Oct 17 2019

Aston Martin DB5 Restoration Projects Explained

Aston Martin DB5 Restoration Projects Explained

Owning an Aston Martin DB5 is beyond the reach of most people. That’s because, for the last couple of decades, the value of these iconic cars has soared and today even a standard DB5 will set you back a King’s Ransom.

Restoration Is A Great Route To Classic Aston Martin Ownership

One route to ownership, should the opportunity present itself, is to acquire a car in need of restoration and pay to have it professionally restored.

Now, it’s worth noting that there were only 1059 of these cars ever made, so finding one to restore isn’t easy. Add to that their well-documented value, and you can begin to see the challenges.

However, let’s assume you’ve found a project car, and you want to have it restored, what does that process look like? What are the main elements to a high-quality Aston Martin DB5 restoration project? To answer that, it’s necessary to consider each project car in its own right.

Typical Starting Points

Broadly speaking restoration project cars fall into one of two categories. The first, and in our view best type, are what are commonly called Barn Finds. These cars are generally untouched by road traffic accidents or inept restorers. They are simply tired 50-year-old vehicles in need of the expertise of an Aston Martin restoration company.

Red DB5 barn find

The second type is cars that have had a much harder life. They may have been restored by people who are not appropriately experienced, and they may have had their classic lines “modified” following an accident. Remember, not so long ago these cars weren’t prized and valued the way they are now, and cheap repairs were carried out.

The good news is, no matter what condition the project car arrives in, it will leave in better shape than the day it left the factory. Furthermore, it will run a damn sight better as well!

Pre-Restoration Inspection And Evaluation

If you’re not sure which category your project car falls into, don’t worry. All reputable Aston Martin restoration companies will start by undertaking a detailed appraisal of the vehicle. In fact, people often retain our services to check out an Aston they are thinking of buying whether it’s restored or in need of restoration. When you consider the level of investment being made, it would be silly not to.

The pre-restoration inspection will cover items such as how deep the restoration will need to go, agreement on what can be kept original and what will need to be replaced. It really depends on the current condition and the desired end product.

Some Noteworthy Recent Trends

Some recent trends we’ve observed include retaining the original paintwork, returning modified engines back to their original 4L capacity and keeping the original leather seats.

It’s about knowing whether something that looks knackered is retrievable

This is where the expertise of a skilled restoration company comes to the fore. What might seem, to the untrained eye, an irretrievable situation, perhaps worn leather seats, might, in fact, simply need the skills of a craftsperson to rescue them. Pugsley & Lewis’s Tim Lewis puts it more succinctly when he says, “It’s about knowing if something that looks knackered is retrievable”. Thanks Tim, that cleared that up!

But it can be even more subtle. Take the driver’s seat, for example. These typically experience wear on the inner and outer panels. To the untrained eye, it might seem necessary to completely re-upholster them. Not so. A skilled restorer might retain the centre panels and restore the inner and outer panels. This would be matched on the passenger seat for consistency, and all done with high-quality Connolly Leather to retain originality.

db5 restoration interior

Of course, that’s not to say the seats couldn’t be retrimmed with modern soft leather if that was preferred and originality wasn’t the primary requirement. Both options have merit.

Getting The Basics Right

As Tim would say “Nobody wants knackered smokey engines or a crunchy gearbox” and he’s right. Neither do they want a rotten chassis, dodgy brakes or suspension that bounces the car all over the road. This means it can be taken as read that for a complete restoration project the engine, brakes, gearbox, suspension and rear axle will require full restoration. This includes replacing unserviceable components.

DB5 barn find new parts

Of course, all of the above requires a solid, rust-free and correctly aligned chassis. Creating this is the first job that’s undertaken once the car’s been stripped down.

Making The Chassis A Rust Free Zone

A properly restored Aston Martin DB5 chassis will last a lifetime. Drawing on decades of knowledge, professional Aston restorers know which parts need re-engineering and where the hidden problems can be found and fixed.

db5 restoration chassis work

All the known water traps are addressed and corrected using a combination of drain holes and wax oil. Parts originally made by overlapping two pieces of metal are replaced with a single component to remove known corrosion issues.

A correctly restored Aston Martin DB5 chassis will never give you any issues. Furthermore, it will give confidence to buyers should you choose to one day sell your car.

The Engine, Oh That Engine

We’ve covered the rebuilding of a classic Aston Martin engine in a previous blog post, but as mentioned above, we’ve recently turned a corner where engines are concerned.

The fashion used to be to increase DB5 & DB6 engines to 4.2L or bigger. Today, most people want to return them to their original 4.0L capacity. This does present something of a challenge as Aston Martin no longer sell pistons for the 4L engine. Thankfully they are made by others, and to the required high standard.

Start with the engine so you can benefit from a host of other enhancements

db5 restoration engine bay

The real benefits of restoring the engine are it presents an opportunity to make enhancements that makes the car so much nicer to drive. This doesn’t mean you have to deviate massively from the original engine, but it does make the cars more useable.

