Aston Martin DB4 spotter's guide

Note :  all photos are clickable to see them in a much larger size.
           all photos have a 'source' given. Please have a look at my bibliography to decode.

I have always thought I should write this page.
Indeed when you meet Aston Martin fans and when you speak with them or even more when you read car forums (especially those non Aston Martin specialised), this is what maybe comes the most regularly: "which series is this DB4?"
At first, non-Aston fans don't even know there are five series for Aston Martin DB4. You can understand why easily:
for the factory, there was the DB4 and after the DB5...
In fact, the breakdown in series didn't come from the factory but from the AMOC (i.e. the Aston Martin Owners' Club). The AMOC has identified details that were enough to justify five different series.
Please note the series number should be written with Arabic numbers.

I won't give you here every single detail for each of the five series of the DB4 but a spotter's guide i.e. a way to recognise the series of a DB4 at a glance by checking some parts of the car...

There is already something done a bit this way by Tim Cottingham with pages on the remarkable Aston but I wanted something even more "at a glance".
However, should you wish, you could find much more details in the remarkable site of Philip Jones who wrote a complete history of the marque. Please click here to get it (PDF file).
Nevertheless, here is an extract of it (Roman numbers left...):

THE ASTON MARTIN DB4 – A Development Story
The Detail

Series l

Launch – February 1960: Instrument panel inherited from the DB2/4 Mark lll . No chrome surrounds were fitted to the windows on the initial production (50 cars) and after that initial run, over riders and heavy duty bumpers were fitted.

Series ll

January 1960 – April 1961: Heavy duty front callipers were fitted together with a 17 pint sump and a radiator blind and the bonnet hinged from the front. The height of the car was increased by half an inch to 4 feet 4 inches while the car was lowered with the ground clearance moving from 18 cm to 16 cm. Various options were introduced including an oil cooler, selected by 34 buyers, electric windows and an overdrive unit. The overdrive was normally used with a 3.77 rear axle – discounting these options, the kerb weight of the car increased by 45Kg to 1,353Kg.

Series lll

April 1961 – September 1961: Optional oil cooler continued from Series ll, selected by 53 Series lll buyers. An additional bonnet sty fitted together with a modified handbrake, clutch cover and brake pedal linkages. Separate rear lights fitted on a chrome plate, a single stalk switch, courtesy switches and an electric tachometer. The heating system was improved with the fitment of 5 rather than 3 demister outlets and an optional 4.09 ratio rear axle was offered. Three cars in this series were sold with the special fitment of a DB4GT engine.

Series lV

September 1961 – October 1962: Lower bonnet scoop introduced as well as a new grille with 7 vertical bars and internally, the ashtray was moved from the top of the dash to the gearbox cover. Also introduced as an option was a Vantage or Special Series (/SS) engine. With 3 SU HD8 carburettors, larger valves and a 9:1 compression ratio, this engine delivered 266bhp at 5,750 rpm. Most cars fitted with this engine were also given a restyled front sloping headlamps and called the DB 4 Vantage. Internally, the GT instrument panel with separate gauges was fitted to most cars.

Series V

September 1962 – June 1963: The body was extended by 9cm to provide more leg room and boot space. A higher roof gives the best indicator of change in the line where the roof meets the boot lid, but the overall height of the car remained the same 132cm because of the change to 15 inch wheels. Under the bonnet, an airbox on the carburettors, an electric fan in front of the radiator and a vacuum advance. Smaller brake pads complete the external differences.

DB4 Convertibles

Introduced at the London Motor Show in 1961: Of 1,110 Aston Martin DB 4’s manufactured, only 70 were convertibles. The first 30 were Series lV cars (11 with Vantage engines) and the balancing 40 cars were Series V of which 21 were built with Vantage engines. The standard petrol tank was replaced by twin tanks positioned in the rear wings with a combined capacity of 16 gallons – 3 gallons less than the coupe.

Now, I am to show you some photos of each series and then try to sum up with the spotter's guide.

DB4 series 1 (chassis DB4/101/L to DB4/250/R)

The series 1 is the DB4 in its purest form, especially for the first 50 of them.
Just have a look at those pictures...

Here is one of the earliest. You should notice slim bumpers without over riders, no chrome around windscreen.
This is one of the first 50 DB4s.

                                                            (Source: HAR)

Those early special details may have been updated...

One other early DB4 seen at Montlhéry, a photo I took in 1990:


Big air intake on the bonnet...


Rear lights are very elegant. See below left.

                 (Source: ORI)                                      (Source: Anamera website)

Photo on the right shows an open door: the glass has no chrome surround. This created whistles at high speed and was corrected after the first batch of 50.

Below is DB4/107/R. Photos come from


This car has been updated with the chrome surrounds. See blue arrows below:

Please also notice open bonnet. Only on the series one does the bonnet open this way.

              A Corgi model once sold on eBay.                                             Again DB4/107/R with slim bumpers.

Left: one of the earliest brochure featuring a nice yellow DB4. Please note the slim bumper but chrome around windscreen.
Right: where is the series 1 ? Answer below... See yellow arrow?


DB4 series 2 (chassis DB4/251 to DB4/600)

33 of them were built with the oil cooler (i.e. 33 out of 350, that's 9.4 % of them).

