Stirling Moss won with this DB4 GT Lightweight on its racing debut in 1960. Experience the mighty Equipe Endeavour Aston Martin as it takes you back to the early days of British GT racing.
Goodwood, Easter Monday, i960 – the immaculate and deafeningly loud Aston DB4 GT leads the field round for the ten-lap Fordwater Trophy, the final race of the day and the third for Moss. Already beaten, twice, by Innes Ireland’s new Lotus-Climax single-seaters, the record crowd’s favourite finally has the machinery to notch up another win.
A trio of Jaguar Mk2 3.8s for Roy Salvadori, Jack Sears and Sir Gawaine Baillie are the closest match in this closed-car race, but prove little opposition from the start as pole position man Moss disappears into the distance and finishes the 43ist race of his career more than 20 seconds ahead of Salvadori’s increasingly sideways Coombs Mk2. Win number 167 for Moss, and the first outright win for a production DB4 GT.
Winning was work for Stirling, who was hired by Equipe Endeavour’s Tommy Sopwith to do just that. Sopwith says, ‘I thought he was the best driver, so did a deal with Ken Gregory [Moss’s manager] – 1 knew what he was worth, and he was the best.’
The box-fresh DB4 had been delivered to the circuit by Aston competitions manager Reg Parnell just in time for practice the previous day. Chassis number DB4GT/ 0124/R, originally registered LGL 400 (Sopwith’s cars always had a 400 plate), was the first of five special Lightweight models featuring aluminium floor, bulkhead and engine bay panels, drilled sill and door panels, no heater, radio or glovebox lid and only one of the two bonnet stays. At Goodwood 0124/R ran with front and rear bumpers, but they soon went too. The savings added up to around 140kg – equivalent to a surplus DB engine.
Sopwith was one of the people who instigated the DB4 GT, a 130mm shorter wheelbase version of the DB4 with faired-in headlamps, thinner 18-gauge aluminium alloy body panels, no rear seats and a tweaked version of the Tadek Marekdesigned all-alloy 367OCC twin-cam straight-six. Each cylinder gained an extra spark plug, necessitating two distributors, while a trio of Weber 45DCOE carburettors fed the fuel/ air mix. With competition-spec Girling disc brakes the DB4 GT could do o-ioo-omph in 20sec, as Parnell proved at MIRA with the factory Lightweight demonstrator 40 MT. Sopwith says, ‘Everyone recognised a short wheelbase was needed and I’d known Reg forever, so I got the first Lightweight. It was by far the quickest car I ever had up my father’s front drive.’
The 70 standard DB4 GTs weighed 1270kg, around 60kg less than the regular DB4, but the Lightweights were homologated at a svelte 1128kg to put them on fighting terms with Ferrari’s 1100kg, three-litre Vl2-powered 250 GT SWB Berlinetta. Both cars put out around 250bhp – this despite Aston’s 302bhp claim – and in reality the Lightweight spec made little difference.
Moss had already won the first major Grand Touring car race in Britain with the prototype DB4 GT (DP199/1) at Silverstone in May 1959, and won a heat (but retired in the final) at the Bahamas Speed Week that December with a production version. He recalls, ‘The Ferrari was more nimble and although not necessarily easier to drive, it was a nicer car to drive. The Aston was a bit of a bulky machine, but a nicely balanced car with a reasonable amount of power and fairly good brakes. It was a pretty solid car – 1 think it would probably take more of a hammering. Someone like Innes Ireland would probably have preferred this to the Ferrari; you could do extraordinary things with it, but whether it was any quicker or not is doubtful.’
History suggests that the Ferrari was the superior machine; in August i960 alone Moss won the RAC Tourist Trophy at Goodwood with the Rob Walker 250 SWB, beating two other DB4 GT Lightweights of Essex Racing Stable – Roy Salvadori in second, Innes Ireland third. And for the RedEx Trophy race at Brands Hatch the following weekend, Moss and the 250 beat Jack Sears in the Equipe Endeavour DB4 GT’s final race.
Sears was the DB4’s regular pilot in i960, dovetailing drives with Equipe Endeavour’s Jaguar Mk2. He says, T first tested the DB4 GT on the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit and at that moment it was the fastest car I’d ever driven, much quicker than the Jaguar 3.8. 1 was slightly in awe of it, but once I’d made friends with it I found it a very interesting car to drive. It handled well, didn’t roll a lot, and you could get it into a good four-wheel drift and produce good lap times. If you didn’t get the thing drifting you weren’t going fast enough – it was a very good car and I was fast enough to get the best out of it.’
Sears gave the blue DB4, now bumperless and with Equipe Endeavour’s white grille band, its second comfortable victory at the BARC International 200 meeting at Aintree. Autosport reported, Tt was easy for Jack Sears, who soon established a clear lead, lapping around 2min issec, to the horror of Tommy Sopwith, who almost did his nut in the pits, giving his various slow-down signals.’ Sears won easily again at Oulton Park the next weekend, despite the bonnet lifting under braking.
