As Aston Martin unleashes the DB11, we take a look at the most significant of the DB bloodline. Join us for the celebration
When Aston Martin resurrected the DB badge in 1993, under Ford’s patronage, it was more than 20 years since it had last appeared. But such is the resonance of those initials that they instantly gave the DB7 an aura no amount of marketing hype could ever bestow. Sir David Brown himself was welcomed once more into the Aston Martin family, touring the production line with Ford eminence Walter Hayes and giving the project his blessing.
The DB badge was back on an Aston Martin and all was right with the world. Relatively speaking. Aston Martin’s entire history has been a rollercoaster ride that has somehow conspired to have more downs than ups, the company often teetering on the brink of insolvency. That said, the original David Brown era – from 1947, when the Yorkshire industrialist acquired the company, to 1972, when he finally bailed out – are still widely viewed as a golden age. The DB2 was the car post-war schoolboys (and their fathers) lusted after: a rakish fastback coupé with a lusty straight-six and Le Mans provenance. In many ways it set the template for everything that followed.
And what followed first was Aston’s ‘holy trinity’ of DB4, 5 and 6 – the models that turned Aston into Britain’s Ferrari, and Newport Pagnell into Britain’s Maranello. Such a trajectory couldn’t be sustained forever, and the DBS saw the magic begin to wane as Aston went in search of more sales in the US – yet, reworked as the AM V8, it would be the company’s lifeblood for the next two decades. And when it looked as though even Aston Martin could no longer trade on past glories, the DB7 sold in bigger numbers than every preceding model put together. It gave Aston Martin a future as well as a past.
The DB9, in turn, marked the start of the modern Aston era – a clean-sheet car that could be measured against the best without need for qualification or excuses. And now the DB11 heralds the next chapter.
Images: Matthew Howell and Alex Tapley
1949-1959: DB2 to DB MkIII
By Peter Tomalin
So, why aren’t we kicking off this celebration of DB Aston Martins with the DB1? Good question. While the first production Aston under David Brown’s ownership is known today by many as the DB1, the name was applied only retrospectively: at the time of its launch in 1948, it was listed as the 2-Litre Sports. But that’s not the main reason why it didn’t receive an invitation. While the DB1 was not without merit, it had its roots in the pre-war era. It was also overweight and (under)powered by a mere 90bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, and was really more a tourer than a genuine sports car.
The DB2, on the other hand, was the start of something new, and a true sporting machine in the best Aston traditions. It made its first public appearance not on a motor show stand but at the 1949 Le Mans 24 Hours. It had low, lean, fastback bodywork that looked every bit
as dashing as the Ferraris of the day. And in place of the DB1’s strangled old pushrod four it boasted an altogether more potent 2.6-litre twin-cam straight-six, originally developed at Lagonda. In fact, as many of you will know, so keen had David Brown been to acquire this engine that he’d bought Lagonda shortly after he’d bagged Aston Martin in 1947.
In 1953 the DB2 evolved into the DB2/4 – the green car you see here is an early example – with a raised roofline and the addition of two occasional rear seats whose backs could be folded flat to create a larger luggage deck, reached via a hinged hatch (which, some contend, made the 2/4 the world’s first hatchback). The following year the engine capacity grew from 2.6 to 2.9 litres, and in 1955 a MkII version incorporated extra headroom and other small improvements.
The final development was the MkIII introduced in 1957 (Aston had by then dropped the 2/4 nomenclature), which brought another useful increase in power, further refinements and a more sophisticated look incorporating designer Frank Feeley’s ‘classic’ Aston grille.
