The recent record-breaking sale of this one-off 1960 Aston Martin DB4 GT Jet by Bertone shows the remarkable passion surrounding the brand’s classic cars, especially those with a unique or special racing history.
What’s so special about this car, aside from its rare provenance and Aston Martin Works Service restoration? Quite a few things about the DB4 GT were celebrated at the time, notably its potent top-end performance, great handling and the aircraft-style leather interior. The DB4 GT’s platform chassis replaced the DB4’s spaceframe, meaning new bodywork was required because the original Touring-designed panels weren’t compatible with the newly-developed floorplan and a chopped wheelbase.
Let’s get the money question out of the way. Yes, the Bertone Jet is more than ten times what a base DB4 is worth, but the final price was near the top end of the pre-sale estimate – so this was no surprise in the Aston community. All signs were good ahead of the sale: custom Bertone – pronounced “Bear Tony” - exterior and interior; the car’s unique nature; and the fact that it changed hands at the original chassis factory with full manufacturer blessing.
So is it a collector’s item? Without a doubt.
The current craze for the similar Ferrari 250 GT and Jaguar E-type heaves most of the dollars on convertibles – making them among the most valuable cars of all time. The 250 GT ’s auction magic is greatly enhanced by the fact that the car is a total joy to drive. Is the Bertone Jet a stunning drive as well?
Click past the jump for the full review of the DB4 GT Jet.
The style of the DB4 GT Jet is a vast departure from both the base DB4 GT, as well as the DB4 GT Zagato. On the one extreme, there is the Zagato -bodied DB4 GT with all its sweeping surfaces, recessed but enclosed headlamps and creamy-smooth curves from nose to tail. The Aston Martin grille is decidedly more rounded in Zagato’s work, both compared with the DB4 GT and the Bertone Jet.
Lying somewhere between the Zagato’s curves and Bertone’s chunky, busy surfaces is the standard DB4 GT. Incorporating the classic Aston nose, the base DB4 GT is a stunningly beautiful car from all angles, especially the nose and tail. The Bertone changes to the appearance of the DB4 GT are many, including decreased overall length via shorter overhangs, a grille that sinks under the hood’s leading edge and is more vertical, plus the rear end that loses the DB4’s iconic tailfins in favor of smoother corners with horizontal lamps replacing the DB4’s fin-mounted red globes.
The effect is certainly striking but far more difficult to digest and enjoy than its stable mates: the base model and the Zagato. This Bertone Jet has a few awkward features that complicate the elegance of the original design more than they enhance it. The front bumpers, in particular, are an awkward compromise to preserve the visible grille design – they’re split chrome pieces that each wrap one corner of the car. Their large size and diameter make them resemble a longhorn sheep from some angles.
Other issues concern the front end, like the unresolved front air-dam area, the old-fashioned (even then) headlights and some unusual choices for the slotted hood scoop. Out back, the roof starts its notchback descent right after the driver’s head area, a few inches ahead of the base DB4 GT’s shape. The flowing line from the back glass continues down the fenders and trunk, creating a delicate appearance far removed from the macho DB4 GT.
All of these perceived flaws may have influenced the fact that the Bertone version is a one-off, while Zagato created 20 of its custom DB4 GTs. Then again, to some eyes, the Bertone Jet will elegantly capture the Italian aesthetic for cute road cars in the late 1950s.
The problem with being production-friendly is that it immediately puts the car a few years behind the style of Ferrari and Jaguar. The E-Type , it should be noted, debuted for the first time alongside the Bertone Jet in 1961 in Geneva, offering similar performance in a more beautiful and far cheaper package.
The interior of the two-seat Bertone Jet is much farther advanced than both the factory DB4 GT and the Zagato models. In contrast to the others, the Bertone model looks both comfortable and expensive inside with its unique dash, seats, full-leather trim, special gauges and glass. The seats of the Bertone are actual ribbed leather high-back buckets, while the other cars had the older mini racing seats with a half-sized backrest. Significantly enhanced dials offer drivers double the info available on the other cars, and the steering wheel is a lovely, thin-rimmed wooden affair with the trademark Bertone “b” sitting in the middle of an azure badge at the center.
The dashboard eschews the DB4 GT Zagato’s enveloping binnacle in favor of a simpler faceplate to house all the added gauges. The Bertone’s dash is largely flat on top aside from a center bulge that matches the hood scoop in width.
Drivetrain, Suspension and Brakes
The custom-bodied Italian DB4 GT Jet by Bertone employs the standard DB4 GT mechanical package of the day, including the all-aluminum 3.67-liter in-line six producing 302 horsepower and 366 pound-feet of torque. The performance quotes for the model are a 6.4-second 0-to-60 mph sprint and a 152 mph top speed.
Aston Martin’s glory was built on in-line sixes in this era, allowing them to perfect the refinements and mods needed to go racing. All DB4 GTs, including the Bertone Jet, pack the DB4 GT’s 37-gallon endurance-racing fuel tank in the trunk as well as numerous other performance mods.
