The One That Got Away

Given its pedigree, the ‘lost’ Aston Martin DBS(C), designed by none other than Carrozzeria Touring, should be an unsung masterpiece. Yet it isn’t. 

The car in front is an Aston.

It sounds like the typical scenario that entails reverberating boos and pronounced hisses from enthusiasts’ quarters.

A much-loved maker of exotic sports cars hires the services of a well-respected carrozzeria to come up with the design for a new model. The carrozzeria in question had previously designed the very same car maker’s most popular models. Due to circumstances (mostly of the business-related variety), that new model is only created in one-off concept car form. Et voilà – the recipe for yet another automotive myth!

Concretely, the car in question is a model retrospectively dubbed Aston Martin DBSC. Originally, it was simply called DBS upon its unveiling at the Paris Motor Show of 1966 – and that’s only where it starts to get confusing.

One needs to cast one’s mind back to the mid-1960s to grasp the circumstances under which this peculiar sports car was devised. For despite the still-engaged 007 boost, Aston Martin’s model range was hopelessly outdated: Against competing models like the Jaguar E-type, the Porsche 911 or the Lamborghini 350 GT, the DB5/DB6 GTs certainly appeared like a blast from the previous decade.

David Brown, still owner of the marque by that point, recognised the issue and had his staff work on a replacement for the DB6 GT, while also harbouring ambitions to produce a more performance-focused sports car alongside it. What with the Federico Formenti-designed DB4 and DB5 models having set the Aston design template that’s still applied today, it was only logical that Carrozzeria Touring, Formenti’s employer, would get involved.

As an in-house designer by the name of William Towns had convinced Brown to pursue his own design for the DB6 successor, Touring were entrusted with the smaller model’s design only. The result of the already financially struggling Milanese carrozzeria was the DBS eventually shown at the Paris show.

 

Despite the outstanding pedigree, this DBS must’ve appeared rather underwhelming to sports car enthusiasts in 1966. The peculiar graphics, particularly around the front end and headlights, as well as a whiff of Studebaker Avanti flair, could be attributed to the fads of its day, but the overall incoherence and very odd stance cannot be as easily explained.

Incidentally, there are some similarities with the Jensen Interceptor also styled at Touring at the time, particularly around the greenhouse, but overall, the Aston is a far clumsier, more outdated piece of design.

DSC_0731

For these obvious reasons, not to mention Touring going out of business and Aston Martin falling on hard times (again), this DBS became but a footnote in either marque’s history – its main legacy being its name, which was given to the Towns-designed GT instead, upon its introduction.

For years, a handful of black & white photos were all that was left in the public domain, until the car made a reappearance, in quasi-barn-find shape, before being put up for auction in 2009, when it was sold for a comparatively (given its provenance) reasonable £ 320,500.

Almost a decade later, the car named DBS, but called DBSC made a reappearance as part of the concours d’élégance circuit, having undergone an elaborate restoration, courtesy of its new Kuwaiti owner, who’s also one of the current custodians of Aston Martin in its entirety.

 

Despite its obvious deficits, the Aston Martin DBS(C) unquestionably represents a peculiar piece of semi-forgotten automotive history. In the context of an event like the Villa d’Este Concorso d’Eleganza, which overwhelms with a selection of mostly overwhelmingly pretty, mostly predictable cars on show, it aroused more excitement than its compromised appearance and footnote status would suggest.

For that reason alone, it also deserves this article.

 

The author of this piece runs his own motoring website, which you are welcome to visit at 

 www.auto-didakt.com

Author: Christopher Butt

car design enthusiast // the mind behind www.auto-didakt.com // contributor to The Road Rat magazine //

18 thoughts on “The One That Got Away”

  1. Good morning, Christopher. Whoever decided to exhibit the rather clumsy DBSC next to the sublime Ferrari 275GTB had a cruel sense of humour:

    Your photo of the headlamp fairings of both cars perfectly captures the contrast: the DBSC tries unsuccessfully to mix curves and awkward angles, whereas the Ferrari plays it straight (so to speak!) with classically smooth and flowing curvilinear form. Two aspects if the DBSC are particularly unhappy for me: the really clumsy attempt to force a traditional Aston Martin grille onto the front end, and the ugly and superfluous horizontal crease along the flanks at bumper level that creates a dark shadow line below. It’s not evident in the restored car’s dark colour, but is in the photo above of the “barn find” car in metallic red.

