Vantage Point: The Name That Defines Aston Martin
In the pantheon of the cult of Aston Martin, the Vantage name is hallowed. Aston Martin named its most obscure model the Vantage, then, years later, resurrected the label for its most popular car—the one that saved the company. If there’s been any consistency for the moniker, we haven’t found it yet. But the Vantage name has always been closely associated with the rebirth of the brand. In the long and sordid history of Aston Martin, there have been plenty of rebirths. The latest is the debut of an all-new Vantage, set to arrive in customer hands before summer of next year.
The new Vantage is a leap forward for Aston Martin, now firmly into a new generation of cars under the leadership of CEO Andy Palmer. It uses an evolution of the bonded-aluminum structure used on the new DB11 and is powered by a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 making 503 horsepower. It has modern technology like an electronic rear differential. And, of course, it’s fast: 195 mph top speed, 0 – 60 mph in 3.6 seconds. But what makes this more meaningful is the name. It wouldn’t be the same is this car was named something other than Vantage.
The first use of Vantage dates back to the early Sixties, with the DB4 Vantage, Aston’s first model to be deemed as such. DB4 Vantages came with what the firm called the “Special Series” engine, which had three SU carburetors and reworked heads, good for a ten-percent increase in output to 266 horsepower. It was a nice holdover before the Series 5 DB4 debuted in 1963. In 1967, Aston Martin launched the DBS, its most modern car yet. It was a thorough departure from the DB series, long and wide with a forward-canting egg-crate grille, sharp edges, and a fastback body. It was everything to be expected from that jubilant era. Sure, it had the same straight-six engine from the DB6, but the DBS had four actually-usable seats. It was the last car to pass boss David Brown’s personal inspection before he left the company.
The DBS was fast, sleek, powerful, and oh so modern. But customers wanted a V8. And two years later, when longtime Aston Martin engineer Tadek Marek rolled out a 5.3-liter engine that churned out 315 horsepower, powerful by any era’s standards, that’s exactly what they got. The straight-six DBS was rechristened Vantage in 1972 before ending production, making it the first Aston Martin to take that model name rather than denote a model variant.
Then, the Vantage name moved to the V8. And here it went back to being a specification package, arriving with aerodynamic upgrades in the form of a blanked-off grille and hood scoop, Weber carburetors and free-flowing exhaust. In Vantage guise, the Aston Martin V8 soon became the fastest-accelerating production car in the world: 0-60 miles per hour in 5.2 seconds, according to Motor Magazine—still quick today, and in the mid-70s, capable of blowing people’s minds. Suddenly, the meaning of “Vantage” went from the weakest to the fastest.
These legendary Astons have always been popular, and now the price reflects it: in 2006, a decent late-Seventies V8 Vantage could have been obtained for $50,000. Now? Five times that. Over the past ten years even the Eighties examples, worthy of Timothy Dalton’s James Bond, have exploded in value. A 1982 V8 Vantage in “Oscar India” specification went up for auction in Monterey last year—complete with blanked-out grille, twin driving lights, and mesh-style wheels. Exuding menace and plush Connolly leather. It sold for $357,500.
Aston Martin introduced the V8’s replacement, the Virage, in 1989. It is astounding how long the V8 Vantage soldiered on, but even this hand-built, newly-styled car took on the same 5.3-liter V8 engine that had served well for so many years. The Vantage returned as the top of the range. And it added a pair of superchargers.
With those twin superchargers, the Vantage produced a massive 550 horsepower. In 1999, Aston Martin commemorated the 40th anniversary of its famed 1-2 victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. With over 600 horspeower, these 40 examples of the Virage Vantage Le Mans could reach 60 miles per hour in less than four seconds, heading toward 200 miles per hour—the fastest car that Aston Martin had ever produced.
The Vantage nameplate appeared again on the DB7, Aston Martin’s first car under Ford ownership. Again, a rebirth. The DB7 became the highest-selling car in Aston’s history at that point, and this time, the Vantage name appeared on the company’s first V12.
Interest in the DB7 Vantage, according to Hagerty’s valuation team, is at the highest it’s been in the past five years. Gauging interest by quotes for insurance policies, “the number of quotes for coupes are up 58% over the last year while convertibles are down 10%,” says Hagerty analyst Jesse Pilarski. “This is not uncommon for sports cars nearing the bottom of their depreciation curve.”
And yet, this increase in interest hasn’t translated into values—these mighty V12s are still dropping in value, from $48,000 five years ago to $41,000 today. In the halcyon days of the nineties, these cars were $150,000; the attention hasn’t caught on yet. But for a twelve-cylinder coupe that came with a manual, a coupe that looks like it does, it’s a beautiful bargain.
As the DB7 gave way to the DB9, Aston Martin placed the Vantage name back to basics. The smaller Aston Martin V8 Vantage debuted 2005 with purpose: it was more focused, more of a sports car, the proverbial “911 killer.”
Whether it did is up for debate. But there is little doubt that the company’s focus on the Vantage, and on a focused sports car as opposed to larger grand touring coupes, introduced genuine sporting intent to the company. It became the centerpiece of Aston Martin Racing, not only competing at the 24 Hours of Nurburging but also returning the company to Le Mans. Two years after the Vantage debuted, its DB9-based car won its class two years in a row. In 2008, the Vantage N24 won the top three positions in its class at the 24 Hours of Nürburgring. Earlier this year, a Vantage won the GTE class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Without this focus on racing intent, there’d be no track-only Vulcan, there’d be no incredible Valkyrie. There would have been no V12 Vantage, a massive twelve-cylinder and manual transmission stuffed into the diminutive two-seater, encompassing the company’s entire ethos. For a while, the Vantage was simultaneously Aston Martin’s smallest and largest-engined car.
Talk about evolving a name. Last year, CEO Andy Palmer vowed that Aston Martin, will always supply a manual transmission, no matter how difficult it would be to engineer. Specifically, he said, in the new Vantage, introduced just this past week, lighter and more focused than before. The Vantage name has taken on many iterations: ludicrously fast grand tourers, lithe sports cars, small-engined modesty and landmass-crushing V12 power. Now, it defines the company.