Car: Aston Martin V8 Vantage (4.3)
Owned since: July 2017
Currently owned: V8 Vantage, Abarth 124 Spider
Previously owned: Nissan 370Z (Abbey Motorsport tuned), Mazda RX-8 PZ, Audi A4 (B7, in life sapping rep-mobile spec)
Why I bought it:
"I've developed a curious 'system' for when it comes to buying cars. Almost immediately after I buy one, I'll begin planning the next one (by planning, I mean spending my daily commute scrolling through the classifieds praying for glorious depreciation on the models that I lust after). I'll spend a lot of time researching, and curating a carefully considered shortlist, but somehow I always seem to end up buying a car that was never considered. During my 18-month 370Z ownership, I flip flopped between myriad options as to what to replace it with. My criteria were fairly clear - £40 - £50k, charismatic, loud, fun, dynamically rewarding, and ideally something that was already at the bottom of its depreciation curve (or at least wasn't going to lose 50 per cent in 2 years). This didn't narrow the options much though - should I finally succumb to my inner Gran Turismo playing teenager and fulfil a long held desire to own a Nissan GT-R? Should I finally check a Porsche off the list (as all true car lovers have to at some point) and opt for a 997.2 Carrera S? Would an attractively priced Lotus Evora S provide the junior supercar thrills I was craving?
"In the end there was one overwhelming itch that I was desperate to scratch - a naturally aspirated V8, and a manual gearbox. I've been destined to own a V8 for a long time, and after coming painfully close to buying both a W204 C63 and a Mustang GT over the last year, I couldn't face not getting a V8 this time round. Now that narrowed things down fairly quickly and I'd pretty much made my mind up to look for an early V8 R8 with that gorgeous gated manual. But then up pops this '07 V8 Vantage in the classifieds... I can't even recall why I was looking at Astons now. I suppose out of curiosity, as I knew they were in the right price bracket. But to tell the truth, I'd never really lusted after a Vantage. Or any Aston, to be honest. I'd grown up on a strict diet of Japanese imports and unlike so many car lovers, I never had that iconic defining moment in my formative years of staring at James Bond's preferred marque deciding that I 'just had to have one'.
"Something about it just grabbed me, and I ended up putting the deposit down for it over the phone. The test drive and the viewing confirmed what I'd already known, and I drove away very happy with my purchase."
What I wish I'd known:
"Despite the relatively short courtship, I'd made sure to do my due diligence before picking her up. I'm always careful to heed the advice that 'it's one thing to buy a car; it's another thing to own it'. I knew I was signing up to some punchy servicing costs and some potentially expensive maintenance if anything went wrong, but I had peace of mind knowing that it was Approved Used and fully warrantied.
"They have a reputation for being fairly mechanically sound, barring a slightly weak clutch (we'll come back to that later). The best advice I can give to any would be secondhand Vantage purchasers? Buy one with a bumper to bumper warranty, for gawd's sake."
"I can't decide what I love more - the looks or the noise. I've never bought a car for its aesthetic beauty before, and in fact I've even bought what I considered to be very ugly cars (see: Nissan 370Z) in spite of their looks, just because I liked the way they drove. So to value the looks of the Vantage above all else is a new sensation for me, but I cannot help but agree with the opinion that so many automotive journalists and car enthusiasts before me have put forward - the Vantage is arguably one of the best looking cars in history. Full stop. Especially from the front. I know this is all very subjective territory, but Mr Fisker has struck the perfect balance between effortless elegance, and subtle, purposeful aggression. After all, we're talking about the design that defined a decade of Aston Martin products. It's THE iconic shape that is now ubiquitous when you think of Aston Martin.
"Now for the noise. It's an interesting blend between low-end growls and high end screams (I've obviously removed fuse 22, because I'm from Essex and we all inherently understand that our neighbours actually really enjoy loud exhausts). It hasn't got the iconic 'supercar' V8 wail that you get from a Ferrari flat plane crank V8, but at the same time it's not quite got the baritone rumble of a 'muscle car' V8 found in the likes of a Mustang or an AMG. One thing's for sure though - it never fails to elicit a smile when you rev it out to the redline (still not sure why Aston Martin refuse to put a visible red line on their tachometers?).
"Finally, it has to be the quality of Aston Martin interiors. Once again, interior quality has always been low down the priority list when buying a sports car, but everything is just so well finished. Every surface is covered in leather or suede (apart from the cheap Volvo indicator stalks). The door handles are metal rather than the plastic you get in so many cars, and even many of the dials and switchgear are metal as opposed to plastic. It's just incredibly well finished. I was fortunate (or unfortunate - more on that later) to have a very well specced up 2017 Porsche 911 C4S on a two-month loan last year, and for a £120k car, I was incredibly underwhelmed with the interior when compared to a 10 year-old Aston Martin. The interior still feels modern and almost unused in this example (just don't mention the infotainment system). Mrs El Shafto put it better than I ever could: "It's like climbing into a gentleman's slipper". I mean, how many other manufacturers give you a suede roof? Who even touches the roof while they're driving? I do now!"
