buying guide: vanquish s
The mk1 Vanquish caused a sensation with its beauty and aggression, but dynamically it never completely clicked – until the S
The mk1 Vanquish reached its zenith in ‘S’ form. Here’s what you need to know
The term ‘landmark car’ is often over-used. But in the case of the mk1 Vanquish, it really does hold true. The last car to be built at Newport Pagnell (at least until the limited run of DB4 GTS began last year). The first to embrace new materials and new methods of construction (aluminium chassis, carbonfibre composites, etc). The car that established a new design language for a whole generation of Astons. Oh yes, and it just happens to be one of the finest driver’s cars of the last 20 years.
That was especially true towards the end of its life. Elsewhere in this issue you can read about the Vanquish’s genesis in the form of the ‘Project Vantage’ concept of 1998. Here we’re taking a look at the other end of the story. The Vanquish S, which went on sale in the summer of 2004 and ran until production ceased in July 2007, is by common consent the best of the breed. It also commands a substantial premium today, but sometimes if you want the best, you have to pay for it.
Which is not to say the original Vanquish, launched in 2001, wasn’t highly capable and hugely desirable in its own right. Designer Ian Callum achieved a near-perfect blend of beauty and aggression, in much the same way that Ercole Spada had done with the 1960s DB4 GT Zagato, the clear inspiration for Callum’s super-gt for the new millennium. It was so right that it remained virtually unchanged throughout the car’s life, with only the merest detail tweak (the interior was a different matter, but we’ll get to that in a moment).
Aston’s 5.9-litre V12, which had appeared first in the DB7 Vantage two years earlier, was given a 40bhp boost for the new flagship, taking peak power to 460bhp at 6500rpm. Driving through a new automated manual gearbox – the first ‘paddleshift’ transmission we’d seen on an Aston – it was enough for the company to claim a 0-60mph time of 4.5sec (though 5sec was more realistic) and a top speed of 190mph. Drive a good example of one of those early cars today and it still offers a seductive combination of pace and poise. And with prices currently starting around £80,000, they also look conspicuously good value.
But, fine machines though they were, those early models did have a number of weaknesses. One was the operation of the gearbox, which was at best slow-witted and at worst prone to mis-shift or turn its clutch to smoke. And then there were the brakes, which weren’t quite up to the combination of the Vanquish’s formidable performance and hefty 1800kg-
plus kerbweight. Fine in everyday use, but a spirited drive could soon find them wilting.
Handling-wise, too, the early car left room for improvement. The benchmark at the time was the Ferrari 575M, especially when fitted with the ‘Fiorano’ handling pack. For all its beauty and soul, dynamically the Aston was off the Ferrari’s pace. Its chassis set-up was at the softer end of the GT spectrum, while its performance, though impressive, lacked the reach of the 575’s wailing 508bhp V12.
The first sign that Aston was prepared to raise the Vanquish’s game came with the introduction of the Sports Dynamic Pack in early 2004. The only visual distinction was a new nine-spoke alloy wheel in place of the original 12-spoke item, but it was what sat behind those spokes that really mattered: new Brembo discs all round, those at the front increased in diameter from 355 to 378mm and now grabbed by six-piston calipers in place of the old four-piston units. The rear discs were made a couple of millimetres thicker, and Pagid competition pads were fitted all round.
There was more. The front suspension now came with new, stiffer uprights and new hubs; the springs were shorter and the ride height lower, the Bilstein dampers firmed up to suit. There were shorter steering arms, too, said to increase the speed of the rack by 20 per cent.
All of this added just £3000 to the list price of £166,000, which was a serious bargain. The changes were beautifully judged, too. On a challenging road, the Vanquish now had real sharpness; a much keen er edge to its responses, its body control and, yes, its braking.
Today we see the SDP as a half-way house: ‘The Inbetweener’, as we titled our feature on this often-overlooked model in the last issue. It can be a smart buy, too. While an SDP does command more money than a ‘regular’ car, it’s not usually a great deal more. Reckon on £100,000-£110,000 for a really nice one. It’s rare, too, with just 94 sold compared with the 1400 standard cars that preceded it.
Of course, the full works (pun intended) came in the shape of the Vanquish S, launched in the autumn of 2004. Having sorted the chassis, Aston Martin now focused on giving its flagship the firepower to match Ferrari. So attention turned to the V12 engine, with reworked, machine-finished cylinder-head ports, improved manifold matching, bigger injectors and revised ignition timing.
