Today, as in the ’60s, GT Man has to grow up sometime. Happily, says Martin Buckley, he can retain his hedonistic – lifestyle via these 2+2s from Aston, Ferrari and Maserati. Photography Tony Baker.
GT FUN FOR THE FAM
Buckley samples Aston, Maserati and Ferrari four-seaters
When GT-Man became family-Guy
According to my 1966 Autocar Buyer’s Guide, only 30 new cars in the UK that year commanded in excess of £3000. Thus, owning an Aston Martin DB6, Ferrari 330GT or Maserati Sebring put you in an elite group prepared to pay up to double that for a means of transport when £400 bought a new Fiat 500. But then they were not mere means of transport — glamour, luxury; bullish straight-line urge and thoroughbred manners made them the most exciting possible way of transporting four people. In the exclusive world of 150mph, 300bhp 2+2 GTs, this trio represented more handcrafted status and finely honed mystique than anything on the road. These were no glossy Euro-American interlopers of uncertain lineage, Aston Martin, Maserati and Ferrari still conjured imagery of oil-stained aces and the romance of racing where the power and stamina of their straight-six and V12 engines had been proven. Such muscular yet ruggedly conventional engineering filtered directly down to the GTs customers could drive.
Tight-fitting roofline hints at less spacious interior – Sebring has least room in the back. Clockwise, from left: Quattroporte-style rear end; hints of 5000GT in frontal treatment; Lucas fuel injection swapped for Weber carbs on this car; subtly stylish cabin.
“I DROVE IT BACK FROM MODENA THROUGH THE ALPS LISTENING TO TONY CHRISTIE AND MATT MONRO”
These cars were among the first exotics to be produced in serious volume rather than sporadic batches. Ferrari built more than 1000 330GTs in four years, Aston Mann a surprising 1567 DB6s. At 438 examples between 1962 and 1968 the Sebring is rarer, but Maserati believed in variety and made nearly 1000 of the mechanically identical Mistral at around the same time.
In an age where supercars are as ubiquitous as overpaid footballers, it’s important to remember the jaw-dropping impact the 330, Sebring and DB6 would have made when encountered on the road 40 years ago. Only a few dozen people a year in Britain — the usual slew of pop stars and plutocrats — could afford to own such exotica. The requirements of those buyers, people who wanted to use their cars in the real world of city driving as well as on the big new highways of Europe, were changing the character of exotic cars. Luxuries such as power steering, air conditioning and electric windows were becoming the norm, adding weight almost as fast as engineers could boost power. You could say that these were among the first supercars that had been designed to satisfy a market rather than simply dictating it. An automatic Ferrari might still have been unthinkable in 1966, but both Maserati and Aston Martin were cheerfully churning out auto versions of the Sebring and DB6.
Clockwise, from left: V12 jewel; quad lamps pre-’1965; handling sweet; rear seats usable; driving position squeezed to accommodate them though; Tjaarda lines.
More importantly, the idea of providing four seats came of age in the mid-’60s as designers seemed more willing to manage the packaging compromises intelligently. The Maserati is a little too cosy in the back to qualify as a true four-seater, but slide on to the sculpted rear bench of the Ferrari 330GT or into a Aston-Martin DB6 and you could remain reasonably comfortable on a journey.
Our 330GT is a four-headlamp car, as originally conceived by Tom Tjaarda while at Pininfarina. Peter Bennett has owned it for two years after seeing it in Drive-My. He explains: “I always wanted a V12 front-engined Ferrari and the 330GT is good value, having more or less the same mechanical and chassis specifications as earlier and much more expensive models. Compared with previous cars I have owned, it is closest to a Gordon-Keeble and Aston-Martin DB4.”
For me it’s not the prettiest Ferrari, but with its wide grille and frowning countenance it has a powerful presence and, on balance, I prefer the four-headlamp look to the twin lights of the post-1965 cars. Inside, you do feel that the driving position has been compromised to accommodate the rear seats. It is offset to the awkwardly bunched floor-hinged pedals (later models had hung pedals) and it’s hard to strike a good balance between an excessively straight- armed position and not feeling like you are straining to depress the clutch, which demands that you push it its full length.
The front seats are slim and look suspiciously Lancia Flavia/Flaminia Coupé in origin, as does much of the Ferrari’s minor interior furniture. Looking along the bonnet, which descends between those aggressively angled quad lamps, you are continually peering over the bulky instrument binnacle, its dull wood sheen having the appearance of a mid-range coffin. But the steering wheel is big and handsome, as are the Veglia instruments. Above you, the deeply quilted headlining is classically 1960s Pininfarina.
Clockwise, from above: only 2in longer than DB5, but with decent rear seats; triple SUs were standard, Vantage had three Webers; handling neutral; interior’s military sense of purpose’.
