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Aston Martin DB2

Aston Martin DB2 Published: 10th Aug 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: DB2 & Mk111
  • Worst model: Anything bodged
  • Budget buy: DB2/4
  • OK for unleaded?: Needs additive and you can’t convert either
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L4369 x W1652mm
  • Spares situation: Very good
  • DIY ease?: More complex than you think
  • Club support: Typical Aston
  • Appreciating asset?: Very much so
  • Good buy or good-bye?: An acquired taste
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Foundation for the DB strain of Astons that’s fast catching the values of later models. In its day a fast GT but has totally different character to DB4. Despite the car’s age, the design is more complex and specialist than you’d think WORDS BY ALAN ANDERSON IMAGES BY CM FILES & VARIOUS SOURCES

Is this the DB that James Bond sadly overlooked? Not quite. While the silver screen depicted 007 driving a DB5, DBS and then the ‘Gaydon’ Astons, author Ian Fleming had our hero driving a DB3 but the thinking is actually a DB MkIII in his books, which included Goldfinger. Clearly long before his gimmick-laden DB5 replaced his trusty DB MkIII, James Bond had a touch of class about him.

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 1st design. Thanks to the firm’s acquisition of Lagonda that same year, the DB2 now had a great engine to power it – the legendary W.O. Bentley twin-cam 2580cc straight six no less.

After the equally legendary Goldfinger film, the DB5 became immortalised and over the subsequent five decades has become one of the most coveted and expensive classic cars ever to grace our roads and this has by dint of association dragged all later Astons along with it; all Coupé bodies are called Saloons from the DB2 to the last of the 80’s V8
However, the DB2 series are now just as desired and valued, witness the recent Bonhams Aston Works auction– so if you’ve ever felt for a Feltham car then “I expect you to buy Mr Bond”.

HISTORY

1949 After the DB1 design, the resultant DB2 surfaced in 1949; three prototypes with a four-cylinder 2-litre engine.
1950 The four-cylinder engine was replaced by the Lagonda 2.6-litre ‘six’. Riding on a rectangular tube frame stiffened by box section, it was available in two-door saloon (coupé and DHC (convertible) guises with luxury trim. Even a decidedly unsporting column gear shift (a central gear shift was an option) and three abreast seating didn’t stop the production of some 350 saloons and 49 drophead coupés. The stock 2580cc engine gave 105bhp, while the famous Vantage engine with 125bhp was introduced in November 1950 for £120 including purchase tax – the first time the name was used.

1953 The improved and somewhat radical DB2/4 surfaced this year, Astons are traditionally associated with performance rather than practicality but it could be said that the sporting firm made the first hatchback!

Named the DB2/4, which stood for two seater, occasional four seater, enabling a pair of small adults to sit with the folding rear seat up, while the opening rear tailgate also ensured that the car at last gained a proper boot. This car was fitted with the DB2 2.6ltr Vantage engine (but never called the Vantage though).

1954 The 3-litre engine was introduced in Sept 1953 for the Saloon and April ‘for the DHC, the switch to 3.0-litres (actually 2.922cc) saw a more respectable 140bhp to keep it at the front of a rapidly evolving performance car market. At least 102 DHC (convertibles) were made out of the 565-strong production run.

1955 MKII surfaces with more angular rear wing styling and even more chrome, 199 made of which 34 were FHC (a DHC with a fixed hardtop, often called a Notchback) and 16 or so the DHC. Some later cars had a special series heads giving a gusty 165bhp, suffixed by the ‘L & L1’ after the engine number.

1957 MkIII Saloon introduced with a revised engine by Aston Martin legend Tadek Marek who had recently joined the company from Austin.

The body sprouted further styling tweaks such as a smoother front, which many Aston traditionalists disliked, but became the nose that has defined Aston’s ever since. The dashboard was revised into the style that was also used on the DB4 to DB6 models.

However, nobody could argue with the 162bhp (195bhp in top Special Series with twin exhausts) and front disc brakes became standard after 100 cars (they were optional before).

Also on the option list was the Laycock overdrive and an automatic transmission which was installed in five cars.
1959 Final fling for the DB2 series before the DB4 took over sees optional triple SUs giving 180ish bhp which most of the last few cars had fitted making 47 in total. Then came the Newport Pagnell era and the rest, as they say, is history.

DRIVING AND PRESS COMMENTS

If you’re thinking of buying an earlier DB, let’s get one thing straight right from the start! The DB2 is an acquired taste and a world away from the later DBs. Being designed in the late 1940s, it has a vintage feel – especially performance, which is only fairly lively in today’s repmobile terms – expect 9-12 seconds to 60mph according to engine tune.

In contrast, being a road-going derivative of the company’s racing cars, the DB2’s handling was ahead of its time. Little compares to the Aston, expect perhaps a Jaguar XK sports but the DB2 is that bit sportier to drive fast.

