Ray Ferner was looking for an E-Type Jag when he came across an ad in the New Zealand Herald for a Shannons Sydney auction.
He’d been searching for a hobby car — something that didn’t require too much work, which he could get going and use. But this 1957 Aston Martin DB2/4 MkII sounded interesting.
He called up, undeterred by the fact it apparently needed more work than he’d anticipated, and bought it over the phone, “which was a bit of a mistake”.
Not that he regrets it now that the car’s in immaculate condition. But in 2004, when the Aston arrived, it was a mess.
“It had sat in a shed for 30 years, most of the interior was missing, and it was more of a project than I wanted.”
Lots of advice, labour and specialised parts went into the challenging restoration of this immaculate 1957 Aston Martin DB2/4 MkII.
Having seen some of the A-pillar — almost lacey with tinworm — and the cracked steering wheel, dull and chipped wooden dash and various other dented and rusted parts, it’s amazing he didn’t give up right then.
But Ray comes from a car family — he was brought up with old cars, and his father and sister are engineers. So he rolled his sleeves up and got to work, disassembling the Aston.
The chassis needed a lot of welding, and the steel subframe for the aluminium body panels is 50 per cent new. The front of the aluminium bonnet and all the wheel arches had to be replaced, and as you can’t just buy them, the beautiful panels were hand-formed by Steve Roberts in Wanganui.
“He did his apprenticeship with de Havilland and worked for Aston Martin,” said Ray.
The motor needed a complete rebuild — only the crankshaft, head, block and carburettors are original. Ray bought the parts he needed from a British company that supports the old six-cylinder Astons.
“You can get pretty much anything mechanical, not the body or interior.”
The wooden dash was replaced, as was all the leather. The steering wheel is a replacement for the now cracked bakelite original, and the chromed 72-spoke wheels replace the painted originals, which were restored but weren’t sufficiently round, and it takes an expert to tune all those spokes.
Eventually the time came to reassemble the car — Ray had already tackled the electrics, brakes and clutch, the carbs and engine ancillaries, leaving only the big, chunky specialised stuff like the engine and aluminium to the experts. And it all came together finally in January this year, after 10 years of hard work.
The interior has a few quirky features, including a large instrument panel, an analogue clock, a dual-use petrol/oil gauge display and the ‘‘world’s first hatchback’’.
When I admired it from the inside I discovered the DB2/4 is more spacious than expected. It feels compact when you’re peering through the narrow windscreen, the large instruments nestled in the glowing wooden dash just in front of you. But that roof line means there’s plenty of headroom — it was raised between the MkI and MkII cars — and there are vestigial back seats plus a spacious boot, with a fold-down floor that turns this DB2/4 into what Ray light-heartedly calls the world’s first hatchback.
It’s got a few quirks — an agricultural-looking screw to adjust the analogue clock, a lever to change the fuel gauge to a measure of the oil in the sump, a switch for a reserve fuel supply, and vents that open gills on the exterior to channel cool air into the cabin, as otherwise that mighty motor makes it too hot inside.
The 3-litre straight six — designed by WO Bentley and owned by Lagonda until David Brown bought the brand so he could fit it to this car — sounds fabulous just tooling around Auckland streets, and I wonder what it’d be like opened up on the track, but he hasn’t raced it. “It’s not insured for the track and anyway, I don’t want to do it again.”
The car does have a racing history, though. Count Charles de Salis was its first owner, winning the under 3-litre class at the Tulip rally and racing it at Monte Carlo, among other events.
“He sold it and bought a newer model in 1959. It passed through a few owners before going to Australia in 1970, but it was never registered there, it still had the British plate.”
“It was a complete and utter cot case, and at the time I probably shouldn’t have restored it given the cost of parts and time, but the value has increased so much it does now make sense.”
Ray plans to tour New Zealand in stages in coming years, taking the car to meet folk who helped — who worked on it, or let him photograph theirs for notes on what his Aston needed to aspire to. And he also wants to track down the May 8, 1958, issue of UK Autocar magazine.
“There was a photo of this car on the front row at Zandvoort, and I’ve been searching the internet for a copy of it.”
Given the car’s rarity — just four DB2/4 Aston Martins are registered in New Zealand — it’s likely anyone with a copy might just get in touch to ensure this gorgeous vehicle is reunited with its sporting roots.
● If you can help Ray’s search, email: firstname.lastname@example.org