Aston Martin Zagato On track in 2 VEV, most celebrated of all the heyday Aston Martins… This DB4 GT Zagato is the most celebrated of all heyday Aston Martins. Now it could become the most valuable British car ever sold at auction in Europe. Words John Simister. Photography Paul Harmer and Xisco Fuster.
PERFECTION HAS A PRICE Aston’s Greatest! Exclusive On track in heroic DB4 GT Zagato 2 VEV, plus Doug Nye reveals its amazing history.
Speculation says £15 million. Bonhams’ more guarded auction estimate is ‘in excess of £10m’. It is impossible for these figures not to colour what I’m doing, even if I’m trying to rein the chromatic onslaught back to a mere tint. Instead, the scene takes on an aura of unreality.
I’m feeling a strong sense of externalisation, of detachment. Am I really here? Are those my hands and feet? Is this actually me, driving at Goodwood in 2 VEV, likely to be the most valuable British car ever to be sold at a European auction? Well, I’d better stop watching the mental video, because I’m in it and I need to direct it.
Lurking deep within the pores of its steering could well be small DNA sequences from Jim Clark, 2 VEV’s most famous driver. It seems almost sacrilegious to add some from my own hands, but there we are. We’ve carried out the action photography, and now the track is clear. It’s just me and 2 VEV.
‘I’ll be quick, I promise,’ I tell the Bonhams people, mindful of their need for more promotional filming in the afternoon, ‘but don’t worry, not too quick.’ After the first of those unhindered laps, I think, should I come in? Have I done enough now for the job in hand? Are further laps worth the risk? What if something breaks? But then, when will I have another chance like this? So I set out again. And it’s such a friendly, eager machine at my (relatively – this was a race car, after all) gentle pace. Yet it seems that it was less benign when pushed to its extremes, as even the supernaturally gifted Clark discovered.
2 VEV is the best-known Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato. It’s in famous photographs taken at the 1962 Goodwood TT, one showing Clark drifting at a remarkable angle while in fourth place, another of it stuffed into the bank at Madgwick, the long, fast bend after the pit straight with a bump between the two apexes, John Surtees’ leading-up-to-that-point Ferrari 250 GTO buried in the Aston’s right flank. Both cars were mended, of course, which isn’t quite what happened to 2 VEV after those numberplates were scuffed the first time.
Doug Nye’s accompanying story sets out 2 VEV’s complex history, from its manufacture in 1961 and delivery to John Ogier’s Essex Racing Stable, which registered it on 19 May 1961 with sister Zagato 1 VEV, to the present day. Suffice it to say at this point that the car you see here today, as crashed by Clark, crashed again in the 1990s and then restored by the factory to lightly patinated perfection, isn’t quite the car that first arrived in Essex.
That 2 VEV won its race at the British GP meeting at Aintree in the hands of Australian Lex Davison, snatching the lead from Jack Sears’ Coombs E-type on the last lap. It was raced by Clark to fourth place in the 1961 TT, trailing third-place Roy Salvadori in 1 VEV, and was then lent to Equipe National Belge for Lucien Bianchi for a race at Spa in 1962. He crashed out of the lead and 2 VEV was totalled, fortunately without much damage to Bianchi.
Around this time, Aston Martin was preparing to build three of what we might nowadays call ‘evo’ Zagatos, the Project MP209 lightweight cars with a lower nose and broader rear wings that lacked the thick swages on the wheelarch lips. Two were duly given chassis numbers 0191 and 0193, but 0192 remained unused because the car that was presumably intended for that number instead found itself stamped with the 0183 number of 2 VEV. Thus was new-car purchase tax avoided; instead it was, in effect, just a very comprehensive repair, one in which only the battery, now long gone, was re-used in 2 VEV’s reincarnation as an MP209.
