Of the many models in Aston Martin’s 90-year history, and of the DB series of 6-cylinder cars in particular, the DB4GT Zagato is arguably the best loved and most respected. The original collaboration between Aston Martin and Zagato of Milan resulted in a production run of only 19 constructed between 1961 and 1963, although the factory set aside 23 chassis numbers. It is an indication of the affection felt for these beautiful cars that all 19 are still in existence, many in the U.K.
Almost 30 years later, a factory-approved project was launched to revive this iconic model in collaboration with the original coachbuilder, Carrozzeria Zagato of Milan. The project was instigated in 1987 by the company’s then-joint chairmen, Victor Gauntlett and Peter Livanos, who commissioned the renowned Aston Martin specialist Richard Williams to uprate four DB4 rolling chassis to DB4GT specification.
Williams was involved with the running of Aston Martin’s World Sportscar Team at the time, and so the project was delayed for a year. When the Milton Keynes factory closed, it was possible to devote the required attention to the four cars, which after completion were shipped to Italy to be fitted with Zagato’s stunningly beautiful, hand-crafted body.
They were then returned to Williams, at that time the owner of one of the original 19 (chassis number 0181), who fitted the interiors and completed the cars at his new premises in Cobham, Surrey.
Said by Williams to be so authentic that “very, very few people” would be able to see the difference, the four Sanction II cars were given chassis numbers DB4GT0192, DB4GT0196, DB4GT0197 and DB4GT0198, which had been allocated to the original project by the factory in 1960 but never used. The factory decreed that these Works-approved replicas were to be known as the Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato Sanction II, “sanction” being a term from early motoring history, which fell out of fashion and was replaced by “mark.”
Victor Gauntlett said at the time, “The quality and authenticity are outstanding, and each of these four cars will bear the most detailed comparison with the first 19 built. It is also important that Zagato have wholeheartedly approved the project. It was inevitable that all of us involved would, and indeed should, agonize over the decision to launch this project, since the very word ‘replica’ has been degraded in recent years.
“Finally, it was a question in our minds both of the unqualified support of our friends at Zagato and of the uncompromising level of quality that would go into the chassis and bodywork. Satisfied on these points, there was nothing to stop these four stunning motor cars being produced.”
All four Sanction II cars were launched at Protech House, Cobham, on July 22, 1991. Ex-BRM and McLaren Formula 1 driver Peter Gethin took one of them around Goodwood, where his driving school was based. “It drove beautifully,” he said. “The engine was wonderful and pulled from way down. The track was wet but the car was very controllable. It went as well as it looked — a pleasure to drive.” Gethin remarked that the Sanction II “looked absolutely right” at Goodwood. “I remember contemporary photographs of the original cars at the circuit, and everything seemed in place, even in 1991.”
Specification highlights of the Sanction II cars include an engine built to 4.2-liter specification; 4-speed David Brown gearbox; limited-slip differential with 3.07:1 final drive ratio; all-disc, dual-circuit braking; wishbone independent front suspension with co-axial spring/damper units and anti-roll bar; live rear axle with coil springs and double-acting telescopic dampers, located by parallel trailing links and a Watt linkage; rack-and-pinion steering; and a 35-gallon fuel tank. With 352 horsepower on tap (some 50 horsepower more than the 3.7-liter DB4GT), the Sanction II raced to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds and reached the “ton” in 12.2 on its way to a top speed of 153 mph.
With only four Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato Sanction IIs made, 0198R represents a possibly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire one of these fabulous cars, which will become increasingly collectible.
|Vehicle:||1991 Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato Sanction II|
|Number Produced:||Four (oh, all right then: six)|
|Original List Price:||$1.9m|
|Tune Up Cost:||$1,500|
|Chassis Number Location:||Engine compartment on right of scuttle|
|Engine Number Location:||Stamped on right side of engine block|
This car, Lot 239, sold for $1,898,184 at Bonhams’ Aston Martin Works sale in Newport Pagnell, U.K., on May 19, 2012.
It feels amazing that it’s more than 20 years since the Sanction II cars were announced to much hurrah. Remember, this was one of the periods in which Aston Martin was in trouble, and the company needed a flag-waving boost.
