The Aston-Martin V8 Vantage
The format of Aston Martin's fastest road cars - big engine up front, bulky coachbuilt body and driven rear wheels - had not changed for many years and this factor most of all, by 1978, had become the major point of criticism of Aston. Nevertheless, with the Vantage, Aston Martin managed to build what it claimed was the world's fastest-accelerating production car. "Vantage" - a word sounding like a cross between Vintage and Advantage told it all. The old-established Aston Martin model name for a highly-tuned version of their basic product. Considering the heritage that lay behind it, the Vantage version was something of a bargain.
The Vantage owed a lot to Mike Loasby, who had returned to the Aston Martin fold as the chief engineer following the company's salvation led by George Minden and Peter Sprague on June 27, 1975
. Loasby had spent some years with Leyland
and was glad to return where individuality reigned supreme. In the Aston Martin Lagonda
and the Vantage
, Loasby's individuality emerged in the metal. During 1976
he raced his own Aston V8 and some of the experience he gained was built into the Vantage. The result was a masculine modern sports car with real hairs on its chest, which simply outperformed such foreign exotica as Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Maseratis and - from a standing start - even the Porsche Turbo!
The initial targets for the Vantage were 40 percent more engine power and 10 percent more torque than standard. To avoid "odious comparisons" the power output figure of Aston's standard V8 was never released, but great attention to the Vantage unit's breathing must have boosted it to perhaps 320 kW. Four 48 mm Webers replaced the standard unit's 42 mm throats, and revised camshafts lifted larger inlet valves aspirated through reshaped inlet manifolds. They were fed by a revised airbox sitting atop the Webers, and so the 100 mm x 85 mm (5341 cm3) quad-cam engine was just asking for harder plugs than standard - which it received.
With a compression ratio of 9:1, the Vantage required 97-octane fuel. Other modifications from standard included a heftier front anti-roll bar
, Koni shocks front and rear and a "demon tweak" on the De Dion rear end
to promote a different roll-steer effect. Slotted front discs were derived directly from racing experience while chunky seven-inch wide cast aluminium 15-inch wheels carried podgy Pirelli CN12 255/60-15 tyres
. The five-speed all-syncromesh ZF manual gearbox drove through a 3.54:1 final drive with an optional 3.77 available. To prevent lift at speed, a fibreglass front air-dam esd hung beneath the nose, slotted for brake and radiator cooling, while the bonnet-top air intake was blanked off and a GRP tail spoiler was fitted to the boot lid. The radiator air intake of the standard shell was also blanked off, the blanking plates also housing a pair of dipping spotlights which effectively formed another pair of headlamps. The headlamps themselves are neatly faired-in behind perspex covers.
The result was a handsome but decidedly brutish-looking machine which meant business. Starting cold was no problem. Just a brief pump on the throttle pedal primed the rack of Webers and at a key-turn the V8 sprung to life. Instant throttle response and abbreviated over-run indicated a light flywheel, and blipping the unit as it warmed up sent curtains twitching right down the street! The Vantage was very much an exhibitionist's dream car, but out on the road the Aston-Martin V8's muted gunmetal color and effective silencing made it a civilised sports car rather than a boy's racer.
Behind The Wheel
You sat quite high in the leather seats, but only commanded a view past rather than over the bonnet-top bulge. The facia roll was quite high and a cowl formed up over the instrument panel ahead of the adjustable steering wheel. The panel itself was black-lined, carrying antiquated-looking instruments with chrome surrounds and unfortunately highly-reflective glasses. The oil pressure gauge was placed squarely before you between the left-hand 200 mph speedometer and the right-hand tacho red-lined at 6000 rpm. Water and oil temperature gauges reside to the right while ammeter and a rather depressingly fast-moving fuel gauge sit to the left. A right-hand column stalk operates indicators and headlamp dip/flash while the left-hand lever provides wiper control.
The long ZF gearchange lever fell handily into your palm on the humped centre tunnel, with its first gear to the left and back, reverse to the left and forward, and second/third gear spring-loaded into the centre plane, forward and back. There was no distinct gate in this change, and many first-time drivers found the initial miles were fraught with pregnant pauses as they searched around for a cog. Most discovered that the problem was that they were trying to guide the lever rather than allowing its spring-loading to do the job. Once they became accustomed to the mechanism, simply open-palming the lever forward and fingering it back the change would become delightfully quick and precise, marred only by a slight syncro baulk into second and third.
Few Supercars Of The 1970's Looked This Menacing ...
