Since the birth of the ‘modern’ V8 Vantage in 2005, the Aston Martin brand has reached parts it hadn’t reached before. That’s because the V8 Vantage was designed to be a more affordable car than Astons of old, and compete with ubiquitous rivals such as the Porsche 911. Yet it was a complete break with tradition to stick the Vantage name on a car that sat at the bottom end of its range.
The origins of the Vantage name date back to the 1950s, when it was used to signify something better: more power. The DB2 was the first car to have the Vantage tag applied, when its WO Bentley-designed twin-cam straight six came with larger carbs and a higher compression ratio that would take advantage of the higher-octane fuels of the post-war period. It added just 20hp but also a good deal more low-end torque. By the time the heavier DB2/4 came along the power upgrade was standardised, and a new Vantage spec was developed using larger valves and more aggressive cams.
Skip forward to 1961 and the Newport Pagnell era, and the Vantage name was back. By now, Tadek Marek’s 3.7-litre ‘six’ had taken over as the staple of the Aston Martin range, and for an extra £180 you could buy a Series IV DB4 in Vantage spec. Again, the upgrades involved bigger valves and uprated cams, along with a set of SU HD8 carbs, all of which relinquished a decent sounding 266hp. The theme was repeated when the DB5 arrived. By now, the engine was 4.0-litres and in Vantage trim boasted three Webers in place of SUs, and peak power of 314hp.
The Vantage’s significance had faded by the time the William Towns’ DBS had arrived, with the Vantage specification becoming a simple no-cost option. But this was a period of turmoil for Aston – just one of many that plunged the company into a financial black hole and very nearly drew the final curtain. David Brown had sold out to Company Developments, with accountant William Wilson at the helm. Even a bean counter like Wilson couldn’t steer Aston ship to calmer financial waters. With a global recession and fuel crisis compounding Aston’s lack of financial capital, there was no money to develop the new engines it required to meet California’s incoming emissions legislation. Once again, the plug was pulled - yet once again a lifeline emerged. This time, in the form of an Anglo-American consortium, which picked up the baton in 1975 and immediately set about investing in new models.
The Lagonda arrived in 1976, and the following year the Vantage name returned with a bang. The new Vantage fielded a significantly uprated version of Marek’s 5.3-litre V8 in the DBS/ V8 coupe’s body. The traditional Vantage recipe was back: bigger carbs, bigger valves, higher-lift cams and a higher compression ratio. The result was headline-making. 390hp and 406lb ft meant a top speed of 170mph and 0-60mph in 5.3 seconds – a time that led to the V8 Vantage being championed as ‘Britain’s first supercar’. It was certainly one of the fastest production vehicles in the world, and since the Ferrari Daytona had been killed off in 1973, it was the ultimate four-seater, front-engined GT.
Visually the Vantage was more than just a badge. The new V8 Vantage was instantly recognisable and easy to distinguish from the regular V8 thanks to its deep chin spoiler, solid front grille and inset driving lamps. It wasn’t just a cosmetic exercise, either, but an effort to make the ‘two-tonne brick’ slip through the air more easily. Underneath, there was a bigger front anti-roll bar, stiffer springs and Koni dampers all round. The brakes were also given more bite and the Vantage came with a bigger fuel tank to boost its long-distance credentials.
As with all V8 coupes, the Vantage’s production was a lengthy process. Each example was hand built and took 1,200 hours and three months to complete. It may have looked like a muscle car and weighed heavy on the scales, but the V8 Vantage has been described as agile, rewarding and yet also forgiving to drive. I wouldn’t know, because I haven’t driven one, but a friend of mine had one a few years ago and raved about how it went down the road. If you fancy experiencing the V8 Vantage for yourself, this late manual has covered 67,000 miles, and is described as number 68 of 131 X-Pack models introduced from 1986. The X-Pack means you get Cosworth pistons, Nimrod heads, big-bore exhausts and a whopping 432hp and 395lb ft. As such, it’s a lot more expensive than your typical V8 from the same period, but that’s because a Vantage back then meant a lot more car.
Specification | Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Engine: 5,340cc, V8, naturally aspirated
Transmission: Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 432 @ 5,800rpm
Torque (lb ft): 395 @ 4,500rpm
Recorded mileage: 67,000
Year registered: 1988
Price new: N/A
Yours for: £375,000
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