1963 Aston Martin DB5 Convertible
James Bond’s car for a holiday in the south of Franceby Michael Fira, on
Aston Martin’s DB5 is the epitome of British elegance and class and with multiple appearances in the James Bond franchise, has been heralded over the years as one of the world’s most famous cars. While maybe not all passersby will be able to tell you what it is when looking at the DB5, mostly everyone knows that shape. The fact that there was also an open-top version may not, however, be common knowledge but, with or without a roof, the DB5 is a show-stopper any day of the week.
Powered by 4.0-liter version of Tadek Marek’s DOHC inline-six, the DB5 was an evolutionary step than a revolutionary one when compared to the DB4 it replaced. In fact, the styling was nigh on identical to that of a Series 5 DB4 and it was the increase in the engine’s capacity that stood out as key differentiator between the two models. But a deal to supply Sean Connery’s Bond with a Silver Birch DB5 in the movie ’Goldfinger’ changed everything for David Brown’s company.
The model became a success with over 1,000 units sold in just two years and movie stars fawned over the gorgeous lines penned by Touring. Actors Peter Sellers and Beryl Reid were just some who owned DB5s in the ’60s and even Princess Margaret rolled in one for a while. Indeed, you probably needed the funds usually linked to an heir of the crown given that the DB5 Convertible cost as much as a house at the time but can you really put a price on driving a car Bond pedalled on-screen?
1963 Aston Martin DB5 Convertible
1963 Aston Martin DB5 Convertible Exterior
- Similar to the DB4
- One of the earliest DB5 Convertibles
- Built for Earls Court Motor Show
- Used as a factory demonstration model
- Body designed by Carrozzeria Touring of Milan
- Caribbean Pearl over dark blue interior
- Only 123 convertibles were ever built
- Hardtop or a soft-top was available
- More expensive than a house in 1963
- 2X the price of a Jaguar E-Type
In the front, the DB5 Convertible features a look that was familiar even for those that saw the car at Earls Court in 1963.
The faired-in headlights, a departure from the old-fashioned round headlamps attached to the tip of the fenders, had been around already on the last iterations of the DB4 that featured the elegantly curved fenders with the headlights fitted behind a round, clear glass cover. Below each headlight, there’s one clear indicator.
The legendary Aston Martin grille with its egg-crate chromed mesh is in its most recognizable form on the DB5, the shape having been refined over and over again since first appearing on Jaguar’s racing sports cars in the mid-’50s. The chromed bumper hangs above three air inlets, two on the sides below the bumper overriders and a bigger one in the middle. The hood features a boxy scoop of its own as well as ’Superleggera’ badging along the sides. While the DB5 was built using the patented Superleggera building method, none of the cars were built by Carrozzeria Touring in Milan.
Viewed from the side, the DB5 convertible looks especially elegant as nothing interrupts the top line of the body that connects the doors, the front fenders, and the rear fenders.
The oval side vent crossed by a chrome bar is another by-now traditional detail that’s also present on the DB5. The chromed multi-spoke 15-inch wire wheels conceal disc brakes all-around.
With the dark blue soft top up, the car loses some of its visual appeal but that’s to be expected. Apparently, you could option your DB5 Convertible with a hardtop but very few examples were fitted with it. Still, the dark blue top blends well with the light blue body and also matches the color of the leather-wrapped cabin.
In the back, the DB5 looks quite simple.
You’ve got three lamps on either side, each trifecta on a polished metal backdrop in a vertical arrangement. The indicator light sits at the top with the brake light in the middle and the back-up light down below. The chromed number plate frame is located on the trunk lid and there’s an Aston Martin-badged housing for the number plate lights above.
The twin exhaust exits below the bumper on the left-hand side. The rear bumper itself features a light reflector on either side. The DB5 seems to sit closer to the ground than an E-Type of the same vintage and it’s also bigger than the Jaguar that measures 175.3 inches to the DB5 Convertible’s 179.9 inches. The DB5 is also 0.85 inches wider and its wheelbase is a couple of inches longer as well.