On the Road
The steering was power-assisted sufficiently to make parking possible with the massive tyres, but with sufficient natural feel retained to make it acceptable in high-speed motoring it was heavy. The Vantage was not a nimble little thing that could be leaned through esses with a flick of the fingers. The steering movement had to come from the shoulders, and a long cross-country drive would leave your arms tired. At slowish speeds when not pulling the V8 burbled almost inaudibly, though a thump-thump from the tyres and suspension spoilt the opulent air. Bumps and road surface patches would snag and tug at the steering which joggled against your hands, and such first acquaintance was disappointing. Then on to a better road, speed building up to 80 mph, no wind noise at all, the road noise was gone and there was a mild-mannered waft from the twin exhaust tail pipes.
Knock the shift lever forward out of fifth, allow it to centre on its spring-loading into the second/third plane and tap it neatly back into third. Then you would learn what a slick movement it really was. The V8 didn't so much bark as shout on the blip, then the progressive clutch took up drive again, right foot flooring the throttle and with an unashamed bellow the Vantage powered for the horizon. Shoulder blades slammed back into the seat squab, you head would jolt back, the car's bulbous nose would start lifting and the road would be streaming faster and faster beneath the air-dam as long straights became fleeting blasts, and gentle curves became corners.
Tap the gearlever towards the steering wheel rim for fourth. The same effect, pulling like a Trojan. Up to the red-line, flick back for fifth and still there was more to come, the nose still up in the air and searching for the horizon. A blind hairpin approaches, at 4500 rpm in fifth, that's 120 mph. Go in deep, bury your foot in the brakes, flick down through the gears. The brake pedal was firm and at first not too assuring as the slotted discs warmed-up. They felt unprogressive but the Vantage was squatting firmly, trying to bury itself in the road surface. Set-up long before the corner so you roll off the brakes and accelerate into it. Drive back along the same road to see four even-black lines dusted on to the road surface by braking reaction through the superb Pirellis. And that without ever having locked them up.
A True Grand Tourer
Through such a bend a strong understeer could be balanced out on power, and then the Vantage's nose was rising, the tail was beginning to slide in perfect balance with the front and the whole two tons was hurtling out of the bend and hammering out its quad-cam song away on to another straight. While a Vantage was not a foolproof Ford Escort
type car in which you could take maniacal liberties, it was a true Grand Tourer which rewards driving concentration with superfast averages.
Aston Martin claimed acceleration as follows: 0-48 km/h (30 mph) in 2.22 seconds; 0-64 (40) in 2.94; 0-80 (50) in 4.21; 0-96 (60) in 5.30; 0-112 (70) in 6.62; 0-129 (80) in 8.57; 0-145 (90) in 10.46 and 0-160 (100) in 12.67 seconds. To 193 (120) from rest was claimed to take just 18.88 seconds. Aston claimed the Vantage was the fastest-accelerating production car on the strength of a 5.3 second 0-96 time compared to something like the Ferrari Daytona
at 5.4 seconds or the slow-off-the-mark Porsche Turbo at 6.1 seconds. As any road-tester will tell you, times may be the measure of performance but they don't put across the impression of sheer "grunt" which sitting in the Vantage's driving seat gave you. With that sensational - but externally always civilised - exhaust note sending the adrenalin coursing through your veins the Vantage almost literally rocketed up to 73 km/h in first, to 121 in second, 175 in third and 214 in fourth.
Still accelerating hard when pulling fifth gear it must run on to a maximum well in excess of 256 km/h, and yet even at speeds doubling the legal maximum the car's aerodynamic aids were extremely effective in maintaining a perfectly stable platform. Crosswinds lost significance even at such high speeds, and with those great brakes and easily neutralised cornering characteristics this was one exoticar which breathed security, in all but one condition - heavy braking on a patched or rippled surface could upset the car considerably, and fightback through the steering with the light rear end could produce some exciting dodging and weaving which wasn't exactly calculated to soothe a nervous passenger. In the wet the grooved Pirelli CN12s instilled a deep trust.
Through corners the Vantage was immensely predictable except over unexpected bumps, but with such weight it could be seen off by lighter performance cars such as the Lotus Esprit
or a well-driven Porsche
. With a 113.6-litre fuel tank residing in the luggage trunk the space available there was limited, but would swallow rather more than you might have supposed, while the cabin itself would carry even its rear-seat passengers in a considerable degree of refined comfort despite the "G" which the Vantage could pull fore, aft and sideways! For an asking price of UK£20,000 the Aston Martin Vantage offered what buyers of 1978
expected of a truly exciting motor car. It was a traditional car, not a modern, mid-engined coupe. But with its trunk and fairly roomy interior, many enthusiasts found it more practical. Whatever your point of view, it was a great car, and remains highly sought in the classic car market today.