Often described as Britain’s first supercar (a little late, Italy beat us to that like 5 years earlier!), but the Aston Martin V8 and the derivative Vantage helped keep the company afloat during those dark years of bankruptcy and recovery, even though it almost committed corporate suicide by developing the overly complicated Lagonda!
The original Aston Martin V8 was a coupé manufactured from 1969 to 1989, built to replace the Aston Martin DBS, a more angular car that killed off the DB6, and by extension the iconic design that had eminated through the James Bond DB5. As with all traditional Aston Martins, it was entirely handbuilt, with each car requiring 1,200 manhours to finish. Aston Martin’s customers had been clamouring for an eight-cylinder car for years, so Aston Martin designed a larger car. The engine was not ready, however, so in 1967 the company released the DBS with the straight-six Vantage engine from the DB6. Two years later, Tadek Marek’s V8 was ready, and Aston released the DBS V8. With the demise of the straight-six Vantage in 1973, the DBS V8, now restyled and called simply the Aston Martin V8, became the company’s mainstream car for nearly two decades. It was retired in favour of the Virage in 1989.
The Aston Martin V8 Vantage on the other hand took the original bodyshell of this 60’s sports coupé, and completely re-engineered it to create something that was not of this earth! The first series had 375hp, and series specific details such as a blanked bonnet vent and a separate rear spoiler, of which 38 of these were built.
The Vantage name had previously been used on a number of high-performance versions of Aston Martin cars, but this was a separate model. Although based on the Aston Martin V8, numerous detail changes added up to a unique driving experience. One of the most noticeable features was the closed-off hood bulge rather than the open scoop found on the normal V8. The grille area was also closed off, with twin driving lights inserted and a spoiler added to the bootlid.
Upon its introduction in 1977, the car’s incredible speed and power was taken up with acclaim, and, as mentioned, was dubbed ‘Britain’s first supercar’, with a top speed of 170 mph top speed. Its engine was shared with the Lagonda, but it used high-performance camshafts, increased compression ratio, larger inlet valves and bigger carburettors mounted on new manifolds for increased output. Straight-line performance was the best of the day, with acceleration from 0–60 mph in 5.3 seconds, one-tenth of a second quicker than the Ferrari Daytona.
The Oscar India version, introduced in late 1978, featured an integrated tea-tray spoiler and smoother bonnet bulge. Inside, a black leather-covered dash replaced the previous walnut. The wooden dashboard did find its way back into the Vantage during the eighties, giving a more luxurious appearance. The Oscar India version also received a slight increase in power, to 390hp. This line was produced, with some running changes, until 1989. From 1986 the engine had 403hp.
1986 saw the introduction of X-Pack was a further upgrade, with Cosworth pistons and Nimrod racing-type heads producing 403hp. A big bore after-market option was also available from Works Service, with 50mm carbs and straight-through exhaust system giving 432hp, the same engine as fitted to the limited-edition V8 Zagato. 16-inch wheels were also now fitted. A 450hp 6.3L version was also available from Aston Martin, and independent manufacturers offered a 7L version just to up the ante.
In 1986, the Vantage had its roof cut off into what would become the convertible Vantage Volante, basically identical. In 1987 The Prince of Wales took delivery of a Vantage Volante, but at his request without the production car’s wider wheelarches, front air dam and side skirts. This became known as the ‘Prince of Wales Spec’ (or POW) and around another 26 such cars were built by the factory.
The Prince was obviously very specific about his motorcars!
304 Series 2 Vantage coupés were built, including 131 X-Packs and 192 Volantes. Volante’s are often considered the most desirable of the Aston Martin V8 Vantage range. In all, 534 V8 Vantages were constructed during its 12 year production run, with the car being replaced in 1989 by the Aston Martin Virage, as well as a new generation V8 Vantage which remained somewhat faithful to the original design of the 60’s (if not a little more bulky) and was the last Aston Martin design to incorporate a traditional style before changing to the style laid down by the DB7 in 1993.
However, the Vantage did find its way into movie fame as the first Aston Martin used in a James Bond movie since the DBS used in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969. In 1987’s ‘The Living Daylights’ (the first film to star Timothy Dalton as 007), Bond was treated to Q-Branch’s Aston Martin V8 Vantage, complete with missiles, lasers to separate pesky Lada’s from their chassis, and a heads-up display to assist in warding off evildoers. It also came with a ‘Winter Pack’, which included skis, a rocket propulsion and spiked tyres for better grip. The car however met an unfortunate demise after getting stuck in a snowdrift, forcing Bond to activate the self-destruct, engulfing the car in a fiery explosion. But at least everyone’s favourite secret agent had finally been reunited with his faithful Aston Martin once again!
There is some slight incongruity with the film though, as at the beginning of the movie, the car is a convertible Volante, yet for the rest of the movie it’s a hardtop regular Vantage. This confused me somewhat, or perhaps whilst Bond had the car shipped he had a roof welded on in the meantime!
Today there are a fair number of Vantages roaming the countryside, their popular design, pedigree Bond Car status and sheer raw power keeping them truly afloat. In fact, these cars are much more prominent than the Virage that replaced it, of which you barely see any!