Aston unleashed 62 more horsepower for the GT models via the twin-spark-plug, triple-carburetor design. It also saved up to 190 pounds via lighter body panels and a six-inch reduction in overall length. The Bertone Jet has a steel body, instead of the DB4 GT’s thinner magnesium-alloy body shell, making the one-off Jet too heavy to be competitive on the track.
Even the DB4 GT struggled to compete with the Ferraris of the day, leading to an even-more-extreme DB4 GT Lightweight series.
The DB4 GT’s suspension was by double wishbones up front and a solid axle with Watt’s linkage in the rear. The power channels through the David Brown four-speed manual, while the car is stopped by then-cutting-edge Girling disc brakes all around.
Video of the DB4 GT Jet being driven hard is non-existent, however, the soundtracks from two racing DB4 GT Lightweights shows the noisy driveline twang and booming straight-six engine’s revvy nature.
|Peak power||302 horsepower|
|Peak torque||366 pound-feet est|
|Top Speed||152 mph|
Pricing, Concours and Auction History
Despite being a show cruiser all its life, this Guigiaro-styled DB4 GT earned nearly $5 million dollars from the Bonhams Aston 100th anniversary sale at Newport Pagnell on May 18th.
The sale price of $4.9 million is a huge leap in value potential for any Aston Martin. Few other models, aside from the Goldfinger DB5, have ever sold for anything close to this sum.
The Bertone Jet’s show history is no less impressive, finishing with top marks at all the below concours:
- 1989 Pebble Beach, 1st in Class Italian Coachwork
- 1991 London, Hurlingham Club, 1st in Class
- 1991 Silverstone, Aston Martin Owners Club - 1st in Class and overall winner
- 1992 Paris, Bagatelle, 1st in Class
- 1997 Pebble Beach, Second Invitation
- 2001 Villa D’Este, 1st in Class and Best in Show
- 2001 Dusseldorf, 1st in Class and Best in Show
- 2001 Schloss, Schwetzingen, 1st in Class
- 2001 RAID, Basel, Best in Show
- 2005 New York, 1st in Class
- 2007 Pebble Beach, Third Invitation
- 2007 Holland, Het Loo, 1st in Class
The prices for previous auctions, including the second-most-recent in the mid-1980s, are not disclosed. It is fair to say that the multiple factory restorations, plus the strong market for classic cars from the early sixties, have polished more than $3 million dollars into the Bertone Jet versus its previous prices.
The Jaguar E-type, the DB4 GT Zagato and the Ferrari 250 GTB were and are the primary competition for the Bertone Jet.
For values and collector appeal, neither get within ten million dollars of the best Ferrari 250 GTs, whose V-12 power and soulful mechanicals have yet to be eclipsed in the post-war collector car scene.
Offering a similar inline-six engine, the Jaguar E-Type originally appeared as a long, flowing convertible shape that was adored by the public and industry alike. Its stellar top speed marked a new performance benchmark for road GT cars, while its affordability made it a runaway success in the showrooms.
Gallery Jaguar E-Type
Packing the same DB4 GT mechanicals under a different hand-beaten body shell, the Zagato is stunning from all angles and is so widely desired that there are dozens of replicas and recreations whose prices are a fraction of the $5 million that the Bertone Jet is worth.
Gallery Aston-Martin DB4 GT Zagato
The 250 GTB is one of the most beautiful and valuable vehicles ever made. A popular racing model, the 250 was also sold to the public in near-identical form. The hardtop Berlinetta was created in response to shifting racing preferences at the time: from open to enclosed cockpits for safety. A variety of sub-models were created, including the Lusso shown here.
Gallery Ferrari 250 GT Lusso Berlinetta
Aside from the pricing factors, like being one-of-a-kind, being sold at an Aston event, and from a celebrated era, the Bertone Jet lacks some key features to make it stand out as a car versus an investment. For one, the performance of the original DB4 GT is handicapped by the Jet’s heavy, steel bodywork and finished interior.
This car was essentially a running concept. Had the public loved its looks as much as the Zagato-bodied DB4 GT, a production run surely would’ve materialized for Bertone as well. The fact that it didn’t speaks volumes.
The DB4 GT Jet by Bertone has some lovely things in its favor, namely being one of Guigiaro’s first big projects, but the overall styling awkwardness overshadows the fundamental brilliance of the DB4 GT. At the time, the tiny Aston Martin team was more eager to launch its own new road model based on the DB4 GT, the DB5.
So what is the Bertone Jet? Was Aston shopping for a different DB5 shape before settling on an evolutionary styling theme? We may never know. What is certain is that since fading from auto show glory, the Bertone Jet was never forgotten.
- Delicate looks are a world away from butch DB4 basics
- Ultimate AM Works Service restoration means car is nearly brand new after more than 50 years of service
- Good grand touring comfort, top speed and handling
- Some uncomfortable styling angles at the front
- High cost means the car will be sheltered versus driven hard
- One-off; heavy steel body