Aston Martin V8 Vantage: PH Heroes

The ethics of having a spin in somebody else's car are always complicated. While working in a very junior sales role many years ago, I once had to borrow my boss's car to get to an important sales pitch. This was a couple of days after a performance review that had helpfully detailed all the manifest ways I wasn't really cut out for a career in sales, and I drove the unfortunate Renault like an open audition for Police Camera Action. By the end of the 20-mile journey I had managed to put so much heat into its weedy brakes that I was called out of the meeting by a concerned secretary who told me that my car appeared to be on fire. For what it's worth, I made the sale.

At the other end of the scale, there's today's unique assignment - a chance to have a turn in Andy Palmer's recently acquired pride and joy, an immaculate 1980 Aston Martin V8 Vantage that he has put a six-figure chunk of his own money into. Not only that, but it's also literally just emerged from Aston Martin Works in Newport Pagnell, after a heavy service that has returned it to what's probably better than new condition. Literally, as in it's parked out the back and still wearing courtesy covers over its seats.

Could there be a more Aston pic than this?
Could there be a more Aston pic than this?
Before setting off Palmer admits that this is the first time he's experienced the Vantage from the passenger seat, and that he has barely had a chance to drive it himself since buying it last year. If anything does go wrong, I'll be known forever as the man who crashed the boss's car while he sat next to me.

Is the boss looking?
It doesn't help that the last car in the UK with Palmer's name on the V5 was a NISMO GT-R that he had apparently personally imported while he was still working for Nissan. A car he then agreed to lend to Chris Hoy at the Goodwood Festival of Speed two years ago, with a run that memorably ended in the hay bales at Molecomb.

So you'll probably understand that I set off as if I'm driving Miss Daisy's nervous sister.

Palmer's choice might feel like a carefully crafted PR angle, but he insists that he would have ended up in the same place even if he hadn't become Aston's CEO two years ago.

Still feels very rapid out here
Still feels very rapid out here
"I couldn't afford a DB5 or a DB6, even if I wanted one," he admits, "when I came back to the UK my plan was always to get something nice. The Vantage was always on that list, very close to the top in fact. This is the car I lusted after when I was a teenager. I was really looking for a '79 car, as that was the year I started work. But 1980 is close enough. That was the year I got my licence."

Palmer has certainly worked to achieve his dream car. He dropped out of school at 16 to start working as an apprentice for AP Brakes, then moved onto Austin-Rover and Nissan. On the way he earned two engineering degrees - like Aston's last CEO he's a Dr - and enjoyed a rocket-propelled career trajectory that saw him become Nissan's Chief Planning officer and chairman of Infiniti. Two substantial jobs, and roles that saw him frequently top lists of the most influential Brits in the motor industry, yet something he gave up in 2014 to move to Aston. A company that, throughout its 103-year history, has made fewer cars in total than his previous employer makes in a day-and-a-bit.

He admits that Aston's approach was "a mid-life crisis or a reality check... I thought I'm never going to be the CEO of Nissan or Renault - I thought I'm going to live out what I set my goal to be when I was starting out."

Manual X-Pack? The perfect combo!
Manual X-Pack? The perfect combo!
High carb diet
The Vantage V8 has often been described as the first British supercar, one that offered elegant proof that Newport Pagnell was more than up to keeping pace with the dramatic horsepower arms race of the 70s. When it was introduced in 1977 its official 375hp output made it one of the most powerful cars in the world, with a reworked version of Aston's 5.3-litre V8 breathing through quad carburettors and sending drive to the rear via a standard dog-leg manual gearbox. For perspective, a contemporary 911 Turbo had 300hp and a Lamborghini Countach LP400 had 370hp.

Palmer's car was, like many others, subsequently upgraded to the brawnier 'X-Pack' specification, which boosts power to a claimed 403hp. It's also changed colour at some point; it left Newport Pagnell for the first time in brown but it's now in an equally period-appropriate shade of green. In every other respect it feels factory fresh, with its originality proved by a substantial leather-bound folder announcing that it scored the highest grade in Aston's recently launched Assured Providence programme. It's still got its original radio-cassette player, which Palmer says he plans to listen to some of his old tapes on. "The Stranglers, or maybe the Boomtown Rats."

It doesn't take long for Palmer to grow bored of my excessively gentle progress. It doesn't need any of the excuses that are often required for older cars; the V8 pulls cleanly from low speed and without any hesitancy, despite the fact its four carburettors are sitting in the vee of the big engine. Throttle response is outstanding and the gearbox shifts cleanly, the brakes have solid bite and the power steering possesses a pleasant heft; it's much weightier than the finger-light assistance that was more common at the time.

Palmer bought the Vantage last year
Palmer bought the Vantage last year
Cracking on
It will keep up with traffic on not much more than idle torque, but as we turn onto the dual carriageway that heads from Newport Pagnell towards Olney, Palmer tells me to try a bit harder, and I soon discover that the big engine is equally keen to rev. By 4,000rpm it's starting to feel properly quick, and it pulls progressively harder to the 5,800rpm where peak power arrives, and where I chicken out and lift off. It's still seriously quick, even by 2016 standards; 39 years ago it must have been like being presented with a personal hyperdrive. It's only as I slow down, adrenaline tingling in my fingers, that Palmer admits he narrowly avoided getting caught by a mobile speed camera the first time he drove it.

We stop and swap places, Palmer taking the wheel as we drive the twisty road that heads towards Cranfield. This is very familiar ground for him; it's where the vast Nissan European Technical Centre that Palmer used to be in charge of is and many of the Nissans and Infinitis coming the other way are probably being driven by his former colleagues. Does he ever regret leaving Nissan?

It's easy to see why he's pleased!
It's easy to see why he's pleased!
"Not at all, I'm not really a regret kind of person," he says, "Aston demonstrates the cliche that you have to make six million cars a year to be successful in the motor industry is complete b*****s. Small can be beautiful, it gives you something the others can't have: the ability to know your customers in detail and the agility to make what they tell you they want."

Although today is meant to be about Palmer's old Vantage, I can't resist asking him about the future one. With the current car being replaced next year - and the first appearance of the AMG V8 engine in an Aston - will the famous name live on?

"That decision hasn't been taken yet," Palmer says, "but we'd be mad to walk away from heritage like this, wouldn't we?

: 5,340cc, V8
Transmission: ZF five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 385@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): N/A
0-60mph: 5.3sec
Top speed: 170mph
Weight: 1,990kg
Price new: N/A








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Comments (68) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Monty Python 19 Jul 2016

    Great car, and great to see it still wearing it's period registration number.

  • DoctorX 19 Jul 2016


  • Leins 19 Jul 2016

    Now that's just superb cool

  • SturdyHSV 19 Jul 2016

    If I had the money, I think I would struggle for many, many weeks before I could decide whether to get this era of Vantage, or the next one...



    I think I've got the solution though hehe

  • Dave Hedgehog 19 Jul 2016

    i adore these

    my friend had an RS Williams 450, made me giggle like a little girl

    the bills from aston for it made a vayron look cheap to run ...

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