buy­ing guide: van­quish s

The mk1 Van­quish caused a sen­sa­tion with its beauty and ag­gres­sion, but dy­nam­i­cally it never com­pletely clicked – un­til the S

VANTAGE - - Contents - words PETER TOMA­LIN

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

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY MATTHEW HOW­ELL

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

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