This Aston Martin DBS V8 occupies a special place in the history of the marque at Le Mans. Prepared by Robin Hamilton and co-driven by him, David Preece and Mike Salmon, this car finished 17th overall and 3rd in the GTP class at the 1977 Le Mans 24-Hour endurance race, an event few critics believed the team would finish.
Staffordshire based Aston Martin specialist Hamilton had conceived the idea of racing one of the V8-engined cars in 1974, campaigning this example, chassis number 10038, in lightly modified form in club events. The first major alterations were made to conform to Group 4 regulations and bring the car into line wîth the then current production AM V8 by fitting the latter's two-headlamp front end. With Le Mans the eventual target, the car was further developed to incorporate modified cylinder heads, revised camshafts, side-draft Weber carburettors and a race exhaust system, while the running gear was up-rated wîth stiffer springing, bigger brakes, wider wheels and slick tyres. In this form 10038 raced in AMOC events throughout 1975 before gaining a quartet of dragster-style downdraft Webers for 1976.
Failure to drum up sufficient sponsorship meant that the 1976 Le Mans race was missed, which if nothing else allowed the team time for extra development, including a dynamometer session at the Newport Pagnell factory in November/December of that year. The factory also paid for wind tunnel testing at MIRA, a highly beneficial exercise that resulted in low-drag, increased downforce bodywork that would later appear on the production Vantage model. Sponsorship by SAS, a security equipment company, financed the 1977 Le Mans effort, prior to which the car raced at the Silverstone Six Hours on 15th May supported by donations from individual AMOC members. By this time the V8 engine was developing 520bhp, an output calculated to produce speeds of a magnitude requiring a rear wing to counter lift, though the presence of this un-homologated modification meant that the Aston was now in Group 5 alongside the turbocharged Porsches. The chassis too, had undergone considerable modification, prompting the team to give it the number RHAM 001 (Robin Hamilton Aston Martin 001). In the Silverstone race, 55 minutes were lost to repairs but the exercise proved useful in revealing that the differential needed additional cooling.
For Le Mans, third driver Mike Salmon was recruited to join Hamilton and David Preece, who had driven the car at Silverstone. A Le Mans veteran, Salmon had driven the last Aston to race at the Sarthe, Peter Sutcliffe's Project 214, in 1964. A request to move to the GTP category, where opposition was deemed less strong, having been granted by the organisers, the Aston qualified slowest in class after recording an impressive 188mph along the Mulsanne straight during practice. In the race itself, Hamilton drove the opening stint followed by Preece and then Salmon, the Aston picking up numerous places before, at a routine stop at 10.19pm, cracks were discovered in the front brake discs. They were replaced in a stop lasting 31 minutes, but a lack of further spares meant that conservation was the order of the day for the remainder of the race. The only other serious problem encountered was a split differential oil tank that needed regular patching and topping up. Running steadily to the flag, the Aston Martin crossed the finish line after 2,210.78 miles of racing wîth Robin Hamilton, who had driven longest of the three drivers, at the wheel. It gave Hamilton immense satisfaction, not only because he had achieved a lifelong ambition by driving an Aston Martin across the Le Mans finishing line, but also because by so doing he had confounded the pundits who claimed that the heavyweight DBS V8 was totally unsuitable for racing.
Hamilton continued to develop 10038, which was not used in 1978 but next appeared at the Silverstone Six Hours in May 1979, considerably lightened and re-modeled wîth a lower roof line, while beneath the bonnet was a twin-turbocharged version of the Aston V8 engine producing 650bhp in race trim. Driven by Preece and Le Mans-winner Derek Bell, the car finished in midfield having been hampered by brake and oil breathing problems. At Le Mans, the V8 proved capable of lapping several seconds quicker than in 1977, but in the race itself retired wîth a melted piston during the third hour. The car's next competitive outing, at Silverstone in 1980, ended in early retirement. As a footnote to its racing career, 10038 set a new World Land Speed Record for towing a caravan later that year, when Robin Hamilton towed an Alpha 14 van to 125mph (mean) having seen 152mph on the clock exiting the timed quarter-mile!
10038 was offered for sale at Bonhams' Aston Martin Auction held on the May 13th, 2006 at Works Service, Newport PagnellSource - Bonhams
The Aston Martin V8 was produced from 1969 through 1990 and was, of course, powered by an eight-cylinder engine. For many years eager customers had been pleading with Aston Martin to produce an eight-cylinder car. Expected to be completed by 1967, the engine took a few more years of development before being ready. In the mean-time, Aston Martin introduced the DBS which borrowed its Vantage six-cylinder engine from the DB6.