The records say that 19 Zagato-bodied DB4 GTs were built in-period (there have been Sanction II and Sanction III cars in later years), although one of them – 2 VEV – has been built twice. So that makes 20, really, the first of them shown at London’s Earls Court motor show in October 1960. There it was a sensation, glassier and more windcheating than the already rather beautiful DB4 GT as revealed a year earlier, and demonstrating well the talent of 23-year-old Ercole Spada, Zagato’s new designer, whose first design this was. It reportedly took him just a week to create. What a way to start what turned out to be an extraordinary career.
In those days, the distinction between ultimate roadgoing GTs and effective sports-racing cars was blurred at best. The fastest and lightest models were practically race-ready, as both silhouettes of DB4 GT demonstrated, and they were pitched into racetrack battle almost immediately. Stirling Moss was first to race a DB4 Zagato, finishing third in the motor show car (chassis 0200, oddly and non-sequentially) at the Easter Goodwood meeting in 1961.
The Zagato, almost 100kg lighter than the ‘regular’ GT thanks to its stripped-down nature, Perspex side and rear windows and extra use of aluminium instead of steel, was to prove a competitive racing car. The yet-lighter MP209 evolution was less stiff and underdeveloped at the time. This meant that the suspension’s location points tended to move relative to each other under certain structural loads, making the handling suddenly unpredictable.
It is said to have been largely sorted over the years, but that’s why Clark spun in front of Surtees in 1962. He stayed to the right as he emerged from a pitstop to take on fuel that, as well as ensuring continued racing, added weight over the rear wheels to improve the balance. But not enough, it seems.
Madgwick’s inter-apex bump, gentle today, was bigger back then and worse on the inside of the bend, the part occupied by Clark. The bump pitched 2 VEV into a spin, directly in Surtees’ path, and you know the rest. If by some miracle you don’t, then Nye’s article that follows this one has all the details.
Received Wisdom says this Aston is a beautiful car. Is it? From the front three-quarter, undoubtedly. It’s the most minimalist way imaginable of expressing an Aston identity, pared back to only the grille opening, with its latticework halfway between an early DB4’s mesh and the later grid, and to low, smooth front wings with faired-in headlights and no unnecessary voluptuousness. Nor is there an air-scoop on the bonnet; instead, two smooth bulges to clear the camshaft covers. A bumper is also absent, three air intakes occupying the space.
The shapes are similarly smooth at the back, the roof tapering and sloping down into a bulge in the bootlid reminiscent of a regular DB4’s, but smoother in the way it melds into the rear wings. Whereas a standard DB4 is a deftly judged assemblage of separate forms – fins, fastback, air-scoop, front wings – the Zagato is one fluid entity, albeit with no sign of the design house’s signature, the double-bubble roof.
I find just two elements slightly troubling, which is as it should be because no Zagato has ever been intended to make everyone feel completely comfortable. One is that the lowest edge of the tail is surprisingly high off the ground. The other is the rear side windows, which to my eyes are oddly unresolved and with a vertical rear edge that runs close to the top of the rear window. Maybe that’s what makes it a Zagato design, a car deliberately slightly discordant so your eye is drawn to it in dismay.
I pull a tiny handle and open the driver’s door, featherweight in its construction from aluminium barely thicker than tinfoil. The rest of the car is panelled in the same minimal metal; the family that has looked after it for decades has fought a constant battle against dents caused by the slightest pressure.
It had some rather bigger dents in 1993 after a large accident, but Aston Martin Works Service straightened it all out and brought the whole car back to the pristine 1962 MP209 specification it is in today. That means no lips on the rear wheelarches, small flares having appeared during the 1980s. All that then stood between 2 VEV and total authenticity was the wheel size, and just before our drive that, too, was remedied. Instead of the 15in wires it has worn for years, 2 VEV is back on the correct 16in Borranis, which are shod with Dunlop L-section racing tyres.
Now, that MP209 part. There’s rather more to it than just a lower nose and wider haunches. The parts you can’t see have also evolved some way from the DB4 GT starting point, to the extent that there’s no longer a steel platform chassis. It’s now a box-section frame with holes for lightness, the gaps between the chassis members spanned by sheet aluminium, while slender tubular-steel crossbraces add strength to the upper body structure along with the usual steel tubes that define the body’s svelte shape under the panelwork.
