Aston Martin V8 Vantage

It’s great behind the wheel, and is gorgeous enough to make passers-by walk into lamp-posts

Had it not already done so 47 years ago, you’d think Aston Martin would be destined never to win at Le Mans. Back in June, I was there with countless thousand other Brits watching the pretty, sonorous DBR9 prove itself the class of its field on pure pace but let down by reliability issues just as it had last year. I’m old enough to remember the rumble of the Group C AMR1s and Nimrods and lucky enough to have driven the actual DB3S that gave Aston Martin the last of its three second places at the great race in the 1950s. In fact, more than 100 Astons have taken the start during the years, but to date just one, the Salvadori/Shelby DBR1 of 1959, has won.

But as I stood at the Sarthe this summer wondering why Aston was having to play bridesmaid yet again, another Aston was howling around another equally famous track in another 24 hour race. It didn’t win either, but in many ways the efforts of the V8 Vantage in the Nürburgring 24 Hours, held on the conglomeration of the fearsome old and rather dull new tracks, was just as impressive. Some 220 cars started this race, but just 141 finished, with the Aston 24th overall and 4th in its class. For a near factory-standard car driven by two development engineers from Aston and Dr Ulrich Bez, Aston’s mercurial, 62-year old boss, it was some achievement.

Then again, even a standard road V8 Vantage is a pretty special car. Many colleagues of mine in the motoring press have found it an easy car to criticise, usually and somewhat peculiarly because it is apparently not fast enough, but that has never been my experience when I’ve been at the wheel. Indeed I’ve always found the performance of its 380bhp, 4.3-litre V8 motor rather refreshing, not simply for its ability to catapult its all-aluminium body from 0-60mph in 4.9sec and onto 175mph, but also for emitting the best noise of any car costing less than £80,000.

I’ve driven the V8 Vantage side by side with the Porsche 911 and there’s no doubting that, for the true enthusiast, Stuttgart has come up with more of the right answers than Gaydon. But there is more to it than this. For a start, you need to be intimately familiar with both before you can detect that, yes, the Porsche is a smidge quicker and sharper, and unless you happen to own both – which is unlikely – such differences will
be of no concern.

Then consider that for every V8 Vantage that will be built, Porsche will knock out ten 911s. And while the look of the latest 911 is a considerable improvement on its predecessor, it doesn’t make people walk into lamp-posts like the V8 Vantage can.

What’s more important to me is that the V8 Vantage is the living embodiment of everything I’d hoped a 21st century Aston to be: quick, gorgeous, very sporting and great to drive. It might not be enough to win a 24 hour race, but it will ensure the health of Aston Martin for years to come. To me and to Aston Martin, that’s what really matters.