Is Farm Find The New Barn Find? This Aston Martin DB4 Makes A Strong Case
Photography by Chip Riegal
We’ve all had that dream. Answering a craigslist ad for a lawnmower, only to find a priceless gem parked and ignored for decades. Every couple of months something really special gets found somewhere in the world, and this past month our friend Steve Serio of Aston Martin of New England finally had lightning strike him. Naturally his first instinct was to call Petrolicious like a giddy schoolgirl.
Ted Gushue: Steve, tell me the story of how this DB4 Aston Martin came into your life.
Stephen Serio: After 30 years of doing this, no matter how hard you try and how hard you set out every day to be the smart guy in your business, this simply boiled down to nothing but dumb luck and good geography. I was geographically desirable to where the car was and there was a wonderful fellow by the name of Ernie Sullivan who is, in his own words, a good ol’ boy from New Hampshire and Ernie had been helping a family clear the yard of what was fifty years of hoarding. You name the type of vehicle, it was on his property. Ernie heard they might have a dump truck which he wanted to buy, so he dropped by, never even saw a dump truck on the property. The owner’s wife was liquidating everything that had accumulated over the years and he saw this Aston and gave me a call.
At first he got in touch with my Sales Manager, Matt Nolan. Ernie just happened to find our number online and Matt said “Well hold on a second. I’ll have you talk to Steve.” Matt wandered across the showroom in that way that we had gotten used to, sort of looked at me and said, “There’s a guy who claims to have found a DB4 sitting outside up here in New Hampshire. You want to give him a call?” Of course, my immediate reaction is always, “Oh somebody’s found another Austin Healey,” you know?
TG: I could see to a supremely untrained eye you could make that mistake, perhaps?
SS: Having been down this road countless times with people who say “I found an old fantastic Porsche” and you check it out and it’s a 914 that’s been sitting outside with it’s engine out of it and it’s rotting down to the ground. Very skeptically I gave Ernie a call back. I walked him through the process of trying to find out what it was. In many ways, what he had made no sense to me because the only number he could find on the car was the engine number and he was describing a series 2 car with a series 4 engine.
It was like, “well, obviously this is a non-matching numbers car but, anyways, I’m getting ahead of myself. I call him up, and he says, “I’m here right now, come on up!”And so I did. That was really it. Really just complete serendipity.
TG: When you came upon the car, as an Aston Martin guy, describe what you saw.
SS: It had been sitting for forty-five years at least. I guess the wife, when she was the girlfriend of the fellow who owned the car originally, she had said, “Well that was there when we started dating and it never moved” and that’s exactly what it looked like because if you look at the pictures, those trees that have grown up and around the car took forty-five years to get that tall. So when I came upon it, you could literally have been within 30 feet of the car and not noticed it because of the way it was camouflaged, kind of collapsing into the landscape.
When I first looked at it and I thought, “Oh Christ. Why would somebody do this and put this car here and park it?” If you’ve been around this long enough, you have the normal assumption, although now that I think about it there were no roads, there wasn’t a path back to where it was. There may have been a path there forty-five years ago, but not now. I’ve had some pretty good luck over the years finding some original, unmolested, perfectly stored cars, but coming upon this I thought, “What a shame” because as you can see in the pictures, it’s sunk down to the rear axle. The termites had gotten every bit of wood that had disintegrated in the door panels.
TG: Even the steering wheel?
SS: No. The steering wheel remarkably survived. It was a time capsule. Once you pried open the door it was sort of something that was just as he just left it. It was this weird archaeological artefact to this guy’s life. If you look at the pictures, there’s a pair of boots in the driver’s foot well. There’s a map. A condom. A 1970’s era Ramses condom, some empty beer cans and bottles, and the whole thing was largely undisturbed and it does beg the question, “Did it break and he just parked it here?”
The ignition switch was missing and the kick panels are dropped down and it looked like he lost the key and tried to jump start the car. There are parts of this we’re never gonna know because the owner is no longer capable of telling the story. It’s tragic. He’s hospitalized in an end-of-life care unit, but we pieced together quite a bit of it. The guy had bought a 5th wheel trailer, he had moved an entire barn and never took it off the trailer so there was a barn on the property that was still on top of the equipment he moved it with. Every inch of space was filled with old car parts, rigging equipment, truck parts, tires, you name it. If it had wheels, this guy was gonna go collect it and stick it in his backyard and leave it to rot into the fabric of the environment.
TG: You never were able to speak with the guy before you picked it up. How much of the back story do you know or can you extrapolate?
SS: According to the wife, the car allegedly was driven out from Colorado and dropped in Massachusetts. With the chassis number I could access the Aston Martin build sheet really quickly.
