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.

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?

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
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

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Comments (179) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Stew2000 16 Jan 2013

    I'm just stunned.

  • rtz62 16 Jan 2013

    Not something I would ever yearn to own, but it is of its time, and in my mind represents the era well.
    Very colour-dependent, I've see one in yellow, that looks awful, yet silver or grey are definately the colour for the car.

  • The Jolly Todger 16 Jan 2013

    It's a nice article but why is it illustrated with pictures of a Citroën XM?

  • DUBU 16 Jan 2013

    The best of Zagato's modern works imo, much better the the Alfa SZ etc..

    I also remember Rowan Atkinson driving a Blue one in some film back in the eighties.Looked stunning then, still does.

    I think works offered a 6.3 or 7.0 conversion too...

  • Lunablack 16 Jan 2013

    Has to be one of the worst looking Astons everyuck... Nothing about that shape makes me want to own one...

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