Tell Me I'm Wrong: Aston Martin V8 Zagato


August 1987 was the month that probably changed the course of my life. Until that point the suspicion was that motor cars would have to play some role in my adult existence; after it there was no longer any doubt.

Styling was unique - but all the better for it
Styling was unique - but all the better for it
The September 1987 issue of CAR magazine left me transfixed: ‘There will never be another month like this!’ shouted the cover with preposterous self-importance. But they were right. It remains the single greatest issue of any car magazine ever published. And yes, even back then car magazines didn’t work to any sensible calendar.

The centre pieces of this issue for many people were the drives of the F40 and the 959, but for me the most memorable story was the comparison test between the 288 GTO and the Aston V8 Zagato. Here was a test format readers associated with small hatchbacks, only this time we had two pieces of fabulous specialness. I didn’t speak to anyone for weeks. I just sat and re-read the words and gawped at the pictures. Naturally, it didn’t matter that CAR thought the 288 the better machine; on looks alone, it immediately became my ultimate car, an opinion which hasn’t changed in 25 years.

Bonnet bulge housed bored-out IDA carbs...
Bonnet bulge housed bored-out IDA carbs...
Blunt stick
So where did this leave the strange looking Aston? Locked between the brutish V8 Vantages of the time and the largely pathetic Virage which followed, and carrying a list price which made seasoned Aston buyers cry. But there was always something beguiling about this particular Zagato, and I now find myself looking at them and wondering if they might be one of the coolest cars of the 1980s.

If the proportions look a little wrong in photographs, then the car is surprising in the flesh because it’s smaller and more delicate than you expect an Aston of this era to be. The thin pillars, exaggerated glass volumes and stumpy overhangs lend it a tension missing in the standard Vantages of the time. Dare I say it looks lightweight – but then it was comparatively so: over 200kg lighter than the car on which it was based thanks to all that Italian aluminium.

...housed in a huge air box atop the 5.3-litre V8
...housed in a huge air box atop the 5.3-litre V8
And then there was that power bulge. Allegedly fuel injection wouldn’t give enough power to hit the claimed 186mph top speed, so the engineers bored out some 48 Webers to 50mm and left Zagato scratching its head for a packaging solution. There was but one: a sodding great lump on the schnozzle. I love that proboscis, but many depositers at the time didn’t and there was something of a hoo-hah. It didn’t stop all 50 cars being pre-sold for £87,000. Adjust that for inflation now – it’s a few quid, as is the £135K paid recently for the car pictured.

Engorgeousness
I’ve never driven a Zagato so cannot comment on how the shorter wheelbase and lower kerb weight affects the way it drives, but knowing how quick a portly standard Vantage can be, these must have felt pretty loopy in 1987. And sounded rather special too.

Inside: Italo-British and unmistakeably '80s
Inside: Italo-British and unmistakeably '80s
There’s a strong possibility that my current yearning for this machine is mixed-up in a mild obsession with the decade in which it was built. I loved the 80s: the cars, the music, the complete lack of smug hindsight over previous decades. The world seemed to be looking forward and not concerning itself too much with what had gone before; hence a car which should have been an homage to the DB4 Zagato bore no resemblance whatsoever to its predecessor, but instead featured pretty much every styling cue from a motorshow concept of the previous five years.

There is, however, also a strong possibility that I’ve lost my mind. That the V8 Zagato is a lump of over-styled nonsense and a disgrace to the brand.

Someone had better tell me I’m wrong – or perhaps right?


ASTON MARTIN V8 ZAGATO
Engine:
5,340cc V8
Transmission: 5-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): c. 430@6,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 392@5,100rpm
0-62mph:  5.0sec
Top speed: 186mph
Weight: c. 1,650kg
MPG: N/A
CO2: N/A
Price: £135,000 (as featured)

With thanks to Alan at Aston Sales Kensington for use of the photos


 

P.H. O'meter

Join the PH rating wars with your marks out of 10 for the article (Your ratings will be shown in your profile if you have one!)