The front suspension’s upper wishbones, beautifully polished, pivot not within the chassis turrets but on the side of them, the pivots being adjustable to set the geometry. The rear dampers are telescopics instead of lever-arms, and a stout jacking point is added to the rear crossmember of the chassis because there’s nowhere else strong enough at the back to cope with a jack’s upward thrust. By the time of this MP209 specification, plus the DP212, DP214 and DP215 Project cars that evolved from it, to call 2 VEV a DB4 GT of any sort really was a stretch of the imagination.
Back to that featherweight door with its sliding Perspex windows framed by a token channel of aluminium support, gateway to the human/2 VEV interface. It snicks shut with delicate precision and I’m inserted into a low-backed, button-upholstered seat next to a hefty transmission tunnel covered in black quilting. There are no seatbelts.
Directly in front is a wood-rimmed, three-spoke steering wheel, its ample diameter and thin rim in keeping with the era and promising intimate feedback, its central badge that of the David Brown parent company rather than Aston Martin. Beyond is a dashboard with an instrument panel of the usual DB4 curve-upon-a-curve shape, like a pictogram of a cumulus cloud, but here it’s all part of a single dashboard fabrication of crackle-black finish and obvious lightness rather than a separate binnacle.
There are plenty of dials, the oil pressure gauge showing an Aston’s usual fit-to-burst calibration to 160psi, the revcounter redlined at an encouraging 6000rpm. And now I twist the key and start the engine, which catches instantly with a chattering bellow from both its twin exhausts and the six mouths of its trio of Weber 45 DCO carburettors.
I’m about to drive the most valuable car with which I have ever been trusted. Shame about the crunch into first gear, then; I’d assumed it was the DB4’s usual David Brown gearbox with a synchronised first, though both the broader gate and that brief tooth-clash suggest not. But it’s still a four-speeder, with long-striding ratios as befits a car created for fast tracks.
So torquey is this 3.7-litre Tadek Marek motor with its aluminium block and head, its 12 sparkplugs fed by two distributors and a rise in claimed power from the normal GT’s 302bhp to 314 thanks to a higher compression ratio (9.7:1 instead of 9:1), that 2 VEV moves out of the pitlane with no snatch, no power-void in the rev-range’s lower reaches. The only trace of temperament is a temporary dyspepsia brought on by a slight flooding of the front carburettor.
Better to keep the revs up and the throats clear, then, while we do those first photographs. And now it’s just this impossibly valuable car and me, out on this hallowed Sussex tarmac. Keep the throttles open and it pulls cleanly, if impressively thirstily judging by the descent of the fuel gauge’s needle. It doesn’t seem to come ‘oncam’ as such; it simply pulls even more strongly as the revs rise and I have to remember my pledge not to go beyond the speed at which the Bonhams insurance runs out. And that’s hard. Very hard indeed.
It’s hard because 2 VEV’s long legs, monstrous torque, instant-blip revvability and apparent absence of mass are all goading me towards the 152.3mph recorded in 1962 in Autocar’s road test, or probably more given the added MP209 slipperiness. But I mustn’t, and I don’t.
I can, however, go fast enough to feel how 2 VEV handles the curves, maybe even get a distant sense of what caused Clark’s spin. Certainly I can feel a natural tail-out attitude developing as I power through St Mary’s, but that’s typical of any powerful 1960s sports-racer on racing crossplies. It’s what they do.
And I can feel that 2 VEV might not be that rigid in the way the steering responds quickly but with a springy feel that suggests the structure is flexing and then catching up. I can certainly see how this Zagato might be a bit of a handful at racing velocities, but its results suggest that those who have raced 2 VEV adapted easily enough to its foibles. Even so there must have been a frisson of uncertainty to add to the buzz of the race.
