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Aston Martin DB2

Premium Bond Published: 12th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: MK3
  • Worst model: Anything bodged
  • Budget buy: DB2/4
  • OK for unleaded?: Needs additive/can’t convert
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L 4369 x W1652
  • Spares situation: Good
  • Club support: Typical Aston
  • Appreciating asset?: Very much so
  • Good buy or good-bye?: One of the fastest rising DBs
Looks minimalist now but luxurious in its day, restoration costs same as a Jag XK so budget accordingly Looks minimalist now but luxurious in its day, restoration costs same as a Jag XK so budget accordingly
Lovely detail touches unique Lovely detail touches unique
First sportshatch? Rear door makes DB2/4 more practical. Mix of steel and alloy body is a major rust concern First sportshatch? Rear door makes DB2/4 more practical. Mix of steel and alloy body is a major rust concern
Frontal designs altered slightly over the years; MKIII’s smoother look not liked by purists Frontal designs altered slightly over the years; MKIII’s smoother look not liked by purists
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It’s the DB 007 never had – and that’s the attraction of this quaint 1950s Aston

Pros & Cons

Style, character, practicality, rarity
Prices, restoration costs performance for some
£30,000-£85,000

Those who only know Aston Martins from James Bond films think that nothing before the DB5 existed in the British company’s illustrious history. But for others, the DB2 symbolised all that was good about David Brown’s fi rm, which in the late 1950s was on a roll and historically won Le Mans and the sports car championship in 1959. But this pre-Bond DB won’t be for everybody. It’s not particularly fast and has a distinct 1940s feel to it. But if you have a partiality to post-war classics then they simply don’t come any better and – like all Astons – they’re much better than money in the bank.

History

When David Brown Group (tractor specialists at the time) took over the company in 1947 he wasted little time in making replacing the interim 2.0-litre Sports with the evergreen DB models. Built in Feltham, Middlesex and not Newport Pagnell (which saw the start of DB4 production) the DB2 was the logical development of the DB1 which was Brown’s Atom design. Thanks to the fi rm’s acquisition of Lagonda that same year, the DB1 now had a fabulous engine to power it – the legendary W.O. Bentley twin-cam 2580cc straight six no less.

The resultant DB2 surfaced in 1950. Riding on a tubular chassis, it was available in twodoor saloon and convertible guises with luxury trim. At the time, the engines lacked durability and the earliest cars even had a decidedly unsporting column gear shift – but that didn’t stop the production of some 350 saloons and 49 convertibles until the improved and somewhat radical DB2/4 surfaced in 1953. Astons are traditionally associated with performance rather than practicality but it could be said that the sporting fi rm made the fi rst hatchback! Badged the DB2/4, it stood for (occasional) four seats, while the opening rear tailgate also ensured that the car at last gained a proper boot.

The advent of Vantage tune raised the engine’s power from 116bhp to a heady 125bhp while a switch to 3.0-litres in 1954 saw a respectable 140bhp. Some 73 convertibles were made out of the 565-strong production run. In 1955 the MKII was launched with more angular rear wing styling. A ‘notchback’ (a term used by Ford) took over in ‘57 but the last of the MKIIs had the later engine, delivering a gusty 165bhp. The MKIII sprouted further styling tweaks such as a smoother front, which many Aston traditionalists disliked. However nobody could argue with the 162bhp (195bhp in top Special Series) and front disc brakes as standard (they were optional before). Overdrive and automatic transmission were options to sign off the DB2 in 1959. The rest, as they say, is history.

Driving

The DB2 is an acquired taste which is a world away from the later DBs. It was designed in the late 1940s so it has a strong vintage feel – not least when it comes to performance, which is only lively in today’s terms – expect 9-12 seconds to 60mph according to engine tune. But the DB2 was, in fact, a roadgoing derivative of the racing cars, so handling was ahead of its time. Little compares to the Aston – a Jaguar XK sports is the closet match in terms of feel and character, but the DB2 is that bit sportier to drive fast. Indeed was the DB2 the Evo of its day? Well, it was built for performance and, despite the plush cockpit, refi nement was never a strong point. All the controls are heavy but a steering upgrade to lighten the effort is very popular (see our Improvements section) while adding discs and a servo to earlier cars makes the pedal effort more acceptable.

You may never use the rear seats but the added practicality of the rear hatch is very useful and, as a tourer, the DB2 makes a good companion. Fuel economy can hover around a very un-Aston-like 20-25mpg, especially if overdrive is fi tted and used liberally. It’s worth stressing again that the DB2 is nothing like a later Aston and you may be disappointed with the experience. It’s not like going from an MGB to an MGA, but if you’re prepared to adjust your hat you’ll be surprised at just how good a decent DB2 feels – small wonder that they are well respected in classic motorsport.

Improvements

There’s not a huge amount you can do to a DB2, or probably want to do for fear of affecting its value, though certain tune-ups are becoming far more accepted in classic circles. The lorry-like steering can be lightened either by more modern roller king pins (a £206 kit is available from Davron – 01722 716040/www.davron.idps.co.uk) or even electrically-operated power steering care of GTC Engineering (01280 851100) which costs more than £3500. A swap to modern discs costs between £1500-2000 from Rex J. Woodgate (01327 858051). Engine tuning is very specialist so speak to an Aston expert such as Four Ashes Garage (01789 266851/www.astonmartinrestoration. net). Some enthusiasts have fitted the later DB4 unit, but it’s not a straight swap. A Jaguar XK engine is also a feasible fi t but given the increasing value of these cars, as standard is possible is best bet. And in top MKIII spec almost 200bhp is achievable anyway which is more than ample for road use!

