a journalist to a racetrack and give them the keys to an iconic sports car, and youâ€™ll generally have an excited journalist on your hands. Unless the car in question is a â€˜Continuationâ€™Â Aston MartinÂ DB4 GT and the track in question is Silverstone on a cold and greasy January day. Then youâ€™ll have an apprehensive journalist.
Aston Martin built 75 DB4 GTs between 1959 and 1963. The car was dominant on both road and track, and is therefore an obvious candidate for the currently popular manufacturer trend of dipping into the back catalogue. The fact that Aston can charge Â£1.5m a go for the 25 â€˜newâ€™ DB4 GTs obviously helps too.
So here we are behind the wheel of the prototype. The air temperature isnâ€™t much above freezing and the carâ€™s American buyer is going to be checking hard for any unexpected battle scars when he takes delivery.
In terms of numbers, Astonâ€™s project is in line with Jaguarâ€™s plan to produce six newÂ E-Type Lightweights, nine new XKSSs and 25 new D-Types. The justification, if any were needed, seems to be that the factory was originally intending to build 100 DB4 GTs and is only now getting around to it. Clearly it isnâ€™t needed, as all 25 have been bought.
Itâ€™s to all intents and purposes a clone of the original Lightweight GT, made from the same materials and techniques but with a few quiet improvements made. Paul Spires, commercial director of the factoryâ€™s Works division, noted that the original DB4 GT chassis were all made with a kink. Thatâ€™s been ironed out. The use of modern paints has resulted in a rather better finish than would have been the case nearly 60 years ago.
Tolerances generally are tighter, but this is no better-than-new restomod. The changes are more about achieving a level of safety that would be acceptable in historic racing. Inside, you get a full roll cage, modern bucket seats with six-point harnesses, a fire extinguisher and a battery cut-off switch. An FIA-spec fuel bag sits inside the main tank.
To come up with plans for the new car, the factoryâ€™s Works division scanned some original DB4 GTs and referenced hundreds of blueprints. Some of the original suppliers were brought back in to produce parts like the Borrani wire wheels. Spires estimates 4500 hours will go into each car, excluding the chassis and engine building time thatâ€™s carried out by suppliers.
You only need half a lap on Silverstoneâ€™s â€˜dancing on iceâ€™ surface to realise that grip is going to be at a premium on the skinny period rubber. Under the bonnet of the Continuation is a burly 4.2-litre straight six (the original was a 3.7-litre), again adding to the rear axleâ€™s problems in delivering traction at anywhere near the 331bhp peak power, even on the straights.
Tottering into Becketts at a very ginger pace unveils a degree of understeer but that was down to poor driver technique. The DB4 GT requires shepherding into each apex, and then power being fed in judiciously. Best speed is obtained in a state of power oversteer, but getting the balance right in these conditions was never going to be childâ€™s play. Most contemporary racing shots of the original cars show them tackling bends in a four-wheel drift.
Having said that, the DB4 GT can be forgiving, and certainly a lot less threatening in behaviour than the serious racers that came later. The steering is low geared but decently communicative, the throttle response is remarkably good and the firm brake pedal works well both for retardation and as a platform for the heel-and-toe work that you need to do to satisfy the dog-ring gearbox.
Thereâ€™s no synchromesh in the four-speeder so you must match road and engine speed for best changes. Weâ€™re only getting a short stint, but the knack is coming by the end of it.
Aston is proposing to offer a two-year track driving programme and driver tuition to Continuation owners, with the car being eligible for quite a few historic racing categories. A great chance for the cars to be used as the original manufacturer intended them to be used.