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Rate this article

Comments (179) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Donkey62 24 Jan 2013

    Zagato Alfa best sounding cars in the world imho and this V8 Zagato is only other i could live with looks wise reminds me of 80's suits with complete with shoulder pads
    and on very rare occasion it look good on a solitary sole for everyone else it didn't fit here Zagato fitted in very well.

  • LuS1fer 23 Jan 2013

    I don't see a problem with them all looking the same. they are clearly different and each offers the same iconic design in a slightly different flavour to cover the market. I look on it as one model with numerous variants which is really what the 911 is - and arguably the Panamera is just visually a longer 911, wherever it's engine may be.

    I'd rather stick with a good looker than a new Ferrari minger.

  • Alfanatic 23 Jan 2013

    Pr1964 said:
    PascalBuyens said:
    So it's ok for Porsche to do the same over and over again, and that gets called a "classic shape", while designing cars on one of the nicest looking shapes in automotive history is "plain wrong lazy"?
    Yes ok for Porsche

    and would also be ok for Aston Martin if they continued making evolving the DB5 but they decided to make a car which looked like a ford focus with a pinched nose and raked back screen and slitty lights. ie not an evolution of any Aston Martin.

    The 911 is a evolution Porsche had a go at the Aston Martin route with the 944 but quickly realised that killing off the 911 would be suicide.

    I wonder where Aston Martin would be today if they'd used the same formula as Porsche and evolved the DB5 the way Porsche evolved the 911?
    But that's exactly what's happening with the DB9 shape. You say it's OK for the 911 but not the Aston. While I agree that the design of all modern Astons is awfully samey, they can't kill it while it has so much support. If they replace it with a less successful design that would be suicide, and your viewpoint about the design in itself is in the minority to be fair. Most observers think it's gorgeous. So they can't kill it. It would make no more sense than Caterham killing the Seven, or Morgan killing the Plus 4. They're design classics and are going to have an awfully long shelf life.

    Porsche have the same problem with the 911, though at least they've been able to limit the damage to one model, not their whole range. The 928 (not 944) that was supposed to replace it still saw the light of day, just as a new model, and the 924 / 944, Boxster, Cayenne and Panamera have all managed to comfortably exist alongside the old icon. And just as Aston has detractors such as yourself (and I agree they all look too similar), Porsche has too. The joke that Porsche designers are the most overpaid - or underworked professionals in the world resurfaces with every new 911 model release, as do the old / new model Spot The Difference photos and so on.

    Your opinion might be that the 911 is fine and the Aston range is not, but if you step back from that you'll notice that the 911 suffers the same criticism.

  • iSore 23 Jan 2013

    Pr1964 said:
    Yes ok for Porsche

    and would also be ok for Aston Martin if they continued making evolving the DB5 but they decided to make a car which looked like a ford focus with a pinched nose and raked back screen and slitty lights. ie not an evolution of any Aston Martin.

    The 911 is a evolution Porsche had a go at the Aston Martin route with the 944 but quickly realised that killing off the 911 would be suicide.

    I wonder where Aston Martin would be today if they'd used the same formula as Porsche and evolved the DB5 the way Porsche evolved the 911?
    It's different because the 911 had been in production for too long before they thought seriously about replacing it. It had literally taken root in the soul of Porsche. Aston replaced the DB5 after three years or so, and the whole DB line was only around for nine or ten years.

  • LuS1fer 22 Jan 2013

    iSore said:
    Blimey, I'd forgotten that. Looks like a more modern Riley Pathfinder tbh.
    More like a Rover 75.

    I think I can come clean here and say I've never seen what the big thing is with Zagato. Full stop. Even the Fulvia Zagato was uglier than the car on which it was based. Most of his other work was largely a case of making a nice car look bad.

View all comments in the forums Make a comment