The Aston Martin DB5 is a global phenomenon often referred to as ‘the most famous car in the world’ thanks to its longtime heritage over 50 years of James Bond films. The car itself retook center stage a few times in the films since originally starring in Goldfinger and From Russia With Love, most recently with Skyfall’s Daniel Craig wheeling it out of secret storage before a midnight dash to his childhood orphanage in Scotland.
RM Auctions 2012 sale of this Sierra Blue example also includes a big name attached: Sir Paul McCartney, who rewarded himself with his first Aston Martin just a few weeks after The Beatles breakout appearance on U.S. television via The Ed Sullivan Show.
As special as the DB5’s numerous celeb owners and movie credits are, the coverage can be exhausting sometimes because the same tired facts are reshuffled. In this full review of the DB5, the focus is the merits of the car itself versus its contemporaries like the E-type Jaguar , Lamborghini 350 GT and Ferrari 250 GTO.
The DB5 was also created in a fashionable convertible body-style and as a one-off shooting brake for company lead David Brown, but the two-door hardtops are the most recognizable and affordable examples of 1963’s most advanced car.
Click past the jump for the full review of this cherished dream car.
The exterior of the DB5 is the most subtle of evolutions from the final DB4 Series V models that immediately preceded it. Still with styling by Carrozzeria Touring SuperLeggera of Milan, the DB5 was constructed at Newport Pagnell using Touring’s patented magnesium-alloy bodywork technique. The trademark features of the DB4 grew more overt in the DB5, whose perfectly round fender-tops flow back from round headlamps to capture the early-sixties sports-car vogue, echoed shortly after by the iconic series one Porsche 911 .
The shapely fenders continued their arc into the recessed lower hood, before sweeping up to match the uptick on the inner top corners of the DB5’s grille. A full-width chrome bumper frames the wide grille opening that includes horizontal chrome slats throughout and a yellow heritage badge on McCartney’s DB5.
One of the biggest design limitations in this time period were the sealed-beam headlamps that came in one shape: round. To enhance the styling elegance as well as aerodynamic smoothness, the DB5 employs elegant glass headlamp covers to match the flow and surface of the metal – something that was impossible unless the headlamps could be sunken and aimed from behind glass. Additional classy touches are the indicators, which are integrated much more smoothly and in the 1950’s Aston Martin models, but still less effectively than the period’s Ferrari GT cars.
The side mirrors are mounted midway up the hood, leveraging the wrap-around windshield’s visiblity and coining the phrase ’wing mirrors.’ The style would re-appear on another future Bond car, the 1967 Toyota 2000GT .
Moving to the DB5’s side shows the profile that is seared into the memory of millions of movie-goers. The entire DB5 is very satisfying to behold. The smooth and flowing curves of the nose profile are contrasted with sharper-cornered fins out back, but the surfacing is positive and rounded across the DB5’s shoulderline in a way that happily joins the two ends. Distinctive touches abound: the carved-out, horizontal fender vents just behind the front wheels, the hugely curved windshield glass and the fuel door mounted discreetly in the C-pillar’s base. The vertical DB5 badge is also lovely.
From the rear three-quarter angle, the proportions seem inherently correct to convey rapid GT progress and a high price. This angle influenced the car world from top to bottom, most explicitly in the proportions that would inspire the craze for relatively compact, two-door sports coupes like the 1964 Ford Mustang and its pony-car rivals. Until this point, the idea of paying more money for a smaller and more impractical shape was a non-starter among U.S. shoppers.
From the rear view, the DB5 is still stunning. Marked out by the three-pack of round lights mounted at the edge of each tailfin, there is much more to the shape than first meets the eye. In McCartney’s blue car especially, the rounding beltline that flows from the bases of the pillars is especially unique. It broadened the car visually and provided some structure in the large area between the stubby rear glass and the chrome bumper down below. It’s a really nice execution that’s hard to see when the DB5 is painted in lighter colors.
The trunk lid curves down with the same rounding angle as the fenders, providing a luxurious appearance, with a sharp lip running along the vertical plane. The chrome bumper mirrors the look of the front but includes in-built reflectors and much longer side elements that curve around the DB5’s trunk to diminish the long-overhang look out back. The twin-muffler exhaust system is visible from behind as the rounded pipes angle upward, nearly reaching the bumpers.
McCartney’s car has the optional chrome wire wheels that bridge the gap between Aston’s pre-war hillclimb specials and the common steel wheels of cheaper vehicles in the 1960s.
The interior of the McCartney DB5 has a few extras like a Motorola radio and even an in-dash Philips Auto-Mignon record player. At the time when an FM radio was posh, including a record player inside the car was space-age technology only a select few could afford. Luckily, vinyl discs would bring The Beatles singer/songwriter riches beyond comprehension, with plenty left over for in-car media solutions.
