My, my! Where to start?
It’s among the most legendary automobiles ever constructed, a machine that originally wasn’t built to set the world ablaze, but through nothing more than circumstance, became an icon, the ultimate symbol of the swinging 60’s, and brought the world it’s first ever true spy car!
Largely, the Aston Martin DB5 derives a majority of features from the previous DB4 of 1962, specifically the Series V. The general bodyshape for a start was notably similar, though a few tweaks helped keep the concept fresh, the overall design being the product of Italian coachbuilder Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera. Overall though, a majority of changes made to create the DB5 were internal, including upgrading the all-aluminium engine from a 3.7L to a 4.0L, a new robust ZF five-speed transmission (except for some of the very first DB5s), and three SU carburettors. The new 4.0L produced 282hp, with a top speed of 145mph, which, by 1963 standards, was incredibly fast, but not enough to grapple the record from the Jaguar E-Type.
Standard equipment on the DB5 included reclining seats, wool pile carpets, electric windows, twin fuel tanks, chrome wire wheels, oil cooler, magnesium-alloy body built to superleggera patent technique, full leather trim in the cabin and even a fire extinguisher. All models have two doors and are of a 2+2 configuration.
The DB5 was later added to by a selection of different variations, including the high-performance DB5 Vantage, which featured three Weber twin-choke 45DCOE side-draft carburetors and revised camshaft profiles, delivering greater top-end performance at the expense of overall flexibility, especially as legendary Webers are renowned as ‘full-throttle’ devices. The Vantage was listed at having 315hp, but only 65 of these cars were ever built, though there have been many fan conversions of regular DB5’s to try and create their own home-made Vantages.
The next variant was the DB5 Drophead, a convertible model of which only 123 official cars were produced. The name of this car was changed to the DB5 Volante in 1965 following the release of the James Bond film Thunderball the same year. Originally only 19 of the 123 DB5 Convertibles made were left-hand drive. 12 cars were originally fitted with a factory Vantage engine, and at least one further convertible was subsequently factory fitted with a DB6 specification Vantage engine. A rare factory option (actually fitted by Works Service prior to customer delivery) was a steel removable hard top.
From October 1965 to October 1966, Aston Martin used the last 37 of the Aston Martin DB5 chassis’ to make another convertible model. These 37 cars were known as “Short Chassis” Volantes and were the first Aston Martins to hold the “Volante” name. Although calling it a “Short Chassis” is a bit of a misnomer as the “short” comes from comparing it to the subsequent DB6, which has a longer chassis. When compared to the DB5, it is not “short” but rather the same size, however these cars differ to the DB5 convertible models as they feature DB6 split front and rear bumpers and rear TR4 lights, as also used on the DB6.
The final variant was the DB5 Shooting-Brake, a custom prototype produced for the legendary David Brown, who wanted a stylish car to carry his hunting rifles and his dogs. Following this, around 11 to 12 more coupés were custom modified for Aston Martin by independent coachbuilder Harold Radford. The taillights used were Triumph units, and were also adopted for the succeeding DB6.
However, although critically acclaimed upon its launch in September 1963, the DB5 was somewhat generic. At the time, Jaguar was still holding court with the magnificent E-Type, a car that literally set the world on fire with its 155mph top speed, truly the car to aspire to. The DB5 however was slower and heavier than the E-Type, and this lack of performance meant it was something of a damp squib in comparison. Not to say it wasn’t loved though, and this love of its pure, crisp styling and beautiful lines put in the running for perhaps the most famous job a car could ever have.
In 1963, a film adaption of Ian Flemming’s acclaimed book Goldfinger was being produced, and there was a desire to equip the titular character, English secret agent and rampant playboy James Bond, with a suitable motor. In his previous outing, Bond had been given a Sunbeam Alpine and a Rolls Royce Silver Wraith, both great cars, but not exactly world beaters. For this next film, Bond needed something extra special. In the books, Bond originally owned a 1930’s Bentley, which was tragically destroyed in a car chase in the book Moonraker. To replace his lost car, Bond was offered either a Jaguar or an Aston Martin DB Mark III, to which Bond went for the Aston.
For the film, the producers wanted an updated version of the model, and thus went to Aston Martin asking if they could borrow one of the production cars. Aston Martin flatly declined their request, and would only let them use a car if they bought it for the full asking price. With little budget to work with, the film producers considered other models, including the rival E-Type, a Triumph, even a Chevrolet! Eventually, after much plucking, Aston Martin relented, and let the producers have a pre-production prototype. With the car now in hand, the filmmakers went to work retrofitting it with all the legendary gadgets that made the car so formidable, including wheel-spikes, ejector seat, machine guns, oil slick, smoke screen, bulletproof shield, revolving numberplates and a map with GPS tracker.
When the film premiered in 1964, people fell absolutely in love with both the movie and the car, and the DB5 was quickly dubbed ‘the most famous car in the world.’ Sales skyrocketed and this humble machine very soon was rivalling the E-Type for fame and stardom, eventually surpassing it. When production of the Aston Martin DB5 ended in 1965, 1,059 of these cars had been sold, but though its production run was comparatively short, it’s legacy would live on for generations.
The DB5 would make an appearance in the next Bond film Thunderball, though its role was somewhat brief. Sadly, a DB5 wouldn’t make an appearance in another Bond film until 1995’s Goldeneye, where it was used to race a Ferrari 355 in Southern France. It would make a cameo appearance again in the next film Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and was set to make a cameo appearance in the Scotland-set scenes in The World Is Not Enough (1999), but these were cut in the final edit. The next time the DB5 would show up would be in the 2006 film Casino Royale, where Bond wins the car from one of the villains in a game of Poker.
It wasn’t until 2012’s Skyfall that the DB5 truly got a starring role, and re-established its fantastic design and style on the 50th anniversary of the original Bond film, Dr. No. In a climactic battle at Bond’s Scottish manor home, Skyfall, the DB5 proves its worth against multiple baddies before it is tragically destroyed in a fiery explosion. Thankfully, no actual DB5’s met their end in the making of the film, the cars destroyed being a mixture of miniatures, CGI Green Screen and a fake DB5 shell being placed upon a scrapyard Porsche 928.
As for the original Goldfinger/Thunderball DB5, that apparently went under the hammer at auction in June 2010, selling for a mind-blowing £2.6m, and worth every penny for a living legend!
Today there are plenty of Aston Martin DB5’s still roaming around, these otherwise mundane machines now elevated to legendary status by their star-studded past. These days a DB5 will set you back at least £100,000, and that’s not even for a minter! You’ll also probably find a majority of these cars in the same silver that Bond’s one was in 1964, though be sure to check the details as some will attempt to pass off the not-so-famous DB6 as a DB5.