When talk turns to classic Aston Martins, the model usually mentioned is the DB5 that was immortalised in the James Bond film Goldfinger. But as the values of the best examples and its successor, the DB6, soar towards the £500,000 mark and beyond, the hitherto less-celebrated V8 Vantage is emerging as the old-school Aston to aspire to.
With a potential top speed of 170mph, enough torque to pull a house down and bodywork of road-hogging proportions, it was dubbed “Britain’s first supercar” when it hit the streets in 1977 – although the managing director of Aston Martin Works, Kingsley Riding-Felce, refers to it as simply “the brute in a suit”.
For those unfamiliar with the model, the V8 Vantage was born out of the standard AMV8 that, in turn, emerged from the six-cylinder DBS that replaced the DB6 in 1967. Two years later, the DBS received the 5.3-litre, eight-cylinder engine designed by Polish engineer Tadek Marek and was renamed first the DBSV8 and then the AMV8 – both models being comfortable, long-distance cruisers with a top speed approaching 150mph and a 0-to-60mph time of 5.9 seconds.
By the late 1970s, however, the car’s once-impressive performance was starting to look distinctly pedestrian, so it was decided to upgrade the AMV8’s engine with racier camshafts, bigger valves, a higher compression ratio, an easier-breathing exhaust system and four high-spec Weber carburettors.
The result was a hefty boost from the 314 horsepower of the standard car to as much as 380 horsepower for the new model, which was designated “Vantage” to indicate its superior performance. The car’s aggressive new personality was defined by a blanked-off radiator grille and bonnet scoop, additional driving lights, a boot-lid spoiler, a front air dam and Perspex-faired headlamps.
Aston now had a road-going racer that could out-drag a Ferrari Daytona and keep on going until it had exceeded Britain’s motorway speed limit by almost two-and-a-half times. At one point the fastest-accelerating production car available, the V8 Vantage featured in posters on the bedroom walls of boys around the world.
Among those once callow youths who coveted a V8 Vantage long before they were even old enough to hold a driving licence is 45-year-old commodities trader Zak Dhabalia, who, in 2010, finally realised his dream of owning one. “A friend of mine deals in Aston Martin DB4s and DB5s as a sideline,” he explains. “He took the Vantage in part-exchange for a DB4 and, knowing I wanted to get on the Aston ladder, contacted me about it. It had been the subject of a £140,000 restoration and it cost me £90,000 – which, at the time, was well above the average price. Now I’m told that it is worth at least £150,000.
“The fact that it had potential to gain value was one of the things that attracted me to the car, but I really bought it because I love the combination of extreme power, relative modernity compared with earlier Astons, and the fact that it can accommodate my family and luggage. Every time I open the garage door and see it there, looking huge and menacing, it brings a smile to my face – and it isn’t so ridiculously valuable that I have to worry about driving it on a regular basis.”
With hindsight, it was inevitable that the V8 Vantage would find its way onto collectors’ radars, not least because only 342 saloons and 192 Volante convertibles were built during the production run from 1977 to 1989. In contrast, there were 1,059 DB5s and 1,788 DB6s – effectively making the V8 Vantage twice as rare as either of the DB models.
“If there is one classic car that is suddenly in huge demand, it is the V8 Vantage,” says London-based Aston Martin dealer Nicholas Mee. “We will buy every one we possibly can.”
Perhaps the most valuable models of all are the 27 or so Vantage Volante convertibles built to so-called “Prince of Wales specification”, after Prince Charles ordered a 1987 car in British Racing Green and asked for the spoilers to be removed. In 1995, the Prince’s car was sold by Sotheby’s – complete with its hand-stitched container for dispensing sugar cubes to polo ponies – for £111,500 to a UK collector. It is now thought to be worth in excess of £250,000.
Through his Surrey-based specialist firm RS Williams, Richard Williams has been restoring, upgrading and selling V8 Vantage cars for about 30 years – and is convinced they will continue to rise in value. “They are fabulous cars with a superb performance and are very robust mechanically,” he says. “Probably the most important thing to look for when buying is a comprehensive service history to ensure that the car has been correctly maintained. They are not especially prone to rust and, if the performance, braking and handling are found lacking, they respond well to sympathetic modern upgrades. We do everything from a seven-litre engine conversion to improved brakes and suspension, and currently have a seven-litre car for sale at £145,000. I very much doubt it will depreciate.”
Indeed, the performance potential of the V8 Vantage can be seen in a short movie called Power Corrupts, which Geneva-based classic-car authority Simon Kidston has posted on his company website, Kidston.com. It shows his rare, factory-built 6.3-litre version being put through its paces in the Swiss Alps by a young Italian racing driver.
“Anyone who loves cars but has never been in a V8 Vantage really should try one,” says Kidston. “It’s rather like being in a battleship with a rocket strapped to its stern.” And what more, one wonders, could be asked of a car than that?