Discussing one’s financial affairs is terribly undignified, don’t you think? Yet money – or perhaps the lack of it – does rather tend to get in the way of making the right decision. So let’s try not think about it. After all, what’s a few thousand pounds between friends – particularly when it comes to indulging in some of the finest sporting automobiles that the Empire has ever produced?
On paper, give or take a rear seat or two, the E-type 4.2 roadster and DB6 Volante are closely matched. Both are powered by race-proven, all-alloy, twin-cam straight-six engines of around four litres and 300bhp, both boast unquestionable pedigree and are bursting with British pride, and both represent the zenith of ’60s glamour – when the high-end products of England could comfortably match those of the Italians in the head-turning stakes.
Even setting aside the inevitable secret agent link, any DB Aston Martin exudes class and is an exceptionally alluring motor car. And the distinctive Kamm tail and split bumpers that are unique to the ’65-on DB6 work far better in roofless Volante form – a cut-down windscreen and less bulk over the rear give a more rakish look than the saloon.
The first Volante – refer to a DB4 or 5 as such and you’ll only upset Aston anoraks, they’re just ‘convertibles’ – is also the prettiest open Aston, in 1966-’69 Mk1 form at least.
The early ‘short-chassis’ cars were little more than rebadged DB5s, while the revised – and equally rare – Mk2 gained flared wheelarches and a bulkier hood.
That gradual process of uglifying with age hit the E-type harder, first through a clumsy restyle in ’68, then even more drastically with the arrival of the S3 V12 three years later.
But in its purest Series 1 incarnation, the Jaguar remains for many the most beautiful and desirable automotive design of all time, and it’s certainly the better resolved of the two shapes here.
Appearing alongside its (slightly prettier) coupé sibling at Geneva in March 1961, the roadster was an instant hit. From proud, phallic nose to pert, tapered tail, its thrusting form is sports-car caricature.
In comparison, the upright Aston looks a little slab-sided and fussy, with intakes above and below the large, grinning grille, exits ahead of the doors and badges littering its crisply finished alloy skin.
The Jaguar’s detailing is minimal and elegant, and only its pram-like hood stowage spoils the lines with the roof down, but then it doesn’t have the luxury of space.
The Aston’s expensively finished top – electrically operated, naturally – stows flush behind the rear seats. Yes, rear seats. And they’re actually usable, too, thanks to the DB6’s 3¾in-longer wheelbase over the outgoing DB5.
In the E-type there’s just a small shelf over your shoulder, and if you’re tall you’ll struggle for head and leg space up front as well. It’s hardly luxurious, either, while the Aston, though far from ostentatious, is opulent in the restrained manner that marked out the British quality marques before the advent of plasti-wood and shiny hide.
It’s no surprise that the two cars feel so different from within, because there is a clear polarity of purpose. With a strict two seats – and nearly 400lb lighter – the lithe Jaguar is a compact sports car compared to the DB. The spacious cabin, comfortable seats and generous boot of the Aston smack of a GT that’s lost its head – which is just what it is.
From behind the wheel, both offer their marque characters of the era distilled into the view ahead. That bank of toggle switches across the centre of the dash and the distinctive font of the large Smiths rev counter could only come from Jaguar, while the DB6 is the last Aston to faithfully follow the lines of the grille with its instrument binnacle – a detail that’s as practical as it is delightful to look at.
That the E-type is less comfortable – less attractive from inside – is a given, but this car was (and is) all about the way it drives. A world away from the heavy, physical XKs that came before it, a good E-type such as this superb example remains a dynamic treat on the right kind of road.
Around town, the heavy steering at low speeds and the rubbish lock are frustrating, while on the motorway the noise and the buffeting can get wearing, but this car feels as if it was born for the tree-lined Surrey lanes around vendor Racing Green’s premises.
We’ve chosen the 4.2-litre version of the Series 1 E for one simple reason: the Jaguar gearbox. Flat-capped aficionados will tell you the recalcitrant Moss ’box that preceded it is more satisfying – “once you get used to it” – but the slick all-synchro unit that arrived with the torquier 4235cc XK engine in 1964 transforms the E-type’s usability for non-masochists.
Not that the hearty powerplant demands much cog-swapping: the first three ratios are really only there to get you off the line, with fourth acting as a sort of continuously variable transmission, capable of launching the roadster from walking pace to what feels like warp speed on every short straight.
Marketed as ‘the most advanced sports car in the world’, the E-type had a stiff monocoque – with a spaceframe ahead of the bulkhead to cradle the engine – disc brakes and independent suspension all round, plus near-perfect weight distribution.
‘Its performance, price, steering, roadholding, tractability, economy, comfort and good looks might be matched by other sports and GT cars, but not one of them has the lot,’ wrote Autocar of the 4.2 in 1967.
Who knows what it would have made of the Volante, because Aston’s flagship was such a rarefied beast that contemporary motoring magazines struggled to get a drive.
That exclusivity is reflected in the cars’ ownership: while E-type owners were in company with everyone from Adam Faith to George Harrison, the DB6 buyer could compare himself with a rather bluer-blooded stock, the most famous Volante owner being the Prince of Wales.
Did the Prince make a blunder worthy of his Pa in opting for the Aston, or is there something rather regal about the Volante? Unlike the E-type’s clean-sheet design, the open DB6 was a result of taking a hacksaw to its hard-top sibling. It also sticks to the traditional separate-chassis formula, albeit a relatively sophisticated evolution of it, with hand-beaten alloy panels over a steel frame – in the Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera tradition – mounted on a substantial platform chassis.
The spec sheet doesn’t bode well: at 3223lb it’s heavy – although lighter than the saloon – with a live rear axle, so you suspect it’ll deliver the familiar ‘fast truck’ experience of Astons of old.