All of these variations on the DB2 theme are known collectively as Feltham Astons, though in fact that’s somewhat misleading. It’s true that the DB2 was conceived and developed in the converted hangars of the old Hanworth Air Park in the west London suburb – but most of the chassis were assembled in Yorkshire, at the DB parent company’s tractor factories, while early bodies were built by Mulliners in Birmingham. And after David Brown bought the old Tickford coachworks in 1954, production slowly transferred to Newport Pagnell.> Have a read of the Aston Martin DB MkIII Buying guide here
The last MkIIIs were built on the same line at Newport Pagnell as the early DB4s, the two overlapping by several months. Of course, the DB4 was the more modern car: quicker, more refined, simply better. But the Feltham Astons thoroughly deserve their strong following. In several ways, the DB4 was a more exotic concoction – an all-alloy engine designed by an ex-pat Pole, Superleggera construction, bodywork sketched by suave Italians… The Feltham Astons were so British it hurts. Iron-blocked straight-six designed by Willie Watson under WO Bentley. Chassis designed by Claude Hill and built by Yorkshiremen; bodywork by Frank Feeley and constructed around part-timber frames in English coachworks.
And proper sports cars, too. When three DB2s were entered for the 1950 Le Mans 24 Hours, two of them finished first and second in the 3-litre class and fifth and sixth overall. The following year they went even better, claiming third, fifth and seventh overall and taking the first three places in their class. No DB4, 5 or 6 ever did that…
1958-1970 DB4, DB5 and DB6
By Andrew English
Proportions, power and price define this era of Aston Martin history, though anyone who has owned a DB 4, 5 or 6 might also characterise it as the epoch of crap handbrakes.
Certainly the sumptuous trio lined up at the start of Millbrook Proving Ground’s hill route are lookers in a way that nothing else here can hold a candle to. Of the three, it is the DB4, an earlier short-wheelbase car, that has the ‘golden proportions’ between body, wheelbase, bonnet and roofline. The other two have their moments, particularly the 5, which is classic thuggish GT in profile, but the 4 really has ‘it’. As for how it must have appeared at its launch in 1958: wow.
David Brown, head of the eponymous industrial group, noted connoisseur of a well-turned ankle and Aston Martin’s owner, had laid out around £75,000 for Aston Martin and Lagonda in 1948 and, seven years on, he was about to see the fruition of his investment. Fresh into his second marriage to his secretary, Marjorie Deans, this sartorially impeccable boss could travel to Feltham in Middlesex and walk into the drawing office of his own car company to inspect progress on Development Project 114, with its perimeter-frame chassis and the Frank Feeley-influenced design. This was to be the DB4.> Browse the classifieds for an Aston Martin DB4 for sale here
Then, sauntering over to the engine design office, Brown might find his latest hiring, the talented Polish engineer, Tadeusz ‘Tadek’ Marek, hard at work on DP186, the new six-cylinder engine for that DB4.
This was a good year for the competition department, too. DB2/4s came first, third and fourth in class on the Monte Carlo Rally and on the track there were seven victories in International meetings, including second at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the DB3S of Peter Collins and Paul Frère, and a win for Reg Parnell and Dennis Poore in the Goodwood Nine Hours.
The winds of change were blowing at ‘The Aston’, however. David Brown was in negotiation to buy the Tickford coachworks in Newport Pagnell, with the intention of moving Aston Martin there. And the company was also planning to use a new construction technique for the DB4: Superleggera. This patented aeronautical body construction came from Touring of Milan and comprised a frame of fine steel tubes over which the aluminium coachwork was laid. John Wyer flew to Milan to finalise details of the new body, which would incorporate the nose of Feeley’s successful DB3S, but the Italians were adamant that it would require a platform chassis as a base, not a perimeter frame as used on DP114.
So in a mighty hurry, that car was dumped and Harold Beach set to work to design a steel platform chassis, which in recognisable form would underpin Aston Martins right up to the year 2000 and the last of the V8 cars. Front wishbone suspension and David Brown rack-and-pinion steering was salvaged off DP114, but that car’s de Dion rear end was replaced with a simple coil-sprung live rear axle and lever-arm dampers.
Marek didn’t want his engine to be made of aluminium, but the foundry chosen to cast the block had no spare capacity for cast iron, yet it could do the unit in aluminium. So Hiduminium, a Rolls-Royce developed high-strength alloy, was used for the cylinder block and head. It made for a (relatively) lightweight if rather large unit, but the greater expansivity of aluminium meant the twin-carb 3.7-litre engine was peculiarly vulnerable to overheating, as the engine would expand around its bearing journals and the oil pressure would fall to critical levels.
