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Aston Martin DB7 | The Brave Pill

Brawny, British, brave and a bargain!

By Mike Duff / Saturday, March 21, 2020

You'll forgive a good looking car much more readily than you will an ugly one. That's a sentiment that any low-cost DB7 is likely to test on a regular basis, with this week's Pill being both as cheap and courageous as any Aston Martin gets. As a six-cylinder auto, it is fitted with what the market regards as the least attractive DB7 powertrain combination, while it also carries a 101,000 mile odometer reading that the more timid will view as unduly high for this rarefied bit of the market. More alarm will be caused by an MOT history which indicates some substantial structural issues in the car's recent past. Yet it also wears a price tag appealing enough to negate a whole heap of risk: this is a £14,000 Aston Martin. For context, the cheapest version of the gussied up Toyota iQ that is the Cygnet is being offered for 50 per cent more.

Those who were confidently predicting a rise in DB7 values years ago have grown grey beards while they wait. While prices for other near-classics from the era have increased, sometimes substantially, only the later V12 DB7 Vantage and its last-of-line GT variant have staged a resurgence. Early cars are still in the doldrums, in large part due to the number of aluminium-bodied DB9s and Vantages that have fallen into the low-20s. There's lots to love about the DB7, but it's never going to have the appeal of its better-engineered successors.

Over the years plenty of models have been credited with saving the companies that created them. But none did so as spectacularly as the DB7, a car that turned the company which produced it from a cottage industry into one of the luxury segment's major forces. What makes that even more impressive is that it wasn't even supposed to be an Aston Martin.

By the early 1990s Aston was practically in hibernation, selling such small volumes of its wedgey GTs that annual production sometimes failed to get into three figures. Although Ford had bought the company in 1987, it was struggling to know what to do with its aristocratic offshoot, especially as it ploughed money into its other British acquisition, Jaguar. canning a putative F-Type sportscar, Ford asked TWR - Tom Walkinshaw's race team turned engineering consultancy - to design an upmarket Jaguar GT which was intended to replace the aged XJ-S. The job went to a little-known designer called Ian Callum, who had given up a safe but supremely dull corporate job sketching door handles and headlights at Ford to jump to the more exciting world of TWR. His first project there was a new tractor; his second would be this sportscar.

But then things went wrong. Jaguar had been burned by the cost of the XJ-220 project and the early 1990s recession, so the company's senior management decided not to take it to market. After some behind the scenes lobbying, involving both Callum and Tom Walkinshaw, Aston's canny chairman Walter Hayes got the project turned over to him, with the idea of creating a new entry-level model. The total development budget was just £30m - a tiny amount for such a big project, even in those days - with the DB7 to be built in the unit at Bloxham that had previously been used for the XJ220.

It was launched in 1994 and was an immediate hit, increasing Aston's sales by several hundred percent. But the initial critical froth, and excitement due to any new Aston, did glossome fairly egregious failures. The DB7's cabin was cramped and poorly packaged, and slatherings of wood and leather couldn't hide low-rent parts bin components and the sort of hand-built hit and miss build quality that comes from hitting and (sometimes) missing. On the outside, Callum had done a remarkable job with what he had to work with - Jeremy Clarkson's line about the DB7 being the "most beautiful man-made object on the planet" stuck with it for years. But the compromises involved in doing so much with so little were still obvious, especially the size of the front and rear overhangs beyond the relatively short wheelbase - at 2,591mm this was identical to the XJ-S. It was still possible to spot plenty of areas where costs had been pared back, including the famous reuse of Mazda rear lights.

The engine was a supercharged 3.2-litre derivative of Jaguar's 24-Valve AJ6 engine, the power output of 335hp ensuring that it delivered more than both Aston's naturally-aspirated V8 of the period, and also (just) the run-out 6.0-litre version of the V12 XJS. It was effective, but short on finesse, getting loud and whiny when pushed hard and hitting its wall at a lowly 6,000rpm. A manual gearbox was standard, but many buyers opted for the auto, the first owner our of Pill being one of them. This was a slushy four-speeder that really took the edge off performance, the 6.9-second 0-62mph time being more than a second adrift of the 5.7-second time the manual recorded. (Post '97 cars, like this one, got a slightly snappier gearbox, but still with only four speeds.)

Handling was widely praised by the era's road testers, although at least some of that was down to the subjective improvement over previous Astons, rather than any measure of objective excellence. Compared to the aluminium-bodied cars that followed it, the DB7 feels heavy and reluctant to change direction quickly, it is also not especially rigid, even in coupe form. The later Volante convertible had the structural strength of a very fast biscuit tin.

The six-cylinder DB7 played a critical role for Aston, though, not least in persuading Ford management to invest the considerable sums required to create what became the 'VH' aluminium architecture. But it didn't take many years for it to start feeling outdated, especially when the cheaper Jaguar XK launched and was soon being offered with a more powerful supercharged V8. That led to the creation of Aston's V12 engine - predecessor to the 5.2-litre turbo that is still being made - which was first fitted to the DB7 in 1999 to make the Vantage version. Both this and the six-cylinder were meant to be sold alongside each other, but demand switched almost totally to the brawnier motor and the 'six was quietly retired after just five years in production. The contemporary reckoning that the Vantage was the one to have has stuck ever since, with a corresponding split in prices.

Yet the early DB7 still has a huge amount going for it, including almost all of the design of the later cars and the specialness that comes with any of the company's products. Driving any Aston turns you into the star of your own show, and the next owner of this one is likely to receive nearly as many favourable comments as they would had they spent ten times as much on a brand new DB11. Our Pill is showing the faded headlight covers that often afflict earlier cars, and would certainly benefit from a proper scrubbing-up, but the combination of dark blue paint and magnolia hide is a good one, and the vendor reports a recent spray at the front to cover stone chips.

Claims of other recent expenditure include a £4K invoice, with no further details. The fact the MOT before last reported significant corrosion in critical areas - which had disappeared by the most recent test - suggests at least some of the spend was on structural work. It does show the scale of bill that can bite at pretty much any time on a car like this one, with the near certainty of annual upkeep costs representing a significant percentage of the initial purchase price. But there's more than enough gloom out there at the moment, so let's keep that positive. This is an Aston Martin being offered for the same price as a base Ford Fiesta - which would be more fun to own?


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