Yet look harder and you’ll spot some pleasant surprises: the axle isn’t located by cart springs, but trailing arms, coils and a Watt linkage with sophisticated Armstrong Selectaride dampers; the manual transmission isn’t the baulky David Brown ’box used until part-way through DB5 production, but a relatively slick ZF five-speeder offering relaxed motorway cruising to match the more sheltered DB6 cabin.
The brakes are Girling discs all round, too, and the steering on this car boasts the desirable option (standard on the Mk2) of ZF power assistance, which, as Car put it, is ‘never demanding more effort than a healthy female could exert with one hand’.
Despite the boulevardier impression given by the Volante’s appearance – and reinforced by that last detail – along those same Surrey back-roads Mr Jaguar esq will soon start to sweat if he tries to lose Lord Aston behind. The Jaguar might be smaller and nimbler, but it’s pretty physical to hustle along.
Once you get used to the Aston’s size – longer, wider and taller than the E-type – it is a genuine surprise. Though an evolution of the DB4, launched in October 1958, the DB6 shows the benefit of that experience and is well able to keep up with its compatriot without over-taxing its pilot.
Typical of early power-steering systems, the ZF rack could use more feel, but the weighting at the wooden rim of the three-spoke wheel is ideal and the Aston’s 6in-longer wheelbase and 4in-wider track conspire to make it feel more stable at speed and better balanced on the limit.
It would be utterly devastating if the engine was on song. This Volante is one of 29 Vantage-spec Mk1s, boasting a higher compression ratio and a trio of twin-choke Weber 45DCOE carbs in place of the standard model’s SU HD8s (as shared by the E-type). That gives 325bhp instead of 282bhp – more than enough to overcome the 265bhp E-type’s weight advantage.
Sadly, today it’s some way off that and the E-type’s spectacular torque leaves the DB6 standing as it squirts ahead on straights. The Aston’s Tadek Marek-designed ‘six’ still beats the smoother-spinning Jaguar unit for noise, despite its smaller capacity, with a glorious bass blare that bounces off stone walls and hedgerows to enrich every mile.
Even without all its horses, the DB6 is a rare thrill and a beautifully engineered machine. You feel it in the cabin – from clunk-click switchgear to tactile steering wheel – and on the road as you revel in its bulk-defying handling and marvel at the way it smothers tarmac.
Bad luck Jaguar, it’s another win for Aston Martin. But that’s nothing to be ashamed of. After all, in 1966 (before Aston implemented a price cut for ’67) you could have bought nearly three E-type roadsters for the mega-money £5594 a long-chassis DB6 cost.
Oh damn, there’s that grubby ‘m’ word again. But it is crucial, because today that gap has widened still further.
Good-condition E-types roadsters rarely sell for less than £80,000, and often much more – so they’re hardly a budget buy – yet beside an Aston DB6, they look like a steal. You won’t find a Volante for less than four times that and just a few weeks ago Historics coaxed £619k from an enthusiast for a Mk1.
The reason is simple: rarity. Quality cars are always expensive, but when desirability meets limited availability the result is a price explosion. With only 215 examples built, DB6 Volantes are few and far between so open-top motoring fans with Bond fixations must pay for the privilege.
All of which means that, while Newport Pagnell wins the emotive battle, the moral victory goes – decisively – to Coventry. The Jaguar E-type is a bargain, and that’s not something said too often about an £80,000 car.
Images: Malcolm Griffiths
Jaguar E-type S1 4.2
- Sold/number built 1964-’68/9550
- Construction steel monocoque with separate subframes front and rear
- Engine all-alloy dohc 4235cc straight-six, with triple SU HD8 carburettors
- Max power 265bhp @ 5400rpm
- Max torque 283lb ft @ 4000rpm
- Transmission all-synchromesh four-speed manual, driving rear wheels
- Suspension independent all round, at front by wishbones, torsion bars, telescopic dampers and anti-roll bar rear wishbones, twin coil spring/damper units, radius arms, anti-roll bar
- Steering Alford and Alder rack and pinion
- Brakes Dunlop 11in (279mm) front, 10in (254mm) rear discs, with Lockheed servo
- Length 14ft 7¼in (4453mm)
- Width 5ft 5¼in (1657mm)
- Height 4ft (1222mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft (2438mm)
- Weight 2848lb (1293kg)
- 0-60mph 7.4 secs
- Top speed 140mph
- Mpg 21.8
- Price new £1975 (’67)
- Price now £40-80k
Aston Martin DB6 Volante
- Sold/number built 1965-’70/215 (37 short-chassis, 140 Mk1s, 38 Mk2s)
- Construction steel platform chassis with Superleggera alloy body and tubular steel frame
- Engine all-alloy dohc 3995cc straight-six, with triple twin-choke Weber 45DCOE carburettors
- Max power 325bhp @ 5750rpm
- Max torque 290lb ft @ 4500rpm
- Transmission all-syncho ZF five-speed manual, driving rear wheels
- Suspension: front independent by double wishbones, coil springs, Armstrong telescopic dampers and anti-roll bar rear live axle located by twin parallel trailing arms and Watt linkage, Armstrong lever-arm dampers with Selectaride
- Steering rack and pinion (optional ZF power assistance)
- Brakes Girling 11½in (292mm) front, 10¾in (273mm) rear discs, with servo
- Length 15ft 2in (4623mm)
- Width 5ft 6in (1676mm)
- Height 4ft 6in (1372mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft 5in (2565mm)
- Weight 3223lb (1467kg)
- 0-60mph 6.1 secs (coupé)
- Top speed 148mph
- Mpg 12.5
- Price new £5062 (’68)
- Price now £150-350k