Supply and demand be damned. The principle of a self-regulating market is clearly too vulgar for the rarefied world of classic Aston Martins. The all-new, all-old “Continuation” DB4 GT—a factory-built facsimile of the original—manages to goose Adam Smith by turning the long-established economic theory on its head. The arrival of 25 more DB4 GTs represents a substantial increase in the total supply: Just 75 were produced the first time around between 1959 and 1963. Yet rather than depressing the values of the existing cars—not even to the equivalent of $2 million that Aston Martin Works is charging for the Continuation cars—it has actually boosted values of the originals. Since Aston announced plans to build this car in late 2016, you’d have needed to find at least $2.5 million for a half-decent GT and even more for one of the ultra-rare Lightweights that the Continuation model is patterned after. A 1959 example, the first built, sold last August at a Pebble Beach auction for $6.77 million.
The GT isn’t a restoration or one of those attempts at a made-better restomod. Every part is new, including frame, engine, and gearbox. Concessions have been made to safety, equivalent to those an original DB4 would need to compete in vintage racing. The prototype we drove had a modern roll cage, racing-grade bucket seats, and six-point harnesses, plus a fire extinguisher and a battery-cutoff system. Everything else is as the original, with the cars hand-built by Aston Martin’s in-house restoration division, Aston Martin Works, implementing the same techniques used for the originals, including hand-beaten aluminum bodywork. Some parts have even been made by the same suppliers, more than half a century on, including the Borrani wire wheels. Paul Spires, Aston Martin Works’ managing director, reckons about 4500 hours of work go into assembling and painting each car.
Not that improvements haven’t been made. The new cars are built to more exacting standards, after scanning of several original examples showed that they were all substantially different from one another. The Works engineers also realized that the earliest cars had all been built with a slightly kinked chassis, possibly because they were produced at one of David Brown’s tractor plants, and this has been corrected rather than replicated. These new cars are built at the Aston Martin Works facility in Newport Pagnell, England, making them the first “new” cars assembled there since 2007. Panel gaps and shutlines are assembled to tighter tolerances, and the paint finish is to a far higher standard than you’d find on any car in 1959. The Continuation has also been required to pass the same intense durability tests as Aston’s current endurance race cars, including a 2500-mile drive completed at Italy’s Nardò track last summer.
Modest Grip and Four-Wheel Drifts
The prototype that we drove carries British license plates and is street legal in the United Kingdom, but the other 24 are intended to be restricted to track use only. Buyers will be able to enter them into certain historic racing series, and Aston Martin is offering its own two-year track-driving program that will include expert instruction. This, we soon discover, is likely to be necessary for anyone wanting to make the most of the GT’s limits on a track.
Our drive took place at England’s Silverstone circuit in early January on a damp, greasy surface that hadn’t been used since before the Christmas break. It was an environment that quickly delivered a salutatory lesson in just how little grip front-line 1950s race cars had, with the Continuation’s skinny period-pattern Dunlop tires struggling to find adhesion. The battle was certainly amusing, but there’s only so much fun you can have in somebody else’s hand-built seven-figure sports car. This prototype has already been sold to a U.S. buyer who was anticipating delivery next month without any extra patina.
The Continuation has a 4.2-liter inline-six engine, slightly bigger than the original’s 3.7-liter unit but breathing through the same trio of carburetors (two-barrel, side-draft Webers). It is tractable by the standards of highly tuned carb-fed engines but is clearly designed to deliver its best at high revs. Even on the straights of the Silverstone National Circuit, the rear tires started to squirm in protest as the engine closed in on its 6000-rpm power peak. We may have experienced the full 331 horsepower, but if so only briefly—the GT feels far more edgy and exciting than any modern car with a similar output.
The four-speed manual gearbox requires acclimatization. It uses dog rings instead of synchromesh, meaning that engine and road speeds have to be matched for smooth shifts and downshifts require double-clutching, a skill we don’t get to practice often enough. Fortunately, the firm brake pedal delivers both solid retardation (when compared to the squirrelly behavior under power) and a solid platform for heel-and-toe downshifts. By the end of our brief stint in the car, we were starting to get the knack.
But cornering required a more radical adjustment in technique thanks to the self-effacing modesty of the GT’s lateral grip. Turning into the tight right-hander at Becketts at what felt like a very cautious pace, we found the front of the car breaking into ungainly understeer. Slowing further brought it back into line, but then even a gentle throttle application sent the rear wheels sliding wide. Small wonder that so many of the pictures of cars racing in this era show them in four-wheel drifts.
Paul Spires concedes that the decision to produce 25 of these Continuation GTs was a bold one—Jaguar made just seven of its carried-on Lightweight E-types and asked less money for each of them. The number was chosen as the balance of the 100 DB4 GTs that Aston was supposed to have built to justify the car’s original racing career (Zagato bodied another 19 DB4 GTs) and also to give a realistic budget to allow both proper development and for Aston to take some profit from the project. As such, the company has clearly created an appetite for more work in a similar vein. All 25 of these Continuation cars were spoken for long ago.