Featured: Touring A Perugian Estate With A Rare Pre-Production Aston Martin DB4

Touring A Perugian Estate With A Rare Pre-Production Aston Martin DB4

By Petrolicious Productions
January 27, 2022
6 comments

Story by Laura Ferriccioli
Photography by Marco Annunziata

The Aston Martin DB4 is a rare machine, but like many of the iconic and scarce sports and GT cars of the period, there are levels of exclusivity. Only about 1,100 DB4s were built originally, less have survived, and there are even a few pre-production models still kicking today. This car, DB4 chassis 109 R, which we shot on the grounds of the private-residence-turned-luxury-hotel, Posta Donini, in Perugia, Italy, which dates back to the late 16th century.

A car synonymous with Britain, the DB4 is also quite Italian thanks to its Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera designed bodywork. While most of the production run of the DB4 was carried out in England, it is likely that the bodywork components of this particular DB4 were mainly made in Italy—the frameless glass pieces by the Securit brand certainly were. It may be the case that after the agreement for the licensed production, the Milanese coachbuilder directly supplied the body panels for the first few examples. That is only hearsay at this point though, as we will never know how it officially went down, seeing as much of the historical archive of Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera was devoured by fire in 1966.

Regardless of its metallurgic origins, the car was certainly assembled at home. It was constructed in the Feltham plant, even if in those years Aston Martin road cars were no longer produced in the London hinterland city, but rather in Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire. But the details that make this car special among DB4s continue. There is also the hinged hood (hinged against the wind) that is only included in 149 examples, as well as some modifications for fuel injection in the cylinder head of the engine, which was unused—as evidenced by the carbs this car wears under the hood—given that Aston Martin introduced this innovation a decade later. The car’s pre-series authentication comes from the engine number: 370 / PP / 106. The two Ps, as indicated directly on the factory card, indicate that this Aston Martin represents the true origin of the myth. The meaning of the two letters is “Pre Production,” and houses one of only five such engines installed in DB4s.

This car, the ninth DB4 built, not only marks the very early days of the model, but also the primordial sparkle of the David Brown era. In 1955, when the brilliant British entrepreneur sought a stylist who could prepare a “guide project” for the cars he intended to produce, he asked the Milanese Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera for three spiders based on the DB 2/4 chassis. “It was a kind of entrance exam,” recalls Engineer Giovanni Bianchi Anderloni, who on the work of his grandfather, Felice, the co-founder of the Carrozzeria together with Gateano Ponzoni, and of his father Carlo Felice, the brilliant designer of the company, wrote in a book bringing together documents and memories (Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera, published in English by Gilena International Motor Books). 

After the presentation of the third Spider DB2/4 at the London Motor Show the following year, a contract was signed between the British manufacturer and the Italian coachbuilder for the design and construction of a small series of prototypes of the new DB4 Coupé with the Superleggera system, with the supply of equipment and technical consultancy for the construction of the cars in England in the Aston Martin factories to follow. “A continuous collaboration was also envisaged for the development of the model and subsequent DB4 GT versions”, points out the designer’s descendant. That was only the beginning of Touring’s collaboration with the English company, the DB4 being followed by the Aston Martin DB5, the DB6, and the related variants (the Volante Spider and Vantage Coupé).

The owner of this DB4—who grew up, like many of us, enthralled by the MI6-modified DBs— found this rarity at an auction in London back in 2009. It was a sale he had participated in without a plan to come home with anything; “In those days, historic car auctions were spectacular, it was worth it to just be there,” he recalls. There was also another DB4 for sale that day in Battersea Park, but he had no doubts as to which one he had fallen for—the thrill of exclusivity of a pre-series car is something inherently special. Such a strong distinctive element is irresistible to a collector. And although he is a collector, the cars are still treated as cars. Which is to say this DB4 is rarely lain dormant in the garage for very long. Of course, it’s not a sports car by any semblance of a modern definition, and even during its own day, the DB4 was not designed to be a taut and high-strung performer, more like an elegant way to travel comfortably at speed. That being said, at the time of its launch the DB4 was defined in advertisements as “The fastest four-seater in the world.” A top speed of 245km/h (about 152mph) was no joke for the time, but one simply needs to find a tight winding road to be reminded that this Aston is not “a race car for the road.” 

After the shoot, I went out for a ride in this example with the owner’s wife at the wheel, who I must say is a very good—and not very slow—driver. We were overtaking cars and carrying more speed through corners than I would have guessed given this car’s relative irreplaceability, but we never reached beyond the limits of the car or the driver. The 3.7L aluminum alloy straight six is good for around 240hp at the crankshaft, which is plenty of punch for a car of this age. And speaking of age, this car was restored by a previous owner in 1986, but it still bears many of its original pieces, including the “AM” branded valve covers.

As written on the factory card, the example was originally used as a show car by Cyril Williams’ dealership in Wolverhampton, where it was delivered on March 25th 1959. It was equipped with a 400T model HMV radio, a non-standard accessory which nevertheless remained for 36 years, until a Bristol dealer installed a new radio in 1995. The DB4 was then sold to another company, later to a private individual and then back to a company, the Vowles Aluminum Foundry of West Bromwich, in Midland, which had supplied the aluminum for the series production body. By the time it was handed over to its current owner in Italy, the DB4 had accumulated 96,835 miles. It was subsequently returned to England, to Aston Engineering in Derby, where the engine was rebuilt. Then it was the body’s turn for a refresh, with the Aston’s aluminum shell restored in Voghera. The interior was also on the list, and a group of Ferrari specialists took care of the leathers and trim work, making this Aston’s Italian connection that much stronger.

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fcastracani
fcastracani
7 months ago

Elegantissima.

cjones48
cjones48
8 months ago

What a wonderful article Laura! I had no idea there was such an Italian connection with any Aston DB4’s.

Also congratulations for getting to experience the car in Perugia, one of my favorite places on the planet!

hugepetrolhead
hugepetrolhead
8 months ago

Beautifully written article!

lauraf
lauraf
8 months ago

Thank you so much, and !

isagrifo1974
isagrifo1974
8 months ago

Very happy to see women writing about beautiful cars. Thanks for sharing Laura!

stefanonev8
stefanonev8
8 months ago

Che automobile! Bellissime foto per una storia molto interessante.

Grazie e saluti da Modena!