While the early post-war history of Aston Martin is dominated by six-cylinder engines designed by WO Bentley and Tadek Marek, the last quartercentury has seen the Newport Pagnell company rely on the V8 engine designed by the Polish born Marek.
Only now has Aston Martin turned back to the six-cylinder engine, the Jaguar origin unit with supercharging that powers the DB7.
John Wyer gave the go-ahead to the V8 in 1963, seeing that the Ted Cutting designed racing ‘six’ which won the World Sportscar Championship, and Le Mans, in 1959 was becoming outclassed, especially by Ferrari’s V12s.
Unfortunately Sir David Brown pulled the plug on racing at the end of 1963 and Wyer went off to form JW Automotive, in collaboration with John Willment. Marek continued with the design and development of his all-aluminium V8, an advanced 4.8-litre unit with twin overhead camshafts on each bank, although with two valves per cylinder.
The DBS was to be the first all-new Aston Martin design since the company’s move from Feltham, west of London. William Towns was employed in 1966, firSt as an interior designer (his seats were very highly rated) and within a few months he was promoted to take charge of the entire DBS body design.
A year later Mike Loasby joined Aston Martin Lagonda Limited as a development engineer, and the DBS is principally credited to Towns as the designer, Marek as the engine designer and Loasby as the engineer.
Development went ahead at a terrific speed, and the DBS was announced in September 1967. The engine bay was very spacious around the four-litre, six-cylinder engine, though, since the V8 was far from ready for production.
John Surtees was loaned pre-production five-litre engines for his Team Surtees Lola 170, which he drove with David Hobbs. The two-car exercise turned into a public humiliation at Le Mans as the V8 had insufficient wall stiffness and developed cracks around the main bearings and cylinder walls, Surtees’ Lola Aston retiring within the first hour with a failed crankshaft damper.
AML was already aware of the potential failings from early tests in a DB5, but still had the temerity to accuse Surtees of running non-approved Japanese spark plugs, which brought the short relationship to a stormy close.
Marek had to redesign the crankcase, making it far stiffer and taking the opportunity to increase the engine capacity to 5340 cc (bore and stroke 100 x 85 mm). On completion of the final version Marek retired in 1968, and Towns resigned from AML to set up his own design consultancy.
He was responsible for styling the amazing razor-edge Lagonda, unveiled in 1976, and for the less well received Aston Martin Bulldog mid-engined, two-seater design in 1980.
The Aston Martin DBS V8 was launched at Earls Court in October 1968 and went into production early in ’69. Taking a leaf out of Rolls-Royce’s book, Aston Martin refused to reveal the power output although, with the original Bosch fuel injection system it was probably a little short of the 300 bhp mark.
A switch to four big Weber carburettors in 1974 persuaded AML to mention the power for the first time, at 306 bhp, and in 1977 the muscle-bound Vantage version was produced with 375 bhp.
Performance was very adequate as the original DBS V8 had a genuine top speed of over 160 mph, verified by both Motor and Autocar in tests in 1971, accelerated from standstill to 60 mph in less than six seconds and to 100 mph in 14s.
It’s worth recalling that Porsche obtained comparable performance figures five years later from the 911. Turbo, and was acclaimed as making one of the world’s greatest supercars! Aston Martin never received as much credit, nor did they enjoy such success with a car that was, admittedly, much more expensive.
The V8s offered considerable mid-range performance that was lacking in the sixcylinder models and, of course, made a lovely burbling noise that gave the cars great presence.
Sir David Brown sold the company in 1972, tired at last of losing money on every car sold, and the new owners (Company Developments Ltd) immediately dropped the ‘DB’, calling the car the Aston Martin V8.
It was the company’s mainstay from 1973, when the last six-cylinder car was produced. Altogether some 2000 Aston Martin V8s were produced between 1969 and 1989 despite some alarming downturns in the company’s fortunes.
The Aston Martin Virage, introduced in 1989, is powered by a new version of the original V8, and has Weber Marelli engine management. It has a four-valve per cylinder top end designed by Callaway Engineering in Connecticut, and develops 335 bhp.
The special edition, 6.3-litre version develops 507 bhp and the twin-supercharged Vantage version develops a massive 557, figures that would have impressed Tadek Marek enormously!