Martin, Aston Martin


Story By Andy Reid

Aston Martin. The name alone inspires images of intrigue, style and adventure. In fact, it’s easily one of the most mythic and desirable automobile brands in the world.

For decades, these stunning, hand-built sports and GT cars have epitomized the very best that money can buy. They exude high style while maintaining the ability to handle the occasional cinematic high-speed chase—sometimes wielding built-in machine guns, bulletproof shields and ejector seats. Actually owning one of these automotive icons is the ultimate fantasy of many enthusiasts.

Unfortunately, this dream may seem destined to stay just that: Driver-condition DB4s now cost around $200,000, while the DB5s of “Goldfinger” fame start at about $300,000. Don’t be too depressed, though; there is an old-school, hand-built Aston Martin with James Bond history and terrific performance out there that you can afford. Enter the Aston Martin AM V8.

All of these Aston V8s were meticulously crafted, and with ticket prices as low as $35,000, they represent one of the world’s greatest automotive bargains. Production ran from 1967 up through 1989 and ranged from standard performance saloons to the high-performance, 400-plus-horsepower Vantage Volante convertibles. There’s something for just about everyone.

Secret Service Roots

Many consider the 1960s to be the golden age for Aston Martin, as the brand had racing success and great products in the DB series. However, they were not widely known to the general public—Aston Martin operated under the mainstream’s radar.

That changed in 1964 when a gadget-laden version of the new DB5 was featured in the James Bond film “Goldfinger.” Overnight, cool-seekers began to crave the Aston Martin.

The DB5 sold well as a result, with a few more than 1000 units built between 1963 and 1965. For the maker, that was a lot of cars. The DB6 fed off its predecessor’s momentum when it debuted in 1965.

By the late 1960s, however, the David Brown-era Aston Martins were dated as far as styling was concerned, and the company worked to develop a new model. They needed something that could attract a broader audience without alienating their current customer base. Enter the DBS.

This new Aston Martin, styled by William Towns, represented a modern car for the company. There was a small problem, however. Aston Martin intended to fit a V8 in this new model, but production problems forced the DBS to launch with the same straight-six engine used in the outgoing DB6. Though the car featured every conceivable option, including adequate air-conditioning, performance did not suffer.

The car’s revised shape received mixed reviews. Some saw the new car as exciting and aggressive, while others insist to this day that the DB6 was the last “real” Aston Martin. If you keep in mind that the DBS was designed while David Brown was still at the helm of the company, it becomes easy to dismiss the naysayers. Despite its critics, the DBS was enough of a hit that it was featured in the 1969 James Bond film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” It also had a role in the British television series “The Persuaders,” which ironically starred Roger Moore before he was tapped to play Bond.

The new Aston Martin eventually did receive its V8 engine, a 5340cc lump that featured overhead cams. With the new engine came a new name: the DBS V8.

The V8 changed the character of the car quite a bit, immediately raising its performance from sporting to breathtaking. In its final guise, the Aston V8 is capable of gunning from zero to 60 in 5.2 seconds and reaching a top speed of just under 180 mph—not bad for a 3800-plus pound vehicle.

These numbers were certain to capture the attention of Q Branch. Just before bowing out, the model made one more appearance in a Bond movie: 1987’s “The Living Daylights.”

License to Thrill

The V8 Vantage models offered supercar performance thanks to a potent, hand-built, 400-horsepower engine.

An Aston Martin V8 may well be one of the most completely rewarding cars you will ever drive. Think of it as a GT car built to Bentley’s standards and you’re on the right track.

By the time you get behind the wheel, sink into the Connolly leather seats and close the driver’s side door, the car’s immense quality is apparent. The doors feature the same sound and feel as those in a Rolls-Royce. The fact that it took an average of 16 weeks to construct each car certainly has something to do with the impressive fit and finish. Turn the key, and the engine produces a deep rumble.

Throttle response is almost immediate—better than most other V8s. We have always heard that these cars have heavy clutches, but the last one we drove was only average. We suspect there just might be a lot of poorly set up cars out there.

Thanks to the abundant torque at hand, the DBS V8 can be happily lugged around in second gear with no ill effects. Take it on an open road and stomp on the gas to unleash the car’s true performance potential. This machine accelerates like a projectile from a sling shot, and in no time at all you’re at 100 mph and climbing. The handling impressed us as well; the steering is assisted, yet still very communicative. The driving experience is part sports car and part grand tourer, much like that of a Porsche 928.

The car has great grip, and its handling is rather neutral for such a bog-heavy vehicle. While its real element is on the street, the DBS V8 could even work on track with some minor modifications.

If there is one area where the Aston V8 cars suffer, it’s fuel economy. The best examples achieve approximately 18 mpg highway and 12 mpg city, while the worst—specifically the performance Vantage models—only manage 12 mpg highway and 8 mpg city. While this won’t take much of a bite out of your wallet when gas is affordable, the situation quickly changes when gas soars past $4 a gallon.

