The Zagato won’t be road legal in most countries, at least not without some serious hoop jumping, so our first chance to drive it was at Silverstone, on the 1.1-mile Stowe Circuit that Aston now has an exclusive lease on. You’ll be unsurprised to hear that the experience was pretty special. From the driver’s seat, the Zagato is virtually identical to the DB4 GT.
The dashboard features chrome-bezelled instruments and a beautiful wooden-rimmed steering wheel, but the trim is simple and unpretentious. The continuations get modern safety gear to allow motorsport use – a bolt-in roll-cage, modern bucket seats, harnesses and fire extinguisher and battery isolation systems. There’s also a race-grade fuel bag in the tank. But in every other regard, the cars are effectively facsimiles of the original.
It’s quick. Aston quotes 380bhp, but admits that is conservative. There’s enough grunt to send the rear wheels scrabbling for traction when leaving the pits. The straight six doesn’t enjoy gentle use, grumbling and bogging down when asked to run slowly. But speed makes it instantly better.
Like the DB4 GT, the Zagato has a four-speed dog-ring transmission that needs to be handled confidently, and rev matching is necessary to smooth downshifts. The car gets all-disc brakes – the height of technical sophistication in 1961 – but although these bite hard, they also reveal the limited grip of the Dunlop racing tyres. It’s easy to lock the front wheels. The Zagato squirms and shimmies under hard braking and, after a couple of laps, the cabin is filled with the pungent smell of hot brake pads.
In corners, the Zagato’s modest limits turn into a virtue, creating a fully immersive experience that feels very different from driving a modern car with similar performance. The unassisted steering is low geared but relays clear and unambiguous feedback, much of which is about the lack of grip at the front end.
Understeer is easily engendered, but it’s neutralised with less wheel input and more throttle, reversing the handling balance, nudging the rear axle into oversteer. Every corner is an adventure, requiring multiple inputs to keep the Zagato close to a chosen line, but it responds so well to tiny changes that the experience quickly becomes an addictive one.
Of course, this is on a warm, dry and empty track. The prospect of driving the Zagato hard in slippery conditions, or on a circuit filled with other cars, is altogether scarier, but also more thrilling. We should all share Spires’ ambition that Zagato buyers won’t be afraid to use their cars properly. If they do so, it should be spectacular to watch.