Prices

We’ve probably all got a story of an Aston going cheap that we failed to snap up and DB2s used to sell for less than £1000 during the late 60s and early 70s. No chance now, though, and around £60,000 is quite normal for a top car – the DB2 MkI and the last of the line MkIIIs are currently the most valued. Late MKIIs were built at Newport Pagnell and a Tickford badge is fi tted to the engine cover. If you feel brave enough to take on a project then these can be found at around the £30,000 but at the other extreme truly mouth watering cars have been known to break the £200,000 barrier. As with all Astons, you usually get what you pay for so beware of that bargain basket case!

What To Look For

  • As with all Astons, specialist help and advice could save you a fortune and heartbreak. Speak to an owners club or Aston expert. Many will gladly check a car over or suggest where suitable ones are for sale.
  • Rust is the main worry and remember that even the newest car is half a century old. The chassis demands the closest scrutiny as it’s a box section and a rust bug haven. Look in particular at the centre diagonal sections, sills and bulkheads, for rust, welding repairs and accident damage.
  • The bodywork is a mix of hand formed 16-gaugealloy and steel. Doors, rear arches, bonnets, scuttles are all prone aeras, especially where steel meets alloy such as the edges of the wheel arches and by the bumpers.
  • The DB2/4 MkI is far more specialist with alloy scuttle, sills and door pillars. Repairs are a lot more involved and expensive if it’s bad here.
  • The engine wasn’t too durable early in its life and a rebuild or two over the decades (with modern materials) may well have been carried out. Chief worries are cracked blocks and piston liner failures leading to oil and water mixing.
  • Cylinder heads can also crack and gaskets are known to let go. Despite being almost 50 years old, the engine still needs specialist know-how to strip one down.
  • Oil pressure should be between 50-60lb ft if all is in good order, but it can drop to 20lb or less when idling. Tappet clearances are critical. It’s not dissimilar to the XK design but factor in a decoke and a £2000 bill looms.
  • What engine is fi tted? Due to early unreliability and the high cost of rebuilds, any compatible unit from other DBs or Lagondas may be installed. For the MKIII an improved DBA design was launched but because of the valve sizes it can’t be converted to unleaded seats.
  • Overheating shouldn’t be a worry although 50 years worth of silt can and will cause faults such as blocking the water pump. So have the engine idling for a while and check that the temperature gauge on the move.
  • The gearbox is a sturdy affair made by David Brown himself. Early cars may have been converted from column change to fl oor shift. Apart from a noisy (non synchro) first gear there are no major problems, although parts are not easy to source and an overhaul costs the thick end of £2000. Leaks are common but Laycock overdrive should work okay if oil has been regularly changed.
  • Rear axles are leak prone, especially if they’ve been used as a jacking point. DB2/4 used a 3H Salisbury axle but the later, stronger 4H is preferable. Sadly it’s an involved job fi tting the internals in older casing.
  • The suspension needs a special check. Naturally dampers and springs will wear – see if the car sits square and the steering is naturally sloppy, to the tune of two inches of play! And don’t dismiss leaking past lever arm shock absorbers lightly as they can cost almost £180 per corner plus fi tting.
  • The real worry is a complete failure of the front end if the alloy spring mounts collapse with age and wear. Other failure points due to age include rear axle arms and hubs which can let go, especially at the front. King pins also deteriorate and, being an oldie, the Aston demands lubrication every 1000 miles or annually depending how often you use the car. It needs treating with EP 90 and not grease.
  • The braking system was initially all drum with discs up front as an option until 1957, while MkIIIs use all-disc set up. Just the usual checks and lack of use seizures apply. Special alloy Alfi n brake drums were used on some cars. If worn you’ll need new ones and, apart from their rarity, they cost £540 each so you may have to go the cast iron route at £230 from Four Ashes garage. The handbrake is a pull up umbrella type and is usually okay.
  • Wire wheels were standard care of Dunlop – 5.75-6.00 x 16 – depending on the year. Check for the usual deterioration, broken spokes and worn hubs. New wheels are typically £400 each. So don’t dismiss lightly.
  • The interior was along the lines of the Jaguar XK so there was plenty of wood and leather to savour when new. Now 50 years on, the cockpit may not look so accommodating and restorations can easily run into fi ve fi gures to bring it back to showroom standard. As you can imagine, replacement hoods on the convertibles aren’t MGB prices either!

Three Of A Kind

Jaguar XK120/150
Jaguar XK120/150
The closest to the DB2 in terms of style, performance and character, the XK scores with added pace but the Aston handles better. There’s also more choice of XKs around with a better spares and support back up – virtually all you could want for one is out there new or used. The Jag is still considerably cheaper to buy, especially mainstream condition ones, but prices are on the rise.
Jensen 541
Jensen 541
Built from 1953-59 the 541 was a development of the original Interceptor but with a rust-free glassfi bre body. The triple carb 4.0-litre Austin straight six gives the car good pace and relaxed cruising on 2.75 gearing. Later 541R and 541S models were better with disc brakes, rack and pinion steering, 150bhp and more. A much underrated car, it can prove to be good value but restorations aren’t easy or cheap.
Alvis 21
Alvis 21
One of the great names of the past, Alvis was founded in 1919 and purchased by Rover in 1965 when it ceased production soon after. The TC/TD saloon and the TE/TF 21 convertibles have a similar character to Astons albeit more a sophisticated cultured cruiser than sports car, but a lovely period piece all the same. Up to 150bhp from the 2993cc six-cylinder unit that dates back to when DB2 was launched.

Verdict

A DB2 won’t be to all tastes and certainly isn’t for those used to the DB5 experience. What the earlier Aston offers is a pure pedigree and prestige – an E-type of the 1950s in many ways but a lot more rare and classy. What more could you ask for?



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