A NEW PERFORMANCE
standard was set amongst so-called "super-cars" in 1977. And it originated not from Modena or Stuttgart, but in the British township of Newport Pagnell. For the most breathtakingly exciting, adrenalin churning example of all that rarefied breed, and what was the fastest accelerating production car in the World at the time, Aston Martin gave us the V8 Vantage.
Rather unfairly, many supercar enthusiasts believed Aston Martin manufactured nothing more than "big overweight trucks
". As it happened, this overweight truck could accelerate from 0-60 m. p.h. in 5.3 seconds, had an official top speed of 180 m.p.h. and, for all its weight and girth, handled superbly.
Into the bargain it carried four people and adequate luggage in absolute luxury and was (like all the Astons before it) exquisitely hand-built. Like Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin refused to disclose brake horsepower figures, but several journalist's estimated around 425 b.h.p. being developed from the Vantage's four-cam, 5,340 c.c. 100 mm. x 85 mm. V8, what was then the most powerful production car engine in the World.
We have not had the good fortune to drive many of the worlds fastest and best sports cars, so we need to rely on what others before us have written. Road testers were naturally going to compare it to the opposition, and from Germany the most likely contendor was the Porsche 928.
While the Vantage did not have the supreme chassis characteristics of the Porsche, the uncanny smoothness of the Turbo, the silence of the XJS, or the charismatic styling of the Boxer and the Countach, it would out-perform them all in a manner which was as untemperamental as it was shattering, and it made no sacrifices for the sake of outrageous styling and what was at the time almost a "mid-engine cult" mindset with supercar manufacturers.
The Vantage was not for the faint of heart or muscle, or for the unskilled, but allowing for those obvious strictures the Vantage was remarkably vice-free and forgiving, another bonus from conventional layout. Many Brits quite rightly felt it rather heartening to be able to lay such praise at the door of a so very British company which, only three years earlier (1974) had floundered over the brink. We doubt that many people back then would have projected success for the Angle-American consortium of individuals which rescued Aston Martin in that disastrous year.
Aston Martin resurrected the Vantage name and its theme of being a higher performance version of the standard car in 1977 as an aid to polishing the tarnished image. It was built to special order only, an average of one per week, and sold on the UK domestic market for £23,000, by no means immodest in super-car terms, and this had the desired effect by reflected image of attracting customers for the standard V8
, itself a vastly improved motor car since 1975.
Inside the Vantage facia was dated, but the instrumentation was clear and visibility good. The Vantage made no bones in appearance about its performance purpose in life. A deep front spoiler, a high tail spoiler contoured smoothly into the coachwork, a blanked-off . power bulge in the bonnet, a blanked-off grille carrying two dipping, long-range Cibie auxiliary lamps, massive 255/60 x 15 in. Pirelli Cinturatos on 7 in. GKN alloy wheels, gave this six-foot wide monster an air of wickedly muscular purposefulness which was not belied. Many lucky owners found its aprearance in the mirror enough to move dawdlers out of the way.
A 40% Power Increase To The V8
At introduction the Vantage boasted a 40% power increase over the then current V8. Improvements to the V8's engine gave that 15% boost, and at the same time the V8 adopted the same suspension revisions which had been essential to cope with the Vantage's extra power. The most important improvement was to fit Koni telescopic shock-absorbers all round. Early Vantages had stiffer front anti-roll bars; this was found unnecessary and cars build from early 1978 onwards had the standard V8 item. A change in castor angles gave more steering feel to the Vantage, which had a standardised-effort, Adwest power-assisted steering rack mid-way between the heavier and lighter choices which used to be available to Aston customers.
Each Engine Built By One Man
At the heart of this astonishing car was the 90 degree V8 engine, built in a small factory at
Newport Pagnell. Each engine was built by one man, this personal touch being shown on the offside cam cover of the engine where a little brass plate announced who had built the engine. The mainly cast aluminum engine had two overhead camshafts per bank, driven by twin two-stage Duplex chains with automatic and manual adjustment (they needed attention every 10,000 miles - servicing intervals on the car as a whole were extended from 2,500 to 5,000 miles). The heads had hemispherical combustion chambers and the block contained chrome vanadium iron wet
liners. The nitrided crankshaft ran in five main bearings and was fitted with forged steel conrods.
