6th November 2023

Celebrating 60 years of Aston Martin’s iconic DB5

When you’ve spent 60 years in the public eye, it would be easy to forgive the idea of a nip and tuck to keep those looks in good shape. For the Aston Martin DB5, turning 60 is simply another chance to revel at how sensational it still looks and to admire the hold it exerts over enthusiasts more now than ever.

Launched in 1963, the DB5 arrived two years after the Jaguar E-type that had earned the title of most beautiful car in the world from none other than Enzo Ferrari. Perhaps Ferrari paused to reconsider this statement when he set eyes on the Aston, but what we do know for sure is the car didn’t begin its life as the towering automotive icon it is today.

The design was a careful evolution of the DB4 Series 5 Vantage, with its faired-in headlights and just a hint of fin at the rear end. The big development over the DB4 was the arrival of a 4.0-litre version of Aston’s Tadek Marek-designed straight-six engine. With 282bhp and breathing through a trio of SU carburetors, the motor could propel the DB5 to a genuine 148mph, contrasting the E-Type’s claimed 150mph that was 140mph in reality. Outright performance made the Aston a true supercar of its era and customers could opt for a five-speed ZF manual gearbox over the standard four-speeder inherited from the DB4. A little while into DB5 production, this gearbox became standard fitment.

Credit - Aston Martin Lagonda

The metamorphosis from DB4 Series 5 to DB5 came with a weight penalty thanks to the new model’s greater refinement, with creature comforts including electric windows, added sound proofing and four exhaust silencers. This made the DB5 a superb grand tourer, but it could also hustle round corners alongside the best. To make sure the DB5 remained uppermost in wealthy buyers’ minds when it came to performance, Aston Martin added the Vantage-spec model that offered an increase in engine power to 314bhp, courtesy of Weber carbs in place of the SUs. Only a handful of owners chose the Vantage when new, with 65 originally built out of 898 coupes, or saloons as Aston referred to them. Many more have since been uprated to Vantage specification since, but original cars in this spec are now highly prized.

The Volante convertible version of the DB5 is another exceptionally rare model as Aston built just 123 of them. As the Volante cost £4490 compared to a Jaguar E-type roadster’s £2000 price tag, it’s easy to see why only a select group of owners sought out the hand-built Aston.

Credit - Nicholas Mee & Co

Such a special car would seem like the obvious choice for James Bond, but the production designer for Goldfinger, Ken Adam, knew it would be easier to add the Q Branch gadgets to a saloon rather than a convertible. Initially, Aston Martin was a little reluctant to provide the DB5 for the film – had it not relented, the company would have missed out on the best product placement of any car ever made. It’s a huge part of why the DB5 is so sought after, even by those with little other interest in classic cars, and why the DB5 has become an iconic shape recognised around the globe.

Reflecting how desperately enthusiasts want to have a slice of Bond cool in their garage, Aston Martin produced a limited run of 25 factory replicas of the film car. It took 4,500 hours to craft each example, complete with revolving number plates, a removable passenger seat roof panel, fake machine guns, battering rams, tyre slashers, and smoke screen. Inside, these DB5 continuation cars are equipped with a telephone in the driver’s door, a radar tracker screen, and the button in the gear lever to activate the passenger’s ejector seat.

Yet these movie tribute DB5s are not the rarest Aston Martin DB5 models by some margin. That accolade goes to the factory-approved Radford Shooting Brake models. When company boss David Brown, the ‘DB’ in the model’s name, wanted a more practical DB5 to carry his horse riding kit and dogs, he had the factory build him a one-off shooting brake version. When well-heeled customers spotted this, they wanted the same for themselves.

Credit - Aston Martin Lagonda 

With Aston Martin working full tilt to meet its road and race car demands, coachbuilder Harold Radford was given the job of crafting the customer versions. Radford had previous experience of this type of work with its own Bentley Countryman conversions, so was an obvious choice for the Aston. The work added 50% to the already considerable cost of a new DB5, but that didn’t deter 12 people from taking the plunge. In the end, eight right-hand drive DB5 Shooting Brakes were made, along with four left-hookers. Radford also went on to offer a similar conversion to the DB6 and built six of these.

One final DB5 model created at the Newport Pagnell factory was a V8-powered mule used to test the new engine before it was used in the DBS. This car was also used as a test bed for the new de Dion rear suspension design, but curiously it was registered as a DB6 even though the body was clearly that of a DB5. The car survives to this day as an intriguing hot rod version of Aston’s classic coupe.

Today, the DB5’s status as a blue-chip classic is assured. Values are up there with the most desirable Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and Mercedes models, while the cost of a full restoration requires equally abundant funds to do the job properly. Yet there’s no end to the number of people who want a DB5 parked in their collection, and it’s easy to understand why. It is a spectacularly pretty car to open a garage door to. Even better, it’s a joy to drive and one of those rare machines where the reality is even better than the hype.

What is your opinion on the DB5? Let us know in the comments below.