Other McCartney-specific touches include the original leather, which featured music notes etched into its grain. Since re-upholstered, this DB5 comes with a few swatches of the original effect.
In terms of style, the DB5’s interior blended functional features with luxury materials, such as the metal dash whose shape is defined by the leather-wrapped panels to make a half-hearted twin binnacle setup, a la the Chevrolet Corvette . On the driver’s side, the primary gauges are housed in a rounded shape that recalls the shape of Aston’s signature grille. The angled steering wheel and extra-tall gear lever are truck-like hints that betray the fact that the DB5’s heavy controls require strength to drive in a racing situation.
Overall, the gauges and switches are very modern for the time, including the heater and vent fans controlled with manual horizontal relays that slide across the curved pillar below the radio.
In terms of accommodation, the DB5 provides four large overstuffed grey leather chairs in a cabin compartment defined by the huge transmission tunnel both front and back. Visibility is excellent and ingress/egress is easy thanks to large doors and the unibody’s low, thin sill.
Drivetrain, Suspension and Brakes
The big mod for the DB5 – and what helped it earn a new name versus the DB4 – was the displacement bump from 3.7 to 4.0 liters for the company’s dual-overhead-cam inline six. Triple carbs and the twin-spark-plug design carried over from the DB4 Vantage to produce 282 horsepower and 288 pound-feet of torque.
Acceleration was less than rapid at 8.0 seconds to 60 mph, but showed a 1.5-second improvement over the previous DB4. The 180 mph speedometer was promising and shows that the five-speed car was geared for high speeds versus jackrabbit sprints, despite its top speed of only 143 mph.
The ZF five-speed box was another enhancement over the DB4, and matched the latest from its German and Italian competitors. A Borg-Warner three-speed automatic was also offered, marking the car apart from harder-edged Ferrari’s that were available with manual transmissions only.
The McCartney DB5 has the desirable Selectaride adjustable rear dampers that helped calm the live axle rear end. Up front, independent suspension paired with coil springs offered comfort unseen in the sports-car market to date.
|Peak power||282 horsepower|
|Peak torque||288 pound-feet|
|Top Speed||143 mph|
Pricing, Concours and Auction History
This DB5 sold for $520,000 in 2012, a value likely enhanced greatly by the celebrity connection. This right-hand-drive coupe bodystyle is a victim of its own success: there are too many great examples for the values to reach the stratosphere like on the limited-run DB5 Vantage and DB5 Convertible models, of which far fewer were made.
This DB5 underwent a comprehensive restoration in 2002 and has been maintained to an exceptional standard. Put simply, finding a car more iconic of the ‘swinging sixties’ than Paul McCartney’s DB5 is nearly impossible, at least outside the fictional worlds of James Bond and Austin Powers.
The primary competition for the Aston Martin DB5 was the Ferrari 250 GTO, a car that shared the DB5’s bulging racing appearance in a nimbler and lighter vehicle with a V-12 up front. With fewer than 40 ever built, the 250 GTO was always far more exclusive than the Aston competitor, a fact that is reflected in the multi-million dollar auction prices for all Ferrari 250s today.
Gallery Ferrari 250 GTO
The first four years of Jaguar E-types were available as roadsters only, but coupes followed by the mid 1960s with the E-type coupe and later an E-type 2+2 coupe. It would be the late 1960s before the 2+2 E-type could take the fight to Aston, but even as a convertible it’s top speed was 150 mph, with acceleration also a few clicks ahead of the DB5.
Gallery Jaguar E-Type
Aston Martin DB5 Shooting Brake
Never for sale to the public, the DB5 Shooting Brake model offered outdoorsman David Brown the ability to go hunting in his sports car. It packed plenty of flexible space and was roomy enough for a team of hunting dogs as well as a few rifle boxes. It would be thirty years before Ferrari started building custom-commissioned estate bodies for its wealthiest customers. The DB5 Shooting Brake authenticates the latest Aston Martin station wagon: the Rapide estate by Bertone, called the Jet 2+2, that is ear-marked for a limited production run.
The DB5 is special for its mechanical advancements and for the powerful but relaxed style with which it cruised the highways. The fact that it was cherished by two of the most famous Englishmen of the 20th century (albeit one a fictional character) was all the proof the world needed: the DB5 was the "it" car of the moment; the coolest four wheels on the road.
The Beatles owned dozens of cars during their heyday, including Rolls Royces , custom Mini ’s and even a London taxi they liked because it could be double-parked with impunity. These cars shared a few common traits that help to define even the marvelous Aston Martin DB5: refined and smooth drives, easily maneuverable in the big city, and effortlessly chic and cool.
If there was ever a man with enough street cred to take on James Bond, it was Sir Paul McCartney. Yes, the Aston Martin DB5 legend is inextricably linked with a few other great English exports. The real genius of the DB5 was in igniting a world-wide passion for 2+2 sports coupes that changed the face of cool cars forever.