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Aston Martin’s DB4 GT Zagato returns for another curtain call, this time with a dance partner

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato, half of the DBZ Centenary Collection. Photos courtesy Aston Martin.

In-period, the Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato proved a tough sell, so much so that production halted after 19 examples – of the planned 23 – were built. Today, the cars are prized by collectors, selling for as much as $14.3 million and spawning two continuation series, one in 1991 and one in 1998. To commemorate long-time partner Zagato’s 100th anniversary, Aston Martin has announced a new DB4 GT Zagato continuation, but with a catch: The heritage car is sold only with a modern equivalent, the DBS GT Zagato, forming the DBZ Centenary Collection.

The DB4 GT Zagato, styled by Ercole Spada, debuted at the 1960 London Motor Show, appearing exactly one year after the DB4 GT upon which it was based. Both were intended as “gentlemen racers,” cars that could be driven to the track, raced competitively by those for which motorsports was not necessarily a full-time occupation, then driven home again. For homologation purposes, a production run of 100 cars was planned, but this total included 75 DB4 GTs, 23 DB4 GT Zagatos, and a pair of lightweight DB4 GTs campaigned by Essex Racing.

Like the DB4 GT, the Zagato-bodied cars were powered by a 3.7-liter, double overhead-camshaft inline six-cylinder engine fitted with twin spark plugs per cylinder. Output was 272 horsepower, and a four-speed manual transmission was the sole gearbox offering. The run from 0-60 mph was said to take just 6.1 seconds, and to ensure fade-free braking, Girling servo-assisted disc brakes were used on front and rear.

The DB4 GT Zagatos were raced by the likes of Stirling Moss, Roy Salvadori, Tony Maggs, and Jim Clark, delivering the occasional victory and podium finish at races across Europe. Three DB4 GT Zagatos competed in the 1961 24 Hours of Le Mans, but all retired early without being scored. Two cars were entered by privateers in the 1962 24 Hours of Le Mans, but again both cars fell out before the race was over. By 1963, just one DB4 GT Zagato entered the legendary test of endurance, with an identical outcome.

Its inability to consistently run head-to-head with Ferrari may have limited the car’s appeal, but its price tag of £5,470 (in 1960, the equivalent of $15,380) certainly didn’t help, either. (By comparison, the nearly-as-quick DB4 GT priced at £4,534, or $12,720.) With four chassis tags still reserved for DB4 GT Zagato production, Aston Martin quietly discontinued the model and sold the final few examples in inventory through a wholesaler.

Time has a way of clouding things, and for all its perceived shortcomings, the DB4 GT Zagato was a visually stunning car. As with the Ferrari 250 GTO, the Aston Martin’s low production saw values rise consistently over the decades, and by the late 1980s a DB4 GT Zagato was worth as much as £1.7 million at auction. That gave rise to an idea: Since Aston Martin still had the chassis tags reserved, why not build the cars, especially if they could be pre-sold to interested clients?

Aston Martin’s DOHC six now displaces 4.7-liters and produces 390 hp.

The construction of these cars, known as DB4 GT Zagato Sanction IIs, was entrusted to RS Williams, Limited, a firm with a long Aston Martin history. Though approval for the project was given in 1987, it wasn’t until 1990 that the project really got underway, with Richard Williams’ own (original) DB4 GT Zagato shipped to the Italian carrozzeria to serve as a reference. Even before construction began, all four (three built from original DB4 chassis and one built from a DB5) were sold, for a reported £750,000 (about $1.2 million) each.

Though close in appearance to the original, the Sanction II cars weren’t exact replicas. Engine displacement was raised to 4.2-liters, compression bumped from 9.7:1 to 9.82:1, and the triple Weber carburetors revised to raise output from 314 hp to 352 hp. In turn, this lowered the 0-60 mph time to 5.5 seconds, while boosting top speed from 154 mph to 160 mph. Underneath, the Sanction II models received additional chassis bracing plus updated brakes and modern suspension components. All were finished in a dark green hue known as RSW Green, a color specifically formulated by Richard Williams.

Demand for “new” DB4 GT Zagato models existed even after the four Sanction II cars were completed, and in 1998 permission was granted to build two more licensed “works replicas” from DB4 chassis. These cars, known as “Sanction III” models, were identical in specification to the Sanction II versions completed years earlier. Though still valuable, Sanction II and Sanction III models have not risen significantly in price, and in 2012 a Sanction II example delivered new to Tony Smith, Phil Collins’ manager, sold for £1.2 million ($1.9 million).

Building the latest DB4 GT Zagato is still done in the traditional manner, with hand-formed aluminum panels affixed to a tubular steel framework.

This year represents the 100th anniversary of Carrozzeria Zagato, and in recognition Aston Martin has announced a limited run of 19 DB4 GT Zagatos, with the first making its public debut at the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans. Likely for safety and emissions reasons, the latest round of cars is designated for track use only, and thus comes equipped with an FIA-certified roll cage and carbon fiber race seats (with padded leather inserts, matching leather door cars and Wilton wool carpeting, because this is, after all, an Aston Martin).

This time around, power will come from a 4.7-liter inline-six, rated at 390 hp and mated to a (traditional) four-speed transmission. As with earlier versions of the car, hand-beaten aluminum panels will be fitted to a tubular steel frame, though this time around an original DB4 GT Zagato was modeled digitally first.

The £6 million DBZ Centenary Collection.

The price for the latest version of this Aston Martin classic is £6 million (about $7.6 million), though that’s not quite as bad as it sounds. The DB4 GT Zagato can’t be purchased on its own, but instead comes with a Zagato-bodied version of the Aston Martin DBS Superleggera, which presumably will be road legal. Together, the two cars form the DBZ Centenary Collection, with deliveries of the DB4 GT Zagatos occurring first, beginning late in 2019. Deliveries of the DBS GT Zagato are expected to begin in the fourth quarter of 2020.