The Aston Martin DBS Was The Angular Muscular Masterpiece That Signaled A New Era
Photography by Virgiliu Andone
“Which number DB is this one?”
“It’s a DBS.”
We had this exchange with passersby multiple times during the course of this shoot. Nobody doubts that the car they are looking at is an Aston Martin, as the iconic grille shape gives the game away, but it’s not overly familiar to those who grew up on James’ DB5s. People expect to hear a number after the “DB” designation. That’s usually the format; First, the initials of David Brown, the then-owner of the company, then a number designating the car’s generation. Easy.
In another timeline, the DBS would have been the DB7, seeing as it was designed as a 2+2 coupe destined to replace the DB6, but that all changed due to some particular circumstances. In 1966, Carrozzeria Touring, the Italian design house responsible for Aston’s DB4, DB5, and DB6, created a two-seater sports car based on the DB6. As this model was never intended to replace the 2+2 DB6—it was to be, if anything at all, a limited series model—it was given the name “DBS.” While that car is beautiful in its own right, it never made it into production, but the name had apparently made the press very excited, so when the next Aston 2+2 model was introduced in 1967, it was badged as a DBS to capitalize on the hype.
Since then, the first-generation DBS has become slightly more obscure in car enthusiast circles, its popularity usurped by the icons that came before it and the modern classics that followed. But it’s still a very striking, and very unique GT car that has aged wonderfully. As the sun rose over the Thames’ estuary on the morning of the shoot, this Black Pearl 1972 example of the production DBS shined ever brighter, its paintwork reflecting the changing colors of the sky. Here, on the Channel, we experience a different kind of riviera, one dominated by the high tides and surreally vast expanses of seaweed and mud, dotted by seemingly abandoned fishing boats and adorned by the typical British piers.
On a cold autumn day like this one, the air is crystal clear and the water almost completely still, like a vat of molten gold when catching the sun at the right angle. These are perfect conditions to take in the design of the DBS: Its full-width grille that incorporates the four headlights; the chromed wire wheels that should be anachronistic but somehow work with the body lines; the gentle rake that disguises the interior’s 2+2 layout, making the roofline low and long. Then there is the power bulge on the hood, and the trademark Aston Martin cooling outlets that pierce the front wings, meshing with other details like the neatly integrated fuel cap.
While the Carrozzeria Touring-designed Astons had a distinctly continental feel about them, the DBS has an undeniable American vibe to it, looking so much like a British pony car. It’s not like you could mistake it for a Mustang Fastback, but it shares the proportions and the generally adventuresome attitude. But once we headed over to the nearby village, its Britishness came to the fore. On the cobbled streets, in front of the pubs and cafés, the DBS trades its denim brashness to become a dapper suit. Not too formal a getup, but something that commands attention. And in keeping with that look—and with the roles taken on by other noteworthy Astons—the DBS also performed its notorious rite of passage by being featured in a James Bond movie, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Rather fittingly for the understated DBS, no gadgets were showcased on that film. Keeping things simple, but certainly not without charisma.
In its day, the DBS marked a significant change for the Newport Pagnell-based company. Namely, it was the first car to be styled in-house after almost a decade. Things could have turned out very differently if perhaps Carrozzeria Touring would have been in better shape, but by the end of 1966 the famous coachbuilder threw in the towel and its Milanese workshops fell silent. Luckily, Aston Martin had an illustrious designer on its books, and the then young talent was about to begin to make his own mark on the world stage.
William Towns created a refreshingly bold shape, moving Aston Martin away from the curvaceous and voluptuous lines that defined its past, moving the marque into the sharp, precise and crisp volumes that were, at the end of the sixties, announcing the future. It was a major change of course in 1967, and the kind of styling that was about to dominate the 1970s and ’80s was very much a rarity, with only a couple of other notable cars, such as the Chevrolet Camaro, the Alfa Giulia GT, and the Fiat Dino Coupe foreshadowing what was about to become the predominant design trend. Needless to say, the contrast between the DBS and the DB6 (a car that was basically an evolution of a shape introduced in 1959), was stark. Aston Martin wisely decided to keep both cars on sale for a couple of years concurrently, giving its customers some time to digest the sudden arrival of the future, should they prefer to stay in the past a bit longer with the DB6.
It arrived as a departure from the past, but the DBS was a long time coming. The trusted four-liter straight-six that powered its predecessors was beginning to show its age, as the development cycle of what began as a pre-war Lagonda engine was reaching the end of its potential. As such, Tadek Marek was briefed with the development of a brand new V8. It wasn’t ready in 1967 however, and the DBS was initially offered with the tried and true but aged straight-six. To my eyes, the understated straight lines of the DBS have a character that’s well matched to the feel of the straight-six, the result being a typical grand tourer, a relaxed car that is just a delight to drive and doesn’t need a racetrack to show its entertainment potential. A DBS V8 is faster and more powerful, but perhaps the two-headlight front end introduced by its successor, the aptly named Aston Martin V8, is a better match for the eight-cylinder engine.
This particular 1972 model year DBS just emerged from a thorough two-year full restoration by Aston Martin specialists Pugsley and Lewis, with no stone unturned. As they love to do on most of their builds, they left everything looking stock on the outside while updating some of the mechanical components to enhance—but not fundamentally alter—the car’s performance. The only visual giveaway is perhaps the white ceramic coated exhaust manifold, which you need to pop the hood to find in the first place. What you can’t see is that the engine is now upgraded to Vantage specification. It also now features a manual gearbox in place of the slushier automatic, as well as other modernizing items like air conditioning and inertia seat belts front and rear.
William Towns might be better known for his more extreme later designs like the Lagonda, but the DBS is his most acclaimed work; a subtle but forward-thinking creation that came about in very difficult circumstances and that managed to breathe a new life into Aston Martin and inspire another generation of fans of the brand, the DBS stands out. This rare car, with a production number of less than 800 units, stood the test of time and aged gracefully. It still turns heads, and they stay turned just a bit longer as their owners try to make out exactly what they’re looking at.