As­ton V8

How to avoid the pricey pit­falls of the ar­che­typal Bri­tish mus­cle car and buy an emer­ald

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents - Words: AN­DREW NOAKES Pho­tog­ra­phy: JOHN COLLEY

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

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