ROAD TEST - ASTON MARTIN DB7

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ThunDerBall

Following on 28 years after the launch of the cherished Aston Martin DB6, you could forgive the air of expectation that surrounded the DB7. It may have been a long time coming, but few would argue that it wasn’t worth the wait. . .

There are few, if any, cars on the road today that would pip the Aston Martin DB7 in a beauty contest.

Fact.

Subjective an issue as taste may be, the new Aston’s aesthetic qualities are inescapable. Its proportions are exquisite, its purpose unmistakable.

It may be fully 28 years since Aston launched its spiritual predecessor the DB6 (and 23 since it ceased production), but the passage of time and the advent of Ford as a parent have not erased certain familiar styling cues, such as the distinctive little vents just fore of the the A-pillars.

And the time chasm which separates the two models appears, if anything, to have heightened demand. In the still cost-conscious ’90s, the best part of £80,000 is a lot to ask for a car, though it is modestly priced by current Aston standards (the Virage range starts at £133,500, rising to £165,000 for the Shooting Brake, and the Vantage is listed at £177,600). Whatever, Aston has had no trouble finding customers. Once 300 £10,000 deposits had been received, the order book was temporarily closed. The first batch of customers were promised that the cost would not exceed £80,000; Aston has kept it to £78,500, though it is not impossible that the launch price will be reassessed once the first 300 cars have actually been delivered. ,

The Bloxham assembly plant, developed for the Jaguar XJ220 programme and since passed on to Aston by Ford, presently has the capacity to produce three cars per day. Though some of the factory’s modern pre-fab lines sit uneasily amidst the surrounding Cotswold stone, Bloxham is a monument to traditional craftsmen. For instance, it takes three men 90 minutes to fit one of the Tom Walkinshaw Racing-built 3.2-litre, supercharged, six-cylinder engines. “The nearest thing we have to automation is a powered screwdriver,” reckons Aston’s Director of Public Affairs Harry Calton.

Even so, there are ambitious long-term targets. The DB7 range will expand to include a Volante cabriolet, presumably to coincide with the US launch in 1996, and a Vantage. The latter will be powered by a six-litre V12, and early predictions suggest 400 bhp and 400 lb ft of torque. Experimentation has already shown that the chassis will house twice its present number of cylinders.

And in 1996, it is expected that the Aston Martin factory will return to Le Mans with a DB7; and the target will be outright victory. British Motors, the marque’s Paris-based French importer, may even run a privateer DB7 at the Sarthe in ’95, in the GT2 class. The same company was instrumental in Bugatti’s return to the event this year, so don’t bet against it happening.

As a prelude to the factory’s intended Le Mans return, there has been sufficient interest from DB7 clients to provoke talk of a one-make racing series next year, featuring lightened (by around 250 kg), more powerful (380 bhp) cars running on specially developed Bridgestone tyres.

Production-wise, Bloxham has planning permission to expand, and staffing levels will be increased, eventually, from the current 105 to around 180. The combined target for the plants at Bloxham and Newport Pagnell is to be producing 1200-1500 Aston Martins per year by the end of the century. Aston Martin Lagonda is presently expanding its dealer/service network furiously to cope with forthcoming demand. From around 40 at the start of last year, there should be almost 100 worldwide by the end of next. . .

Initially, the ‘base’ DB7 has been released into the UK, mainland Europe, Japan and the Far East. The Middle East has had to wait until next year, simply because there are insufficient supplies of unleaded fuel in the region at present!

Ian Callum’s alluring bodyshell clothes a chassis which is similar in dimensions to that of the DB6. The DB7 is 8 mm longer, although it is shallower and wider in line with contemporary design practices.