Despite its appetite for fuel, the Aston Martin V8 could well be the best GT car we have ever driven—in fact, it’s easily better than any Ferrari. Add in its hand-built quality and bona fide James Bond history, and you’re looking at one of the few perfect sporting cars in the world.

Club Corner

The Aston Martin Owners Club is one of the oldest sports car clubs in the world. Founded in May of 1935, it predates even the Bentley Drivers Club. The organization offers social, driving and concours events on the regional, national and international levels. It also tracks every car produced by the factory. At about $240 a year, dues are higher than those of the average organization. However, the club publications—AM Quarterly, AM News (the Aston Martin Heritage Trust’s annual journal), Aston (the Register of Members’ Cars), and the local region magazines—more than compensate for the fees.

Things to Know

The Aston Martin V8s were great cars from the very start, and today there are really no model years to fear. They’re all comfortable, capable classics, and by now any relevant upgrades have been handled.

Today’s selling prices are strictly based on condition, model and mileage, with standard cars starting at around $35,000—right where they have been for the past decade or so. The Vantage and Volante models do fetch more money, with nice ones reaching—and sometimes surpassing—the $100,000 mark. Asking prices on best-of-the-breed examples are nearing $200,000. Most of the cars imported to the U.S. feature automatic transmissions, and today the manual-equipped examples command about $5000 more.

Don’t forget, these are rare cars. From 1980 to 1989, for example, the V8 coupes were imported to the U.S. on special order only—in fact, only four coupes are said to have been brought in between 1986 and 1989. Aston Martin dealers simply preferred to stock the open-top Volante models.

Body and Interior

Look for rust everywhere. The sills are the most critical areas, followed by the suspension radius arm mounts. That said, you don’t want to perform rust repair on these cars. You’ll never recoup the money spent.

“In V8 Volantes the rust problem can be worse, as they are not particularly waterproof around the edges,” explains Scott Rumbold of Autosport Designs, Inc., a firm that specializes in Aston Martin sales and service. “When water gets into the car and the Wilton wool carpets get wet, mold will surely follow, and with it that lovely musty smell. If this becomes a regular occurrence, over time the water-sodden wool carpet will cause rust on the floor and, again, if left untreated, will lead to rot, necessitating the cutting out and repair of the offending areas.”

Duplicating the original paint job isn’t easy—figure $8000 at a minimum, but $15,000 may be more realistic. These cars were originally painted with many coats of hand-rubbed lacquer. In order to repaint them properly, they must be completely stripped; modern paints and old lacquer do not mix.

As with a Bentley or Rolls-Royce, the interior of an Aston Martin V8 is beautiful and made from the finest materials: Wilton carpets, Connolly leather and the like. If it needs to be restored, factor about $12,000 to have it done correctly. Pay less for a car that’s had its interior redone with inferior materials, as this will decrease the value.

Chassis

The suspension components need to be replaced every 10 years or so: fresh shock absorbers, new bushings and the like. The car is quite heavy, and its suspension components take the brunt of the weight. The cost to refresh the suspension can run anywhere from $2000 to around $5000.

The power steering rack on the DBS was built by ZF, while an Adwest unit was used on the Aston Martin V8. Both racks are very robust, usually suffering nothing more than leaks. Rebuilding the units is easy and inexpensive; rebuilt racks tend to hold up quite well.

Drivetrain

The manual and automatic gearboxes used by Aston Martin are very tough; usually the only problems involve manual transmissions with typical synchro issues. Clutch replacements aren’t inexpensive, though. If the clutch slips, factor at least $2500 to replace it. (By the way, the dealer gets as much as $4000 for the job.)

“The Aston V8 engines are pretty well unburstable, so all that is required for service are spark plugs, filters and fluids at least once a year, depending on how often the car is driven,” explains Scott Rumbold of Autosport Designs. “Keep in mind that service work can be [needed due to] general lack of use as well as too much use.”

Have an expert perform an engine compression test and a cylinder leakdown test. You do not want to rebuild this engine; the job can easily cost more than $10,000, and $15,000 is very possible.

Check the engine block weep holes: Are there signs of excessive fluid loss? If so, the engine might need a rebuild.

Water in the oil means an expensive repair—in the range of $4000 to $7500 depending on what is required. (Odds are the engine will need to come out.) Oil in the water most likely means a failed head gasket, which is a bit less expensive to fix at about $3000. If a car does have a blown head gasket, don’t be too surprised; some of these cars have been known to experience issues with head gaskets, so factor the remedy costs into a car’s selling price.

Need all the power? Autosport offers a big-bore, 7.0-liter conversion. It produces 500 horsepower and all the torque you’ll ever need.

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