How to avoid the pricey pitfalls of the archetypal British muscle car and buy an emerald
Supercar pace, precise handling and highclass accommodation for four are at the heart of the Aston V8’s appeal. And while values of other classic Astons have rocketed in recent years, V8s have yet to catch up. They’re solid, well-engineered cars, but you need to know what you’re dealing with when you buy one.
So we’ve consulted three Aston V8 experts: Chris Adams from Four Ashes Garage (fourashesgarage.co.uk) who looks after the V8 in our pictures, Neil Thompson from RS Williams (rswilliams.co.uk) and Mark Donoghue, concours chairman and chief judge for the Aston Martin Owners Club (amoc.org) and a serial V8 owner. Between them they’ll guide you to the perfect Aston V8.
Which one to choose?
Series 1 – First V8 Aston was the DBS V8 with a fourheadlamp body and Bosch fuel injection. Aston Martin made 402 between 1969 and 1972. Series 2 – When David Brown sold Aston Martin in 1972 ‘DB’ was dropped and the car became the Aston Martin V8 (though confusingly some early ones still had David Brown badges). Now with two-headlamp front end; 288 were made 1972-73.
Series 3 – Four Weber downdraught carburettors replaced the troublesome injection system. Between 1973 and 1978, 967 were made.
Series 4 – Revised ‘Oscar India’ specification stands for ‘October Introduction’. Detail improvements including revised fascia. Weber-marelli fuel injection on some later cars; 352 were made from 1978-86.
Series 5 – Electronic injection on all cars and a new, flatter bonnet, as the bulge was no longer needed to clear the tall Webers. BBS cross-spoke wheels, two-spoke steering wheel, 405 built from 1986-89.
Vantage – Bigger carbs, big-valve heads, higher-lift cams and deep front air dam for this high-performance model. There were 342 built between 1977 and 1989. Also some ‘cosmetic Vantage’ factory cars with standard engines, and rare Vantage Zagato (52 made).
Volante – Drophead introduced in 1978; 901 built by 1989. Also Vantage Volante (166 made), ‘Prince of Wales’ Volante with Vantage engine but standard body (26 made) and Zagato Volante (37 made).
Service history Look for a lengthy history of regular servicing by a recognised Aston Martin specialist. These cars take a lot of maintenance, and skimping on servicing through a lack of specialist knowledge or a desire to save money can store up trouble for later. Getting a neglected car back to first-class condition can be a £15,000 job just in service costs, before considering any repairs. Check mileages on MOT certificates and service records to see how many miles the car has done each year – if it’s been standing for a long time brake hoses will perish and tyres will degrade. Having the car and its history examined by an expert is well worth the £700-£1200 cost.
Body and chassis The steel platform chassis is strong, but prone to corrosion. Ideally remove the stainless steel sill covers to inspect underneath – a specialist might use an endoscope to examine the inner sills. Repairs here are likely to cost a minimum of £6000 for both sides, with the potential for much more corrosion to be uncovered when the rotten sills are removed. Another common corrosion point is the front mounting point of the lower rear trailing arm.
The aluminium alloy body panels are prone to dents, for example on top of the wings, and to electrolytic corrosion where the panels meet the steel underframe. Front wings corrode at the bottom corners where they are riveted to the main structure. Check that the bottom of the doors is made up of the steel door frame rather than filler. Check the drains in the fuel filler box are clear because water collecting here can find its way into the fuel system.
A high-quality body restoration and repaint will cost £25,000 or more, while a full chassis rebuild will take in excess of 450 hours of labour and could cost £45,000 or more.
Interior The V8’s hand-built interior stands up well but even the youngest cars have had nearly 30 years of wear and tear, so check the condition of trim carefully. These cars are swathed in leather, and later examples have veneered wood on the dash and centre console. Various types of headlining were used over the years but all fitted as a single piece, so can be difficult to handle. Some interior components are shared with other cars and easily available but others, such as
‘These cars take a lot of maintenance, and signs of scrimping can signal expensive trouble saved up for later’
‘Maintained and set up well, the Aston V8s are robust engines that can cover high mileages without complaint’
some of the column stalks, are no longer available new. Renewing leather trim will cost £8000 or more, and it’s important to find a trimmer who understands the style and quality of Aston interiors. Engine The V8s are robust engines that can cover high mileages without complaint, given regular maintenance. Oil pressure should be 10psi at idle and 80-85psi at 3000rpm. The early fuel injection system is excellent when running well but can be problematic, and takes expert knowledge to set up correctly. If the engine has a minor flat spot, adjustment is probably all that is necessary, but rough running or overfuelling may indicate more serious problems. A reconditioned injection pump is about £4000, and the system would need a comprehensive set-up after fitting it which is likely to take four to five days.
Top-end maintenance is more expensive on injection cars because the intake runners have to be removed for access to the cam covers. On carburettor cars the four Weber twin-chokes are easiest to set up using a set of four vacuum gauges – it can be done with a single gauge, but it takes a lot longer. The choke flaps often seize up through lack of use, as most owners start from cold by pumping the accelerator pedal. Check the radiator and cooling system hoses for signs of leaks. On early cars with viscous fans, grab the fan boss and waggle it from side to side – there should be no play. Later cars have two-speed electric fans, but check that they come on when the engine is warm. The water pump drive belt can easily be overtightened.
Brakes Regular fluid changes, at least every three years, are essential. New master cylinders are still available but expensive at over £1000, while servos (two on each car) are only available as reconditioned units and are best replaced as a pair. Servo failure will cause a hard brake pedal and very little retardation even at low speed.
Hoses can fail internally causing a one-way valve that makes the brakes stick on. Brake calipers can seize through lack of use, but can be rebuilt with stainless steel pistons for about £500 a pair. The rear brakes are inboard and accessed from inside on pre-1975 cars, which means removing the rear seat to get at them. On later cars the calipers were mounted the other way up so pad changes can be done from underneath, but that makes the handbrake shoes more difficult to get at. For any rear brake work more involved than a pad change it is easier to drop the rear axle.
Transmission On manuals the clutch pedal needs a firm push, but if it is very heavy or slow-acting and the hydraulics seem to be in good condition, the diaphragm or clutch release fork may be seizing up. Repair is a gearbox-out job, and that’s a long process which also requires removal of the differential – budget at least £1000.
The manual gearboxes have a hefty, long-throw change and are very robust though they can rattle at idle – a problem even when they were new. Rebuilds are rarely needed; just as well when parts alone cost £2000. The Chrysler Torqueflite automatic transmissions are generally trouble-free, and can be adjusted from underneath with the gearbox in situ.
The propshaft has two universal joints, and the front one is hard to get at. Joints with and without grease nipples are both common. If grease nipples are fitted a quick check on the joints can be made by pumping fresh grease in: if the grease emerging is clean the joints are OK, but if the grease is a rusty colour they’re probably in poor condition.
Final drives often whined even when new. The oil should be changed every 10k miles. Clunks from the axle when changing gear are likely to be the three differential mounting bushes, a relatively simple fix.
Sired by David Brown, the V8 enjoyed a 21-year production run and lived on through several changes in company ownership. Today, they’re still lagging behind their predecessors in value terms – now’s the time to buy a good one
The early fuel injection system was so troublesome, Aston went back to carburettors until it was sorted. Issues can be cured today, but need an expert touch