    1. Agreed, there’s an American flavour to the DBSC’s design (meek stance apart).

      Just to illustrate how wildly inconsistent my Ferrari tastes are, please be aware that I love the ‘Queen Mary’ 365 GT 2+2 – and not just because it’s a Brovarone. I genuinely like its (too long) rear and spindly greenhouse.

  2. That shadow line looks like an ugly black stripe or rubbing strip. It took me a while to work out that it wasn’t:

  3. The DBSC’s clumsiness truly baffles. At the same time, I must confess to being no fan of the 275 GTB/4 either.

    That Ferrari features all the insignia of what should make a great Ferrari (the way the side vents are treated is simply beautiful), but its stance and overinflated volumes I simply cannot stand. From some angles, I even find it somewhat kit car-like, owing to its ill-proportioned front lights and peculiar wheel-to-body ratio.

    (There goes the honorary Ferrari Drivers Club membership – for all days to come.)

    1. Oh dear, I guess we’ll have agree to differ on the 275GTB/4! Granted, I thought it did look rather under-wheeled, but I assumed that I was just imposing present day norms on it in this regard.

      The DBSC actually looks rather more American than Italian, and most definitely not English, with hints of early Corvette and Mustang, as well as the Studebaker Avanti you mentioned.

    1. It’s funny the design looked dated already at launch, I wonder if Touring brushed off some renderings they already had in the office? The evolution of design language happened so fast in the 60’s one can pinpoint a design down to a single year, I’d say the Aston Martin looks like something from the period of 1962-64. As you pointed out it has the peculiar stance of the Jaguar with traditionally tall and thin wheels, making it look like the body sits too high on the chassis. I also get some vibes from the early Lamborghini, the prototype GTV was also a Touring design if I’m not mistaken. In any case the car looks at least five years too late to the market, in 1967 its time had already passed.

  4. Like the brutish muscle car looks of the William Towns styled Aston Martin DBS/V8, the only minus would be the location of the rear number plate. The same with the late-80s Aston Martin Virage/Vantage V8.

    Cannot say am a fan of this Carrozzeria Touring styled Aston Martin and while liking the looks of the Aston Martin DB7, the fact much of the latter is derived from Jaguar including the platform down to being part of a stillb0rn Jaguar project from the early-80s. It makes one wonder whether Aston Martin had anything unique planned as well as how Aston Martin themselves would have evolved under Ford without the presence of Jaguar since the latter has heavily influenced Aston Martin for the past 25 years to the point where its styling language is both very underwhelming and overused (that IMHO wish they reverted to the brutish muscle car looks of the Towns styled DBS/V8 like Ford and other have done with much success).

    1. Hmm, I’m not so sure about that Lancia concept. It immediately reminded me of the Rover TCV concept of the same year:

      Of course, neither the Rover nor the Lancia concept made it to production. It was left to GM Europe to realise the concept in a production car:

      I rather liked the Signum, but I was in a small minority, given the sales numbers it achieved.

    2. Early designs for what became the BMW 5 GT also bore some resemblance to the Rover and Lancia.

    3. Perhaps BMW should have persevered with those early designs, and spared us the frumpy production car? I tried to find some online images of a Signum-style 5GT prototype, but had no luck. Do you have any, Christopher?

    4. Thanks, Christopher. That’s an intriguing design and would certainly have been polarising as a production model, but it’s rather more interesting, for better or worse.

  5. That Signum looks rather bland. The Vel Satis/Avantime rear looks OK, it’s just the generic Japanese front that falls flat.
    I don’t remember ever seeing one in France.

    1. Yes, Vic, they were/are a pretty rare sight even in the UK.

      GM did facelift the Signum (and Vectra) but the new front end was actually more generic than the original, which rather suited the geometric lines of the Signum, IMHO:

      I like the way the curvature of the front wheel arch is perfectly replicated in the downward curve of the bodyside crease and the leading edge of the front wing on the original, all of which was lost in the facelift.

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