Then came Silverstone and the Daily Express Trophy meeting, where Sears and the DB4 lined up alongside more serious Appendix C cars such as Roy Salvadori in John Coombs’ Cooper Monaco, Tony Marsh in the Cooper-Maserati, the Jaguar D-types of Ron Flockhart, Mike Salmon and Peter Sargent, plus Jim Clark in the Border Reivers Aston DBRi and Bruce McLaren in Ecurie Ecosse’s Cooper. Tt was a daunting event for me,’ says Sears. ‘They were so much faster, most of the time I was looking in the mirror, but Tommy wanted to be seen and for me to get experience with the car.’
The Autocar was impressed by Sears’ drive, ‘Farther back, Sears was doing extremely well… Each lap he would pass Sargent’s three-litre D-type Jaguar on braking into Stowe – only to be repassed as they came down Hangar straight.’
Sears won at Snetterton in May but other drives meant that it was August Bank Holiday Monday before he raced the Aston again. Brands Hatch had just completed its Grand Prix circuit extension and 60,000-plus spectators flocked to the venue for the Silver City Trophy Fl meeting – the first event using the new layout.
The ten-lap BRSCC Wrotham Trophy for GT cars was the first race on the bill and Sears’ lmin 57.8sec lap put him on pole. The Aston pulled out a l6sec lead over Mike Parkes’ Lotus Elite by lap five, before backing off to maintain the gap to the finish. This DB4 then, was the first car ever to win a race on the Brands Hatch GP circuit. Aston Martin announced the DB4 GT Zagato in October i960, but Equipe Endeavour switched to Ferrari in top-line GT events, joining forces with Colonel Ronnie Hoare’s Maranello Concessionaires team for 1961 and ’62 with a 250 SWB, then 250 GTO. This DB4 then led a quieter life of sprints and hillclimbs in the Sixties and Seventies until Pink Floyd manager Steve O’Rourke bought it around 1977.
With race preparation expert Colin Blower’s help, Aston Engineering improved the DB4’s damping, traction, braking and reliability and rebuilt the straight-six, liberating more horsepower – an estimated 335-340bhp. At Goodwood in 2008 the DB4 lapped in lmin 3isec; Moss’s best in i960 was lmin 42.8sec.
Finally, it’s my turn. Not on a circuit, but a bumpy, damper-testing, public road. There’s no cooling fan, the 12 spark plugs oil-up easily, we’ve had to tape over the oil cooler so the lubricant doesn’t aerate, and even Aston Engineering’s David Jack, who is more used to piloting 300bhp-plus Sixties Astons than me, is finding more slip than grip from the cold Dunlop Racing crossplies. Gulp.
Today, there’s a padded rollcage to negotiate before squeezing in to a supportive Recaro but I’m still struck by how minimal the red-carpeted single-seat interior is. The broad wood-rim three-spoke wheel, as twirled by Moss, Sears, Attwood and Co, dominates the view ahead, while the gearlever appears delicate and pipette-like to its left.
The bassy straight-six rips into life on the key, filling the Perspexglazed cabin with satisfying notes and a fresh burst of unleaded vapour. Into first, and a cautious lift of the short-travel racing clutch gets it rolling on little more than tickover. But then I discover that the DB4 doesn’t do 5/ioths – from rest to 3000rpm, it’s just not interested. You have to drive it like you’re racing it.
The transmission gently whines as the DB motor yowls up the rev range. From 3250rpm it’ll sing a cultured scream to 7000rpm, but 6ooorpm is enough before I grab the next ratio. The four-speed gearbox has a short, crisp and intimate action but won’t tolerate lazy, wrongly timed, shifts. I must heel-and-toe on down-changes, but getting them right delivers an intensely satisfying high-speed drive.
The crossplies and stiff springing have the DB4 dancing over the road surface in a controlled and fluid manner. And with a near-solid but communicative brake pedal acting on four discs, married to light and direct rack-and-pinion steering responses, I can confidently commit to attacking the most unfamiliar of corners at a decent turn of speed.
I don’t want to get out, but when I do I feel genuinely wired.
I960 Aston Martin DB 4GT Lightweight
Engine 3670cc, in-line six-cylinder, dohc, two spark plugs per cylinder, three Weber 45 DCOE sidedraught carburettors Power 302bhp @ 6000rpm (orig – c340bhp now)
Transmission Four-speed close-ratio manual, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential
Suspension Front: independent, double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: live axle, trailing arms, coil springs, lever arm dampers, Watts linkage
Brakes Discs front and rear
Weight 1170kg (2580lb)
Performance Top speed: 150mph; 0-60mph: 5sec (est)
Fuel consumption 15mpg (est)
Price new £4530 (road car)
Watch this video for Aston Martin DB4 GT Lightweight Racing Debut