We’ve covered some of the options in our Classic Aston Martin enhancements section, and we’ve also blogged about converting engines to Vantage specification. It’s all about discussing your needs with the restoration team, so you get what you need from your investment.

The Right Suspension For The Ride You’re Looking For

Depending on your preferred approach to the project, you can choose to stick with the original suspension specification or introduce a stiffer anti-roll bar and improved springs. As with most of the decisions you make during the project, you will be guided by the experts who will explain the pros and cons of deviating from the original specification of your car.

DB5 Wheel Parts

Generally, if you’re planning to drive the car, perhaps on a European Grand Tour, handling and engine modifications make a lot of sense, but it’s your call. Professional restorers can stick to 100% original if that’s your preference.

Once the chassis work has been done, the whole thing gets painted and undersealed, and the suspension is re-assembled.

Making The Interior A Place You Want To Be

With the chassis work completed along with the suspension, work starts on building up the interior. There’s a lot of detailed work involved at this stage. This includes work on the trim, soundproofing, the dashboard, gauges and so on.

All gauges are stripped, restored, rebuilt and calibrated to ensure proper functionality. This includes making sure the gauges are calibrated against any changes in standard specification, for example, tyre sizes.

If you’ve decided you want some non-standard equipment adding to your DB5 such as air conditioning, switchable power steering, a smartphone-compatible digital sound system and inertia seat belts, now’s a good time to mention it!

Engine And Gearbox Reinstalled

With the interior all but complete it’s time for the restored engine and gearbox to go back into the car. At this stage, it’s all starting to look like the car you’ve been dreaming about. But, there’s still a lot of hard work required before the restoration’s complete.

db5 engine restored

The Black Art of Tuning & Tweaking

The original DB5 ran on leaded petrol and had some well documented and annoying carburettor flat spots. Your restored car will, of course, have had its valves and valve seats changed to make them suitable for use with unleaded petrol, but that’s not all.

Using a highly evolved system of engine tuning, a classic Aston Martin specialist will make your car a joy to drive, no matter what the conditions. From motorway cruising in stifling Italy to popping down to the shops in chilly Glasgow, your restored DB5 will be a pleasure to use.

The All-Important Road Testing

Road testing, or as the guys at Pugsley & Lewis like to call it, debugging, comes next. It involves a level of attention to detail that would never have been afforded your car when it was initially built. For us, this means at least 150 miles of driving and adjusting/tweaking to make the car the best it can possibly be. Like most classic Aston specialists we’re never happy until we’ve delivered perfection.

A lot of this work, by definition, is never seen, or heard, by the customer, that’s kinda the point of it. Although we’re dealing with 50 plus-year-old cars, we see no reason to accept poor handling,  annoying rattles or things not working as well as they could. Simple as that.

Miscellaneous Interesting Modifications

Here at Pugsley & Lewis, we like a challenge. Over the years we’ve carried out some interesting requests for clients, and we’ve highlighted them here to illustrate what’s possible.

It goes without saying that any modification is likely to raise an eyebrow with some people. But then again, if they are executed skilfully, only the owner knows they have been done, and they are always reversible if required.

We had one client who wanted heated seats but didn’t want any sign of them to be visible. We delivered a warm bum.

Common requests are upgrading cooling systems, shock absorbers and brakes, adding power steering or changing from Left Hand Drive to Right Hand Drive. No problem.

Some people have requested the installation of a modern entertainment system, completely hidden, of course. We sorted it, including hiding the beefy speakers behind the door panels allowing the sound out by perforating the leather.

Some models require changing the car from its standard positive earth to the more modern negative earth. Again, no problem.

A Fully Documented Process

You’ll likely want to make regular visits to the garage to see your restoration project progressing, and that’s fine. Also, most reputable restorers will photographically document the work they’re doing. This means you’ll have a record of the work that’s hidden from view on the finished car. It’s something that’s of real value if you decide to sell the vehicle at some point.

Given the level of investment required to buy a restored car, the more information you make available, the better.

DB5 Restoration Costs

Restoring a classic Aston Martin DB5 is always going to be a significant investment. With the finished product often valued at over £1m, this should come as no surprise. However, most restorers will work on a staged payment basis, perhaps against agreed milestones.

Commitment. There's no other way to look at a restoration project

On top of this, there’s going to be the purchase of the project car itself, which could easily be more than £400k. This will be a chunk of money, leaving your bank account before the restoration work even starts. What we’re saying is, restoring a DB5 requires commitment.

DB5 final restoration

However, the driving pleasure you’ll get from sitting behind the wheel once it’s completed, along with its potentially appreciating value, will make it all worthwhile.

If you’ve got an Aston Martin that you think is a prime candidate for restoration but you're not sure where to start, why not have a chat with us? Contact us to Book a no-obligation consultation.

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