Hot or cold the V12 catches right away on a starter motor that sounds like a bacon slicer. The 330 is a clumsy car in traffic when the ride seems quite choppy, the steering heavy with very little lock and requiring lots of twirling to negotiate suburban corners. Using 4-litres and 300 bhp to shift 3000 lb-plus no longer feels quite as miraculous as it did 45 years ago and the 330GT at first feels impressively urgeful rather than awesome. Stride out on to faster roads and it comes to life. Superb torque and well-chosen ratios give the Ferrari a sense of momentum that can still squirt you past a whole a line of day-trippers in a blur of flashing Borranis. The gear change is meatily positive, rewarding well-timed downshifts with a longish, but beautifully smooth action. Fourth and overdrive, which cancels automatically when you change down to third, are all the gears you need to get along very smartly. Five speeds came in after 1965, but the overdrive is quite impressive to use. In direct fourth, the 330 steams effortlessly with that polished turbine hum and easily sails into three figures as your right hand flicks the spring-loaded overdrive switch. Settling down into a relaxed cruise, with only wind hiss around the quarter lights to spoil the refinement, 100mph equals about 4000rpm and there is every indication that the 330 will keep accelerating with vigour to something like the advertised 150mph. It plots a completely straight and stable course as you accelerate towards the horizon on that irresistible electric surge.
It was only in later transaxle Ferraris that the rest of the car started to live up to the excellence of the engine, but that isn’t to say that the 330GT is a truck. Steering that seemed heavy and sluggish at lower speeds transforms when you delve into the performance, the understeer is swept away and you realise that the 330GT retains iron control of its body movements, which is just as well because the seats are slippery. Bumps in the road kick-back hard through the steering wheel and make the live rear axle get fidgety and thumpy, but generally the ride levels out nicely. The brakes, with their dual servos, have a solid pedal and good initial bite, but feel wooden when you explore the full extent of their travel.
In some respects the charisma of the Ferrari’s V12 does rather dominate the other two cars but there are compensations, particularly in the case of the Maserati. The Sebring is the prettiest of the three, a neat and simple Vignale-built steel body penned by Giovanni Michelotti. First seen in 1962 it was technically contemporary with the five-speed, disc-braked, Touring-bodied 3500GTi, but Lucas injection was standardised on the Sebring at the Geneva show in 1963. This post-’1965 S2 Sebring has a longer-stroke 3694cc version of the twin-cam straight-six (good for 245bhp at 5500rpm). It was visually tweaked to align itself with Frua’s Quattroporte saloon, using the same headlamp trims and indicator! lamp units flanking a slimmer grille. The tail was angular with Quattroporte-style tail-lamps.
The whole aura of this car leaves you with an impression of more meticulous build quality than the Ferrari, which has a few rough edges and exposed screw-heads on show. The cabin is a subtle blend of chrome, leather and crackle- black textures with macho instrumentation mixing with pretty ‘Guinness bottle’ toggles. The pedals are chunky and emerge at a disconcerting angle, but getting comfortable is no problem. The roofline is squat, the pillars are slender and the car feels pleasantly airy. The attractive straight-six engine — now converted to Webers — has 12 plugs. It starts easily and idles at 600rpm with a strangely gruff edge. It has neither the refinement nor the aggression of the Ferrari unit, but strikes a satisfying balance between lusty flexibility and free-spinning response despite a redline marked at a modest 5000rpm. It is very strong from 3500rpm and zipping along an A-road feels natural and effortless with a rich thrum from the tailpipes. The rebuilt ZF gearbox in this car is an absolute pleasure, the gears hitting home smoothly and quietly with a short lever that is spring-loaded in favour of third and fourth. In fifth, the Sebring is truly long-legged and confidently stable, with rather less wind noise than the Ferrari. The beautiful wood-rimmed wheel feels fragile when you start to heave on it, but it adjusts in and out on its central boss.
Like the Ferrari, the Maserati has hardly any lock for manoeuvring, but once on the move much of the weight disappears and, although fairly low-geared, it has a smooth action that suggests a refined mechanism and the gearing almost seems to get faster as you wind on lock. It is more isolating and forgiving of bumpy corners than its fellow Italian and its axle movements are better controlled, but it does plunge a little at the front. Andy Leery bought the Sebring as a 40th birthday present “from myself to myself” in 2001. “I drove it back from Modena through the Alps listening to Tony Christie and The Italian Job soundtrack,” he says. “I love it. It’s won the Maserati Club concours five times and I just take it to Bill McGrath every 18 months for a service.”
Where does this leave the Aston Martin? The aim of the alloy-bodied DB6, launched at Earls Court in 1965, was to give true rear seats in a car that is only 2in longer than a DB5. That was the appeal for John Cook, who has owned this car since 1984. “We had little kids at the time so the room in the back was good,” he says. “It’s done 47,000 miles and has always been a ‘toy’, though I do take it shopping occasionally and it had a full body rebuild at Works Service in 1992.”
The Aston’s familiarity means that it generates less excitement in this rarefied Italian company, but it is still handsome. That’s even if you don’t think 4in of extra wheelbase, a taller roofline and the Kim tail sit easily on what is a late-’50s design. Mechanically, too, the DB6 was the same mix as before, a 4-litre all-alloy twin- cam straight-six coming as standard with triple SUs and 282bhp or, at no extra cost, as a Vantage with triple Webers coaxing out 325bhp. Plus, of the three cars here the Aston has the most sophisticated means of locating its live rear axle, by trailing arms (reduced in length to get a wide rear seat) and a Watt linkage. It’s also the only one of the three to have power steering.