Despite the plush looking cockpit, DB2 refinement was never a strong point. That 1940’s feel means that all the controls are heavy but a steering upgrade to lighten the effort is very popular (see Improvements section) plus adding discs and a servo to earlier cars to make the pedal effort more acceptable all adds up to a more modern feel – if that’s what you really want. You may never use the rear seats of the DB2/4 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 20-28mpg if set up properly, especially if overdrive is fitted and used to the full.

The press naturally heaped praise on the DB2 and a scan of the numerous road tests reveal what was back in the 1950s an extremely quick car although these days, James Bond couldn’t catch a family diesel in one!

Nevertheless the Autocar test of 1950 couldn’t contain its excitement in hitting 60 in 12.4 seconds and reaching 110mph. “It’s difficult to give too much praise to the handling and performance,” it said adding that obtaining 5750rpm through the gears was the highest it had ever recorded in a production car.

The late, great deerstalker-wearing John Bolster in Motor Sport was equally glowing with praise saying that the DB2 ”inspires confidence at first acquaintance” and that the “Aston Martin engineers had endowed the car with well-nigh perfect cornering and roadholding characteristics… corners can be taken at racing speeds… the DB2 must rank as one of the safest cars it has been our good fortune to try.”

Motor summed up the more powerful 140bhp Vantage in a most peculiar way hailing it a “Remarkable all rounder… which offers exceptional road worthiness” as though it took it for an MoT!

It added (with a 0-60 time of a necksnapping 10.3 seconds) that the acceleration was “of an order well outside the experience of the everyday motorist” and praised its 25mpg potential although admitted that if you wanted to use full power the fuel tank had to be over half full or starvation could well occur!

IMPROVEMENTS

Well, after those comments by Mr Bolster there’s not a huge amount you can do to a DB2 to improve it – or probably want to do for fear of affecting its value, although certain mods are becoming far more accepted in classic circles.
Most of the Aston specialists offer the same or similar products, here are a few.

The lorry-like steering effort can be lightened either by substituting more modern roller king pins (a £206 kit is available from Davron – 01722 716040/ http://www.davron.idps.co.uk) or electricallyoperated power steering care of GTC Engineering (01280 851100) although the latter costs more than £4000.

A swap to modern disc brakes costs between £1500-2000 from Rex J. Woodgate (01327 858051) and well worth doing for modern roads along with DB5 callipers if you use MkIII parts.

Engine tuning of this iconic old unit is a very specialist affair so speak to an Aston expert such as Four Ashes Garage (01789 266851, http://www.fourashesgarage. co.uk) before any tweaking is carried out. Four Ashes recently tuned a 2.6-litre DB2 engine bored to 2750cc with their special liner and piston combination.

Fitted with triple 1.75 SU carbs mounted on a special inlet manifold, fabricated exhaust manifolds, polished and ported cylinder head with larger valves, 9:1 forged pistons, steel connecting rods, modified distributor with points and fast road cams, the engine developed a strong 192bhp with 160lbsft torque at only 2000rpm and 182lbsft at 4500rpm.

Fitted with DB5 diaphragm clutch, all this make the engine very tractable and easy to drive, nice road car, says the company but has also extracted a roadgoing 225bhp from a 3.0-litre unit with far more for racing purposes: in MkIII guise 214bhp was obtained by the factory on one engine to give you a guide of the unit’s evolution over the decades.

Some cars have fitted the later DB4 unit, but it’s not a straight swap. A Jag XK engine is also feasible but given the increasing value of these cars, it’s not a wise ploy unless the original unit is totally shot anyway and you haven’t 20 grand for a proper overhaul!

Without doubt according to Chris Adams at Four Ashes the best ‘mod’ is to have the car properly sorted. He says less than 10 per cent of the 1500 or so left are properly set up (engine, suspension, brakes, steering) and don’t drive like a DB2 should. Adams isn’t an advocate of some of the aftermarket tuning mods and likes to keep to period alterations yet can make the car handle properly “with zero play” in the steering. Four Ashes also sell many other parts other than engine parts, incidentally.

Prices

DB2 and variants used to sell for less than £500 during the late 60’s and early 70s but five figure sums are quite normal for a good car now with the DB2 and the last of the line MkIIIs the most valued; the recent Aston auction at the old works valued top cars in the £200,000 bracket but a convertible can add £100K to the final bill – think DB6 money.

Fully restored MkIII DHCs are now fetching upwards of £700,000 or more.

MKIIs and MkIIIs were built at Newport Pagnell and Tickford badges are fitted to the body side pod. If you feel brave enough to take on a project then these can be found at around the £50,000 to £70,000 but at the other extreme truly mouth watering cars have been known to break the £200,000 barrier with fully restored MkIII Saloons fetching nearer £300,000.

Expensive but as with all Aston Martins, you usually get what you pay for so beware of that bargain basket case. Experts claim you can spot a DIY rebuild a mile away so you may be wasting your time and money with a home restoration.

