Sunday 23 October 2022

Aston Martin Works Marks 50 Years of V8 Greatness

It’s 1972, and Aston Martin is undergoing one of its periodic seismic changes. Sir David Brown, the talented industrialist who steered the business through some of its most memorable 20th Century moments, has sold the firm to a new owner, Company Developments Ltd, and a fresh spirit of optimism takes hold.

Enter the AM V8. A car that, while launched early in the tenure of Company Developments was firmly rooted in the engineering and design ethos of the David Brown era.

Replacing the DBS V8, which had itself championed the use of Aston Martin’s first V8, and the first new engine for more than ten years, the AM V8 was essentially a styling exercise – replacing the angular nose of the DBS with a more curvaceous, purposeful front end that, together with some subtle styling changes elsewhere, gave the new car a much more muscular look. 

Key to that new nose was the arrival of two seven-inch quartz iodine headlamps and a black mesh grille.

The return of a small open ‘power bulge’ on the bonnet; the ‘Coke-bottle’ flanks; and the use of Aston Martin V8 side strake badges completed the exterior styling revisions.

That this same William Towns’ shape, in essence, would represent the Aston Martin ‘look’ for almost two decades – the last AM V8 styling-inspired cars only ending production in 1989 – shows not only the importance of its 1972 debut, but also the appeal of a styling silhouette that is utterly unmistakable today as a product of the marque’s Newport Pagnell era.

This first iteration of the 5.3-litre engined AM V8 retained the Bosch fuel injection system from the DBS V8, and while power and torque figures were not commonly quoted, it is believed that these cars were good for as much as 320 bhp, with around 360 lbs/ft of torque.

\Mated to a ZF five-speed manual gearbox, or optional Chrysler Torqueflite 3-speed auto, that was ample urge to carry this early ‘70s sports car from rest to 60 mph in around six seconds with a top speed of circa 160 mph.

As was often the case in Aston Martin history, production numbers of these early cars were incredibly small by today’s standards. A mere 289 AM V8 models of this iteration were built between April 1972 and July ’73. They were succeeded by cars with less complex Weber carburetion, the later cars also featuring larger bonnet scoops.

Numerous iterations of the AM V8 followed over the years – the 1978 ‘Oscar India’ cars with closed bonnet scoop among their changes being among the most plentiful – along with the arrival of Volante versions in June 1978 for those seeking open top motoring.

What united the cars, though, aside from their style, performance and exclusivity, was their luxury. The finest Connolly hides, sumptuous Wilton carpeting and, from the arrival of the ‘Oscar India’ cars, the use of burr walnut dashboard trim, were among the many features that marked out these cars as luxury models.

V8 Vantage

No AM V8 retrospective would be complete without reference to the original Aston Martin V8 Vantage. It was hailed at its 1977 introduction as “Britain’s first supercar”.

It could outrun a Ferrari Daytona in the 0-60 mph sprint, and if pushed to the limit it could record a top speed of 170 mph thanks to its use of high-performance camshafts, an increased compression ratio, larger inlet valves and bigger carburettors mounted on new manifolds for increased output.

A true British bruiser, the V8 Vantage’s performance belied its significant heft. Critical to the huge performance leap of this Vantage was a significant upgrade to the V8 engine, thereby triggering the ‘Vantage’ moniker, of course.

The carburettors were changed to the larger 48 IDF Weber which were fitted to revised inlet manifolds. Together with larger valves, revised exhaust manifolds, revised camshafts and a higher compression ratio, once run-in, the engines were capable of 380bhp.

At the time, though, and with true British modesty, the power output was described by Aston Martin simply as “adequate”.

The V8 Vantage’s chassis was stiffened with adjustable Koni dampers, shortened springs and a larger front anti-roll bar. Wider 255/60 VR15 Pirelli CN12 tyres were fitted together with spacers to widen the track.

External modifications were clear, and aerodynamic in nature. It was easily distinguished for the standard AM V8 by the front air dam, twin Cibie H4 driving lights within the blanked off grille (cooling air for the radiator being drawn in from beneath the bumper) and a boot lid spoiler at the rear.

All of these aerodynamic additions were essential to reduce lift. Another feature was the use of a sealed bonnet bulge to cover a larger airbox above the down draught carburettors.

The V8 Vantage evolved significantly over the course of its reign – which spanned two decades and only ended in 1989 with final deliveries of the last 5.3-litre ‘X-Pack’ car. It even provided the basis for a shorter, radical, and hyper rare, V8 Vantage Zagato saloon.

Throughout its build period this iteration of Vantage remained the jewel in Aston Martin’s burnished crown.

Bond is back

Towards the end of its reign the AM V8 saloon, and corresponding V8 Volante, played another important part in Aston Martin history by reuniting the marque with its most famous ‘owner’ – James Bond.

In the 1987 film The Living Daylights, which featured Timothy Dalton as 007, producers EON took the decision to return Bond to his familiar position behind the wheel of an Aston Martin using a V8 Volante that, through the magic of the movies, is ‘winterised’ into a V8 saloon by Q branch.

Bristling with gadgets including a jet engine booster rocket, retractable outriggers for use on snow and ice, and twin heat-seeking missiles, the ‘Oscar India’ saloon has become a regular display piece and indeed, so iconic was the car’s appearance that, in the most recent film No Time To Die, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is once again seen behind the wheel of his beloved V8.    

Sports car racing

Naturally enough, AM V8 saloons also had a proud club racing history and cars were campaigned by enthusiast owners across the UK, and far beyond.

Perhaps the most famous of these weekend warriors was the car that came to be known, affectionately, as ‘The Muncher’ by virtue of its apparently insatiable appetite for brake discs.

Admittedly this car was developed from a DBS V8 but very quickly acquired the revised front end of the AM V8 as it went through numerous design and aerodynamic developments, some of which were very much an acquired taste!

The car was the brainchild of Aston Martin enthusiast, service agent and one-time distributor, Robin Hamilton.

Early club racing success spurred Hamilton on to push the V8 into Le Mans 24 Hours competition at a time when the brand itself was not prioritising its motorsport activity.

RHAM/1 as it was called shocked not only the French spectators but also, perhaps, the competition by notching up a highly creditable 17th overall in the 1977 running of the famous 24-hour race, before further developments – including the addition of twin turbochargers – saw it achieve an outrageous peak power output of 800 bhp.

Reflecting on the enduring appeal of the AM V8 in all its many forms over almost two decades of production Aston Martin Works President, Paul Spires, said:

“The 1970s were, in many ways, a testing time with social and economic unrest rife. Yet, through it all, we created the AM V8 which, today, is rightly seen as one of the jewels in our illustrious history.

“That so many of these big, brutish sports cars survive and thrive today is testament not only to their enduring appeal but also to the legion of owners, past and present, who have worked so hard with us to keep the cars running.

“As all things ‘70s seem, once again, to be back in fashion it’s only right that, today, we mark the 50th anniversary of one of our most desirable heritage models.” 

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