1963 Aston Martin DB5 Convertible Interior
- Black and dark blue leather
- Blue carpeting
- Large, wooden-rimmed steering wheel with black spokes
- Comes with a radio but no James Bond-esque updates
- Space in the back is minimal
- Electric windows standard
- Not really as good looking as the cabin of a contemporary Ferrari
The interior of a DB5 exudes class without there being any wood, apart from the rim of the steering wheel.
You’ve got dark blue and black leather, you’ve got some chromed covers and some slick, dark surfaces around the instrument panel but that’s it. However, everything looks so neat and tidy you just know you’re in a top-of-the-line sports car.
Jump behind the sizeable wheel (with that gorgeous, blue DB emblem in the middle) and you’ll see a rather straightforward instrument panel with the tachometer on the right and the odometer (that over-optimistically ends at 180 mph) on the left. You’ve got the oil temperature meter further to the right. The fuel gauge and the water temperature gauge are placed to the left near a pair of switches. An archaic version of today’s driving modes can also be seen. The ’Armstrong Selectaride’ allows you to somewhat alter the way the car copes while riding over bumps, making it either softer or stiffer. The wiper knob is located directly above.
The center console is dominated by the controls for the heater.
While air-conditioning was not yet available, you could at least have a heater in your DB5, the scrolling knobs allowing you to alter the temperature and amount of air invading the cabin. Above these chromed controls there are two more chromed buttons, an analog clock, the cigarette lighter, and a warning light (probably for when the hazard lights are on) in between those two buttons.
The car sports a Motorola radio, an original option, that works in conjunction with the speaker in the lower part of the console where the GPS system would be in Bond’s car. There’s no armrest between the two leather-wrapped bucket seats as the only thing sprouting through the transmission column is the flimsy-looking gear lever.
On the passenger’s side, there’s the glove box, a handle to hold on to during those rather enthusiastic weekend drives, and an awkwardly placed dome light below the glove box that’s basically illuminating the passenger’s footwell and little else. The driver’s footwell is unilluminated and it features, towards the firewall, a raised-up area for the pedals, all connected to the car’s floor like in a race car, not hanging down from above.
The DB5 even in convertible form is a 2+2 grand tourer and there are even seat belts for the passengers in the back.
The only issue is that nobody really fits in there due to the minimal legroom. Add to that the limited headroom when the soft top is up and it’s clear that only toddlers can ride in the back of a DB5... but there’s no way you can properly secure a child’s seat in there so, in short, the back seats are for storage in the real world - if you ever fancy going to the shops in your DB5.
1963 Aston Martin DB5 Convertible Drivetrain
- Chassis similar with the DB4 but improved
- 4.0-liter inline-six
- Girling disc brakes all around
- Three SU carburetors
- Rear-wheel drive
- Full-synchromesh ZF five-speed
- 282 horsepower
- 192 pound-feet of torque
- Top speed of 142 mph
- 0-60 mph in 7.5 seconds
- Over 600 pounds heavier than a Jaguar E-Type
- 10 mph slower than Malcolm Sayer’s masterpiece
The Aston Martin DB5 didn't bring about some mechanical revolution. It didn't feature anything surprising under the skin. If anything, the engine was the only thing that got people talking upon the car's introduction.
It’s the same inline-six as seen in the DB4 but with the bore increased from 3.62 inches to 3.78 inches for a total capacity of 4.0-liters, up from 3.7-liters. With a compression ratio of 8.9 to 1, the engine delivered 282 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 280 pound-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm. That’s 42 horsepower and 40 pound-feet of torque over what a DB4 had to offer.
With an emphasis on luxury and comfort, the DB5 was never going to be a light car (by the standards of the ’60s, at least) and a convertible tips the scales at over 3,300 pounds, about 500 more than a DB4 GT or a Ferrari 250 GT. The chassis, however, was the same as on the DB4, a pressed-steel platform.