What To Look For

GENERAL

  • As with all Astons, specialist help and advice could well save you a fortune and a lot of 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 almost 60 years old so look for bodges over the decades. Look past the shiny bits and buy a car that’s sound rather than attractive.
  • A book on how to restore a DB2 has just been released by AuthorHouse UK (http://www.authorhouse.co.uk) available via Amazon, titled Restoration of a Classic DB2/4 MkIII (ISBN: 978-1-49699-955-9).
  • Experts worth seeking out include Aston Service Dorset – spare parts only, Four Ashes Garage – parts, rebuild and servicing, Davron – parts, rebuild & servicing, Rex J Woodgate for parts, rebuildand& servicing, Tim Stamper – parts, rebuild and servicing and Post Vintage, parts, rebuild and servicing
  • The interior is along the lines of the Jag XK so lots of wood and leather. Now, the cockpit may not look so accommodating and restorations can easily run into five figures with the best restorations costing £200,000 +. As you can imagine, replacement hoods on the convertibles aren’t MGB cheap either!

BODY & CHASSIS

  • 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 normal accident damage.
  • The bodywork is a mix of hand formed 16-gauge alloy and steel. Doors, rear arches, bonnets, scuttles are all prone, 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. Having said that, only a small percent of cars have ever been scrapped and a quality rebuild will pay dividends long term.

RUNNING GEAR

  • According to Four Ashes, the running gear is more complex than a DB5. Suspension needs a special check. See if the car sits square but the steering is naturally sloppy – to the tune of two inches of play! This can be rectified nowadays with resulting improvement in driving enjoyment. And don’t dismiss worn and leaking lever arm shock absorbers lightly as they can cost almost £180 per corner plus fitting.
  • 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 eye ends, alloy axle brackets and hubs which can let go, especially at the front.
  • King pins also deteriorate and, being an oldie, demands lubrication every 1000 miles or annually with EP90 and not grease although like MGs and Triumphs it probably hasn’t been adhered to.
  • The braking system was initially all drum to 1957 with discs up front as an option on first 100 MkIIIs, . Just the usual checks and lack of use seizures apply.
  • Alloy Alfin brake drums were used on some. If worn, new ones cost almost £550 each so you may have to go the cast iron route at just over half the outlay from Four Ashes. Handbrake is a pull up type and is usually okay. Wire wheels were of Dunlop – 5.75-6.00 x 16. New wheels are typically £400 each.

ENGINE

  • 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, if those have not been done correctly makes the situation worse. Chief worries are cracked blocks and 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 is the most complex part of the car and still needs AM specialist know-how to rebuild one.
  • Oil pressure on early engines (not the MkIII) should be between 50-60lbft if all is well, but it can drop to 20lb or less (even 10lbs) when idling. A sure sign of a over packed out oil pressure relief valve is over 90lbs when cold dropping to normal pressures when hot – this can cause oil pump drive gear failures.
  • MkIII engines have 65 -75lbs with 50lbs at idle, the oil pump has excessive capacity and it’s not easy to find worn out main bearings because of this as oil pressure is so good and masks wear.
  • Tappet clearances are critical. It’s not dissimilar to the XK design albeit without shims but factor in a decoke and a £2000 or more bill looms.
  • What engine is fitted now? Due to earlier unreliability and the high cost of rebuilds (£23,000 minimum says Four Ashes), any compatible unit from other DBs or Lagondas may be installed. For the MkIII an improved DBA design was launched but because there are no valve seat inserts it can’t be converted to unleaded seats so you really need an additive. On the other hand, new blocks and cylinder heads are now available for all models, as are inlet and exhaust manifolds, all engine parts, etc.

TRANSMISSIONS

  • The gearbox is a sturdy affair made by David Brown himself. Early cars may have been converted from column change to floor shift which was an option. Four Ashes says it can rebuild these heavyhanded units to perform very nicely indeed.
  • Apart from a noisy (non synchro) first gear there are no major problems, although parts are quite rare and an overhaul costs the thick end of £3000. Leaks are common but parts have now been made to reduce or stop these, but Laycock overdrive should work okay if oil has been regularly changed.
  • Rear axles are also pretty 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 fitting the internals in older casing but worthwhile it seems.

Three Of A Kind

JAGUAR XK120/150
JAGUAR XK120/150
The closest to the DB2 in terms of style, performance and character, the Jaguar XK strain of sportsters scores with their added pace but the Aston handles that bit better. However, 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 too, especially mainstream condition ones, but prices are on the rise big time.
JENSEN 541
JENSEN 541
Built from 1953-59 the 541 was a development of the original Interceptor but with a rust-free glassfibre 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 be likened to a family-sized Big Healey and compared to this Aston a real bargain
ALVIS 21
ALVIS 21
One of the great names of the past, Alvis was 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. A highly cultured car and exceptional value.

Verdict

If your idea of an Aston only begins with the DB4 then these fabs from Feltham won’t be for you. They are not exactly fast or as fleet of foot like later cars but possess a character and charm all of their own. Alas like all old Aston Martins, they are neither cheap to buy, run or restore but are similar blue chip investments that goes with the badge. Good taste is an understatement.



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