I had all of the older owner’s club records and the car was sold new in California in Beverly Hills, right on the line of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. Hornburg, the Rover/Jag dealer, obviously at one point sold Astons. What’s interesting is that the car is a series 2 car that was shipped on Nov 23, 1960. It wasn’t sold until April 5, 1962 so it was a stock car, which was sort of strange because Aston dealers at the time generally built things to order and this was a stock car that Hornburg had and it was sold new to a guy by the name of Dallas Williams, which didn’t mean anything to me until you Google him.
Dallas Williams was a voice-over guy who did the voice-over work for the Culligan man. If you Youtube it there is this little cartoon. He was like the Maytag repair man of the 60’s. My friend Garth Hammers who works for Gooding, his wife used to know Dallas Williams so the world got really small and I guess he has since passed away. Garth’s wife knows the kids.
Dallas Williams is listed in the owner’s club register in 1963 as the owner of the car with the original engine number that jives with the build sheet. Somewhere between ’63 and ’67, Dallas Williams’ name is no longer in the register and that could have been because he just stopped paying the dues for the club, but the engine number changed in the register. Somewhere between ’63 and ’67 the original engine got changed out. The car was painted Sable, which is not the color it is now and it had a fawn interior which was dyed black some time ago because you can see how the interior was dyed.
The car had led quite a life… whether it went from California to Colorado to Massachusetts, that’s the bit of the puzzle we don’t know. But it was delivered new in California, made its way East and this fellow who owned it may have been the second or third or fourth owner. But why he bought it, how it got there, why he left it, is anybody’s guess.
TG: Fascinating. What’s your plan for the car now?
SS: My original plan was to move it untouched, with the ground and all, and a great many people all thought the same thing. I had no idea once we started to move it and excavate it, because it did need to be excavated, how bad it would be. You fear and plan for the worst and I just thought that we’re going to start to move this and it’s going to snap in half. The whole thing is just going come apart. Remarkably somehow, the chassis was far more intact than I ever predicted.
The rocker panels, the jack points, all of it, I have seen much, much, much, much worse in 30 years of doing this. The rear shock mounts were junk. The spare tire was well disintegrated into the ground. A lot of the inner panels and the fenders had rotted away and the bottoms of the doors through electrolysis just didn’t exist anymore. Remarkably, we pulled it out, dragged it out of the ground, got it to the shop, inflated the tires and the tires held air, which is another one of those “How is this possible?” moments.
Front wheels were freed up, we got up on a lift, rear brakes were frozen so we unfroze the rear brakes sp the whole thing could roll.
TG: So then you toss some oil in, started it up and drove it to the market?
SS: [Laughs] As I told everybody who looked at it, the factory does a £400,000 fixed price restoration which we were seriously considering.
TG: Sure, they crush it and then they give you a brand new car.
SS: [Laughs] They will hand you the keys to a car that says Chassis 510 on it. Interestingly, this is where this gets weird. Word gets out and I think a neighbor’s son who heard we were going to buy the car showed up a day late and a dollar short. Apparently he started circulating all sorts of information in the Aston Martin community which he wasn’t a part of. He had gotten a hold of the Aston Owner’s Club and a bunch of other Aston dealers and told them that there was a DB5 (which was wrong) in New Hampshire (which was wrong). So apparently he was taking offers on a car he was doing a poor job of describing and flat out didn’t own. In his haste he ended up confusing everybody because he included a photo of a Chevy motor in his attempt to market this thing.
The word got out that there was this Aston with a Chevy motor buried up to its ass somewhere in New Hampshire and probably a DB5. Another dealer got a hold of me and we’re just talking as we do in the course of the day and he said, “By the way, did you buy that car in the field?” I asked him how he’d found out about it because I hadn’t told anybody. As it turns out, the Aston Owner’s Club had already found out about it but kind of dismissed it as a scam because the numbers didn’t make any sense, the identification didn’t make any sense and the description the kid was using didn’t make any sense. So they kind of dismissed it as nonsense.
The other dealer called me and said, “What are you gonna do with the car?” I said that my plan was to auction it in Arizona. He said it was a shame that I couldn’t move it as I found it, dirt, tree stumps and all and make a diorama out of it and bring that to auction because it would be just like that Bugatti that came out of the lake in Italy that now sits in Peter Mullins’ collection.
We thought about that for like an hour going “How can we possibly move this with the dirt and everything around it.” Then I went “Now, that’s just crazy.” We talked and talked and talked. The dealer ended up having a client who just had to have it and so I reluctantly came to terms on it. My plan had been to bring it out and show the world, to have a laugh, and then go on to the next day’s work but it got picked up the other day and down the road it went.