All the power reached the back wheels via a four-speed David Brown manual with optional electric overdrive or a three-speed Borg-Warner automatic. A ZF five-speed was added and ultimately replaced the DB four-speed but the car you see here came with the overdrive four-speed as it’s an early model, the fifth DB5 Convertible ever. As a footnote, we use the word ’Convertible’ and not ’Volante’ because Aston Martin itself only started using it to refer to its open-top models after the introduction of the DB6.
The gearbox features a single dry-plate Laycock diaphragm-spring clutch in place of the Borg and Beck twin-plate unit equipping the DB4. The brakes are also different. Girling discs replaced the Dunlop ones and they are served by a pair of hydraulic circuits, one for the front axle and one for the back axle, with a separate vacuum-servo for each and a warning lamp to show low fluid level in the reservoir for either of the tandem master cylinders.
Period reviews, such as Autocar’s from 1964, have noted that shifter ’felt stiff in the left hand,’ and that ’some force is required when changing up in a hurry’ although all three upper ratios are easy to find and you can downshift easier through double de-clutching.
Suspension is by A-arms with coil springs and an anti-roll bar in the front and a live axle with a Watts link, trailing links, and coil springs in the back. As pointed out by Motor Sport Magazine in its detailed report of the 1963 Earls Court Show, most automakers present were still a while away from fitting their cars with independent suspension in the rear although some sports cars did carry it as well as more mundane cars like the Mini Cooper.
Despite its heft, the DB5 could accelerate from naught to 60 mph in just 8.1 seconds, surpassing 100 mph in under 20 seconds.
Aston Martin said that it would take just six seconds to bring a DB5 to a halt from 100 mph meaning you could theoretically go from naught to 100 mph and then back to naught in well under 30 seconds and Autocar managed to do just that on its first attempt with a DB5 Coupe. We expect the Convertible model to be slower.
Aston Martin also advised its customers to never go over 5,500 rpm. In top gear, at 5,500 rpm, you would be traveling at 138-140 mph, Autocar’s reporters reaching 143 mph in the red at 5,800 rpm on the test track. Handling-wise, the car is reassuringly stable, even at speed, with oversteer coming in gradually as you go faster and faster through a bend, replacing understeer. Autocar reported that ’we were then able to slide the bends more smoothly with opposite lock, with no qualms whatsoever, and well within the width of the road.’
The magazine’s reporters also talked about the Armstrong Selectaride, a feature that this car comes with. The selector allows you to choose between four levels of damping but only works with the back axle. ’On the "soft" setting there was bottoming at quite slow speeds over a pave test track,’ whereas ’with the "hard" setting, suspension movements were harsher, but the bump-stops were felt less often.’ On the road, an in-between setting was preferred, namely level 2, one up from ’soft’ which is the softest setting of the lot.
|Engine||4.0-liter, DOHC, inline-six-cylinder|
|Output||282 horsepower at 5,500 rpm|
|Torque||280 pound-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm|
|Bore x stroke||3.78 x 3.62 inches|
|Performance 0-60 mph||8.1 seconds|
|0-100 mph||>20 seconds|
|0-100-0 mph||>30 seconds|
|Top speed||140 mph|
|Transmission||four-speed DB manual with electric overdrive (on this car)|
|Suspension||A-arms with coil springs, and an anti-roll bar in the front and a live rear axle with a Watts link, trailing links, and coil springs with adaptive dampers in the rear|
|Brakes||Girling discs all around|
1963 Aston Martin DB5 Convertible Prices
David Brown was never in the business of selling cheap cars. While Jaguar strived to make a cheap and fast car, Brown’s intention was merely to create a luxurious grand tourer, price not being of primary interest.