For my part, driving 2 VEV is frisson from start to finish, probably heightening my senses in the process. Blipping down to second and breezing through the Chicane, feeling the slightest but historically significant wobble over Madgwick’s reduced bump, gunning out of Lavant onto the curve-then-straight beyond; all this is still racing through my head. I have driven 2 VEV, I have revved that mighty engine, I have seen Goodwood flashing past that curvaceous nose.
Will it ever take to the track in anger again? I do hope so.
THANKS TO Bonhams, which will offer 2 VEV for auction on 13 July at the Goodwood Festival of Speed Sale, www.bonhams.co.uk.
Tech and photos
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1961 Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato MP209
Engine 3670cc straight-six, DOHC, three Weber 45 DCO carburettors
Max Power 314bhp @ 6000rpm / SAE gross
Max Torque 278lb ft @ 5400rpm / SAE gross
Transmission Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Steering Rack and pinion
Suspension Front: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: live axle, trailing links, transverse Watt’s linkage, coil springs, telescopic dampers.
Top speed 150+mph
‘It’s such a friendly machine at gentle pace. Seems it was less benign when pushed to extremes’
‘2 VEV’s monstrous torque and absence of mass are goading me towards the 152.3mph recorded in 1962 by Autocar’
‘Now, that MP209 part. There’s more to it than a lower nose and wider haunches: the parts you can’t see have evolved, too’
Right and below John Simister enjoys a privileged sortie in 2 VEV at Goodwood Circuit; luggage can (and will have to) go behind the seats – the boot is filled with the (necessarily large) fuel tank and wheel-changing equipment. Above and right To see 2 VEV on Goodwood’s “start / finish” straight is to imagine the wail of that twin-cam, twin-plug 3.7-litre straight-six.
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A LIFE LESS ORDINARY 2 VEV’S HISTORY / DOUG NYE ON 2 VEV …and the full history behind it
The 2 VEV identity has actually graced two cars and both played an important role in Aston history. Doug Nye explains how a legend was born – twice.
Anyone who actually attended the 1961 and 1962 RAC Tourist Trophy races at Goodwood will probably remember them for two things. The first is that the 1961 race saw Stirling Moss score his seventh and last TT win, in the Rob Walker-liveried Ferrari 250 GT Short Wheelbase Berlinetta, while in 1962 it was a new-generation Ferrari 250 GTO that won outright – that time in UDT Laystall’s ‘British Grazing Green’ livery, and driven by Innes Ireland.
The second is that in both years British hopes of defending the flag against those darned Italian Ferraris were represented by the privately entered but quasi-works Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato Coupés belonging to Essex poultry entrepreneur John Ogier, and run under his Essex Racing Stable banner.
His twin-sister cars of 1961 were road registered 1 VEV and 2 VEV. They were works-tuned to ‘lightweight’ specification and their drivers were the urbane, hugely experienced TT-winning veteran Roy Salvadori and new kid on the block, Scottish sheep farmer Jim Clark, just then making his name as a fast-rising F1 star in Team Lotus. Their Aston Martin Zagatos – the twin ‘VEVs’ – proved by far the most spectacular cars on the Goodwood course. Their 3.7-litre straight-six engines sounded terrific, a baritone bray as counterpoint to the 3.0-litre Ferrari V12s’ descant, and the cars’ cornering attitudes – particularly in Jim Clark’s case – bordered on the extreme… in every corner.
In 1962, the Goodwood TT game was the same, underdog Astons waving the Union Flag in face of an immensely strong invasion fleet of Ferraris, but Graham Warner was this time teamed with Jimmy Clark (who by then had proven himself a Grand Prix winner and Championship contender), and, although Jimmy was driving a car registered 2 VEV, it was a different car from 1961’s 2 VEV.