The DB4 was launched at the 1958 Earls Court Motor Show alongside the new Rover P5 3 Litre. At £4000 (£84,297 in today’s values according to The Bank of England inflation calculator), the Series 1 DB4 was an expensive car.
The rest of the story is pretty straightforward as each new version became better in some ways, more powerful and more comfortable, but heavier and less pure. The tale includes the 1961 Lagonda Rapide four-door saloon based on a modified DB4 chassis and, of course, the 1959 DB4 GT and the following year’s hugely influential if not-actually-that-successful Zagato version of the same. And then there were the Project cars, equally undistinguished on track, if lovely-looking and stentorian. Funny how, having won the 1959 World Sportscar Championship, Aston Martin seemed to forget how to win races.
By the time of the Series V DB4, the wheelbase had been stretched, the headlamps faired-in and the car was in effect a DB5. Considering its impact on little boys’ imaginations, the DB5 crept out with very little fanfare in the middle of 1963, and only 1021 were made, including 12 Harold Radford shooting brakes and 123 convertibles. The DB5 was the last Aston to be built using Superleggera construction; it had 40lb ft more torque than a Series IV DB4, but weighed an extra 154kg.> Read the Aston Martin DB5 buying guide and browse the classifieds here
At the end of 1965, the most practical version of the series was introduced, the DB6. Using a folded metal body construction, it weighed the same as a DB5 but had another 4in in the body and a Kamm tail to introduce greater stability at speed. In the five years to the end of 1970, Aston built a total of 1782 DB6s, its most popular model at the time. There were two versions, MkI and fuel-injected MkII, and total production includes 215 Volante dropheads, a series of Harold Radford shooting brakes and, as with the DB 4 and 5, a high-performance Vantage version.
Accepted wisdom is that the DB4 is the best to drive, especially when fitted with a three-carburettor 4.0-litre engine and decent oil cooler. It’s lighter, more responsive and more like a sports car. The trouble with accepted wisdom is that it doesn’t tell the complete story. For a start, among the 3730 DB4, 5 and 6 models built, there will be few that have not been modified, tuned, completely rebuilt, restored or just kept going with whatever parts were available at the time.
Then there is the ‘Bond factor’, which has pushed the prices of DB5s through the roof, and a lot of interestingly modified club road/racers have been converted into full-scale clones of the Corgi model in Silver Birch paint with full over-ridden bumpers, as these are perceived as having greater value. Add in the marginal practicality of these cars on today’s public roads and you end up with a slightly different view.
By 1970 the last DB6 MkIIs were being produced alongside the next breed of Aston, the DBS, and the former looked distinctly old-fashioned in comparison. Road tests complained about the DB6’s lack of creature comforts compared with contemporary Jaguars, and David Brown was forced to authorise discounts in order just to shift stock.
The world didn’t seem to value the aristocratic but quite different feel of the older-style DBs, which rewarded acquaintance and skill and were terrific driving machines as well as gran turismo mile-eaters. Today’s insane values mean you seldom see a DB4, 5, or 6 on the road now as they’ve become hoarded investment pieces, which is also sad as it means there isn’t a new generation of drivers learning to love these rare and beautiful cars.
1967-1990 DBS – and beyond
By Andrew English
So where did the S in DBS come from? Lively correspondence on the Aston Martin Owners’ Club forum includes suggestions that it was for Saloon, Sports or maybe even Susan. The last seems most unlikely, but Sport is probable since the very first DBS concept, designed and built by Touring of Milan and displayed at the 1966 London Motor Show, was a two-seater.
William Towns hadn’t really had a big automotive design job by the time he came to Aston Martin. His talent was self-evident, however, from the first glance at the DBS clay model. Using the DB6 chassis as a basis, the width was increased by 4½ inches, the wheelbase by one inch, overall length was reduced by 1½ inches and height by 1¾ inches. If by today’s standards a 15ft long, 6ft wide car isn’t that big, in 1967 it was gargantuan – yet the DBS had a delicacy and attention to detail that passed the test of time, more than 20 years until the arrival of the Virage.
