Thursday November 22, 2018
What do you consider to be the most aesthetically stunning car of the 1950s? Across the Atlantic, one might cite the Hudson Hornet, the ‘53 Studebaker Commander, the ’57 Continental, the ’57 Thunderbird or even, by the end of the decade, the Pontiac Bonneville.
From the European mainland we have, but of course, the Citroën DS– cue for that famous descriptive passage by Roland Barthes – ‘It is obvious that the new Citroen has fallen from the sky inasmuch as it appears at first sight as a superlative object’.
And then some would argue the case for the Lancia Aurelia, be it a Coupe, Spyder or Berlina, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL “Gullwing”, the Porsche 356 or the BMW 507. On this side of the Channel, the Jaguar XK120 and the Bentley R Continental with H. J. Mulliner coachwork must rank high on the list, as would the Jensen 541, the MGA and Gerald Palmer’s saloon designs for BMC - the MG Magnette and the Wolseley 4/44 and 15/50 plus the imposing Riley Pathfinder and the Wolseley 6/90.
This (rather long) preamble is by way of a) giving just a few examples showing the difficulties of defining ‘the most beautiful car’ of any era and b) celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Aston Martin DB4.
If only one could travel back in time to the 1958 Earls Court Motor Show to witness the launch of the first production car that could achieve 0-100 in less than 30 seconds… -
As Jonathan Glancey so beautifully put it in 2007:
Here was the perfect marriage of Italian style and British engineering. The clutter-free bodywork was styled in Milan by Carrozzeria Touring's Carlo Felice Bianchi Anderloni and Federico Formenti; the engine was designed by A-M's Tadek Marek who had once worked on the motor that drove the Centurion tank; the chassis by Harold Beach, and gearbox by David Brown, the company owned by the Yorkshire-born engineering magnate and sports car enthusiast of the same name, who had snapped up Aston Martin in 1947 for just £20,500.
The heart of the DB4 was a new 3.7-litre DOHC engine which had been developed in the DBR2-370 racing cars. Furthermore, it was the first Aston Martin to employ Touring’s coachwork “Superleggera” system: aluminium panels and a tubular space frame. To say that this was a car whose appearance stunned virtually all who encountered it is akin to suggesting that the Palace of Versailles was really quite opulent.
In the following year, Aston Martin launched the even more exclusive DB4 GT, which was instantly recognisable via its faired-in headlamps, its use of thin-gauge metal, a shorter wheelbase and much-modified power plants - in addition to a top speed of 151 mph.
1961 saw the introduction of the “Vantage” engine and the unveiling of the DB4 Convertible version, which remains one of the most superlative-worthy vehicles this writer has ever ridden in (he was also afraid to breathe on it, for fear of affecting the bodywork).
The DB5 replaced the DB4 in 1963, and I had one memory that encapsulates one of the most beautiful grand tourers of the post-war era, it is of course the 1961 DB4 GT, 41 DPX, that sold at auction earlier this year for a mere £2.65 million. And here it is in action -