Here is one of those:

                                                         (Source: BUY)

On this one you can see the heavier bumpers that appeared on the series 1. Oil cooler intake is just below...

Here is a nice example of a DB4 series 2 (DB4/342/R) once for sale by Blackhawk:



Same profile, same rear lights than on the series 1... Hard to distinguish!

By the way, this car has a Webasto sunroof. Here are details:


DB4 series 3 (chassis DB4/601 to DB4/765)

55 had the oil cooler (i.e. 55 out of 165, that's 33 %).

Most noticeable difference comes from the rear lights.

                                                                                  (Source: ORI)

This could easily have been mistaken for a series 1 or 2 save for the rear lights. Indeed just look below :  

                            DB4/674/R                                           DB4/712/L sold at auction by Poulain in December 1994

DB4 series 4 (chassis DB4/766 to DB4/950
plus DB4 Vantage DB4/951 to DB4/995
and convertibles DB4C/1051 to DB4C/1080)

The DB4 series 4 is easy to recognise as it has an entirely new front appearance: new grille and new flat bonnet.

                                                                    (Source: Nicholas Mee)

                                          (Source: HAR)

  (Source: Anamera website)

Just compare the two photos below taken at the same place: series 2 at left and series 4 at right:

                                                                         (Source: BUY)    

Apparently, you can find two different back treatments. On the left below, same as before and on the right a new one (beginning in 1962) with less chrome and much wider registration plate lamp.



Here are the rear lamps:

                                        (DB4/952/R, a Vantage car sold by H&H at auction)

Below are two photos of a DB4 Vantage. It has in a way both a DB4 GT and a DB5 appearance.
It is now posh to call it "the thinking man's DB5".
Indeed this car is shorter hence lighter and nimbler than a DB5.

I remember speaking with a British gentleman who owned one in the 1980s and I told him that I found the series 4 Vantage was nice because of that but maybe the DB4 GT was even more fascinating. He replied he had tried one and preferred his Vantage because she was much more tractable than the GT...

So, here is DB4/983/R, sold by Bonhams in August 1999 at Quail Lodge (USA):



DB4 series 5 (chassis DB4/1081 to DB4/1110
plus DB4 Vantage DB4/1111 to DB4/1165 and DB4/1176 to  DB4/1215
note : 1181, 1182, 1183, 1185 and 1187 had standard engines...
and convertibles DB4C/1166 to DB4C/1175)

When you look at a series 5 from the front, you don't see a difference with the series 4...

                                                                      (Source: ORI)

but from the side, you see the elongated rear and 15" wheels instead of 16" ones:

                                                                       (Source: ORI)

You can really "feel" the car has smaller wheels. They look a little too small when you compare with the earlier cars, especially with this long rear.

Look below for immediate comparison (series 5 on the left):


From the rear, you actually see more space behind where the roof comes into the boot:

                                                                                                          (Source: website)

                                                              (source: COMPLETE)

Again, a comparison (series 5 on the right):


A point of view with a comparison with the DB5:

For a start, let's recall that for the DB5, "it's written on" as can be seen below.


Look at the photos below, all of DB5s and try to find something when you compare with the DB4 series 5:

(Source: website)                            

(Source: website)                                               (Source: ORI)

Have you found? I just discovered while making this page that the way the top comes into the boot is different. It "blends" for the DB5 and it's much more abrupt for the DB4.

Here are the backs of the DB5. You'll surely see what I mean as there is much less space between the rear of the top and the numberplate light.



* First 50 DB4 series 1: no chrome around doors window (slim bumper may have been changed).
* Late series 1 and series 2 hard to distinguish... Try to see how the bonnet opens! However, if she has an oil cooler, it's a series 2.
* Series 3: still first type front (grille and bonnet) and different rear lamps.
* Series 4: "new front" with "short rear"
* Series 5: "new front" with "long rear" and 15" wheels.

DB4 convertible

And please, not Volante! The Volante name only appeared after the DB5 while DB6 was produced with convertibles based on the DB5 but with the new bumpers and rear lights.

The DB4 convertible only appeared with the series 4. Earlier you had to buy a DB MkIII DHC that was still produced along with the DB4 saloon up to July 1959. You then had to wait late 1961 to get a DB4 convertible (yes: no more DHC and not yet Volante...).

So, as far as the spotter's guide is concerned it's either a series 4 or a series 5.
Now, you know: longer boot and 15" wheels for the series 5.

When you have a picture of the dashboard, you can easily see it's a convertible because it has a dashboard painted the same colour than the body instead of black. I have always found this a weird idea especially when you consider the reflections that can occur should it be a light colour...


Nevertheless, the DB4 is a very beautiful car even if it lacks the character of the Saloon. The convertible looks like many Italian cars of the 1960s and has less identity.
Here are two series 4 convertibles:

                                                                  (Source: website)

The DB4 convertible from the series 5 only has a longer tail and 15" wheels.
Here is DB4C/1090/R with Vantage engine. Only two DB4 convertible Vantage had the Vantage front.

                                                                           (Source: RAS)

Again, you actually "feel" that the wheels are a bit small for the car especially with the longer back.

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