'Greatest Aston Martin of all time' sells at Sotheby's auction for $20 million

A classic Aston Martin has become the most expensive British car ever sold at auction, after fetching £9.4 million ($19.92 million).

The DB4GT Zagato was sold by the specialist car dealer RM Sotheby's at its Driven By Disruption event in New York. The price set a new record for a British car at auction, previously held by a McLaren F1 that sold for £8.8 million earlier this year. However, it fell short of the £10 million that some had forecast it would fetch. The identity of the buyer has not been revealed.

When it was made in 1962, the DB4GT cost £5470 ($11,600), twice as much as the average British house. It was originally built to allow Aston Martin to take on Ferrari in the World Sports Car Championship, but was redeveloped after it emerged that its Italian rival had a competitive edge.

The British company sent the model to an Italian coachbuilder, Carrozzeria Zagato, from which it emerged with a new body shape, and with many of its steel panels replaced with aluminium, helping to save 50kg from the car's weight. An additional 12bhp was found from the 3.7-litre engine, taking the total to 314bhp (234kW). Weighing in at 1225kg, the model could accelerate from 0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds, and had a top speed of 153mph (246km/h).

The car in question is number 14 of only 19 DB4GTs created by Zagato. The original plan had been to build 25, but demand was not as strong as expected.

Delivered to Australia

The car was delivered to Australia, the only one of its kind sold there, where it competed in motorsport events. Its first owner, Laurie O'Neill from New South Wales, is reported to have also owned Ferrari and Porsche racing cars, as well as grand prix cars.

It was later sold to Colin Hyams, who displayed it at the 1965 Melbourne Motor Show, and then three years later to Alex Copland, who left it in storage for the following 20 years.

In 1993 it was brought to the UK and was acquired by G.K. Speirs of Aberdeen, and was restored, before competing at events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed. The car was later purchased by Peter Read, who described it as like "a tailored suit. It's agile, sophisticated, and equally responsive. It's a truly beautiful car to drive".

Under Mr Read's ownership, the car underwent a complete restoration over two years, with specialists from Aston Martin and Zagato helping to bring it back to as-new condition.

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It has since been shown at some of the world's biggest car shows, winning a number of trophies, including overall victor at the Louis Vuitton Concours at the Hurlingham Club in 2002.

Prior to the sale, Rob Myers, chairman of RM Sotheby's, said: "Never mind being the greatest Aston of all time, this is one of the greatest GT [grand tourer] cars ever produced. It is an absolute jewel of a car."

While this Aston Martin marks the most expensive British car ever sold at auction, it still falls short of the overall record holder, a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO that fetched £22.8 million in 2014.

2015's most wanted

In the same auction, a red 1956 Ferrari 290 MM race car fetched $US28.05 million ($39 million) to become the most expensive car of 2015.

The evening's top lot was originally designed for Juan Manuel Fangio, one of the greatest Formula One racing drivers, to compete in the Mille Miglia, a 1000-mile (1600km) race through Italy. It has been raced by other famous drivers, including Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips.

Earlier, a psychedelic 1964 Porsche once owned by rock legend Janis Joplin fetched $1.76 million ($2.45 million), versus the estimated pre-sale range of $US400,000 to $600,000.

Joplin bought the car in 1968 for $US3500 and drove it daily, often accompanied by her dog, according to the catalog. The surface is hand-painted with California landscapes, Zodiac signs, smoke and portraits of the Big Brother and the Holding Company band members. Since 1995, the car has been on loan at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.

The Telegraph, London, with Bloomberg