There was something very British about the way Aston Martin rolled out our country’s first ‘supercar’ in 1977. The V8 Vantage’s bluff aggressive snout, monster power output and limo-like opulence must have had the Italians wondering what the hell was going on.
It was the polar opposite to the lithe Latin machinery that had been the very basis for this new ‘supercar’ moniker. There was no low-slung bonnet, pop-up lights and sleek body shape here (Aston saved that for its four-door saloon, the Lagonda), this was a pumped-out leviathan of a coupe, that turned out to be as fast as anything Italy had to offer.
To overcome this Aston was forced to create bigger valves and lower-lift camshafts, but then the engineers realised that these changes could be applied to the standard V8 to create even more power. Throw in 481DA carburettors and suddenly the company had a 5.3-litre V8 producing almost 380bhp, an incredible figure for the 1970s.
The rest of the alterations sounded old school even for that decade. The distributor was remapped, the head skimmed, better spark plugs were fitted (NGK BP6EV) and a larger airbox was bolted in. The suspension was stiffened and ride height was rumoured to have been lowered thanks to cut-down springs. Aston even went as far as to fit spacers at the rear to increase the track.
Despite the Vantage’s bulky appearance, a lot of emphasis was put on aerodynamics and perhaps the most noticeable change, and perhaps one of the car’s most identifiable features, was the blanked-out grille. This was said to be the largest gain in drag reduction and thanks to the air being fed under the bumper there was no detrimental effect on cooling.
The end result was stunning. It was the motoring-equivalent of Johnny Rotten sticking two fingers up to the establishment. With a 170mph top speed Aston had arguably created the fastest car in the world.
And you could forget lying on the floor, sweating and reversing into things like you would in the new Lamborghini Countach – the Vantage had all the comfort and luxury you had come to expect from Newport Pagnell, and it seated four. A point had officially been made.
But brute force and obscene power is one thing – being special enough to qualify among the supercar elite is another. PH decided to track down a V8 Vantage and, in the interests of science, take it for a drive.
The last bit refers to the upgraded ‘X’ specification 437bhp V8 and sports exhaust. Thanks to the dished BBS alloys and dark paint this has to be one of the best-looking Vantages around.
Slide into the dark hide seats and you first appreciate how roomy and airy the car is. The next thing you notice is the odd pivot-on-the-floor pedals, which mean your toes tend to get caught when you press them (or my huge plates of meat at least).
The adjustable steering wheel never feels quite right, but you quickly forget these details when you look out over the menacing power bulge in front of you. There is, dare I say, more than a hint of early Mustang about this car, and the muscle car feel is inescapable.
Fire up the mighty V8 and it roars into life before settling on a baritone idle. It’s a big car and threading it through rural back streets is not the easiest thing in the world, although a combination of massive low-down torque (somewhere north of 380 lb/ft) and good visibility means its not as tricky as you might expect.
It’s a humbling experience piloting the Vantage, the car is so imposing and impressive you feel more like a privileged passenger than anything else. The steering is a little light but far more direct than I expected and before long I’m feeding the Vantage down B roads as if it is a car half its size.
As expected you can ride a wave of torque without the need to change gear and thanks to a compliant suspension the big Aston soaks up mid-corner bumps admirably. Body control is decent too, and in everyday conditions the car is far less of a handful than I envisaged.
As far as outright speed goes, this no longer feels like it was once one of the fastest cars in the world. Acceleration is linear and the noise that accompanies it is incredible, but 0-60mph in the mid-5s seems optimistic. That said these cars are apparently designed to rev to almost 7,000rpm and that is certainly not something I’m prepared to do in a 34,000-mile pristine example on greasy roads (not with the chap from the garage sitting next to me at least).
The Aston V8 Vantage is a shining example of how a bit of British know-how, some pencils behind ears, a decent cup of tea and a bit of ballsy ambition can take on the world.