As a result of that, you had to pay £4,248 for a DB5 GT (including tax) or $4,500 for a DB5 Convertible. In today's money, that's about $108,500.
To put it into perspective, the MSRP of a 2020 Aston Martin Vantage, the cheapest Aston out there, is $149,999 sans tax while the upcoming DBX will cost in excess of $190,000.
While this comparison may give you the impression that the DB5 was, in fact, a rather cheap car, remember that an E-Type was 10 mph faster, lighter, and cost almost half as much. In fact, you could probably buy a semi-detached house in England for less than the sticker price of a DB5 Convertible.
Having said that, you can buy a rather big house for the price of a DB5 Convertible in 2020. The car you see here sold for $1.3 million during the RM/Sotheby’s Monterey sale back in August of 2019 and this wasn’t even the most expensive DB5 Convertible to ever cross the block at a public auction. Back in February of 2015, Bonhams sold a black 1965 example for $2 million. Given that little over 100 were ever built, it’s hard to fathom that prices will ever drop below $1 million so you have to be loaded to afford one of these.
1963 Aston Martin DB5 Convertible Competition
By now you may wonder how on Earth did Jaguar turn down Eon Productions’ offer of having its crown jewel appear in a James Bond film. The car was already famous and the likes of Tony Curtis, Brigitte Bardot, Frank Sinatra or George Harrison all owned E-Types. But it never happened and, in hindsight, the E-Type never needed that extra publicity. Sure, it would’ve helped Lyons’ business a whole lot at the time but we argue the E-Type is probably just as famous as the DB5 nowadays.
You all know how it was born, spawned by Jaguar’s success at the races with the revolutionary D-Type, and how it got uglier and uglier as the years went on. But we won’t pit the V-12-engined E-Type against the DB5, it wouldn’t be fair. Instead, we’re just going to talk a bit about the original, the Series 1 version that, up until 1965, was powered by a 3.8-liter inline-six. The engine cranked out 265 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 240 pound-feet of torque.
With a dry weight of 2,770 pounds (lighter than the 2,990-pound fixed-head coupe), the E-Type Convertible could sprint to 60 mph from a standstill in about 6.5 seconds in Jaguar’s hands although independent reporters averaged well above 7 seconds for the feat even with the upgraded 4.2-liter mill that developed 282 pound-feet of torque at the crank. Still, with an advertised top speed of 150 mph and a 15-second quarter-mile time in independent hands, the E-Type was a properly fast car in the early ’60s.
And, unlike the DB5, it was revolutionary too. Being part of the D-Type’s lineage, it shared its semi-monocoque construction with the engine placed between the tubes of a sub-frame. The engine came from the XK-150S and the cabin, while rather cramped due to the low roofline, was rather well-appointed for the times and, more importantly, for the sticker price. Penned by Malcolm Sayer with some key improvements by Sir William Lyons himself, the E-Type even looked like a D-Type successor but it wasn’t a race car, at least not at first. ’The E-Type was the fruit of the racing years, not a race car itself,’ is how Frank ’Lofty’ England, Jaguar’s works racing team boss and service manager, put it.
This is evidenced by the car’s well-mannered behavior on the road and the fact that it could average 20 mpg if driven well within itself, a feat certain larger sedans of the time would struggle to match and compact, cheap family cars struggle to surpass by a satisfactory margin (a 1.5-liter sedan would average 25 mpg in 1963). But nobody talked about fuel economy when the car hit the floor at Geneva. It was all about the style of the car. It looked so incredible that the E-Type, along with the Mark IX sedan, generated $30,600,000 in customer orders taken right at the show.
Nowadays, you can pick a few S1 E-Types for the price of one DB5 and this seems both unfair and, at the same time, an utter bliss for the enthusiast. Not that the E-Type is flawless - it’s still a British car made almost 60 years ago - but you’d be hard-pressed to make a point against the XK-E, as it was known in the States, given the price difference. Even in convertible form with the top up, the original E-Type looks stunning, it truly is a ’low-drag fairing around the mechanical parts...’