"Well let's lead with the complete absence of a redline on the tach. I realise that it might ruin the clean, minimalist aesthetic of the dash, but in a sports car with a manual gearbox, this seems like a glaring omission. While we're on the subject, the gearbox is far from the best. It's clunky and the throw is too long for my taste. It can't be rushed, which is particularly frustrating when making progress down a B-road. The ratios are also too long for my liking. I suppose I should be thankful that it's not the most enjoyable gear shifting action; if the ratios were shorter I'd have more clunky shifts to moan about! But it just feels like they set the gearbox up as a grand tourer, whereas the engine and the chassis scream 'sports car'. If you could put something like the six-speed manual that Porsche uses in the Cayman GT4 into this Vantage, it would transform the car at nine and 10 tenths. Which leads me onto the final thing...
"Now I can't claim to 'hate' this at all, it's just a bit of a surprising discovery - the 'whole' is much more relaxed than the sum of the parts suggest it should be. When you look at the recipe, this car should be something that handles and drives like a thoroughbred sports car. A proper 911 baiting machine. But to me, it feels a bit 'soft'. It's amazing as a GT car, but although it feels very dynamically 'hooked up' it just doesn't feel rewarding to push it to the limit. Although the more I think about it, the more I think that's largely down to the gearbox. That'd probably solve all of my gripes alone, because the chassis and steering are fantastic. I think that's also partly due to me owning two previous cars that were fettled and tuned fairly extensively so I'm not used to driving a sports car the way the manufacturer intended it."
"Spoiler alert - lots.
"Insurance isn't too expensive (at £850 per year for a late 20s gent with 5 points on his licence), and I was already in the top tax bracket with the 370Z and the RX-8 anyway, so I've been used to paying £535 per year road tax for as long as I can remember. Although my insurance company wouldn't insure me unless I had an active GPS tracker in the car, so I've had to pay the £250 annual subscription fee/protection money to the company that operates Aston Martin's anti-theft tracking systems (Euro Watch I think?).
"The repair work took the best part of two months to complete (which is when I was lucky enough to have the aforementioned C4S as a courtesy car). Then, less than one week after picking it back up, I had (what felt like) a fairly spectacular clutch failure at 70mph approaching a roundabout. I limped the car home as I was only about a mile away, and hoped to dear god that it wasn't the dreaded clutch failure that everyone warns you about with secondhand Vantages... An inspection at Aston Martin Sevenoaks confirmed my fears that the clutch has completely gone, and taken the flywheel with it. Parts and labour to fit a new clutch and flywheel? Call it £3,500. I'm not entirely sure how, but somehow I managed to convince them to repair this under warranty, despite the clutch being a wear-and-tear item, so I'm very thankful to Grange Aston Martin in Brentwood for that (as they are the ones who sold me the car and agreed to cover the repairs).
"Thankfully, since then, there have been no more mechanical failures or accidents. Just the routine annual service, which came in at £720 - about what I had budgeted for. And from what we can tell, the engine, bodywork and suspension is all in great shape, and the consumables like brakes and tyres have a good amount of life in them yet.
"It's probably no surprise that fuel is a considerable cost in a car with a V8 that's almost as old as the dinosaur fossils that it burns, and I've averaged just over 14mpg during my ownership - but come on, you kind of just write off the whole fuel economy discussion when you buy a 10 year-old Aston."
"I wish I could say Monte Carlo, Cannes, and Le Mans, but with the repairs and the clutch failure I've not had the chance to go on any road trips worthy of such a car yet. The country roads of Kent have provided ample opportunity to get a feel for the Vantage's dynamic ability. I should have driven it to Cardiff last year, but fate conspired against me and I ended up taking the courtesy Porsche instead (which converted me into a 911 fanboy over night). 2018 will hold at least one long road trip but the location is still up for discussion."
"This is a truly fantastic car, and having the opportunity to own an Aston Martin is something that I've relished, but I never planned to kept it for the long term (hence the decision to buy something that was unlikely to depreciate much). I'd planned to keep it 18 months maximum, and I'm starting to think that once it gets out of warranty, my repair bill anxiety will severely hamper the enjoyment, so I'm planning to change it late 2018. I also think I may have gone for an Aston a bit too early in my life to properly appreciate it. As accomplished as it is, it just doesn't feel focused enough for my tastes. I like my sports cars to be a bit more unapologetic in their approach. I want to drive something that makes every journey an event, but sadly the Vantage just doesn't provide that. The best way I can describe it is that the Aston Martin Vantage is like a finely tailored tuxedo: it's luxurious, well made and exquisitely appointed. But unfortunately I'm still at the point in my life where I prefer a pair of hi-tops and a snapback.
"In hindsight I should have shelled out the extra cash and opted for the 4.7 V8 instead of the 4.3, as the 4.3 doesn't feel any faster than my tuned Zed did. The extra torque and power is supposedly transformative (from what I hear), and the Bluetooth streaming would have been a nice bonus feature.
"So I'm looking at something with slightly harder edges next. I did consider the V12 Vantage or a 2013 Vanquish S as they've both depreciated to reasonable territory, but I don't like to own the same marque twice in a row. The Cayman GT4 is very tempting, and will certainly have the poise and focus I'm looking for in a car, but it depends which way the prices go over the next nine months. The two front runners as of now are the 991.1 Carrera GTS (GT3 would be the dream, but is just out of budget sadly), or a Gen 2, '16 plate R8 (in either plus or vanilla form, I'm not too fussy). A big part of me is leaning towards the R8, given that I've now owned rotary, four, six, and eight-cylinder engines already, so a wailing V10 seems like the natural next step on my way to completing the full house. It also feels like time is running out fairly quickly in the world of V10 supercars, so we need to make the most of it while we still can.
"But as I've already established, I rarely end up buying the car that I set out looking for..."
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