Inside, the expected use is made of recycled trees and cattle. Burr walnut and Connolly leather are everywhere. Standard cabin accoutrements and driver aids include, as one would expect, air conditioning, remote alarm and immobiliser and high-quality Sony radio/cassette. The only listed option is a 10-disc CD autochanger, at £823. Airbags are still under development, but should be introduced next year. Sumptuous as the finish is in parts, it is still a little difficult to reconcile the idea of a near £80,000 supercar with knobs and switches that can also be found in a Ford Orion. . .That’s by no means a new practice, of course, and it’s an inevitable (not to mention cost-effective) by-product of Ford’s guardianship. At least the mass production switches function correctly; of more immediate concern were traces of poor panel fitment below the dash, although the demonstrator was a pre-production model. There were other detail niggles, too. Making the removal of a cassette tape almost impossible when the car’s in fifth gear was the sort of trick Alfa Romeo used to play 15-20 years ago. . .

As an additional side-effect of this DB7’s prototype status, there was an excess of wind noise as the window seals and side glass curvature dated back to a stage of development before such things had been perfected.

Resultant wind roar aside, the DB7 sounds fabulous. Ironically, for a practice that has been with us almost since the turn of the last century, supercharging remains something of a novelty in the modern car world. In this application, the blower’s whine is distinctive, and not unpleasant. It builds up to a point at which, around 5200 rpm, it starts to sound deliciously akin to a TVR. Peak power (335 bhp) is delivered at 5500 rpm, and there is enough torque to rotate several planetary systems. Simultaneously.

A yield of 360 lb ft at just 3000 rpm naturally endows the DB7 with fantastic flexibility; just as impressive is its seamless ability to pull away smoothly from as low as 1500 rpm in top gear without a hint of protest. No matter what your speed, nor which gear you are in, it is constantly strong and progressive. Top speed, should the opportunity ever arise, is estimated at 165 mph. From a standing start, 60 mph should be accessible in just over five seconds; the accelerative process is aided by a swift, if firm, gearchange, and although the clutch is a touch heavy on first acquaintance – resistance is similar to that on the brake pedal of some small hatchbacks – you soon get used to it.

The vast reserves of torque naturally mean that the DB7 is a relaxing tourer. But it combines its long-legged nature with the hard-nosed sporting manners that its pedigree requires. The suspension double wishbones are deployed all round is firm, but compliant. The ride quality is almost as impressive as the roadholding. The DB7’s grip threshold, even on greasy surfaces, is high indeed. On a dry surface, you have to be brutal and deliberate to unstick a glutinous mass of Bridgestone Expedia (ultra low-profile 245/40 ZR18s are standard all round issue).

Generally, the DB7 goes where you point it. The steering provides an abundance of feel. Whatever your speed, whatever the surface, it’s a mine of information. The brakes, too, have a similar dynamic appeal, providing firm, fade-free deceleration with no unwanted interruptions from the ABS. If you want to get involved in the driving experience, then we can think of few better places to be.

Verdict

So, the DB7 is all good news, is it?

It’s certainly well placed for those looking for a true Grand Tourer. It’s similarly priced to the likes of BMW’s 850 CSI (£77,500), only a touch more costly than the ageing, but effective, Porsche 928 (£72,950) and the stylish, if not entirely sporting, Mercedes-Benz 500SL (£77,400). There again, you could opt for a Jaguar XJS, which has been around only a couple of years longer than the 928. Even the 6.0 V12 would almost allow you to buy a BMW M3 with the change. . . ?)

The DB7 was by no means an easy project for Aston; there were high expectations, both from those who had intimate acquaintance with bygone members of the DB dynasty, and from a younger generation who will forever associate the marque with a series of mid ’60s James Bond movies and a particularly charismatic Corgi Toy. (Was there anybody who didn’t lose the passenger who was fired from the ejector seat?)

Although our test car suffered one or two minor detail imperfections, and the rear seats serve little purpose other than decoration, one can only conclude that Aston has got the balance about right. The DB7 is more than just a pretty face. It is also comfortable, well appointed, enormously fast and, if the mood takes you, fun. A BMW 850 might score on three of those counts, but it doesn’t have the same capacity to titillate as the Aston; likewise the 500SL.

The DB7 needed to be good.

Make no mistake. It is. S A

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