Read our full review on the 1961 Jaguar E-Type Convertible
1961 Maserati 3500 GTi Spider
The ’60s seems to be a bottomless well of gorgeous cars. Sure, the 3500 GT isn’t beautiful in the way the E-Type is, the two are entirely different from a design perspective, but it’s still just about as elegant as a two-door sports car will ever be and, if anything, it looks even more classy than the DB5 because of its slightly less round shapes. If the E-Type is all about curved surfaces, the 3500 GT channels the late ’50s as well as it can in its Touring/Vignale body.
The 3500 GT was introduced in 1957 and became the first Maserati to be produced in big numbers, 2,226 units being sold before production was halted in 1964. The fixed-head coupe was built using the patented Superleggera building method, just like the DB5, and styling was by Touring. The open-top version, however, differed from the coupe and was the work of Giovanni Michelotti during his tenure at Carrozzeria Vignale.
Touring built a convertible too, shown at the 1958 Turin Auto Show, one year after the introduction of the coupe-bodied version at the Geneva Auto Show, but the factory chose Vignale’s proposal which was first exhibited at the 1959 Paris Auto Show. Unlike the coupe, the Vignale convertible wasn’t built using the Superleggera technique. Instead, it featured a steel body sitting atop the tube platform chassis with aluminum hood, trunk lid, and optional hard top. The wheelbase was shortened by almost four inches and the whole thing tipped the scales at 3,042 pounds.
Maserati fitted the 3500 GT with many components sourced from abroad such as Girling disc brakes (only available in the front at first, standard in the back too from ’62 onwards), a Salisbury rear axle, and Alford & Adler suspension. The fuel injection system, introduced as an option alongside the Weber carbs, became available courtesy of Lucas in 1961. In fuel-injected trim, the engine put out 232 horsepower which made the 3500 GTi slower than the DB5 but it was also cheaper to buy which remains true to this day.
The Aston Martin DB5 stands on its own two feet (or, may we say, four wheels?) as an automotive legend.
It’s doubtless that its status wouldn’t have been the same had it not been for Eon Productions choosing it to star alongside Sean Connery in Goldfinger (and many other Bond movies thereafter). But we’re glad it happened because, otherwise, we might’ve lost Aston Martin through the doldrums of history.
The topless version is, in our view, just as beautiful as the coupe and can be considered one of the prettiest cars to come out of the ’60s despite it looking quite like the DB4 GT that came before it and the DB6 that it was replaced by. Then again, this only proves how good those lines look and, unarguably, they irreversibly influenced Aston Martin design to this day. We think the company needs another DB5-sized hit if it is to survive given the strife it’s gone through in 2019...
Aston Martin DB5 History
It was in October of 1963 at London's Earls Court Exhibition Center, home since 1937 of the British International Auto Show, that Aston Martin unveiled its new 2+2 grand touring sports car, the DB5.
The 48th edition of the show proved to be an immense success with over 550,000 people flocking to see dozens upon dozens of new models.
All of Britain’s biggest brands were present including Rover, Vauxhall, BMC, and the Rootes Group and foreign brands also took hold of a sizeable chunk of the exhibition center’s floor with the likes of Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Alfa Romeo, and BMW all introducing their new models to the British public. Mercedes brought the 230 SL while Alfa Romeo parked the achingly beautiful Giulia Sprint GT at its stand. Porsche was touring its soon-to-be-legendary 911 (still referred to as the 901 at the show) but none of these were considered to be the star of the show.
The DB5, for instance, was soon overlooked by the people who flooded Earls Court due to its stark resemblance to the DB4 it was meant to replace. Many magazines bestowed the Rover 2000 with the coveted Best In Show title as its intricate suspension offered as smooth a ride, if not smoother, as Citroen’s hydro-pneumatic setup on the DS and, in Rover’s aid, British buyers didn’t have to pay the pesky import tax when buying a home-brewed automobile.
