Ron Wheeldon tries a much-aligned Aston Martin model on an AMOC run... and comes away impressed.
"The problem with Aston Martin cars, or with writing about them anyway, is the speed with which they exhaust one's supply of superlatives. The result is that one ends up either being extremely picky of babbling on like a teenager with a "hot chick".
Not that there's anything feminine about Astons. These machines are impeccably bred but are well matched to their James Bond image. They fit the character's good manners and civilised veneer, but always with that hint of menace beneath.
Of all the David Brown era Aston models, the last, the DBS, has always been the least popular among classic car 'types' and almost any article one reads about the DBS V8 model (with fuel injection) is crushing in its criticism - the car is portrayed as impossibly thirsty with a level of temperamentality capable of driving the most phlegmatic of owners to distraction.
I was never wildly impressed with the appearance of the car either, the early four-headlight nose and spoiler-less tail conspiring to render it almost ordinary. As a member of the Aston Martin Owners' Club I had many opportunities to regurgitate this derogatory information and this browned off a certain Trevor Carter sufficiently to motivate him to lend me his DBS V8 for a club run, so I ended up the proud possessor of the machine for almost two weeks.
At first it seemed to confirm all the worst opinions of the various scribes, reluctant to start and exhibiting an almost total lack of torque at low rpm so that, pulling off in first gear, was a similar experience to coaxing normal cars off the line in second, not enough revs on the clock and you stall, then the car won't want to start again ... Nevertheless, these turned out to be matters of learning the correct technique, which came quite quickly, and I was amazed at how soon I revised my earlier uninformed opinions. If anyone tells you that the DBS V8 is a dog, ask him if he ever got used to one that had the Bosch fuel injection set up by someone who actually understands it, and chances are he'll belt up.
The DBS must rate with very fine champagne as a sensual pleasure.
The interior is clothed in fine leather, as one would expect, and the very wide cabin with the two large armchairs breathes quality, as with other Astons. The dash slopes toward your feet and is sell laid out with tach and speedo easily visible through the steering wheel flanking the oil pressure gauge and a quartet of warning lights. The instrumentation of these cars has been roundly criticised for coming out of a host of other manufacturers' parts boxes, and is not impressive, typically British with no frills and gadgets, but it does the job.
The motor is not intrusive and it runs smoothly so that squiring the machine around the city and motorways is very calm and relaxed, the ride being truly excellent, not quite up to the Rolls-Royce standards, but not too far adrift from them either.
Road and wind noise is kept to a very low level at all normal motorway speeds, just a distant roar from the tyres and a bass murmur from the engine.
The most enduring impression I have of it, though, is of a feeling of control; the car goes exactly where it is pointed, the power steering is just right in that it doesn't feel like power steering at all at speed, and the massive weight of the car is translated into stability that brings to mind expressions lie 'rock' and 'tracks'.
At 160 km/h, the feeling is of being at about 80, secure, relaxed, with easy conversation and the distinct impression that a cruise down to Cape Town at about 180 km/h would be a pleasant doddle (please, Mr. President, may I have an exemption from speed restrictions?).
The power is such that the Aston virtually ignores hills and a nudge on the right-hand pedal translates into an instant, eager rush, which seems to have no end, so overtaking is no problem at all. The brakes are well up to the task too, reassuringly powerful, bleeding off speed even more rapidly than the engine puts it on (the DBS was tested 170-0 in 6 sec).
A highway express then, not a sports car? The DBS tips the scales at almost 3600 lb and is no light-weight, but one finds that weight figures lose their significance on tight, twisty roads.
The AMOC breakfast run took us to Hunter's Rest near Rustenburg and I drove the DBS with a load of four adults on some roads that must have been designed with sports cars in mind - sports cars like the Ferrari Dino, Lotus Europa and, well yes, the Aston DBS.
While in all truth the Aston probably couldn't stay with the former two in an all-out race on a twisty circuit, it is easily more than their match as a road car. It is astoundingly nimble and reacts well to being driven with flair.
Originally a mere adaptation of the DB 6 chassis, the set-up of the DBS is truly superb, and with the well-spaced ratios in the ZF 5-speed gearbox allied to the shattering power of the V8, the result is a remarkably rewarding driving machine. As a bonus, I found that the fuel consumption was also within reason - an average of 18 1/100 km.
I found that I liked it more and more and even the less-than-exciting lines have a plus factor. One doesn't feel like a poseur driving the car. Handsome rather than beautiful, it doesn't do the Ferrari 308 bit of screaming to all and sundry that it's an exotic car.
For those in the know, though, this is a very exotic car indeed, and the quiet exterior conceals engineering and an engine with few peers. The V8 originated in the early sixties, when Aston's engine designer Tadek Marek had finished the work on the six and it was clear that, for competitive racing, something bigger was necessary.
Work on the V8 started in 1963 and the quad-cam unit was running in mid-65, with initially disappointing results. Nevertheless development continued and, as fitted to the Lola-Aston-Martin T70 in 1967 in five litre form, it developed 421 bhp. Two cars raced at Le Mans, but engine failure caused both to retire.
The lessons learned, however, helped enormously with the development of the road-going engine. This was finally fixed in capacity at 5 340 cc, using a bore and stroke of 100 mm x 85 mm and could, in some states of tune, develop 400 bhp. As fitted to the DBS, it seems, although the company at that stage did not divulge power figures, the engine was developing about 345 bhp. Whatever the exact figure, the power was clearly substantial - Motor found that the injected V8 was capable of 0-60 mph in 5.9 seconds, 100 mph in 13.8 and a genuine top speed of 160 mph. These were world-beating figures in 1969 when the car was launched, and remain very impressive today.
It is a little realised fact that the first DBS V8 was the fastest production Aston of all until the appearance of the Vantage model in 1977. Driving the car, one simply has the impression of endless, effortless "oomph" and that, in the final analysis, is what matters most.
So the DBS is an exclusive (only 405 were built between 1969 and the face-lift at the end of 1972), roomy, very high performance, hand built, prestigious, practical supercar, for my money worth all those superlatives.
If there's a better car, the Vantage V8 is probably it; you can bolt as much on to your BM or Merc as you like, they remain rubber stamp cars and just not in the Aston's class.
For those who would denigrate the Aston as out-dated and over-sized, I would refer to the fact that Road & Track magazine decided, in 1983, to find out which was the fastest exotic car of all of those then on sale. The mix included Porsche 930 turbo, Lamborghini Countach and Ferrari 512 BBi Boxer with the Aston included, but not really regarded as a contender.
The testing was done in Germany and the highest true speed obtained was 177 mph by the fastest car of the lot - the out-dated, over-weight, four seater Aston Martin!"
1971 ASTON MARTIN DBS V8