Road Impressions



The Aston Martin DBS V8 automatic with carburetters

AT a time when the Government has announced a compulsory blanket 50 m.p.h. limit on all our roads, when half-mile queues of garage hoppers build up outside the handful of filling stations which remain open in the South-East, while the country as a whole suffers in the face of this policy of political posturing which Britain has taken to appease the faltering Nixon administration and the World at large, and while more laden oil tankers lie off Milford Haven than an acquaintance who is familiar with the area has ever seen before, then it is perhaps untimely of us to offer this impression of an almost £10,000 motor car which drinks that precious liquid at a rate of 10 to 15 m.p.g., which is capable of covering the grey surface of the motorways of this grey country at three times the speed which is now laid down by law, and which is one of the few throwbacks to the time when car workers were skilled craftsmen and Britain had an Empire.

To Aston Martin, the present economic problems and energy crisis should fall like water off the magnificent sheen of those 27 layers of paintwork which cover the aluminium panelwork surrounding the steel superstructure of the latest DBS V8. That legendary producer of high performance quality cars has survived war, bankruptcy, takeovers and six months of petrol rationing during the 1956 Suez Crisis and right now is beginning to thrive again under the financial guidance of the Solihull businessmen who took over when the David Brown Corporation pulled in its horns.

The latest DBS V8 may be an anachronism, but when the present panic subsides and those limitless autoroutes of Europe regain their freedom, then that superb, all-aluminium, four overhead camshaft, 5,340 c.c. Aston Martin Lagonda V8 will be waiting to power those with substantial purses to their Mediterranean pursuits in ultra-high-speed, air-conditioned, Connolly-leather padded luxury. Meanwhile, aspiring Aston customers or current owners of the very latest model can take heart from the fact that Newport Pagnell’s brave move to replace the Bosch mechanical, indirect fuel injection with four Weber downdraught, twin-choke 42 DCNF 27 carburetters has given this vast (six feet wide), heavy (35 cwt.), motor car, a degree of flexibility and docility which it has never known before. Opportunely, the Webers have fractionally improved fuel consumption too. Whether they have produced an increase in power is not disclosed, for Aston, like Rolls Royce, are unwilling to divulge figures for the V8, a relic of the era when the company found its straight-six caught up in the brake horsepower war which pervaded the publicity of American car manufacturers. Suffice to say that when the V8 was introduced in 1970, Aston Martin engineers confided that this was the most powerful production engine they were aware of in the world at that time.

This brief acquaintance with a DBS V8 automatic was by courtesy of Paul Michaels, that enthusiastic proprietor of Hexagon of Highgate, Aston Martin distributors and agents for Alfa Romeo, Lotus, Porsche and Reliant GTE combined with increasingly important racing entrants—John Watson’s 1974 F1 effort will be with Hexagon’s backing. We had intended to try a secondhand Maserati Bora Hexagon were selling, but when a customer heat us to it, the 1,400-mile-old DBS demonstrator, HEX 2, was loaned instead. The Weber-carburetted model is identifiable by the huge power bulge in the bonnet necessary to clear the air cleaner and stack of vertical carburetters. The gaping air-scoop is in fact a dummy. No changes have been made to the separate steel box section chassis or its suspension: the front employs unequallength wishbones, ball-jointed king pins, coaxial springs and telescopic shock-absorbers, while the rear has a De Dion axle located by parallel trailing links and Watts linkage, with coil springs and double-acting shockabsorbers. Selectaride shock-absorbers are no longer fitted, which means that the very firm suspension cannot be relaxed for gentle driving over rougher surfaces. At low speeds the ride is quite hard, though the long wheelbase prevents it becoming too disturbingly choppy. As speed increases the ride becomes more and more comfortable, pointedly making clear that this is truly intended as a high speed touring car. It is stopped most effectively by 10.75 in. front and 10.38 in. rear ventilated discs operated by a twin system split front and rear, the tandem master cylinder being fed by twin reservoirs (with a low level warning device in each connected to a facia light) and two suspended vacuum servo units. On the automatic test car the full-width brake pedal designed for operation by either foot needed firm pressure to stop this heavy car from any speed, but with the right effort applied there was no mistaking the remarkable braking efficiency. Tickover was rather fast at 1,000 r.p.m., which meant constant use of the brakes to keep this car down to traffic speeds with no throttle, leaving them slightly rough until the next high-speed application.

