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Aston Martin DBS V-8/AM V-8, Vantage, Volante

2014-04-23 Read: 402x

The six-cylinder Aston Martin DBS appeared in 1967 but had always been planned around a new Aston Martin DBS V-8. This powerful 5.3-liter unit, with light-alloy block and heads and twin overhead camshafts per cylinder bank, was actually unveiled that same year for racing, but didn’t see production until the autumn of 1969. It has powered every Aston and Lagonda built since.

Aston enthusiasts had waited a long time for something like the DBS V-8, and they weren’t disappointed. It was — and is — a magnificent powerplant: very muscular and torquey, and quite reliable with proper servicing. It’s also quite expensive — built mostly by hand, in fact — which keeps production at Newport Pagnell down to no more than four or five cars a week.

You could distinguish between the six-cylinder and V-8 DBS by the latter’s standard cast-alloy wheels — and much greater performance: 0-60 mph was now a mere 6.0-second affair, top speed a blistering 150 mph. The V-8 transformed the DBS from being very fast to stupendously fast — one of the two or three quickest cars in the world. Because rival makers often claimed optimistic (and sometimes unbelievable) power and performance figures in the late 1960s, Aston refused to quote any at all, stating only that the V-8 DBS was “sufficient” and allowing its performance to speak for itself.

Nevertheless, the V-8 initially delivered an estimated 350-375 horsepower with standard Bosch electronic fuel injection which, as experience soon showed, was rather finicky to maintain. As with the six-cylinder model it was offered with 5-speed manual (ZF) or 3-speed automatic transmission, only the latter was now the well-known Chrysler TorqueFlite. Chassis specifications were as for the six-cylinder car except that its optional power steering was standard.

The DBS V-8 has been in production nearly two decades now, surviving several management and ownership changes in the process. Today’s version doesn’t seem all that different from the original, but it’ s seen a fair number of changes over the years.

The first came in 1972, when David Brown sold Aston Martin Lagonda to Company Developments, Ltd. The DBS V-8 was renamed Aston Martin V-8 and received the facelifted six-cylinder model’s new two-lamp nose with narrowed black-mesh grille, and a hood “power bulge” (replacing the former scoop). From summer 1973, the engine reverted to carburetors, a quartet of twin-choke Webers that actually improved both performance and driveability. These continued into the 1980s, when fuel injection returned, a more modern Bosch system. (Incidentally, there was a six-month period in 1974-75 when no Astons of any kind were built, pending the arrival of new management and fresh capital.) Power was boosted by an advertised “15 percent” in 1977, and though emissions controls have since taken a toll, recent official figures list output at 309 bhp net.

That same year, 1977, brought a souped-up Vantage V-8, a British reply to Italian supercars like the Lamborghini Countach and Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer. It was easily identified by a deep front airdam with engine-cooling slots, big Cibié driving lamps ahead of a blanked-off grille, fat Pirelli P7 tires, and added-on (later faired-in) rear lip spoiler. Suspension was modified to suit to the new tires and the higher performance of a V-8 tweaked to 400 bhp initially; current output is 406 bhp. Given the right conditions the Vantage can exceed 170 mph, thus vying with the legendary V-12 Ferrari Daytona as the world’s fastest-ever front-engine production car.

Aston hadn’t offered a Volante convertible since the last DB6 model in 1970, but June 1978 brought a new drop-top version of Bill Towns’ original DBS design, looking just as good — maybe better — than the fastback coupe, which by that time was an elderly 11 years old. Supplied with most every luxury, the Volante was first offered with just the normal-tune V-8, but has been available with Vantage power since 1986.

Although big and heavy (around 4100 pounds at the curb with all options), the V-8 Astons are beautifully balanced and handle surprisingly well, though they’re still high-effort tourers, “man’s” cars rather than a “woman’s” in the best Aston tradition. If you could forget about price (well over $100,000 by the early 1980s) and attracting unwanted police attention, you could throw one around with the same abandon as an MG Midget — but at considerably higher speeds, of course.

How long they’ll hang around is questionable at this writing. Aston recently renewed ties with Zagato in Italy for a limited run of special-body coupes (50) and convertibles (25), and this could possibly spawn a replacement for the Towns’ design. But it won’t render the hairy-chested V-8 Astons collector’s items. They achieved that status long ago, and it’s well deserved.

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