Zagato And Aston Martin: Six Decades Of Design And Engineering Excellence In Two Pairs Of Special Cars
Photography by Luca Danilo Orsi
In the still-nascent years of the automobile, Ugo Zagato laid the foundation of his eponymous coach-building business in Milan, and in doing so set the stage for over a century of design excellence. From the very start in 1919, Zagato-bodied cars were innovative, mixing the science of materials and aerodynamics with sculptural beauty, producing something more than just an automobile. The seam between function and form is all but erased in the bodywork of a machine bearing the mark of Zagato.
From the outset, Ugo wasted little time finding manufacturers to collaborate with. The brand’s early identity is thus tied in tightly with the canon of the great Italian carmakers. The early icons that reside in the museums of these manufacturers are no stranger to the metalworkers of Zagato. Between work with the likes of Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, and a smattering of low-volume marques, Zagato’s place in Italy’s not-so-sparse history of producing beautiful objects was secure, but the Milanese coachbuilder arguably forged its strongest relationship with the British brand, Aston Martin.
Zagato and Aston Martin have been collaborating steadily for more than 60 years and counting, and it started on one of the highest notes in either brand’s portfolio: the DB4 GT Zagato, of which a scant 19 examples were produced for competition. Lithe, lean, yet simultaneously embodying the idea of automotive curvaceousness, Zagato’s take on the DB4 GT set a high watermark for aesthetics and racing functionality alike and marked the auspicious start to the decades of collaborations with Aston Martin that followed.
In 2019, in celebration of Zagato’s 100-year anniversary, this relationship with Aston Martin was reinforced with a special pair of cars; one an ode to the start of it all, the other a contemporary manifestation. Sold in pairs—19 pairs to be exact—the DBZ Centenary Collection pairs the modern DBS GT Zagato with the DB4 GT Zagato Continuation model to create the beautiful bookends of the companies’ shared story so far. State of the art and also full of provenance, the complementary machines tell an abridged but coherent story of the six decades that separate their designs.
The DBS GT Zagato is not a lightweight racing car like the DB4 GT, more so an exercise in combining innovative manufacturing with the elegance of design that Zagato has built its reputation on. The very red, leather-lined interior is about as unsubtle as they come, but typical of Zagato, the less-obvious details are at least as intriguing. The complex but coherent design of the taillight lenses is one such example, but I could not tear my attention from the front end of the car, which is dominated by a massive grille that incorporates some dynamic design: made up of 108 individual pieces of carbon fiber arranged in a diamond pattern, the pieces rotate shut to create a smooth, flush piece of bodywork when the car is parked. When the car is unlocked, the pieces flutter back into intake position.
Walking up to the DBS GT Zagato, the grille rippling into position, and then getting into the carbon bucket seat is more than enough to prime your pulse for the drive to come, while the twin-turbocharged, 5.2-liter V12 delivers on the promise with 760 horses to play with.
The DB4 GT Zagato Continuation shares a similarly radical set of front seats (which despite the anachronism of their design, fit surprisingly smoothly with the iconic 1960s GT look of the rest of the car). Like the originals that were born to battle with Ferrari, these 19 continuation examples area also track-only machines. Zagato says that 4,500 hours of work go into the creation of the continuation models to ensure that they are fit for rigorous circuit use, and also perfect enough to be displayed as reference pieces in collections that don’t see much track time. It’s ultimately up the owner what they do these cars. Zagato’s job is to make them fit for hot lapping or climate controlled storage.
This example is finished in Rosso Maja paintwork, the color having been matched to the original masters created by Max Meyer & ICI, paint suppliers for the original cars in the 1960s. While not quite as powerful as its modern relative, the DB4 GT Zagato Continuation boasts a larger capacity 4.7-liter version of the straight-six found in the original DB4 GT, and in this guise produces in excess of 390 horsepower (which is transmitted to the rear wheels through a four-speed manual transmission and a limited-slip differential). Though not a headline figure in today’s world of four-digit dyno readings, 390hp in a car this visceral and lightweight is arguably an even more intense equation than any modern hyper-horsepower machine.
Together, the DBZ Centenary Collection cars manage to do justice to the long history of Zagato and Aston Martin collaborations that occurred between these two designs. Paul Spires, President of Aston Martin Works, seems to agree: “Paired with the new beauty that is the stunning DBS GT Zagato, the DB4 GT Zagato Continuation cars are a unique and fitting celebration of the brand’s 60-year love affair with this unmatched Italian automotive style icon,” he remarked.
Just a year after the DBZ cars celebrated Zagato’s 100-year anniversary in 2019, the coachbuilder was again working with Aston Martin on another pairing: the so-called Vantage V12 Zagato Heritage Twins.
“The essence of this project was to create a ‘perfect garage’ made up of two complementary and collectible models, a Coupé and a Roadster. A complete closed collection—which does not need other pieces—instant classic,” elaborates Andrea Zagato, grandson of Ugo Zagato and current director of the company.
In keeping with that thesis, the two cars can only be purchased together, as was the case for the DBZ Centenary pair. Compared to the original Vantage V12 Zagato (these are reimagined and enhanced versions, which you can read more about here) both of the “twins” have an active aero system in the form of retractable wings not seen on the original iterations. Furthermore, the bodywork of each is made entirely of carbon fiber, there is a new high-capacity aluminum intake system and a titanium exhaust system which boost both the power output and the innate musicality of the naturally aspirated 5.9-liter V12 found under the hood.
To construct one of the twins, a standard Aston Martin V12 Vantage is completely disassembled and reassembled using 500 new components to create a familiar but thoroughly augmented version of the already excellent grand tourer. Modern as the engineering is, there is still an element of the old school in these cars, seeing as all of this transformative work is carried out strictly by hand by a team that works continuously for 16 weeks to produce each example.
The (ongoing) story of Zagato would seem impossible to synthesize in just a few cars. It is too remarkable to distill into four parking spaces, but these Aston Martin Zagatos hit all the key points: they represent the vintage and the modern Zagato, but more importantly they tell the story of how the past has led to the present, and how the present need not cast off the past in order to have an identity of its own.