Like the Jaguar XJ series the DBS has Adwest rack and pinion steering with power assistance, but there the resemblance ends, for while the Jaguar system is over-light and restricted in feel and feed-back, the Aston arrangement is as sensitive as some of the finest manual steering systems. It demands quite a lot of effort which it rewards with absolute precision, necessary in order to place this wide car successfully at high or low speed.

However, there is some unwanted feed-back to the immaculately leather-bound 15 in. steering wheel over rough surfaces at low speed, perhaps a reflection on the size of the footprints put down by the fat GR7OVR x 15 in. Avon radials mounted on the alloy, ventilated, 7 in. wide wheels rather than on a deficiency in steering geometry. Abnormally high sidewinds caused a great deal of disturbance at the wheel at 70 to 80 m.p.h. on the MI (before the compulsory limit), but failed to deflect the Aston from its path while lesser machinery bobbed from lane to lane.

Performance of the V8-engined automatic proved in complete contrast to the old 4-litre six-cylinder DBS automatic, which would hardly pull the skin off a rice pudding. In spite of power-loss through the Chrysler Torque Flite 3-speed automatic gearbox, acceleration from 0-100 m.p.h. in the region of 15 seconds can be reasonably claimed by the manufacturers, quite shattering when viewed in print, but when experienced from within the luxurious confines of this huge car, effortless and not at all “mind-bending”. It will be interesting to see at a later date, when hopefully the present restrictions have ended, whether the manual V8, fitted with a five-speed ZF gearbox, feels much quicker. On normal kick-down the Chrysler box (sad that this very English motor car should have to rely on a trans-Atlantic “sludge-pump”) changes up at 44 and 78 m.p.h., while the manual hold will take it up to 64 and 108 m.p.h. on the start of the orange zone at 6,000 r.p.m. on the tachometer. In fact the comprehensive hand-book advises that the engine can be revved to 6,250 r.p.m., so long as this is not sustained for long periods. The factory claimed in the past that the injected manual car had been tested by them at over 170 m.p.h.: the latest automatic won’t quite scrape up to 150 m.p.h., such is the power-loss at maximum speed, though few people are likely to miss this higher speed capability.

Little more need be said about what is obviously exceptional performance. What is even more impressive is that the new carburetter engine is so docile at the other extreme. Aided by a sensitive and progressive throttle, the DBS will trickle along happily at low speeds, perfectly content to potter along in the first snow of the winter in the West Riding of Yorkshire, or, other than the slightly high tickover on the test car, to spend its time in London traffic. No sign or fluffing or plug oiling is apparent, the engine being beautifully responsive at any time. Equally impressive is the way in which the power can be applied from a halt, or from low speeds, the De Dion suspension and limited slip differential endowing the DBS with excellent traction, even in the snow and wet.

Noise at low speeds is a less endearing trait of the all-alloy engine, whose four overhead camshafts hammer away directly on to hardened tappets. Indeed, mechanical and induction noise is very lorry like at low speeds and when accelerating hard and it comes as a pleasant relief to settle down to a steady throttle opening at a pleasant cruising speed, when the engine becomes almost unobtrusive. Wind noise is commendably low and because air-conditioning is fitted as standard there is no need to disturb the wind by opening the electrically operated side-windows, which are nevertheless quiet and very fast in operation. Front and rear quarter-lights are fixed for the same reason. Naturally all windows are of Sundym glass.

