ASTON MARTIN DESIGN PROJECT 199 IS THE FIRST AND MOST HISTORICALLY SIGNIFICANT DB4GT. As a prototype it was raced by Stirling Moss to victory t Silverstone in the 12-lap GT race at the 2 May International Trophy Meeting in 1959. It also raced Le Mans in 1959 under the banner ‘Ecurie Trois Chevrons’, before being converted to road car specification and used at the launch of the DB4GT in London in October 1959. DP199, then registered 845 XMV, entered the second phase of its life as a press car.
In 1960, DP199 was tested at MIRA by Reg Parnell, who was able to go from 0 to 100 mph and back to zero again in 24 seconds. Later he would reduce this to 20 seconds with a taller rear axle. Press reaction after the launch was very positive. Dennis May drove DP199 and wrote in Car and Driver, “It does our English ego good to doubt whether this Englishman’s car is in much danger of having its feat eclipsed by foreign rivals of comparable rating. Or any rating.”
It is easy to forget that when Aston Martin announced the DB4 in September 1958, it was the world’s most advanced GT car. Such was the racing DNA in Aston Martin that, six months before the DB4 was announced, the project to create a lightweight, competition version of the DB4 was sanctioned by John Wyer. That project was DP199.
Once back from the DB4 launch in Paris, the task of designing the DB4GT started in earnest with Harold Beach and Ted Cutting as the designers. John Wyer saw it as a straightforward task and told Ted “to cut five inches out of a DB4″. The shortening was behind the front seats, giving it shorter doors and a wheelbase of 93 inches. DP199, the prototype DB4GT, was made by cutting a very early DB4 platform chassis in two with the floor join reinforced by a fishplate, still visible today.
The DB4GT was designed with two seats and a luggage platform in the rear. The doors were lightweight aluminum, and the boot was occupied by a 30-gallon fuel tank with the spare wheel on top, while the entire body skin was in thinner 18-gauge aluminum alloy. The engine was uprated with a twin plug head and triple 45 DCOE Webers and the car ran on Borrani light alloy wheels with uprated Girling brakes.
The DB4GT, with its higher compression ratio of 9:1, featured larger inlet and exhaust valves and uprated camshafts. The twin plug cylinder head was designed specifically for the DB4GT by Ted Cutting, while the transmission was a David Brown four-speed close-ratio synchromesh gearbox, mated to a Borg & Beck nine-inch twin-plate clutch.
Stirling Moss recalled, “All the road-going Astons seemed muscular and strong . . . but the DB4GT was also quite well balanced. It had bags of power and when I drove it against Jaguar saloons, it was no contest.” The Silverstone debut was a publicity triumph.
DP199 was entered at Le Mans in June under the banner of ‘Ecurie Trois Chevrons’ and driven by Aston’s Swiss distributor Hubert Patthey with co-driver Renaud Calderari. For this race the engine was a 3.0-liter, the same type as was used in the DBR3 engine that made a one-off appearance a year earlier. The engine number for Le Mans was RDP 5066-2. The capacity reduction was achieved with a short stroke crankshaft of 75 mm but a standard bore of 92 mm. This engine is of special relevance to the GT, as it was the first time the twin-plug head was used. It was a dry sump set-up and produced 238 bhp at 6,500 rpm. The oil tank was located in the boot. The front suspension then, as now, was polished forgings as seen on project cars, and it is probable that this was the actual suspension originally seen on the DBR3 for its one-off outing. At Le Mans, the engine ran the number six bearing after just 21 laps.
Following Le Mans, the car was returned to Feltham, where it was converted into what would become road specification and prepared for numerous publicity shots. The single oil cooler scoop was replaced by two smaller scoops that were standard on the first 23 DB4GTs.
The DB4GT in all its guises had another four years at the top level of international motorsport, and Aston Martin refined the DB4GT into the true thoroughbred that we know today. It also, of course, inspired the underpinnings of the legendary Zagato version and DP214. Aston Martin would go on to build 75 DB4GTs plus 20 Zagatos. But DP199 was the first and foremost of all the cars. It is the seminal DB4GT.
Under the personal guidance of Kingsley Riding-Felce, DP199 was returned to its Le Mans 1959 guise but kept the 3.7-liter engine. Kingsley recalled: “[the owner] was a great patron and customer and was keen to preserve the car rather than rebuild it. We went to great lengths to retain everything that was original. We even riveted the fish plate back onto the chassis!” The car appeared at the Aston Martin festival at Monterey in 1989 and went on to win its class at Pebble Beach in the same year. Since that time the car has had two other owners, including notable Aston Martin enthusiast Rowan Atkinson, before returning to the current owner, who restored the car in 1989.
DP199 has, in recent years, been greatly enjoyed on road and track, but it has never been subject to any enhancements that would detract from its originality. Remarkably, the car appears never to have had a crash and certainly the bodywork is highly original.
In June 2017, the car was inspected and driven by Stephen Archer, noted Aston Martin historian and author of the DB4GT book by Palawan. Stephen commented:
Its restoration in 1989 concerned me because in those less enlightened times, many restorations served to destroy originality rather than respect and conserve it. I need not have worried; the work by Aston Martin in 1989 and subsequent care by R.S. Williams has left us with a car of huge importance that is frankly staggeringly original. To view the unique chassis and compare it to a standard GT is to view a true DP car with nods to the needs of racing and evidence of the sheer genius of the designers at Aston Martin.
To see the original polished wishbones, the Project car style telescopic rear dampers and the unique driver’s wing vent is to take a step back in time. So many details, such as the pedals, the rear parcel shelf design, and the ultra thin lightweight bonnet, all scream ‘designed for the road, built for the track.’ What I found most exciting was to see the original metal around the headlight area and the unique shape of the nose on this car, where it is apparent that they took a DB4 front end and modified the headlight design. It is as if the car left the Works yesterday. I have inspected a lot of Aston Martins, but this one stirs the soul more than most because of its originality, history, and importance in the GT lineage of Aston Martin models.
Stephen then went on to drive the car for some distance on a test track.
To slip into an ex-Moss seat is always special, and the DBR1-style seats add to the sense of occasion. Though on paper this car is not hugely different to a standard GT, the many small differences add up to a very different experience. The engine is clearly in a state of race tune and once ‘on song’ above 2,500 rpm starts to really come to life. The David Brown gearbox can feel notchy in some cars, but in DP199 it is easy, fast, and precise. Brakes are firm and without a servo, the heaviness is compensated by fantastic ‘feel.’ This car feels light, lively, and easy to drive fast, and it is surprisingly quick. It is communicative, tight, and precise. It inspires confidence. It asks to be driven and is hugely rewarding. That it was conceived as a gentleman’s racer 59 years ago is hard to believe. It is a wonderful Aston Martin and without doubt I would suggest the most important DB4GT by some margin.