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Aston Martin V8 buying guide (1972-1989)

2016-05-30 Read: 119x

The early 1970s weren’t the best of times for Aston Martin. The David Brown era had ended when Sir David sold up in 1972, and new owners Company Holdings were, by their own admission, ‘not car people’. As if to confirm their lack of empathy, when the DBS V8 was relaunched under the new regime, it was to be known simply as the Aston Martin V8, the ‘DB’ part having been dropped ‘for marketing reasons’. Doh.

To be fair, boss William Willson and his team kept the factory open at a time when political and economic forces were conspiring against makers of expensive high-performance motor cars. But at the end of 1974 they were finally forced to throw in the towel, the company went into receivership and the factory closed. 

There was a real risk it wouldn’t reopen.

It took a consortium, led by American Peter Sprague, to rescue Aston Martin in 1975 and revive the marque’s fortunes, though production woudn’t restart until early 1976, and then only in tiny numbers. 

It’s fair to say the quality of these mid-70s Astons was, how to put this, patchy. When Motor tried an AM V8, its testers reported that the bolts retaining the final drive unit became detached, the transistorised ignition amplifier failed, as did the air-conditioning thermostat, swarf was found in a carburettor, and the clutch required attention. 

And yet the road testers raved about it! Because, despite everything, the AM V8 was the fastest, most accomplished high-performance luxury GT of its day – and in its various guises would remain in production for a remarkable two decades. As DBS V8 morphed into AM V8, the decision to ditch the tricky-to-service Bosch fuel injection for a quartet of twin-choke Weber carburettors certainly didn’t harm the performance: in fact Motor’s 0-60mph time of 5.7sec for a carb-fed AM V8 was almost half a second quicker than they’d achieved with the injected car, thanks to the new model’s keener initial pick-up and torquier delivery. Even if top speed was 5mph down at 155mph, it was still one of the world’s quickest GT cars.  

The Webers, they concluded, gave a ‘worthwhile improvement in low-speed running and tractability. When combined with the Aston’s very high cornering powers, this makes the V8 one of the most satisfying road cars we have driven for some time.’

Which one to buy?

The DBS V8 with its four headlights and Bosch injection ran from 1969 until it was replaced by the AM V8 with its two headlights and plainer grille in April 1972. There was a run of 288 fuel-injected AM V8s while engine stocks were used up (chassis numbers 501-789), but from July 1973 all had Weber carbs, these cars distinguished by a much bigger air-scoop on the bonnet. 

Just to muddy the waters, in 1972 Company Developments also introduced an ‘entry level’ version of the new Aston with the old 4-litre in-line six-cylinder engine. Ignoring decades of Aston tradition, they called this lower-powered model, which had wire wheels in place of the V8’s alloys, the ‘Vantage’. Doh.

But back to the V8s, and in 1978 came the ‘Oscar India’ (aviation code for OI or October Introduction) model: still carb-fed, so retaining the big bonnet-scoop, but with a host of detail improvements, subtle body changes including a neat, integrated tail-spoiler and, inside, a more sumptuous feel with lashings of glossy wood veneer on the dash and door cappings. 

The final version ran from 1985-1989 and featured Weber-Marelli electronic fuel injection, these ‘EFi’s distinguished visually by their BBS wheels and virtually flat bonnets.

There were, of course, souped-up Vantage and rag-top Volante variations on the basic recipe, but the values of those have long since escaped into the stratosphere, so it’s the regular V8 coupé (or ‘saloon’ in Aston parlance) that we’re focusing on here.

Performance and specs

  • Engine V8, 5340cc 
  • Power c310bhp @ 5500rpm 
  • Torque c320lb ft @ 4000rpm 
  • Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, LSD
  • 0-60mph 5.7sec 
  • Top speed 155mph 
  • Fuel consumption 11.4mpg

 Dimensions and weight

  • Wheelbase 2611mm
  • Length 4648mm
  • Width 1829mm
  • Height 1328mm
  • Weight 1875kg

Common problems

  • According to Nigel Woodward, manager of Heritage Operations at Works, it doesn’t matter which variant you’re looking at – DBS V8, early AM V8, post-1978 ‘Oscar India’, or the final run of Weber-Marelli injected cars – they’re all fundamentally the same underneath, which means that the biggest concern is corrosion.
  • All the V8s had the same conventional steel box-section chassis with a steel superstructure clad in alloy panels. All of it was made and assembled by hand at Newport Pagnell, but while the skills of the craftsmen were never in doubt, rust prevention measures were very much of the time (i.e. fairly perfunctory by modern standards).
  • Corrosion of the sills is the biggest single issue with V8s, and as with any Aston that’s not a small job to put right properly. Basically it involves cutting off the front and rear wing bottoms to gain access to the structure of the car, removing the sills, repairing the floors and making up new sill sections and putting them back in. And then of course you’ve got to fill, prepare and paint both sides of the car. It’s a major undertaking by anybody’s standards.
  • In terms of build quality, there’s not much to choose between any of them, so newer is not necessarily better.
  • Mechanically, they’re generally sound, but bear in mind that they can be up to 40 years old now. 
  • The engine, aside from the switch from fuel injection to carburettors and then back to fuel injection, was essentially unchanged from the first DBS V8 to the final EFi. 
  • It’s a wet-liner engine, and relies on O-ring seals at the bottom of the liners to seal them to the block. If the block becomes corroded, you end up with coolant and oil trying to mix together. There are telltale weep-holes at the base of each cylinder on the outside of the block, and if you get a telltale weep of oil or coolant it’s a sign that something’s amiss.
  • The Bosch fuel injection system can be set up to work perfectly well. The main problem today is getting some of the components. Same with the electronic fuel injection; the electronic modules are no longer available, though they can be repaired, depending on what’s wrong with them. If you had a car that needed two new ECUs you’d be a little bit stuck. Overall, though, it’s a robust engine.
  • And that goes for the drivetrain, too. The gearboxes were the same through all the generations, and both the ZF five-speed manual and three-speed TorqueFlite auto were already well-proven units and have proved generally issue-free. 
  • The auto arguably suits the character of the V8 better, but it’s purely a matter of personal taste. Neither type of transmission commands a particular premium over the other. If you go for a manual, do make sure you have an exended test drive in traffic – the clutch is formidably heavy.
  • The V8’s substantial kerbweight means suspension bushes wear quickly if the car is driven even moderately quickly – particularly those on the lower rear arms of the front wishbones where braking loads are transferred to the chassis. 
  • The bushes can be upgraded to later items from the supercharged V8s, a modification that also makes the car more stable under braking.
  • The brakes are generally considered marginal for fast road driving, and bigger discs with four-piston calipers are a worthwhile upgrade. 
  • Some cars have also been fitted with Harvey Bailey handling kits. 

 Summary and prices

Today, compared with the DB4, 5 and 6, the V8 still looks good value. But its stock is rising fast. Aston Martin Works recently sold an admittedly pristine DBS V8 for £175,000, and while the four-headlight car seems to attract a premium, the AM V8 isn’t too far behind, with the very best now commanding £150,000. It is, however, still possible to pick up a perfectly presentable and eminently useable example for £100,000-125,000. The key is finding a car that’s fundamentally sound and that won’t require major work.

 

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