With new rear slip joints, the de Dion rear axle could be pressed into service, which suited the wider tyres of the time. Since Tadek Marek’s new V8 engine wasn’t ready, the old 4.0-litre straight-six was used, breathing through a trio of two-inch SUs to deliver about 280bhp at 5500rpm. From new the DBS cost £5800; according to the Bank of England calculator that’s about £94,960 in today’s terms.
Marek’s 5.3-litre V8 was finally fitted in 1970 and the car was renamed the DBS V8. At 240kg, the V8 engine was only 14kg heavier than the six-cylinder, but the overall kerbweight had increased to a claimed 1722kg. Better was a power output of 325bhp at 5000rpm from the engine the car had been designed for, and the superlatives didn’t stop. ‘Ultimate Performance,’ ran the headline on Motor’s road test, complete with glamorous brunette at the wheel. Top speed was 160mph, 0-60mph came in 5.9sec – even the price of £9000 wasn’t seen as a major drawback.
Now, though, we need to recall the dire situation Aston Martin was in. Facing increasingly poor finances and plummeting sales, David Brown sold out in 1972 to Company Developments Ltd, a Birmingham-based firm of businessmen, chaired by William Wilson, for just £100.
‘The world breathed a sigh of relief,’ reported a cheerful Motor magazine, which proved to be rather premature. One version of history suggests that Wilson’s tenure rebuilt finances, launched two models and kept Aston ticking over through a self-made crisis, a world recession and an oil-price shock; another speaks of don’t-care asset stripping, falling quality and a lack of investment.> Read the Aston Martin V8 Buying guide and take a look at cars for sale here
Two years later, in December 1974, the company was in receivership. As 10,000 Aston Martin owners ruefully considered the future for their cars and the newspapers reported that James Bond’s company car builder was going bust, Walter Cronkite of CBS News delivered a eulogy to Aston Martin in a black tie, and children (including me) sent in pocket money to save the company.
The V8 model, of which only 402 had been built in two years, was suspended and Company Developments launched a ‘budget Aston’, the AM Vantage, which resurrected the old straight-six. Even priced at £2000 less than the V8 model, only 70 were sold.
In 1976 Peter Sprague and George Minden raised £1.7 million and bought Aston Martin. I met Sprague in London some years ago. He’s a brilliant raconteur and his memoir, Swift Running, is superbly entertaining. What he found at Newport Pagnell was a demoralised workforce and eye-popping working practices.
‘We found that one craftsman with great care was welding a bracket onto the frame,’ he wrote. ‘An equally fine craftsman was removing the same bracket with equal care three stages down the production line, about 40 feet away. They had tea together every day. No-one knew what the bracket had ever been used for.’
These were the ‘Curtis Years’ during which, under managing director Alan Curtis, William Towns’ advanced Lagonda four-door limousine was launched to great fanfare and the Oscar India, a much-modified V8 car, was relaunched. By 1979 Town’s shape was in its 12th year and Motor tested a £22,999 AM V8 automatic, capable of 145mph and 0-60mph in 7.5sec. Total production of V8 models had topped 1000 and the company was making six cars a week, which was remarkable when you consider they cost four times the average annual salary.
A year after that test Alan Curtis met Victor Gauntlett at a Stirling Moss benefit at Silverstone sponsored by Pace Petroleum, and Aston was on the move again. In 1980 Gauntlett purchased a 12.5% share in the company for £500,000 and Aston was about to enjoy a period of impoverished stability with funding from Peter Livanos. Where the AM V8 had romped through four model series under the previous owners, Gauntlett presided over just one model change in his seven-year tenure.
Gauntlett even rekindled a relationship with Eon Productions and Commander Bond. His personal pre-production Vantage model was used by Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights (1987). In the same year a chance meeting with Walter Hayes resulted in Ford taking a shareholding in the company. Gauntlett stayed for another two years and for the launch of the Virage, which was produced alongside the last Towns V8 models and marked another new beginning for the company.
As a legacy of this period, the earlier DBS V8 is perhaps the best of the Towns models, though personal favourites of mine are the X-Pack cars, rare 408bhp monsters offered from 1986 until the end of production (only 131 of the 534 Vantage models built had X-Pack modifications), with Cosworth forged pistons and modified cylinder heads similar to those used on the Nimrod racing cars.
