Stunning Aston Martin DB4 GT with famous past sells for $5.21million
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A 1959 Aston Martin DB4 GT driven by Peter Sellers in film The Wrong Arm of the Law has been sold at the RM Sotheby’s London auction yesterday (September 5) for £2.65million (NZ$5.21million).
Released in 1963, the film featured a fine script, theme music from Richard Rodney Bennett and a hand-picked cast of Britain’s finest character actors (Michael Caine has a bit-part, but you will be hard-pressed to spot him) headed by the priceless double act of Peter Sellers and Lionel Jeffries.
There was also a James Young-bodied Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn, an Austin-Healey Sprite Mk2, a Ford Zodiac Mk2 and, as with any self-respecting black and white British crook comedy, the regulation chase scene with a police Wolseley.
And it was during the pursuit sequence through the less than mean streets of Uxbridge that The Wrong Arm of the Law truly displayed its quality. In a more conventional picture shot a senior figure in the London underworld would have driven an agreeably louche Jaguar Mk10.
But Sellers’ character, master criminal “Pearly” Gates, not only owns a right-hand-drive Ferrari 250 GTE but also the Aston Martin DB4 GT that sold at the RM Sotheby’s auction.
Every detail of the GT infers a world of speed, elegance and gracious living; it does not seem to belong on the same planet as Morris 1 ½ ton and Bedford CA vans, let alone the same picture.
The prototype of the GT was driven to victory by Stirling Moss at the International Grand Touring BRDC race at Silverstone in May 1959, and Aston Martin officially launched the carat the London Motor Show of that year.
Compared with the “standard” DB4, it sported a body skinned in 18-gauge aluminium alloy, a shorter wheelbase and the 3,670cc straight-six engine had a raised compression ratio of 9:1, twin-plug cylinder heads and triple Weber 45 DCOE carburettors.
Only 75 examples left the Newport Pagnell factory, 30 of them in left-hand drive form, and 41 DPX, chassis number DB4GT/0157/R, arrived at Ken Rudd’s Brooklands dealership in March 1961.
Filming took place in 1962, and there is an especially priceless moment in which a police sergeant urges the driver of his Wolseley 6/90 Series 3 to “get a move on – that’s a fast car they’ve got there”.
This was somewhat of an understatement, as a DB4 GT was capable of 153 mph and accelerating from zero to 60mph in a fraction over six seconds.
“They’re working that bell to death aren’t they?” observes Jeffries at one point in the chase, but this was virtually all the pursuing officers of the law were capable of when faced with a 302bhp getaway car that had the ability to accelerate from 0-100mph and then come to a halt in less than 20 seconds.
One notable feature of 41 DPX is that it was only one of three GTs ordered with vestigial rear seats, which meant that Gates could accommodate a (rather cramped) confederate.
The Aston Martin’s engine block was damaged during filming, and in 1963 it was replaced by a factory 4.0-litre unit. After shooting concluded the GT joined the Sellers fleet, but this appears to have been only for a brief period, as by this time the actor’s passion for cars had developed into a positive mania, obsessively changing vehicles in a one man quest for automotive perfection.
During this period, the DB4 GT was joined by an equally famous vehicle, one which is to be a star of this year’s Goodwood Revival. Naturally, an everyday Morris Mini Cooper was not sufficiently stellar transport and so in 1963 the great man commissioned Hooper Motor Services Ltd of Kilburn to create the ultimate town car based on the Mini.
The list of requirements and instructions issued to the coachbuilder concluded with the line “and anything else you can think of”. The resulting “Hooper Cooper” cost £2,600 (or virtually four times the price of a standard model) and was described by the press as “The World’s Most Expensive Mini”.
The windows and aerial for the radio were electrically powered, the interior was trimmed in the finest Connolly hides and the 51 modifications also included a vanity case, Lucas fog and spot lamps and Yale door locks.
The body was finished in “ICI Royal Purple” and the side panels sported “wicker” decoration that were created by Geoff Francis, who had previously worked on the Royal Coaches.
Today the Cooper is owned by Peter Mallisch, who acquired it “23 years ago. Restoring the car has been a labour and patience and one tricky part of the work was that that Mini had been stood for a long time”.
One challenge was the refurbishment of the cabin and another was the extensive network of electric looms. Mallisch also points out that the sunroof was a later addition created for Sellers by H R Owen and “it is probable he had the engine modified by Downton shortly after took he took delivery”.
Put simply, the odds against encountering two indescribably desirable cars that were owned by one of Britain’s most original film actors within the same month are beyond astronomical. They both reflect a period in the Sellers career when he was on the verge of leaving behind monochrome productions for Technicolour “International” features, even though the former represent much of his best work and the latter were often unwatchable.
Footage of the actor taken in this period show a figure who looks for all the world like an off-duty chartered accountant – but whose motor fleet was perfectly chosen for the tail-end of the Macmillan era and the nascent “swinging London”.
For some, the ultimate Aston Martin film will always be the Bond caper Goldfinger, but for many others it is The Wrong Arm of the Law, with its unforgettable footage of Scotland Yard’s finest desperately trying to keep pace with a DB4 GT.
- Telegraph UK