The Vantage differed from the standard V8 engine in having bigger inlet valves, new cam profiles with increased overlap on the induction side of things and a redesigned inlet manifold. The most obvious change, however, was the move from four downdraught Weber 42DCNF27 twin-choke carburetters to four massive downdraught, twin-choke Weber 4S IDF2/100s. Prompted by a consequent increase in fuel consumption the Vantage had a 25 gallon fuel tank instead of the V8's 21 gallon tank. Twin SU fuel pumps were mounted in the offside of the boot. The Vantage engine retained Lucas Opus ignition, but Champion N9Y plugs gave way to NGK BP6EV.
While the ordinary V8 offered automatic transmission as an option, the Vantage came only with the ZF five-speed gearbox with ratios of: 1st, 2.90:1; 2nd, 1.75:1; 3rd, 1.22:1; 4th, 1.1:1; 5th, 0.545:1. The Salisbury differential contained a Powr-Lok limited slip device and a 3.54:1 final drive ratio, slightly lower than the V8's ratio. This gave 26 m.p.h./1,000 r.p.m. in fifth.
Bodywork changes were restricted to the aforementioned aerodynamic and cosmetic aids. This Vantage retained the modern Aston tradition of hand-formed aluminum alloy panelling over a rigid steel superstructure integral with a platform chassis. It seems almost superfluous to add that this magnificent bodywork received over 20 coats of paint.
Suspension modifications have already been detailed. The basic design was unchanged, with unequal length wishbones, ball-jointed king pins, co-axial coil springs and shock-absorbers and an anti-roll bar at the front, and that substantial De Dion located rear end, located by parallel trailing links and a Watts linkage and suspended by coil springs and, from 1978, telescopic Konis instead of Armstrong lever shock-absorbers. The all-disc brakes were outboard at the front, inboard at the rear.
A Connolly Leather Bound Interior
The wide doors, which had automatic warning lights in their trailing edges. Once inside, the interior was a little old-fashioned even for 1977, but then again it represented one of the few remaining bastions of traditional, hand-made luxury. A lovely smell of hide pervaded the air from the Connolly leather
which was applied not only to the luxurious seats, but also the door trims, centre console, rear quarter panels and even the screen pillars. Wilton carpets covered the floor and a smooth, cloth headlining replaced the ribbed lining of earlier V8's. The doors carried substantial leather-trimmed arm-rests, the driver's containing a remote lock for the passenger door.
There were neat, leather map pockets in the doors and in the tip-up, reclining backs of the front seats. The big, high, fascia was a little bit overpowering, but functional. The instrumentation, revised late in 1977, was contained in a cowled, crackle-black oval ahead of the driver. A clearer, 170 m.p.h. speedometer replaced the impressive, but cluttered, 200 m.p.h. device fitted to earlier cars and had been juxtaposed with the 7,000 r.p.m. tachometer, which strangely no longer came with a warning line. Other instruments included a battery condition indicator, fuel gauge, water and oil temperature gauges and a precise oil pressure gauge mounted prominently between the two main instruments.
There were rows of warning lights above and below the instruments. Matching light master switches and panel switches were on the fascia on each side of the steering column. Headlight, flash and dip, winkers and horn were controlled by a positive right-hand column stalk and two-speed wipers/washers by the left-hand stalk. Although the wipers had a facility for flick-wipe they did not have an intermittent wipe facility. A row of auxiliary switches was contained in the leading edge of the centre console. These included a changeover switch for the electrical or air horns and another for the auxiliary lamps, which were wired through the dip switch.
Switches for electric windows operation flanked a Smiths clock in the centre of the fascia. Below these were the controls for the Coolaire air conditioning, a standard fitment. A Pioneer stereo AM/FM radio/cassette player was fitted though there was no storage place convenient to the driver for cassettes. A wide, lockable cubby hole on the passenger side contained a vanity mirror and Vantage recognition factors included the front and rear spoilers, blanked off power bulge, blanked off grille and spotlights and Perspex cowls over the headlights.
One of the most admirable aspects of the Aston Martin performance package was that it was a genuine four-seater. The contoured rear seats, with fold down centre arm rest, were a work of art in the execution of their leather trim. True, a tall driver would leave little room for anything but the legless, but with the front passengers seat moved forward there was enough room for someone to sit behind in reasonable comfort and, into the bargain, gain entry through the wide doors without having to tip the front seat.