In the 1987 film 'The Living Daylights', famous British Secret Agent James Bond could be seen on the big screen driving around in his V8 Vantage Volante. A few years earlier Roger Moore had driven a DBS V8 in the movie 'The Persuaders.' His car was built to resemble the V8 version but actually powered by a six-cylinder engine.
In 1969 the eight-cylinder engine was ready and successfully adapted to the DBS. The engine had been designed by Aston Martin's head engineer, Tadek Marek. The engine had made an appearance in the Lola T70 LeMans racer but was more of learning and testing experience than a true success. The DBS was now available with either the six- or eight-cylinder engine, with the eight-cylinder version being the more popular. Over the years the 5.3 liter V8 used fitted with either Bosch fuel injection or carburetors, double overhead camshafts and was capable of producing around 300-315 horsepower. Zero-to-sixty took a mere 5.9 seconds with top speed being achieved at 160 mph.
The square-grille, four headlights, and large front air dam was the traditional Aston Martin persona. Gone were the wire wheels.
By 1972 the DBS V8 became the Aston Martin V8; since the six-cylinder DBS was no longer offered. This left the V8 and the Vantage as Aston Martins entire model line.
In 1972 Aston Martin offered the Series II which incorporated minor visual and mechanical changes. The front featured a mesh grille with twin quart headlights while under the hood the engine was given a little extra tuning. Production of the Series II continued until 1973 with just over 285 examples being produced. After the Series II came the Series III which incorporated four twin-choke Weber carburetors and a larger hood scoop. The 310 horsepower engine took the car from zero-to-sixty in 5.7 seconds, when equipped with the manual transmission. Soon strict emission and government regulations sent the performance tumbling. A new exhaust and camshaft helped boost power a little but was still down by about 10 horsepower.
The Series III continued production from 1973 through 1978 except for 1975 when production was temporarily halted. In total over 965 examples were produced. Production had ceased in 1975 due to financial difficulties. A take-over from a consortium in 1975 meant the company could continue producing vehicles. It was decided that instead of creating new models which often consumes large amounts of capital, the company would focus their attention and abilities on fine-tuning the products already in production.
At the Birmingham International Motor Show in 1978, Aston Martin introduced the Series IV, also known as the 'Oscar India.' The hood scoop was replaced with a bulge, and a spoiler could now be found on the rear. On the interior could be found wood trim, not seen on an Aston Martin since the DB2/4 of the 1950's. Most were equipped with Chrysler's Torqueflite 3-speed automatic gearbox. Production continued from 1978 through 1985 with a total of 291 examples being produced.
1978 also saw the introduction of the V8 Volante which was a convertible. Though the United States had strict rules concerning safety and convertibles, many of the 650 Volantes produced during the 12 year period made their way State-side.
In 1985 a partnership was formed with the famous Italian coachbuilder Zagato to build a limited edition Zagato bodied version of the V8 Vantage. Sketches were shown to the public at the 1985 Geneva Motorshow with the production version making an appearance a year later. These cars were lighter and smaller with an estimated top speed of around 300 km/h. Though production was limited to only 50 examples, demand was much higher. Even before the cars were produced, the money had already been collected from buyers and the original sticker price had even seen escalation due to the popularity.
Planning always takes a back seat to reality. The car was estimated to have a top speed of 300 km/h but when testing began, the engine proved inadequate to meet the goal. The fuel injection system was replaced with Weber carburetors but this caused a new problem. The hood needed to be enlarged to house the cabs resulting in a design that was not aesthetically pleasing to many customers.
The 'double bubble' roof was Zagato's signature trademark. The aerodynamic body was shorter than its counterpart and weighed 10% less. Handling was considerable better as was the overall performance.
Since the Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato was produced in limited numbers many investors purchased the vehicles in hopes of turning a profit. Though the designs are very elegant, the true strength of the car was in its performance; sadly many have not been given the opportunity to prove their potential to their owners.
At the 1986 New York Auto Show, Aston Martin introduced their fuel-injected Series V. Since there were no bulky carburetors, there was no need for the bulge. Production continued until 1989 with around 61 examples being produced.
In 1998 a limited edition version of the Vantage was introduced and dubbed the V600. Outfitted with the 5.3 liter V8 and fitted with dual superchargers, the car was capable of producing an astonishing 600 horsepower. Some of the design cues were taken from the DBR1 LeMans racer that won the 1959 LeMans race. Production was low due to problems with emission regulations. Instead, Aston Martin introduced the V12 Vanquish in 2001.
During the production of the Aston Martin V8, it was hailed by many as Britain's 'super car'. It's eight-cylinder engine was a bold move for the small, low production quantity Aston Martin firm. In the end, it was the right decision and one that carried the company for many years. Its performance was legendary and the design was elegant.
By Daniel Vaughan | Jul 2006