When I was 10 years old, my parents bought me a large book entitled The Great Cars. Ten years later when I began to buy some of the cars in this book, my father’s feedback was that it was a waste of time and money for me to have such cars. Ironic. The last chapter was about Aston Martin and the author begins by describing a DB6 he had the opportunity to briefly drive. The author describes the Aston Martin DB6 as “road express” designed for “high speed trans-Europe dashes in which ultra wealthy continental business bigwigs are said to indulge.” In the four decades since I received that gift, there’s never been a time I haven’t been able to put my hands on this book and read that passage.
Having learned my lesson that it’s foolhardy trying to make money fixing the cosmetics of a car for resale, I was always on the lookout for a near perfect DB6 in the San Francisco Sunday classified. It was inopportune that I found one a few months after buying the Rover 3500. I was able to liquidate the Rover at a mere $1000 loss and after some gut wrenching wrangling with loan officers at my bank, a silver 1967 Aston Martin DB6 “Vantage” was mine. And I learned it’s probably better not to make a non-refundable deposit before the financing was secure. I also learned that when you have a girlfriend with two young children, selling a new 4 door hatchback to buy a vintage luxury GT would not make things go well in that relationship.
As an amazing twist of fate the North American source for vintage Aston Martin parts was only a few miles from where I lived in Lafayette. A wiry chain-smoking pilot for Flying Tigers named Ken Boyd had bought out the parts stocks when Aston Martin closed its North American operation in the 70’s. Ken and his brother in-law Bob Attwood ran a mail order business of Aston Martin parts. Ken inspected the car for me – also after I made the non-refundable deposit. Ken noted that the car had experienced some significant body work repairs, and the bumpers were from another type of car. (At $2000 for an original rear set of bumpers – it’s hard not to see why.) So I learned another lesson about getting an inspection before making a deposit. Some previous owners had poured a ton of money into fixing this DB6 after an incident – so at least they lost their shirt – not me. Few people with less experience than Ken would ever really be able to tell the difference in the the car’s integrity. I would probably not have been able to afford a more perfect example of a DB6 – so I took my lumps, and drove my road express with pride.
The DB6 was amazingly reliable. I fooled around with changing the jets on the triple Weber DCOE carburators – trying to improve the best milage of about 12 mpg. Sprited driving would allow you to actually see the gas gauge drop. (The car had two 9 gallon fuel tanks and fed from one tank at a time – the gauge showing the level of the selected tank.) My monthly gasoline bill was about $250 dollars – in 1982. I found that the factory knew way more than I did, and 10 years later I sold about 5 pounds of unused brass carburetor jets on eBay for a couple hundred dollars. I did have to replace a clutch throw-out bearing – a donut sized ring of carbon block that actuated the clutch pressure plate. As this job was challenging for a relative mechanical neophyte, Bob Atwood allowed me to do the job in his garage. Handy since he had great tools – and of course, parts. The clutch, pressure plate and throw-out bearing were replaced by first extracting the transmission up and out through the passenger door – after removing the passenger seat and a fiberglass tunnel over the transmission. The 5-speed ZF transmission weighed easily a hundred pounds – I was glad to have experienced hands available to help. The only other “routine maintenance” was replacing the alternator – which I was fortunate to obtain for a mere $400 because Bob still had a “new old stock” unit on his shelves. (New stock cost twice that amount. The only other car that used that particular alternator was a Rolls Royce.) I have no idea why I didn’t simply have the bearings and brushes replaced.
Not only did Bob and his wife Laura like me well enough to let me take over their garage for several days working on the DB6’s clutch, they also tried to set me up with their daughter, Joyce. In appreciation for Bob’s help with the clutch, I took him, his wife and daughter out to dinner at my favorite restaurant in Oakland, the Bay Wolf. Bob and his wife went in one car with their dog that they didn’t like leaving home alone – and I drove Joyce in the DB6. Joyce was very attractive, but she couldn’t have been less interested in me – or my car. I remember Joyce talking about having been through a recent assertiveness training program. She made a point of explaining that most people don’t realize that many need assertiveness training because they are “aggressive” – and need to learn to reshape that into “assertiveness.” I never knew if she was speaking from personal experience.