That bombastic exhaust note reminds me of Gauntlett himself, bellowing defiance at the world in general and speaking of a time when roads were quieter, oil was going to last forever – and so was Aston Martin…
1994-2016 DB7 and DB9
by Glen Waddington
It’s significant that there has never been a DB8. In 2004, Aston Martin stated that the nomenclature might confuse buyers into thinking that such a thing would be a V8-engined car, or that it might even be confused with a certain XK8. Equally, it was keen to put some distance between the two generations: DB7 and DB9. The newer car would be something of a step-change from the old. A landmark, even.
In fact, we’re talking about two hugely significant cars for the fabled marque. A marque that, in either case, could no longer be shorthanded as ‘Newport Pagnell’. Today we know that location – Aston Martin’s base since 1954 – as the home of restoration, maintenance and sales operation Aston Martin Works. Since 2007, no new Aston Martins have been built there. Neither of these cars were, either.
And that’s because, with the DB7, Aston Martin moved into the era of series production. Many were tempted at the time to label it ‘the baby Aston’. And sure, with talk of a ‘baby Bentley’ that eventually manifested itself as the Volkswagen-based Continental GT in 2003, there was excitement that Aston Martin would be building a more affordable, more widely available, more relevant car. Only it arrived well ahead of that Bentley, back in 1994.
And at a time when the bespoke, Newport Pagnell-crafted Virage cost £133,574 (or £177,600 in souped-up Vantage spec), the new DB7 came in at £78,500. Some perspective? The base-model Porsche 911 Carrera 2 was priced at £54,995. And yes, we’re talking about the air-cooled 993 generation. The ‘baby’ Aston cost baby Ferrari money, and Car magazine lost no time in putting them up against each other on the cover of its December 1994 issue, even if the archly conservative Aston – more GT than sports car, with its front-mounted supercharged straight-six, coupé coachwork and rear-wheel drive – had little in common with the mid-engined, flat-crank V8-powered F355. No, the point was to celebrate the fact that Britain had developed such a compelling car that it could even be mentioned in the same breath as Ferrari’s cost-rival. While the Ferrari was always going to be the better driver’s car, the Aston was praised as a superb all-rounder.> Take a look at Aston Martin DB7s for sale in the classifieds
The name is a clue. Aston Martin was looking back over its heritage in order to steer a path to its future, and nothing better epitomised the kind of car Aston Martin wanted to replicate than the DB-series so fondly remembered from the 1950s and 1960s. The new Aston Martin would be a suave six-cylinder coupé packed with British charm. Just like the old DB4, 5 and 6. A James Bond car for the Pierce Brosnan generation. Only this time there would be more of them: when production ceased in 2004, more than 9000 DB7s (including convertible Volantes from 1996 and 200 special-bodied Zagato versions) had been built. That’s more cars than Aston Martin had built in the preceding 81 years of its entire history.
Ford’s British-born PR supremo Walter Hayes brokered a deal with Aston Martin boss Victor Gauntlett (in charge since 1981) that saw Ford take full control in 1991. Hayes became chief executive and immediately appointed Sir David Brown (the man behind those initials) as honorary life president of the marque.
Aston Martin’s future, as so often, had otherwise been bleak: this company, limping along while handcrafting leviathans whose underpinnings and V8 engines could be traced back back beyond the DBS on the preceding pages, was producing cars in annual quantities of tens and hundreds. It barely registered with Ford executives. So Hayes hatched a plan that would revolutionise its fortunes.
The DB7 took a stillborn Jaguar project (the ‘F-type’, or XJ41 and 42 internally), agreed to Tom Walkinshaw Racing’s supervision of its development on XJS underpinnings, let loose Ian Callum (yes, Jaguar’s design director since 1999 but with TWR then and formerly of Ford) over its hard points to make it look suitably Aston and, ultimately, began production in the Bloxham, Oxfordshire, factory where Jaguar’s XJ220 had been built.