The first two factory-prepared DB4 GT Zagatos had first been fielded by the Essex Racing Stable in the world’s most prestigious endurance race, the ’1961 Le Mans 24 Hours. 1 VEV was co-driven by Jack Fairman and Bernard Consten, and 2 VEV by Australian stars Lex Davison and Bib Stilwell. Both cars fell foul of a preparation error by the Aston Martin factory, however, and they both overheated into retirement after the cylinder head bolts were inadequately torqued-down. Ogier – having just paid £8762 for the two Zagatos (a 20% discount) – was apoplectic.
He was a wartime tank unit commander, a Military Cross winner, no less, and he was no man to be trifled with. Such an egregious error would not be repeated, and, in the 17- lap GT event supporting that year’s British Grand Prix at Aintree, Lex Davison promptly won in 2 VEV, fighting a dramatic race-long duel with Jack Sears’ Jaguar E-type. He beat Gentleman Jack on the final lap as the wet track dried out and ‘Davo’ made best use of the last millimetre of tread on the Zagato’s hard-pressed Dunlop tyres.
For that year’s RAC TT race at Goodwood, Ogier’s team ran both Zagatos plus his older factory-bodied DB4 GT, for Salvadori, Jim Clark and Team Lotus no1 Innes Ireland.
The two Zagatos were cast absolutely as the muscle-bound Anglo-Italian underdogs, defending the British industry’s honour against a horde of 3.0-litre V12 Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinettas, headed by those of Moss and Michael Parkes. Critically, the powerful, very fast Zagatos demanded four tyre changes for the three-hour race, against the Ferraris’ three. While Moss won for Ferrari from Parkes, the Aston fleet followed the V12s home third, fourth and fifth, Salvadori and Clark in the Zagatos and Ireland in the GT.
Innes Ireland then finished third with 2 VEV in the late-season Molyslip Trophy race at Snetterton, after delays caused by a minor collision in the opening laps.
In Spring 1962 the Aston Martin factory asked Ogier to loan 2 VEV to the Equipe National Belge for Lucien Bianchi to drive in the 15-lap, 211km Spa Grand Prix on the high-speed Spa-Francorchamps road circuit. Bianchi put it second on the grid and was leading the race ahead of all the rival Ferraris when he crashed heavily at Les Combes corner, rolling the car onto its roof. The car was fully insured and, although it was privately judged a write-off by the Feltham factory, it was actually replaced in its entirety by the brand-new MP209- specification ‘Super Lightweight’ with subtly restyled Zagato bodywork – which is the 2 VEV now being offered by Bonhams.
The initials ‘MP’ in MP209 stand for ‘Master Project’ and, while 19 Zagatos are listed as having been built overall, only three of them – a very, very special trio – were completed to this specification. The new variants’ revised body shape offered greater aerodynamic downforce thanks to its longer nose combined with reduced aerodynamic lift at the rear of the cabin roof and the tail.
More dramatically, beneath this very thin 20-gauge alloy skin, the chassis was completely revised, now being a lightweight box-section ladder frame with riveted-on aluminium floor panels adding rigidity. The car’s suspension featured highly polished front wishbones, while the engine was slightly enlarged to 3.8 litres. Further weight was saved by use of magnesium-alloy castings for both the engine cylinder block and the gearbox casing. Overall, while the original DB4GT Zagato had weighed 2580lb (1171kg) – saving 218lb over a standard production DB4 GT – 2 VEV in its new MP209 form weighed just 2291lb (1040kg), a further 289lb saving and an incredible 507lb less than a production car. In effect the three MP209 Zagatos, including 2 VEV as she survives today, were Project 214 prototypes presaging the works team’s return to in-house racing come 1963.
The immediate result back in 1962 was that John Ogier’s 2 VEV in its new-generation form combined the extreme straight-line speed and power that had challenged the Ferrari 250 GT SWB cars so closely in 1961 with under-developed handling that made road-racing the car at pinnacle level a job for Real Men.