So how come a grand tourer that was, upon introduction, beaten to the unofficial ’Star of the Show’ accolade by what is now a largely forgotten sedan became a global phenomenon? You might as well blame Jaguar for it. You see, when Jaguar unveiled the E-Type on 15 March 1961 in Geneva, the press erupted with praise and interest was so big in the new Jag that Sir William Lyons dispatched test driver Norman Dewis back to the U.K. to bring another E-Type for everyone to drool on.
In short, no other car had caused such a stir ever before and its performance coupled with its insanely low price - just $5,620 when new considering that a DB5 cost $11,520 - sent shockwaves the world over. Enzo Ferrari regarded it as ’the most beautiful car in the world’ and everybody wanted to be seen behind the wheel of one, Bond included (AstonMartins.com also cites as a cause for the Convertible’s scarcity the fact that it caused a ’disruption in production’). As such, when the third installment of what would become the James Bond franchise was in the works, Eon Productions first reached out to Jaguar to supply a pair of E-Types for the movie.
Ken Adam, Goldfinger’s Production Designer, had driven an E-Type and he persuaded producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman that Sean Connery should work the wheel of an E-Type in Goldfinger, quite a departure from the 1935 Bentley Mark IV seen in the previous motion picture adaptation of an Ian Fleming novel, ’From Russia With Love’. But Jaguar turned Eon Productions down. Firmly. Not deterred by Jaguar’s dismissal, Adam brought VFX guru John Stears with him to probe the interest of Aston Martin who’d just released the DB5 at the time.
At first, David Brown had none of it, probably thinking that a trailblazing secret agent fighting crime and seducing women on the big screen wouldn't be an appropriate sales agent for his sports cars.
As history would come to show, he couldn’t have been further from the truth. Adam and Stears arrived at Newport Pagnell hoping Aston would be happy to cooperate and would lend them two DB5s. Instead, the best they could muster was coax Brown into selling Eon Productions two DB5s, one of which was the prototype used for testing purposes by the factory, chassis #DP/2161/1.
It was this car, nicknamed ’The Road Car,’ that was used in all of the driving scenes in both Goldfinger and Thunderbolt. The other DB5, chassis #DB5/1486/R, was confined to the role of the ’Gadget Car,’ meaning it was the one that appeared in detail and close-up shots and the one in which Connery sat in the most. It was also the one that was at the receiving end of all of the crazy mods concocted by Stears including the fabled ejector seat that made Bond chuckle in Goldfinger, to the disdain of Desmond Llewely’s Q.
All of the modifications were painstaking to make and apply to the car, a fact evidenced by the cost of the two subsequent press cars built for Eon Productions in the wake of Thunderbolt’s release to promote the two latest movies in the series. If a standard fixed-head coupe cost under $12,000, the two press cars ended up shaving $124,000 off Eon Productions’ account back in 1965 or little over $1 million in today’s money.
But it didn't matter. James Bond had become a global phenomenon and the DB5 was touted as being 'The Most Famous Car In The World'.
We doubt it’s more famous than a 911 but what’s certain is that the Silver Birch DB5 transformed Aston Martin into a household name and helped Newport Pagnell sell some 1,000 DB5s in just two years. By comparison, the company had sold 1,200 DB4s in five years.
But this is not it. This isn’t a silver (some say the correct name of the color is Snow Shadow Grey, but we digress) DB5 Coupe, this is a Caribbean Pearl convertible and that’s why it’s special. While DB5s sold like hotcakes after Goldfinger was released, the craze only focused around the fixed-head version as everyone wanted to emulate Agent 007. In the end, just 123 convertibles left Newport Pagnell and just 85 of those were RHD - all of them unarguably as gorgeous as just about anything on four wheels that’s come out of the ’60s.
Source: RM Sotheby’s