All previous Aston Martins had been aluminium-skinned; the DB7 broke tradition not only by having a steel monocoque, but by being based on a Jaguar. So this near-two-tonne GT ran on the fabled independent suspension system that made the E-type such a storm and the XJ6 and XJS such fabulously refined cars to drive, though it was re-engineered in detail, especially in its geometry.
Furthermore, power came from a Jaguar engine, the 3.2-litre AJ6, though with remachined block and heads, new cams, valves and pistons, and an Eaton M90 supercharger like the Jaguar XJR’s but running 40% more boost. Tom Walkinshaw obviously worked hard with what he had, though he’d envisaged a Jaguar-based V12, while Hayes had opted for the straight-six’s link with past Astons.
In the end, of all the DB7s built, only 2461 ran the straight-six. It’s a brawny device and doubtless most buyers were sold on the looks anyway; certainly, Ian Callum is on record as having said that looks were more important than handling, so long as the car drove well enough.
But the V12 arrived in 1999 and almost immediately supplanted the six. It clearly struck a chord, and it appeared again in 2001’s V12 Vanquish, another Callum design, but this time from a clean sheet of paper. More than 2500 of those were built (with an aluminium/carbon composite body on a bonded chassis) at Newport Pagnell during a six-year career that saw the old Virage and Vantage replaced and thereby bridged the gap between Aston Martin of old and what we have today.
And what we have today is a V12-powered GT that has carried on the DB nomenclature.
Powering around a test track is not DB7’s forte – and nor was it ever meant to be. Fact is, Aston Martin probably would not exist today had it not been for the huge return the company got on what was modest outlay for developing a new car. It was more successful than Hayes and co could have dreamed of. But what if the company could build a brand new replacement – a proper Aston Martin – that was just that little bit more sporting?
Enter the DB9. Sure, it’s a step-change. Revolutionary in its construction, for a start, with a Lotus Elise-like extruded aluminium matrix structure clad in aluminium body panels. The double-wishbone suspension was new, and the gearbox (six-speed, automatic or manual) rear-mounted for better weight distribution.
And it’s so much sharper, more modern, in its styling – though clearly a relative of the DB7. As many years have passed now since the DB9 was launched as there had been between then and the DB7 being unveiled, yet the DB9 hardly seems to have dated. Aston Martin referred to it as ‘a contemporary version of classic DB design elements and characteristics’; I’ve always thought it was beautiful, personally, possibly the most beautiful car ever, especially the original version as launched. Those gorgeous lines, finished by Henrik Fisker after Callum left for Jaguar, were subtly revised in 2012 (mainly the bumper graphics and outer sills, rather than expensive-to-tool metalwork) and the latest version of that same 5935cc V12 fitted, slightly lower in the chassis, so the 2015 DB9 you see here has a more fully fledged 510bhp.> Have a look at Aston Martin DB9s for sale in the classifieds
The earliest cars were not quite so well-honed (nor as powerful; they arrived with a 450bhp development of the DB7 engine, and a six-speed paddleshift version of the ZF auto-box) but this car represents a breed that has benefited from more than a decade of development – all carried out at Aston’s premises in Gaydon, Warwickshire, home since 2003. Ford bailed out three years later, and in 2007 Aston Martin was rescued by an investment consortium led by Prodrive founder David Richards.
The DB9 is fabulous. You can drive it hard, enjoying still-feelsome yet quick-witted steering, shifting gears with surprising responsiveness, enjoying a ride that’s tied down yet never harsh, and revelling in the glory of that growling, wailing V12. It sounds as good as it looks.
There have been other developments, not least the DBS version that acted as a bridge between two generations of Vanquish, plus, of course, a stunning drop-top Volante. But time is up. The DB9 is today’s car and tomorrow looms already. Can Aston Martin make a better DB than this?
2016 – and onwards DB11
By Jethro Bovingdon
In the midst of the beautiful din, the elegantly scribed lines and the dazzling quality of cars provided by from Aston Martin Works, there’s a new shape. Ice cool, lithe and yet seemingly cut from pure muscle, low and menacingly wide but with a lightness of touch that creates an impression of effortless power rather than obvious aggression. The DB11, the final chapter of this story (so far) and yet another fresh start for Aston Martin, feels absolutely at home in this celebrated company.