After the slinky driving positions of the Italian cars, you seem to sit on rather than in the Aston. It is a darker, more private place and the combination of glorious-smelling dark leather and smart chrome instrumentation gives the cabin an almost military sense of purpose. There’s a charming view down the shapely nose, but vision to the rear is compromised by the fat C-pillars. In terms of fixtures and fittings the DB6 is the most neatly finished and detailed of the three, the essentials basically unchanged since the DB4. The engine, SU-fed in this instance, burbles provocatively at tick over, has a smooth growl under load and is cheerfully flexible or assertive on command, boosting you to nearly 70mph in second. It is a friendly, practical car that is easy to drive whether you want to go fast or slowly. A little linkage wear means you can get lost in the ZF ‘box, but the lever usually snicks neatly across and the medium-to-heavy clutch is smooth.
The floor-hinged pedals are ideally placed for heel-and-toe work. Power assistance robs the rack-and-pinion steering of some sensitivity; but it is still a pleasure to point this neutral-handling Piston with that big 16 in wood-rimmed steering wheel. The DB6 is at its best on open, sweeping bends, and a little ponderous in slower curves where there is less opportunity to kill the under- steer. As with the Ferrari and Maserati the ride is firm, but the Piston offered Armstrong Selectaride dampers and, as speeds rise, it soaks up irregularities with unexpected aplomb.
Which would I have? The Aston Martin is the most complete and rounded of these three GTs, the one you can imagine using. It is fast, beautifully made and should be reliable. The Maserati is intriguing simply because it is rare and it wears its severe styling like a crisply tailored suit. There is a very attractive subtlety about the car and it might have been my choice were it not for the Ferrari and its engine. You feel almost ashamed to be taken in by such a cliché, but there is a magic about the V12 that overwhelms other cars. The combination of torque, smoothness and power keeps on coming and is difficult to forget even now. I want one, but not in red.
Sold/number built 1964-1967/1075
Construction tubular steel chassis, steel body
Engine all-alloy sohc-per-bank 3967cc 60° V12 with three twin-choke Weber 40DCZ/6 carbs
Max power 300bhp @ 6600rpm
Max torque 288lb ft @ 5000rpm
Transmission four-speed manual with o/d on top, five-speed from ‘1965, driving rear wheels
Suspension: front double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar rear live axle, radius rods, semi-elliptic leaf springs, auxiliary coil springs, telescopic dampers
Steering ZF worm and roller (optional power assistance on later cars)
Brakes dual-circuit Dunlop discs, with twin servos
Length 15ft 9½in (4840mm)
Width 5ft 7½in (1715mm)
Height 4ft 5½in (1365mm)
Wheelbase 8ft 8¼in (2650mm)
Weight 3040lb (1380kg)
0-60mph 7.4 secs
Top speed 152mph
Price new £6217 (‘1964 UK)
Now from £99,000 (‘2019 UK)
Sold/number built 1962-’1966/438
Construction steel box-section chassis, steel body with aluminium bonnet and bootlid
Engine all-alloy, dohc 3485/3693/4014cc straight-six with Lucas fuel injection
Max power 220-265bhp @ 5500rpm
Max torque 254-283lb ft @ 4000rpm
Transmission five-speed ZF manual or three- speed auto, driving rear wheels
Suspension: front wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar rear live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs, radius arms, telescopic dampers
Steering recirculating ball
Brakes Girling discs, with servo
Length 14ft 8in (4470mm)
Width 5ft 6in (1651mm)
Height 4ft 6in (1372mm)
Wheelbase 8ft 8in (2654mm)
Weight 2976lb (1350kg)
0-60mph 8.4 secs
Top speed 146mph (3.7)
Price new £5486 (‘1965 UK)
Price now from £155,000 (‘2019 UK)
Aston Martin DB6
Sold/number built 1965-1970/1567
Construction steel platform chassis with Superleggera-type aluminium body
Engine all-alloy, dohc 3995cc straight-six, with three SU HD8 or Weber 45DCOE/9 carbs
Max power 282/325bhp @ 5500rpm
Max torque 280/290lb ft @ 4500rpm
Transmission five-speed ZF manual or three- speed auto, driving rear wheels
Suspension: front wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar rear live axle, parallel trailing arms, Watt linkage, coil springs, Armstrong Selectaride lever-arm dampers
Steering rack and pinion (optional assistance from 1966, standard from ‘1969)
Brakes Girling discs, with servo
Length 15ft 2in (4620mm)
Width 5ft 6in (1680mm)
Height 4ft 5½in (1360mm)
Wheelbase 8ft 5¾in (2580mm)
Weight 3250lb (1476kg)
0-60mph 6.1 secs
Top speed 148mph (Vantage)
Price new £4998 (‘1966 UK)
Now from £155,000 (‘2019 UK)