Reverting to the subject of noises, the preengaged Chrysler starter motor is ridiculously noisy, the power-steering hisses at low speeds and groans when full lock is applied, accompanied by a further sound of what appears to be the front tyres catching on the bodywork.

The superb interior follows the Connollyhide and Wilton carpet tradition of sumptuous luxury. In fact the seats feel quite firm on first acquaintance, yet commendably comfortable on a long journey. However, a means of adjusting the angle of the front seat cushions would be appreciated. Back rests are controlled accurately by knurled knobs and it is necessary to release their catches to gain access to the deeply shaped rear seats with central arm-rest. The low roof line is not conducive to tall rear seat passengers and knee room is restricted, but for moderately sized people they are very comfortable.

Seven legible instruments are grouped in the cowl in. front of the driver: ammeter, fuel gauge, oil pressure gauge, oil temperature gauge, water temperature gauge, tachometer and speedometer. A Kienzle clock is mounted in the centre of the facia. A vertical (when applied) fly-off hand-brake is situated uncomfortably close to the driver’s left leg and would benefit from some sort of padding. Cold start mixture control was automatic on the injection car, but the Webers have a quadrant choke lever on the driver’s left largely unnecessary except on the coldest of. mornings, a few pumps on the throttle sufficing otherwise, after which the engine will run perfectly smoothly.

There are seven vents for the air-conditioning, at either end of the facia, at waist height, in the centre of the facia and in the footwells. Performance of the test car’s system was disappointing, even though the handbook instructions were followed to the letter, and Aston Martin would do well to examine the possibility of adopting the new Delanair air-conditioning system introduced on the Jaguar X J second series. Particularly annoying was the poor demisting (except for the heated rear screen) and the lack of illumination of the quadrant controls in the centre of the facia. The four-speed blower was very noisy except on low speed.

Aston Martin purchasers are given the choice of a Radiomobile combined cartridge and radio installation or a Blaupunkt AM/ FM self-seeking stereo radio, the latter being fitted in the test car. One of this choice and the electric aerial in the tail are standard equipment. Below the radio aperture are a row of push-down switches, which include a change-over switch for the horns—from baritone for town to air-horns for the open toad. A switch on the driver’s arm rest allows remote locking of the passenger door.

On this latest model the control for the two-speed wipers and washers has been moved from the right-hand of the facia to the left-hand steering column stalk. A right-hand stalk controls indicators, flash, dip and horns. Matching instrument rheostat and lights master switch flank the facia, everything that needs a warning light has a warning light in the centre of the instrument panel, and should all this electrical equipment go haywire, the fusebox is located behind a panel immediately in front of the passenger. Both the wide doors have automatic red lights on their rear edges and boot and bonnet have bright courtesy lights independent of sidelights and ignition.

Surprisingly, the front hinged alloy bonnet has to be propped up manually, though the choice of stay at either side adds convenience. The boot-lid is counterbalanced and care must be taken not to open this lid when the two magnetically-closed fuel flaps are open, one either side at the base of the rear window, a frequently made, damaging mistake which Paul Michaels was careful to warn me of. The fully-carpeted boot is deep but narrow front to rear, though at last the spare wheel has been mounted flat under the floor 10 offer more room. In the left corner are situated the battery, with master switch, tools and jack. Plenty of room for sensibly-packed luggage for two for a continental touring holiday, but rather tight for four.

Compared with some of its exotic continental competition, the DBS looks big, bluff and sturdy, which is exactly what it is. It represents a magnificent standard of British craftsmanship, compared with which some of that same continental machinery is cheap and nasty under the exotic exterior. The coachwork has probably the finest finish offered on a production car, Rolls-Royce included, and a petrol-less DBS V8 owner can at least take consolation from admiring and cosseting a beautiful piece of engineering. It will have cost him all of £9,593 in either manual or automatic form, plus another £369 should he have ordered an electric sunroof, and will require servicing every 2,500 miles should he inherit an oil well.