The result was a hike in peak power from 460bhp to 520bhp, delivered 500rpm further round the dial at 7000rpm and neatly trumping the 575M’s 508bhp. And even if the Aston still couldn’t match the Ferrari’s standing-start times (at evo, we recorded 0-60mph in 4.2sec for the 575 in manual form, while we couldn’t better 4.9sec with the Vanquish S, against Aston’s claim of 4.8sec), on the move it did feel significantly quicker than the standard car.
Aston claimed a ‘200mph-plus’ top speed, and the Vanquish S boasted a couple of small aero tweaks to make it both more slippery and more stable at high velocities – namely a slightly bigger, body-colour splitter under the chin and a tail spoiler incorporated into the bootlid. The other visible changes were new 11-spoke alloys (in fact very similarlooking to the standard ones), slightly gappier spars in the grille, and a discreet ‘Vanquish S’ badge on the back. But then the one thing the Vanquish never needed was a makeover.
Inside, where the original’s painted centre console jarred, now it was trimmed in leather. There were more deeply bolstered seats, too – and there were further improvements for the 2006 model year, when the Ford- and Jaguarsourced switchgear was swapped for bespoke Aston items, as found in the DB9.
With the power increase, the chassis changes carried over from the SDP, and new magnetic sensors to improve the speed and quality of the gearchanges – the clutch was uprated, too, while the overall gearing was shortened – the net effect was to turn the Vanquish into the car it should have been right from the off: a truly world-class super-gt.
The S carried a £10k premium when new, but it’s rather more than that today. While an early Vanquish can be had for £80-90k and an SDP for around £100k, you’ll need to stump up at least £130k for an S. At the top end, official Aston Martin outlets ask up to £175k for the very best Aston-warrantied cars. The good news is that all values seem to have been on a
‘ASTON NOW FOCUSED ON GIVING ITS FLAGSHIP THE FIREPOWER TO MATCH FERRARI’
gentle upward trajectory in the last 12 months and look set to continue that way.
Just over 1000 Vanquish Ss were sold before a final run of 50 ‘Ultimate Editions’, the last of which rolled out of the old factory in Tickford Street on July 19, 2007. By then it was a £180k motor car – and you’ll have to pay at least that for an Ultimate today, if you can find one.
So what do you need to know if you’re in the market for a Vanquish S (or, indeed, one of the earlier variants, since most of what follows applies to them all)? According to specialist John Mcgurk, the V12 is a fundamentally strong engine, provided it’s regularly serviced (at least once a year) and the oil level is checked religiously in between times. Its Achilles’ heel has been coil-packs, which suffer from heat damage and occasionally from water ingress causing shorting. It’s a costly job to replace them because you have to remove the intake manifolds. Reckon on around £800 per bank.
Don’t be put off by the robotised gearbox, though it’s certainly worth driving a few to get a sense of how it should feel. Properly set up – and with a modicum of driver sensitivity, feathering the throttle for upshifts – it can be perfectly acceptable. And if you really can’t abide it, there are options: Aston Works developed an excellent stick-shift manual conversion, while the Aston Workshop offers an equally good conventional automatic.
Clutch-wear varies hugely. Mcgurk has know them last as long as 50,000 miles – or fewer than 1000 if they’re constantly ridden. A replacement is around £3000 and the gearbox needs expert setting-up afterwards. On the test drive, changes should be crisp, the whole drivetrain smooth and vibration-free. Also listen for clonks and knocks: Vanquishes are pretty heavy on suspension bushes.
Body-wise, the main structure is bonded aluminium, with carbonfibre crash sections: not generally an issue unless the car has been damaged and poorly repaired. The one area of concern on all mk1 Vanquishes is the steel front subframe. Water gets trapped by the undertray and rot sets in; a replacement is about £5000 plus labour. On the aluminium outer panels, check for corrosion bubbling up along any edges – many have it to some degree, eventually necessitating a bare-metal respray.
Another increasing problem as the cars age is the wiring loom chafing where it passes through the engine bulkhead: gearbox and other fault lights on the dash could point to a problem here. ‘I’d advise to get the engine loom inspected,’ says Mcgurk. ‘If it needs replacing it’s potentially a very big bill.’
How much to budget for maintenance? ‘If you buy a good car and you’re doing a low mileage, I reckon it will average out at around a grand a year. But you do need a good specialist: they’re not a straightforward car.
‘Properly maintained, though, they’re a great car. One of my favourite Astons to drive: a proper, big, aggressive brute of an English motor car. And the S is the one to have.’ V
Above Kicked-up bootlid spoiler (incorporating the third brake light) told you that you were following a Vanquish S – well, that and the Vanquish S badge, assuming you were close enough to read it
Above V12 is a great engine, but you need to be diligent: it has a tendency to drink a drop of oil – and eat coil packs