Step forward South African Cooper works F1 driver Tony Maggs. He drove the car for Ogier in the World Championship-qualifying 300km Trophées d’Auvergne race at Clermont-Ferrand on 15 July 1962, finishing seventh despite a cracked cylinder block that caused a severe water leak, behind five Ferraris and Ogier’s ‘subsidiary’ entry, Alan Rees’ Lotus 23, which came second. Genius driver Jim Clark then rose to the challenge of driving 2 VEV in a second consecutive RAC Tourist Trophy back at Goodwood on 18 August 1962, and his spectacular progress around the Sussex circuit in this magnificent British Berlinetta remains the much-photographed stuff of legend to this day.
‘Clark staged a wonderful recovery, soaring to second before handing over to John Whitmore’
Jimmy was very quick on his feet and was actually first away from the TT’s Le Mans-type run-and-jump start. As the race developed, John Surtees led for Ferrari with Clark haring round sixth in the tyre-hungry 2 VEV. But, after 60 laps, fresh from a tyre-change pit stop, Jimmy then glimpsed in his mirrors Surtees’ plum-maroon 250 GTO about to lap him at Madgwick Corner, so he held 2 VEV on the tight line to give his Formula 1 rival space to pass on the left. However, Madgwick’s notorious hump unsettled the Aston Martin, for once Jimmy’s reflex correction failed, and 2 VEV spun across Surtees’ path, taking both cars into the outside safety bank. The two dented cars lay there for 30 laps until Robin Benson lost control of Chris Kerrison’s ex-Moss 1961 TT winning Ferrari 250 GT SWB and crashed into them both, inflicting further damage. The car was speedily repaired, and on 21 October was entered for the Paris 1000km classic at Montlhéry. Jim Clark and Sir John Whitmore co-drove it, Jimmy’s practice time third fastest overall and fully five seconds faster than the original 2 VEV’s best there the previous year. Jimmy ran fifth among the leading group until a grabbing front brake caused him to spin, losing six places. He staged a magnificent recovery, soaring back into second place before handing over to his friend – and sometime flatmate – Whitmore after 37 laps. But he reported that the engine was ‘tightening up’ and, after two brief laps, Sir John retired due to a holed piston.
John Ogier disbanded his team thereafter and for 1963 Aston Martin revived its in-house works operation with the fully developed Project 214 and 215 coupés, much having been learned from the farmer’s lightweight racing Zagatos of 1961-1962.
This great car would be sold by John Ogier in 1964, its new owner then entering it for another Paris 1000km race at Montlhéry in which it was co-driven by Andrew Hedges and John Turner, until it lost third gear. After only three further private ownerships it was acquired in 1971 by Roger St John Hart, and it proved immensely successful as a Historic racer and sprint/hillclimb car driven by Nick Cussons and Roger St John Hart from 1969 to ’1985, and again by Cussons during 1991-1993.
2 VEV’s career was then punctuated by a nasty road accident on the Isle of Man, but it was painstakingly restored and prepared to concours condition by Aston Martin over two years. It has since been preserved within that one family’s ownership, bringing their long tenure of 2 VEV – ex-Jim Clark, ex-underdog defender of the British Grand Touring car realm – to no fewer than 47 years. Think of the Battle of Britain Spitfire – and that’s just about the proper status for this Aston Martin Project car dressed-up in an earlier suit of clothes.
‘Madgwick’s hump unsettled the Aston, and for once Jim Clark’s reflex correction failed’
Main image Jim Clark’s performance in 2 VEV in the RAC Tourist Trophy at Goodwood on 18 August 1962 is the stuff of legend. JARROTTS.COM Below A superb scene from the 1962 1000km at Montlhéry in the Paris suburbs. Sir John Whitmore is to the fore, while Jimmy Clark chats to team boss John Ogier at the rear. BRIAN JOSCELYNE
Above and right Sister cars 1 VEV and 2 VEV cause a stir in the paddock at Le Mans in 1961; tyre change in the 1961 TT at Goodwood – the Zagatos used four sets during the race. BRIAN JOSCELYNE / GPL Above The most heartbreaking pile-up in history? The scene at Goodwood after Benson’s Short Wheelbase piled into 2 VEV and Surtees’ GTO. GPL