The DB4 GT Zagato Sanction IIs are essentially 1960s vehicles, built new in 1991 to, as Victor Gauntlett put it, ‘tidy up a bit of Aston Martin history’. The highly desirable DB4 GT Zagatos have spawned several copies over the years, but the Sanction II cars are not among them. These are Aston Martin Lagonda products, though they weren’t built at the Newport Pagnell factory.
It is ironic that the most collectable road-going Aston Martin was a dismal sales disappointment in its day. Aston Martin simple couldn’t sell the expensive coupes when ne and while 25 were slated for construction, only 19 were built, the last few of which were offloaded to HWM to sell as a ‘job lot’.
The short chassis DB4 GT, styled by Touring of Milan debuted at the London Motor Show in October 1959. It was designed as a production road-racing car and an intended production run of 100 cars ensured homologation for racing. They were highly sought after, even at £4534.
The following October, at the London Motor Show, a special edition DB4 GT was shown with lightweight coachwork styled by Ercole Spada of the Milanese coachbuilding firm, Carrozzeria Zagato.
Starting with chassis number DB4GT/0176/R, the intention was to build 23 Zagato-bodied cars finishing with chassis number DB4GT/0200/R (the first one built was chassis number DB4GT/0200/R to satisfy homologation requirements). An astronomical price tag of £5470 and the much cheaper Jaguar E-type scuttled that idea and only 19 Zagato DB4 GTs were built. Chassis numbers 0192, 0196, 0197 and 0198 were not built and when DB4 was superseded in 1963, it looked as though the remaining four cars would never be completed.
The resolution of the Zagato DB4 GT story had to wait until 1991. Very conscious that DB4 GT Zagatos were fetching up to £1,7 million at auction in the late 1980s, a thought occurred to Gauntlett: what if AML and Zagato reunited and built the four ‘unbuilt’ cars? It was a brilliant marketing strategy.
The unused DB4 GT chassis numbers occurred in the midst of the Zagato production run so it was decided to construct the cars using Zagato coachwork according to Ercole Spada’s original design.
Approval for the project was given in 1987. RS Williams produced four rolling chassis to DB4 GT specification from three DB4s and one DB5 platform, with extra strengthening to improve torsional rigidity, at its workshops in Cobham. The first chassis was finished and shipped to Carrozzeria Zagato in Milan in January 1990. The last of the four chassis was completed and shipped in April.
Williams’ own DB4 GT Zagato (DB4GT/0181/L) was sent to Zagato’s workshops, as Zagato still owned the copyright to the design. It was stripped, studied and new patterns were taken so that the bodies for the Sanction IIs could be replicated as closely as possible.
Once each of the four rolling chassis had been bodied to original specification, they were painted in Richard Williams Green. The nearly completed cars were shipped back to England to be finished and road tested at RS Williams. The end result was a complete success: the Sanction II cars were almost indistinguishable from the originals.
Outwardly, the only differences were the Borrani 15-inch wheels and larger 205/0 VR15 Goodyear Eagle tyres in place of the original 16-inch wheels and 6.00 x 16 Avon Turbospeed Mk IIs. Small adjustments were also made to the front suspension geometry, including a different, stronger anti-roll bar with altered pick-up points and revised springs rates and dampers and the live rear axle, which featured different damper settings. The differential ratio was also changed from 3.31:1 to 3.07:1. Three of the bonnets incorporated a trio of Zagato-style bubbles, while a single example incorporated a DB4-style single bonnet bulge. Inside, the interior faithfully replicated the originals.
The original six-cylinder engine’s capacity was increased from 3670 cc to 4212 cc, like Williams’ DB4 Lightweight racers. The engines retained a twin plug head while the compression ratio was changed from the original 9.7:1 to 9.82:1. The triple Weber 50 DCO1/SP carburettors were also fitted with extended inlet manifolds and alternators too the place of the original dynamos.
The original DB4 GT Zagatos engines produced a true 272 bhp @ 6000 rpm and 250 lb/ft of torque @ 3700 rpm. The new 4.2-litre engine in the Sanction II cars boasted a genuine 352 bhp @ 6000 rpm and 330 lb/ft of torque @ 4600 rpm. The new cars were the best of both worlds: almost identical to the prized originals, they were more powerful and better to drive.
The DB4 GT Zagato Sanction IIs proved a successful marketing strategy. They recreated the legend of the originals while making barely visible, sympathetic improvements to make them a better overall product to drive. They were controversial, but they also made a lot of money.
The DB4 GT Zagato story didn’t end in 1991. Subsequently, several customers approached Richard Williams asking for more Sanction-type specials. In 1998 Williams approached Aston Martin for permission to produce two further Zagato replicas. Williams received permission from Walter Hayes, who insisted two DB4s be the basis for the copies, thereby saving them from extinction.
‘The Sanction III cars are different to any other non-sanctioned Zagatos because, firstly, they are allowed to wear Zagato badge and secondly, a licence fee was paid to Zagato in conjunction with the build costs when they were bodied in Italy’ said Williams.
The specification is exactly the same as the Sanction II cars. The Sanction IIIs used chassis numbers DB4/344/R and DB4/424/R. They are painted, as were the Sanction II cars, in RS Williams Green.
The true horsepower for these cars averages out at 350 bhp @ 6000 rpm with maximum torque at 330 lb/ft @ 4600 rpm. The Sanction car’s weight, with ten gallons of fuel, was 2798 lb; heavier than the 1960s Zagatos, which weighed 2765 lb, as there is additional bracing welded into the chassis to improve their torsional rigidity.
It does really appear that the Sanction III cars were the last of the official Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagatos. Zagato will no longer construct any Sanction cars.
Source & copyright note: from the book ‘Power, Beauty and Soul’ written by the author David Downsey (obtained with permission). None of the text above may be used without the prior written permission of the rightful author, including copying, duplicating, printing, publishing (even on a website), reproducing, storing, or transmitting by any means what so ever.