Owner Victor Gauntlett had renewed Newport Pagnell’s association with Zagato (which continues intermittently to this day) after the two companies were placed next to each other at the 1984 Geneva Salon. The first result from the two companies was the brutally ugly V8 Vantage Zagato, built on a shortened V8 chassis.
Little chance of more factory replicas
At the height of the last classic-car boom, when the Sanction II idea was conceived, having Aston’s old ally make some new GTZs must have seemed a wizard wheeze. Conveniently, there were four chassis numbers left over, and sacrificing tired old DB4s to a higher cause didn’t trigger the ruckus it would today.
That chassis number issue rather seems to preclude any more “Works-replicated” cars coming along any time soon and devaluing the other 23, although given the popularity of Astons right now, it might seem an attractive idea. In fact, quite a few folks have made their own DB4GTZ lookalikes, with varying degrees of success. Even Richard Williams, who built these four, made two more from spare body shells left over from the project, having been given permission by the then-executive chairman of Aston Martin Lagonda, Walter Hayes. These were built out of two more DB4s, (0334R and 0424R) and completed in 2000. How much does that slightly dilute the appeal and value of the first four?
Ah… values. If there were such a thing, how much would a Ferrari Classiche-built 250 GTO sell for? As we have seen, the real thing is anywhere between $20m and $35m, with the best replicas, made out of 250 GTEs or 330 GTs, around $750k or so.
That’s a massive gap, probably because the replicas, of which there are plenty, aren’t factory-built or sanctioned. Cobras are closer, with original 1960s road-going Mk IIs and 289s with no competition history around $400–$450k, while the “continuation” Mk VIs constructed from the late 1980s, made on the original jigs and with the rights to use the name, are $150k–$200k for a nice lightweight. Maybe their emergence is what inspired Gauntlett to peer down the retro alley.
Okay, an Autokraft-built Mk IV isn’t exactly like a 1960s original. But neither are the Sanction II cars (and remember, not all of the original 19 DB4GT Zagatos are identical). They have 4.2-liter engines instead of 3.7s, taller diffs, better-located, adjustable rear suspension, and generally wear fatter rubber on smaller 15-inch (down from 16-inch) wheels.
Joe Public would be hard pressed to tell the difference between 1961 and 1991, but most proper Aston fanciers ought to be able to. And the whole continuation patch can get a bit messy: As any owner of a real Cobra will tell you, the “nice replica, mate” comments in gas stations get a bit wearing after a while. It certainly drove me potty when delivering Ford’s very original Mk III GT40 to Goodwood one year, back in the days when they just tossed you the keys and left you to get on with it.
A salted-away replica
0198R was offered from German ownership, where it has been salted away for most of the past 17 years, having first been owned by historic racer Tony Smith, who in his day job was manager of musician Phil Collins. It had hardly been used, with fewer than 5,000 miles covered in 20 years, which does rather highlight the fact that these cars are considered as precious as the originals. And I thought the point of replicas was that you could use and abuse the new metal to preserve the artifacts. When it left the U.K., its last MoT (July 1993) showed just 656 miles.
Therefore the $20k just spent in recommissioning at Aston Martin Works (the new name for the post-makeover Works Service) was probably a wise precaution, and the work included lifting the cylinder head, a carburetor strip and clean, engine tuning, fitting the latest RSW suspension uprights, and a full service.
The market speaks in Newport Pagnell
On auction day in Newport Pagnell’s slick new workshops — they are more like an F1 pit, and to find actual oily bits you now have to go next door to Aston Martin Heritage — bidding on our subject car opened at £650,000 ($1.02m) and rose confidently to £1.05m ($1.65m), whereupon it stalled in the room, against an estimate range of £1.2–£1.5m ($1.9m–$2.4m). After a short but agonizing wait, a phone bidder pounced with £50k ($79k) more and sealed the deal, which was just enough.
So that is the price of a 20-year-old 50-year-old car at public auction: about a third of an original. However, an industry source told us one of the other four was sold in the weeks before the auction for £1.8m ($2.9m) — about half the price of an original, holding steady with the relative value of the Sanction IIs when they were new. Though Bonhams had been expecting a little more, the open market has spoken on the worth of a desirable and known commodity that will appreciate as it matures. Welcome to the new age.