With so much money going into my cars and motorcycles, about the only option I had to try to impress a woman on a date was to take them out for a picnic in one of them. This seemed to work better with older women – I suspected because they had already been out with guys with way more money than me – and I was showing them something different. Women my own age still seemed to want to go out with fellows with the cash. On a flight back from Los Angeles I met a Jewish woman about 10 years older than me – she was flying back from her father’s funeral. I have no idea why she agreed to exchange phone numbers with me after the one-hour flight – but she fit the “go for a drive for a picnic” profile. On a drive over to Muir Beach for a seaside picnic my stupidity caused the DB6 to let me down. I drove over a “falling rock” – that must have been just a half inch larger in diameter than the oil pan’s clearance from the road. The DB6’s 13 quart oil sump came to the rescue, and by the time I reached the bottom of the hill at the beach – I had time to investigate the odd smoke coming up from the side of the car before seizing the motor due to oil starvation.
It was humiliating to have to call my roommate Kevin to come pick us up – especially because he only had an MGB, and I had to fold myself into the package shelf behind the two bucket seats. On the ride home I made a joke about some old American car we passed – calling it a dinosaur. Kevin quipped that at least it was running. I don’t recall getting to to take that date out again. In fairness it was my second strike with her. Our previous date was to go see Chevy Chase in his movie Vacation (we walked out) after taking her to a shrimp infested Japanese dinner.
Turns out cracked Aston Martin oil pans are not all that uncommon. They are cast aluminum and they break instead of bend like a usual stamped steel oil pan would. And replacing a damaged oil pan was unappealing – requiring partial removal of the engine to get the oil pan past the frame’s forward cross member. (The dozens of little safety wired bolts holding the pan to the crankcase didn’t make the job any more appealing.) The solution was some fiberglass cloth and an application of JB Weld – a metallic two-part epoxy that is advertised to be suitable for such engine repair. When I had the car inspected a couple of years later trying to sell it to a dealer, the mechanic spotted the repair. He recognized it instantly – he had seen quite a few.
I’ve known women who said that they’ve “dated cars.” And thinking back now, I realize my dance card might have had more entries because of the DB6. I had enough room on my American Express to do a little more than picnic. I wasn’t doing all that well on meeting anybody that I thought I’d like to have as a permanent fixture in my future – but there wasn’t much of a shortage of people who wanted to go out to dinner – something I’ve always enjoyed doing. One was a tall statuesque woman who pinned her dishwater blond hair up in a seductive twist. Not only was she taller than me, her hands suggested she was easily 20 years older. She worked in a low-level administrative position and had a suitable intellect for that position. Back then I always passed for older – and the DB6 helped. She was always trying to get me to tell her how old I was – she suspected I was 10 years older – which would still have made me her junior. I let her believe that. Our relationship never crossed over into romance – although I think I tried pretty hard. But we had many fun drives to interesting and delicious places to eat around the Bay Area together.
It used to bother me that my dates would frequently fall asleep on the drive home. It would frost me that not only did I have to pay for the meal, but I had to maintain enough wakefulness and sobriety after dinner to drive home safely. Of course, I always made sure my dinner companions had plenty of wine available – so maybe it was my own fault. I had a wee bit of wicked satisfaction following one outing to a particularly nice place in Marin County. My date had a large knot on her forehead the next day that she couldn’t explain. I realized later that she fell asleep slumped over with her head resting on my right thigh – the large DB6 steering wheel must have been bumping up against her forehead.
One of the things I liked most about my DB6 was the Superleggera badges on the hood. Superleggera means “super light” in Italian – recognizing the Italian coach builder’s term for the (hand pounded) aluminum monocoque construction technique for the body work. I eventually sold the car to an accountant who lived near by – and after all my repairs and the $1000 loss on the Rover 3500 – I just about broke even. I maybe even came out a little ahead. I shuttered when the buyer said he wanted to cut holes in the trunk walls to fit a set of golf clubs. He bought it without the benefit of Ken Boyd’s inspection – which I suppose helped. All the expense and effort was worth it when I remember the time Kevin was driving the DB6 up Interstate 680, easily passing a Corvette whose blonde female passenger just about climbed out of her window to get into the road express with us.