Courtesy of Bonhams
Courtesy of Bonhams
Undoubtedly one of the “must-have” cars as well as James Bond’s iconic vehicle, the DB5 continues to generate immense interest among car collectors, owners and users. Understandably so, as the total production of all DB5s over a two-year period was only a little over 1,000 cars. Born of the frustration that Harold Beach had encountered with the DB4, which he claimed was rushed into production ahead of proper development, the DB5 remains the pinnacle of his achievements as a designer. Styled by Carrozzeria Touring of Italy, it used their patented Superleggera body construction and an engine reworked by Tadek Marek, which had been increased in capacity to 4 liters and now produced 282 horsepower on triple SU carburetors. Beach had already had some practice for his magnum opus with the DB4GT and Series V DB4s, using faired-in headlamps to further enhance the appearance. The extra engine power attracted attention like never before despite the “half the price” competition from the E-type Jaguar. Later cars, this one included, were fitted with a ZF 5-speed gearbox. There had not been, and would not be for some years, a car, let alone an Aston, quite as good as the DB5. Many of the DB5s surviving today have undergone complete restorations, often two or three; it is hard to believe that the older examples are now in their 51st year. Consequently, it has become harder to find cars with matching numbers and a continuous record of activity; or inactivity, as is the case with DB51497R. Registered as EAF 2, this DB5 was delivered to its first owner on April 9, 1964, via Brooklands of Bond Street. The car is said to have been subject to frontal collision damage in the early 1970s and was bought as a rebuild project. It was almost completely dismantled and the parts dry-stored. Work has been carried out on it since, but there is no accurate record of what has been done and when. However, a record of the original purchase and many other documents related to the car come with it, together with a Works manual, V5 registration document and a series of photographs which may be of early repair work. There is evidence of repair to the nose and nearside area of the chassis. The cockpit and boot floors appear sound. The car is rolling, with the suspension and brakes in place front and rear. It is not known if the brakes, suspension and Selectaride mechanisms have been refurbished, but the brake pipes appear to have been renewed recently. The wheels appear to be original but are in need of renovation. The tires appear to be 1970s in origin. There are two front-end body assemblies. One, for a DB5, appears to be new and made relatively recently. The other, for a DB6, is old with some poor repair work. The rear coachwork and sills have been cut away as an assembly. There is no roof. A bonnet, said to be from another DB5, is included but has not been measured against the new nose. The boot lid is included together with both doors complete with winder mechanisms, motors, handles and chromed window surrounds. The correct engine (according to the AMOC Register and the accompanying British Motor Industry Heritage Trust certificate) has been refitted but is said not to have been looked at since the car’s acquisition in 1974. The manifolds, starter motor, dynamo, carburetors and other ancillaries have been removed. The ZF gearbox is installed and the prop shaft turns when the car is pushed. The dashboard is in place and appears complete, while the handbrake lever and control pedals are present also. The original green front seats and rear squab were treated with hide food recently. The rest of the original trim, including door liners, is present together with the original black carpets (marked for use as templates). There is no headlining. There is a box of what are almost certainly new trims and door/window seals — possibly a complete set. The wiring loom has been replaced with a period-correct item. The headlamps and nacelles appear to be missing, but the taillamps are present. Several ancillaries remain in place on the bulkhead. Sold strictly as-viewed, this is a challenging project but nevertheless one that, once completed, will give immense satisfaction to the car’s new owner.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1964 Aston Martin DB5 Sports Saloon Project
Number Produced:886
Original List Price:$12,500
Tune Up Cost:$1,000
Chassis Number Location:Engine compartment on right side of scuttle
Engine Number Location:Stamped on right side of block
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 232, sold for $435,422 at Bonhams’ annual sale of Aston Martins at Aston Martin Works, Newport Pagnell, U.K., on May 17, 2014.

This car was very much billed as a “project,” as we can see from the very candid catalog description above with its caveat about “strictly as-viewed.” Nobody was really quite sure exactly what was included and what was missing for DB51497R — and that’s always a problem when someone disassembles a car for restoration, leaving someone else to piece together the jigsaw to put it all back together again.

For anyone who doesn’t know Superleggera Astons intimately, this project is going to be a frustrating nightmare. These cars were hand-built — and subject to constant, ongoing development — so no two are truly exactly alike, which further clouds the issue about what goes where. The chances of messing this car up, and rendering it either worthless or needing another full-cost restoration, are huge, and there are few people in the world who can properly do the job. So offering the car for sale in the place it was built, next door to the people who can still make them like they did in 1964, was a major hint.

Seeing a DB5 unpeeled to skeleton form was a rare and fascinating treat. With the chassis built up and wired and various body sections included, it looked fairly straightforward to complete — if you can weld aluminum and call replicating (or is that wrassling with?) Aston’s Superleggera body construction straightforward.

Although the restoration had been started and the bulk of the heavy lifting looked to have been done, that won’t mean much to the men who’ll have to pick up the pieces. They will have no idea of the integrity of the chassis, or the work done, what’s inside the motor (which was already corroded on the outside), what fits, what belongs to the car and what’s missing.

Why not the prototype DB5 Vantage?

It is going to cost almost as much to restore this DB5 as it would a barn-find basket case. The small posse of Aston Martin Works craftsmen, taking a tour of the auction fare, told me that they’d have to start from scratch if they got the job.

“I’d rather start with this,” one said, indicating Lot 216.

Lot 216? Ah yes, on the other side of the workshop stood the prototype DB5 Vantage — or rather three quarters of it, because a front wing had been cut off to start accident repair to the chassis, and the motor was out. Earlier in the day, it had rather ignominiously made its way into the hall under human power on two back wheels and a trolley under the front, but it had a much more interesting story to tell.

Being a prototype, it bore an Aston Martin experimental DP chassis number, in this case 217, and had been gifted to the Aston Martin Owners’ Club, which had decided that restoration work was beyond it. And although it looked like a scrapper, it was much less messed-about with than Lot 232. I was there when the AM Works boys got quite excited when they discovered 217 stampings on the filler necks, proving it was what it purported to be — the 1963 Works DB5 Vantage prototype — which is why it sold for big money, as much as would get you a nice, finished car, and $226k more than our main subject here.

One giant check

Both cars looked absolutely terrifying, and both will need a full restoration likely to cost about the same. Restoration on a DB Aston has never been cheap, but now it’s big business at Aston Martin Works (the new name for the poshly revamped Works Service: It looks like a modern F1 pit in there now, although they’ve kept the stuffed owl on one of the rafters).

“The cost for a ‘back to bare metal’ restoration on a heritage sports car is in the order of £330,000, plus local taxes where applicable,” said spokesman Scott Fisher. “This is a fixed-price figure and ensures the client has certainty around costs as they embark on the exciting process of Aston Martin restoration.”

So that’s around $650,000 in dollars, taking the tab to complete these cars to $1m–$1.3m. Are they there yet? No. Extrapolating the rise of the last few years, which in the DB5’s case has already had a couple of quiet periods, you might expect them to hit that price reliably around 2016–18, but by then the crash — “realignment” or “slowdown,” call it what you will — in values will surely have come and shaken some of the inflation out of the market.

Time was when a DB5 looked a safe bet, and that’s partly what drove the rise in values. Both these projects were bravely bought at these prices. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

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