ASTON MARTIN V8 REVIEW

The Aston Martin V8: Good enough for James Bond, good enough for Royalty and yet shunned from the bank-account busting prices commanded by DB models. Now is the time to venture into ownership of Aston's-V8 lovechild. 

In a world where the traditional Aston superstars – specifically DBs 4, 5 and 6 – routinely command wallet-wilting prices on the open market, finding a stunning looking genuine alternative that bears the same prized badge, but which can be had for comfortably less than the price of a house, might, perhaps, come as something of a surprise.

The V8s are no pale Aston facsimiles, either – they are built to last, go like stink and offer typical Aston interior luxury wrapped up in a shape that has matured noticeably in recent years.

They’re even surprisingly practical, with decent rear cabin space and a deep boot. In fact, with the notable exception of fuel consumption (which can be horrific), the V8 makes a compelling case for itself. 
Better still, while values remained static for years, the market is finally beginning to wake up to them, with later big-engined low-milers now well into six figures. Buying a car purely for investment potential is something we’d never advocate, but there’s no getting around the fact that values of these cars can only rise from here on in.

V8 Astons are wheeled contradictions in many ways. The styling is an unashamed homage to the late ’60s Chevrolet Camaro, yet this US-influenced body houses a quintessentially British interior dripping with Connolly leather, Wilton carpets and glossy walnut.
The build quality, meanwhile, suggests a sedate luxury limousine, but shoving the throttle into the carpet elicits a very un-limo-like rate of knots within a very short space of time. The term ‘gentleman’s hot rod’ has been overused over the years, but if a ever a car fitted such an epithet, this is definitely it.

Even very early DBS V8s could crack zero to 60mph in six seconds and top over 160mph flat-out – figures that in period humbled such contemporary illuminaries as the Ferrari 365 GTC, AC 428 and Jensen Interceptor. As a result, fuel economy barely made it into double figures, but in such decades of excess as the ’70s/80s, did anyone really care?

Giving any Aston Martin V8 the beans is an assault on the senses: the glorious V8 soundtrack, the blurred scenery and the sheer heft of the gearbox and steering make any journey in one a memorable event.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

1. Blanking off the radiator grille may have boosted the car’s aerodynamic properties, but it did very little for its engine cooling. Even when new, the Vantage ran a good ten degrees hotter than the standard car, so any problems in the cooling system will be magnified ten-fold. Rusty, blocked or vane-damaged radiators are a big no-no, as are cracked cooling pipes, faulty thermostats, ancient coolant and damaged fan-blades. 

2. Unless you’re a stickler for originality, don’t dismiss a V8 Vantage that’s had its grille blanking plate removed, especially if it has spent much of its life in hotter climates. That said, a UK-based car bereft of the blanking plate should start alarm bells ringing: has it been removed to help disguise other chronic overheating issues?

3. Sill integrity is crucial: anything more than minor surface corrosion here can be a deal-breaker. The sills are of a complex design, but rot can be hidden by unscrupulous vendors by fitting a cover plate over corroded inner and outer sills. It might seem drastic, but it’s worth asking a vendor to remove the outer cover (it’s only held in place by a few screws), the better to assess the state of the metal beneath. Always check the jacking points, too.

4. Check the area where the front leading edge of the sill meets an outrigger. This is a known V8 rot spot, and ease of rectification is hardly helped by the fact that both the brake and fuel lines run through the offside outrigger. Other areas that must be checked include the bases of the A- and B-pillars (which attach to the sills) and, at the rear, the outer sill box sections, the rear of the boot floor and the chassis legs. Those elegant aluminium doors clad a rot-prone steel inner shell, too.

5. The sheer robustness of Tadek Marek’s V8 engine design means that the bottom end should last 150,000 miles or more if it is regularly serviced using quality oils. Even a high mileage example in need of new pistons and/or liners is rare and likely to have stemmed from neglect. The top end is less bullet-proof, however, with head-gaskets in particular a known weak-spot. Replacement is straightforward enough, but if the seals between the engine block and wet liners deteriorate, then the oil will eventually become contaminated with water, with expensive repairs the likely result.

6. Low oil pressure is always an ominous sign: anything less than 13psi at idle (or less than 60psi at higher revs) signifies an engine that is on its last legs, while excessive consumption of the black stuff points to worn piston rings – either way, expect a full stripdown and re-build.

7. Other engine-related engine issues to watch out for include loud rattles (likely to be caused by a terminally worn water pump or stretched timing chains), while persistent rough running and/or poor starting can often be traced back to badly adjusted carbs or sooted-up plugs.

8. Walk away from any car whose transmission is displaying any signs of distress. A loud metallic sound that disappears once the clutch is disengaged is usually indicative of worn layshaft bearings, while sloppy clutches will need replacing sooner rather than later. This is a particularly horrible (and therefore expensive) job on very early (pre-1976) V8s, since it involves removal of a great deal of cabin trim.

Our verdict

In many ways the forgotten Aston amid the hyper-money DBs from the 50s and 60s and the new-monied DB9/Virage/V8/V12 Vantage current crop, the V8 evolutions of the old DBS must surely rate as a hot tip for buyers looking for the best of all classic car worlds that won’t lose them money.

Sure, later models lost the badge cachet of the ‘DB’ moniker when David Brown (who turned Aston Martin’s fortunes around following his purchase of the company in 1947), finally called it a day, but the styling remains, as does the towering might of the famous Tadek Marek-designed engine, allied to belief-defying handling and ride qualities.

There seems little doubt that now is the AMV8’s time: we say invest in one now before prices follow those of earlier DBs into the stratosphere.

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