Words by Jack Parrott. Pictures by William Gilbert.
An engineering principle, to which I wholeheartedly subscribe, is that the last of the old, is invariably greater than the first of the new. Overshadowed by its predecessor the DB5, and its replacement the DBS, the last of the Touring designed sixties Astons deserves more appreciation than it gets.
By the time the DB6 rolled out of Newport Pagnell in September 1965, it was undeniably an archaic piece of design. With its old-fashioned live-axle configuration and ten year old Tadek Marek designed DOHC inline six, the DB6 by no means represented the cutting edge of automotive development.
While clearly based upon the earlier David Brown Astons, the DB6 rejected some key elements of the Superleggera design. The now British bodied cars had a more conventional steel construction, upon which the aluminium panels were affixed. As backward as this sounds, these changes were based on some very sound reasoning.
As with a number of late sixties cars beginning to push the performance envelope, wind tunnel testing revealed that the DB5 had severe stability problems at speed. Aerodynamic lift upset the rear end with catastrophic results. So, the Kamm tail rear styling of the DB6 replaced the popular fastback design of earlier variants. This required a more rigid build technique, hence the partial abandonment of Touring’s Superlaggera construction. From a stylistic point of view, this proved divisive amongst traditional Aston Martin clientele, but made the DB6 a fundamentally better car than its predecessor. Paradoxically, the new design added less than eight kilos, a negligible difference, with the trade-off being that the hotter DB6 Vantage, could safely achieve its quoted top speed of 148mph.
It isn't often at Talk Wrench that we get to play around in anything spicier than Morris Minors, let alone Aston Martins. However, in September 2021, I was fortunate enough to spend a little time in and around this stunning 1969 example, owned by Petrolheads Welcome founder and all-round top bloke Andrew Fawkes.
One could not ask for a better reference vehicle to re-evaluate the legacy of Aston’s big GT. This DB6 still sports its SU carburettors, although is now in 4.2 litre specification. I was informed that it has covered over sixty thousand miles in its current ownership and continues to be driven regularly all over Britain and Europe.
Immediately I was struck by the quality of the construction. I hereby apologise to Jaguar fans, but within 5 seconds of sitting in a DB6, you can see why they cost almost twice as much as an E type. William Lyon’s genius was democratising the sports car, but David Brown was clearly focused on building the ultimate grand tourer. The interior especially, is far better thought out than an E type and despite the two cars being compared so readily, on the road they are in actual fact quite different beasts.
"William Lyon’s genius was democratising the sports car, but David Brown was clearly focused on building the ultimate grand tourer."
The Aston’s refinement is impressive. The ZF five-speed manual, as fitted in this particular example, was famously robust and quiet. A BorgWarner automatic was also offered at no extra cost by the factory. Even from the passenger seat, it was apparent that the gearing was sufficiently tall in 4th and 5th to make the DB6 a relaxed cruiser. The power delivery of the straight six makes for a spirited although by modern standards, far from neck-snapping getaway. I would imagine the automatic to be a little more pedestrian, although the 280bs-ft of torque at a reasonably low 4500 rpm, would be quite well suited to grand touring with either gearbox.
The seats offer very little in the way of lateral support but are extremely comfortable. The DB6 is well composed for a car of its era but regardless is clearly not one to throw into corners at great speed. The Armstrong Selectaride adjustable rear suspension, controls the cars near 1500 kilo curb-weight admirably. The ride is soft but not as boat-like as one might imagine given the primitive axle configuration and tall Avon tyres.
What is most splendid is the cabin space. The DB6 had one of the best passenger experiences of its day, and I even found that I could sit in the back with head and leg room that would embarrass even the largest modern SUVs. The DB6 is a fraction longer and taller than its predecessor. This all adds up to making a true 2+2 GT that adults could easily ride in the back of over a long distance.
The Aston was far quieter than I had ever envisaged, both inside and out. With remarkably little road or wind noise, it is clear that aerodynamics were a major consideration in terms of refinement as well as performance. If anything, I usually prefer a little more drama, especially in terms of engine noise. However, as a grand tourer, the DB6’s wafting ability from that big straight six is perfect for soaking up miles and enabling you to talk to your passenger.
Stopping comes courtesy of Girling disc brakes which are adequate. It will never compete on that score with modern cars, but skilful driving should mean that it never has to. The DB6 also provides powerful engine braking, which is reassuring in older vehicles, especially those with some performance.
While this is a contentious matter, I enjoy the styling of the DB6. The low profile hides the fact that its actually quite a big car. Its clearly not the easiest thing to manoeuvre and although power steering was an option, the DB6 was never made for multi-story car parks. The large steering wheel is reminiscent of much earlier cars but suits the character of the vehicle. The DB6 was a last hurrah for the definitive Aston shape, and while the replacement DBS was also a striking piece of design, the DB6 holds its own and looks purposeful with its bonnet scoop and underslung oil cooler.
We’d like to thank Andrew for letting us experience this automotive gem. I confess that even as a lifelong Aston Martin fan, I had long overlooked the DB6. However, I now see that it was actually David Brown’s best GT.
"it is clear that aerodynamics were a major consideration in terms of refinement as well as performance"
Sadly, this genre of car has become somewhat sidelined in the modern era. An obsession with crazy performance and handling has meant that even two and a half ton family cars now have six-hundred horsepower and a boneshaking ride. Even a modern Range Rover corners like its on raiIs, but I feel we have lost the art of building cars that are just really lovely places to be and make quick work of continents.
The relative underappreciation of the DB6 does not extend so far as their value. Echoing their price when new, a good example will set you back at least twice that of a really good E type. Therefore, my theory is that the DB6 is a car that really needs to be experienced to understand it. While I like the styling, its looks are far from its definitive feature. They're a car for really doing some miles in which makes them an attractive proposition for those who like to travel in their classics and arrive at their destination looking and feeling generally unflustered. While I enjoy a white-knuckle ride from time to time, this Aston is a perfect antidote, combining a level of sportiness with refinement and comfort.
The DB6 truly is then, a gentleman’s express.