The driver's seat lacked height and cushion tilt adjustment facilities and was too short in the cushion for tall drivers. The steering wheel had telescopic adjustment for reach and the old-fashioned, pivot-on-the-floor, brake and clutch pedals could be set in two alternative positions. As a concession to modernity, the old organ throttle pedal had given way to a pendant device. One thing which hadn't changed, thank goodness, was tbe good old fly-off handbrake situated by the driver's left leg, so convenient and effective.
To sit behind the Vantage's dished, leather-trimmed wheel for the first time was awe-inspiring. The massive power bulge towered at the base of the screen and the vast expanse of bodywork let you know this was no ordinary car. The bellow as the four-hundred-plus horses sprung to life was edifying, even more so because they became rampant so easily; no choke was fitted and two prods of the throttle when the engine was cold sufficed to prime the carburetters adequately for first-time starting. After a short warm-up period the engine would run without a splutter. Hot starting was just as undramatic.
First gear in the ZF box was selected on a dog's leg down to the left, the other four being in H-pattern (with reverse on another dog's leg up to the right). A furious, throaty roar from the Webers and twin exhausts greeted modest pressure of the right foot, rising to an ecstatic howl when the power started to come in above 2,000 r.p.m. By no stretch of the imagination could the Vantage be described as a quiet car, yet the nature of the noise and its level was not painful to the ears - indeed to the enthusiasts who originally bought the car, and the current custodians of a Vantage, it was joyous music.
Few Supercars Of The 1970's Looked This Menacing ...
Mike Loasby Quotes A 7000 RPM Redline
The Vantage's performance was simply stupendous and relentless. While Boxers, Countachs and Porsches habitually ate their clutches if full-power standing starts were attempted, the Aston simply layed a trail of rubber as the big clutch bit positively, and then took off like a scalded tiger, the tachometer needle hurtling round the clock so fast that there was hardly time to ram the lever forwards into second.
Recommended maximum revs were 6,250 r.p.m. but Aston's Director of Engineering, Mike Loasby, was quoted as saying that the engine was safe for 7,000 r.p.m.
The performance was such, the torque so massive, that few were brave enough, or found the necessity to use high revs. After all, the advisory 6,250 r.p.m. limit offered speeds of 45 m.p.h., 73 m.p.h., 107 m.p.h. and 130 m.p.h. in the gears. The powerful engine never ran out of breath - or at least the driver would run out of road or bravery first!
The continuing surge of power as the speedometer needle soared past 120 m.p.h. in fifth was a rare experience in a road car. Several road testers reported that, with the needle as far as 150 m.p.h., there was still no sign of the acceleration tailing off. And unlike a turbo car, the Aston's beautifully crisp, normally aspirated engine gave no "step" in the acceleration, so evident in contemporary Porsche as its turbocharger cut in and out with the rise and fall of engine revolutions through the gears.
Traction and acceleration out of corners (the combination of De-dion, limited-slip and massive tire footprint really worked), its overtaking performance in any gear was simply incredible.
The Vantage spoilers had far more than a cosmetic effect. Their effect on high speed stability was unmistakeable to the driver. The Aston V8 Vantage was almost a racing car on the road, yet this was matched by remarkably fuss-free, flexible low speed behaviour in town, the engine happy to run down to below 1,000 r.p.m. Part of the secret was in harnessing the immense power with a very progressive, smooth throttle action. Too much throttle with too few revs would cause the occasional hiccup.
Not only in performance did this Aston prove that the mid-engined exotica were not the be all and end all. The 35 cwt. projectile had leech-like roadholding (almost 0.9 g. cornering power), which suffered little on wet roads - although the fat tires were prone to aquaplaning in really heavy rain, a common super-car drawback. When the Vantage did start to slide it did it gently, predictably, with none of the mid-engined viciousness. Excellent handling and positive steering which showed hardly a trace of assistance shrunk the big car into a joyful plaything, a driver's delight. It rolled somewhat if pushed very hard, though this didn't upset the equilibrium of its handling. Such speed and weight had enforced very hard pads for the 10.75 in. front, 10.38 in. rear vented and grooved disc brakes, so that hard pressure was needed to stop from slow speeds on cold pads. In fact the twin-servoed brakes needed a hefty touch at all times, but they rewarded with marvellous stopping power, capable of 1.2 g.
Thankfully there are still plenty of Vantages on the roads today, but as you would expect these are pampered examples that are appreciating in value almost as quickly as they can accelerate.