It’s fantastic to see the DB11 alongside its predecessors. Even better to hear its new twin-turbo 5.2-litre V12 as it’s shuffled about for photography. It is the mightiest DB ever, that’s for sure. The engine has a deep, complex note familiar from the DB9 and hides its forced induction well, but the numbers are way beyond anything else here. It produces 600bhp at 6500rpm and 516lb from just 1500rpm all the way to 5000rpm. That’s more power than a DB4 and DB5 combined and it pushes the DB11 to 200mph and from rest to 62mph in 3.9 seconds. There’s no satisfying, accurate manual ’box but the eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox promises speed and serenity and the DB11 also benefits from a limited-slip differential and torque-vectoring by braking to increase agility and help disguise its 1770kg.
When you first sink down into the DB11, the technology behind it, the controversial switch to forced induction and the new tie-up with Mercedes-Benz all seem suddenly less important. Somewhere deep in my subconscious I know and appreciate its new, lighter, stiffer aluminium tub, that it’s suspended by double wishbones at the front and a new multi-link arrangement at the rear. I suppose the touchpad and rotary controller mounted on the central tunnel register as familiar from the AMG GT S (or even a C Class, come to that), too.
But while the much more intuitive Mercedes-sourced control system will make the DB11 a fine ownership prospect, I’m still in the honeymoon phase. Swooning over the huge veneers on the doors, the central display that’s hollowed-out like the hull of a hand-finished boat, and the fine leather trim that covers every surface. I’m not sure about the slightly fussy angled side air vents, and the squared-off steering wheel looks a bit unnatural. Overall though, it feels, smells and looks special. The good vibes continue when you press the big glass starter button and the huge central revcounter lights up.
Press the D to the right of the starter button or simply pull an upshift paddle and you’re ready to go. It takes barely 100 yards to know the DB11 is a very different beast from the DB9. The ride is quieter and more supple, the engine has good response and masses of torque, the gearbox is quicker, but most of all the new DB11 feels smaller, lighter and much more agile.
The key is a new steering system that’s vastly quicker than before. Gone is the DB9’s hydraulic rack with a 17:1 ratio, hefty weighting and that lovely gravelly texture that communicated so clearly. Instead the DB11 has an electric power steering system that’s smoother, lighter and faster. The ratio has fallen to just 13:1 and the result is that this big GT loves to change direction. There isn’t the almost disconcerting edginess found in a Ferrari F12 but after the DB9, and in even starker contrast to the older DBs, the new car’s pointiness takes some adjustment. Steer with your wrists, not your forearms and shoulders.
No doubt, there’s much still to learn about the DB11. How it copes with real roads, whether its new aero-dominated design stands the test of time as successfully as the DB9 and, of course, the earlier iconic cars, and if the instant gratification of the torque-rich engine rewards long-term as much as the searing top-end delivery of the characterful old 6.0-litre V12. However, here and now, parked side-by-side with all the DBs that went before, it already feels part of the family.
How so? Well, that’s a complex question and it’s hard to quantify. Perhaps it’s that, despite the DB11’s new technology and the obvious Mercedes-Benz influence in the control systems, it feels unlike anything else. There’s something old school and captivating about the DB11. The front-engined, rear-drive layout and the intuitive balance that creates. The elegant proportions that seem exotic and yet reserved at the same time. The sheer endlessness of the power delivery and the deep, howling noise. It’s a car that you just want to use.
Within minutes of experiencing it you conjure up fantastical images of sweeping down to the south of France. Peeling off the autoroutes and pouring along the Route Napoleon, V12 engine reverberating off bleached-out rockfaces and friendly locals throwing freshly made croissants and knickers at you wherever you stop. You sense life with a DB11 would be a life worth living, just as it would be if you had a DB5 tucked up in your favourite barn or raced a DB2/4 at Le Mans Classic. It has that DB magic. It’s little wonder that, despite the rumours and buzz about who will be the next James Bond, there’s no such uncertainty about his next car. I’d suggest he goes for Lightning Silver. It really does look rather good.