1954 Aston Martin DB2/4 Bertone Spider

Mike Maez, courtesy of Gooding & Company

In 1953, Stanley Arnolt purchased five sequential Aston Martin DB2/4 chassis and sent them to Carrozzeria Bertone to be fitted with custom coachwork. While the even-numbered chassis were fitted with opulent, luxurious bodies, 503, 505, and 507 were fitted with a distinctive sporting design penned by one of the most talented and prolific designers of the 1950s and 1960s, Franco Scaglione.

Scaglione’s credits include the incomparable Alfa Romeo B.A.T. cars, the Siata 208 CS coupe, the Abarth Porsche, the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale, and a wide variety of one-offs and important production cars.

Of the three chassis fitted with this body, two were designed for outright competition use and were minimally equipped for the purpose; the third, this car, LML505, was a more luxurious example equipped with a full windscreen, intricate grille, bumpers, a lavishly appointed interior with unique features, and full soft top.

Arnolt showed the suitably opulent LML505 at the 1954 New York Auto Show, where it was fitted with an Aston Martin badge in an attempt to seduce company owner David Brown into making the Bertone-bodied roadster an Aston Martin production model. The gesture obviously left its mark, with Aston Martin taking almost five years to catch on. Arnolt lived just long enough to see the Italian firms Touring and Zagato being used to turn out some of the most competitive Aston race cars of the early 1960s.

SCM Analysis

Detailing

Vehicle:1954 Aston Martin DB2/4 Bertone Spider
Years Produced:1954
Number Produced:Three
Original List Price:N/A
SCM Valuation:Median to date, $1,320,000; high sale, $3,080,000 (this car)
Tune Up Cost:$1,500
Chassis Number Location:: Right side upper chassis rail just forward of the bulkhead
Engine Number Location:On pad at the front right, top edge of the block
Club Info:Aston Martin Owners Club
Website:http://www.amoc.org
Alternatives:1956 Aston Martin DB2/4 Mk II Supersonic by Ghia, 1953–56 Aston Martin DB3S, 1951–53 Aston Martin DB3 coupe
Investment Grade:A

This car, Lot 138, sold for $3,080,000, including buyer’s premium, at Gooding & Company’s Pebble Beach Auction on August 21, 2016.

The Bertone-bodied DB2/4 marks a change for the post-war Aston Martin product — from a distinctly British touring car to a world-class, coachbuilt sports car.

As Gooding & Co. duly noted in the description, there may be some credit due for “Wacky” Arnolt’s vision for Italian coachwork on an Aston Martin. While Touring soon became the standard coachbuilder for Aston’s production cars, some of the marque’s most desired models were clothed in Bertone and Zagato work.

One of three built

As one of just three such examples built, and the only one fitted with luxury road trim, the car offered is one of the rarest Aston Martins in existence. The car boasts period auto show history, known ownership from new — including several notable collectors — a decent concours record with its most current restoration, and a very fitting presentation in its as-delivered colors and specifications.

As a collectible car, there is little to argue with. Maybe it wasn’t your kind of thing, but there was no excuse for an interested party.

Perhaps the only knock against the car is the existence of Arnolt Bristols, which in this conversation could be best described as an odd half cousin.

But this car is, in fact, an Aston Martin. And Aston Martin is a company with pretty serious brand value. Ferraris, Porsches, Astons and Mercedes do well in the collector car market partly because they’re still producing desirable cars.

Some would say that our subject car is left-hand drive, a trait seen as desirable in today’s Aston market. If you sense a bit of cynicism there, it’s simply my frustration with buzzword specifications leading collectors’ decisions. My advice is always the same: Buy the specific example that has the best overall list attributes. Don’t let right-hand drive be an immediate non-starter.

Fresh, real and rare

Regardless, when today’s buyer is looking for something genuine, unique, pedigreed and fresh-to-market, a car like this gets some attention. And the more special the car, the more bullish the seller can be. But unlike the market of recent years, it is possible to set too high a price. This makes evaluation really tricky for auction houses these days. So what is a one-of-three Bertone DB2/4 Aston worth?

A car this unique is a challenge to value for the seller, auction house and buyer alike.

This is one of those cases in which you truly need the market to speak, which is a little hard to do before the auction. So to analyze the price paid, we first have to find some comparables.

Comparable coachbuilt Astons

There are some recent data points for DB Mk III drophead coupes. And while some may reference the Bertone’s likeness to the legendary DB3S, that likeness is purely in appearance.

From a chassis perspective, that would be like comparing a Ferrari 250 cabriolet to a Testa Rossa; let’s not go there. The comparison I find easier to make is with the Zagato, or Bertone “Jet,” DB4GTs. Fortunately, some other Bertone DB2/4s have sold publicly as well.

Looking at the Bertone-built DB2/4 cabriolets, they have traded publicly for $847,000 in 2007, $970,936 in 2011, and $1,320,000 in 2015.

In Pebble Beach in 2009, Gooding sold the sister car, another 1954 Aston Martin DB2/4 Bertone Spider, for $1,045,000. In 2011, this same car again sold at RM Auctions for just shy of $1m.

Looking at the bigger Aston Martin picture, in 2009 a DB3S traded at the Monterey weekend for nearly $2m. Today that’s a $5.5m car, give or take, by more recent public results. To reference more standard models, a DB4 was approaching $200,000 and a DB5 was $350,000 to $400,000, for the most part. I’ll call that a factor of roughly three times in seven-odd years.

In 2013, RM sold a Ghia-bodied DB2/4 coupe for $2,310,000 at their New York sale. This car is similar to our subject vehicle in many ways. I’d give the Bertone Spider an advantage for being open and, in general terms, from the more desirable coachbuilder.

Additionally, the previously mentioned DB4GT Bertone “Jet” sold back in 2013 for roughly $4.3m. Which, as a side note, now seems like a great value against the $16.5m Ferrari 250 SWB Speciale by Bertone.

But back to the point — what does rare and coachbuilt have to do with pricing? A 1958 Aston Martin DB Mk III drophead sold for $1,012,000 at Gooding Pebble in 2014, and the following August RM achieved $1,072,500 for a similar example. Both cars were beautifully restored examples. The DB4 and DB5 Touring-bodied convertibles tend to bring anywhere in the $1m to $2m range these days. Or more?

If those are (multi-) million-dollar cars for the right example, you can see why Gooding’s pre-sale estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000 was hopeful but not unreasonable. Public and private results put the DB4GT Zagato at four or five times the “standard” Touring DB4GT. Add the Sanction II Zagato values to the mix, and we get an even stronger argument for “special” coachwork on an Aston chassis.

“Special” sells, and a quality car gets its due

This car was well presented and properly marketed, making for a strong but justifiable result. Believe it or not, $3m is approachable money for a pedigreed 1950s sports car (of a known manufacturer) that offers international event eligibility.

This is a niche car in some respects; nevertheless, it paints a pretty good picture of the market in 2016. And the fact that it hammered just shy of the low estimate is emblematic of that, as well.

It was a weekend of quality cars on the auction block (finally), with sellers’ expectations pitted against buyers’ ever-increasing standards. This goes to show that “special” sells. The Aston seemed to just get away compared to the catalog estimate, but well done by Gooding for making it happen.

(Introductory description courtesy of Gooding & Company.)