Generally, most car companies go to great lengths to disguise their new models, usually with false panels, matt black paint or patterned stickers and do their best to test them in out of the way places. Not so with Aston Martin and the new V8 Vantage, codenamed AM305. The V8 Vantage was not just a new car but a brand new entry into the highly competitive two-seater junior sportscar market and as such, any publicity was welcomed.
Initial plans involved a mid-engined two-seater even though AM had only ever produced a single mid-engined concept car, the Bulldog. These plans were firmly cancelled by Ford executives in 2000 as there was a belief that part of the core Aston Martin DNA was a front-engined layout. Shortly afterwards when Dr Bez joined AML as CEO, the versatile VH platform was adopted as the common vehicle platform that we are familiar with today. Exactly how far the mid-engined project actually reached is unknown.
‘Autocar’ magazine, in its 24 April 2002 issue, had given us some strong clues when it printed a computer-generated image of a new ‘Baby V8 Aston’ and told us it was designed to compete with the Porsche 911. AML though were not so very happy with the ‘Baby’ tag, perhaps they were already planning the Cygnet! Even with such scant information in the public domain and before any official pictures had been released, dealers were accepting letters of intent from prospective owners.
Then, in January 2003, Aston Martin released significant details of the AM305 project and unveiled the AMV8 Vantage concept, a sports car, rather than a fast coupe, and which they hoped to begin to deliver to customers in 2005. Only now do we know that the car revealed at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit 2003, accurately predicted the car that eventually reached production; it was clearly an Aston Martin.
Unlike previous models this prototype was not made in-house. Once the design had been settled and tested, the manufacture of the car for the Detroit Motor Show was placed in the hands of DC Design PVT Ltd, of Mumbai (Bombay), India. The company, led by Dilip Chabria, who had been a designer at Ford, specialised in bringing prototype and concept cars into being. No doubt, the decision to use that particular firm was based on India’s vast wealth of high-quality craft skills as well as some cost considerations. The basis for AMV8 Vantage was an early DB7 Vantage Volante (400002) and didn’t actually use the high tech VH platform at all, not that this was widely known at the time. The AMV8 Vantage also still retained the DB7 V12, which explains why the car was never displayed with the bonnet open. Thus you could say that the AMV8 Vantage was the prototype for the V12 Vantage too! What we were expected to believe was that the car was powered by a 4.3 litre quad cam V8 with its genesis in the proven Jaguar V8 4.2 litre engine from the XKR but totally re-engineered and unique to Aston Martin. With an overall weight at or around 1500 kg and a performance intended to rival the Porsche 911, power would be expected to be in the region of 350 bhp.
The six-speed transmission system, controlled by steering column paddles (also used in the Vanquish), was unusual because the gearbox and the final drive to the back axle were included in a single casing at the rear of the car to allow the engine to be set as near to the middle of the car as possible. A feature first used in the 1956 DBR1 and later in the DB9. This layout of the major components gave a 50/50 weight distribution. An automatic transmission was also suggested as alternative yet this has never been seen on a production V8 Vantage.
The body design was credited to Henrik Fisker, Design Director at that time, but it was believed to have been started by Ian Callum; it had features that maintained the current Aston Martin persona and yet moved it forward much as the DB5 did with the DB4. The most significant external feature of the car was the upward-lifting tailgate, which had been pioneered by Aston Martin in 1953 with the DB2/4. Restricting the seating to two people had allowed AML to maximise the luggage space, easily accessed through the rear hatch. Indeed, such was the space that a complete golf bag could be placed across the luggage area. To protect the passengers, there was a bulkhead across the front of the luggage space.
The cabin, designed by interior designer Sarah Maynard, was clearly Aston Martin with an orange/tan leather finish everywhere and seats designed to keep the driver and companion both comfortable and secure. A welcome departure from the past was the apparent lack of components sourced from Ford. Finished in a grey silver hue at Detroit, the car was repainted in dark blue before its European debut at Geneva in February 2003.
With all the publicity around AMV8 Vantage, the smokescreen created caused the press to give hardly any attention to the DB7 replacement even though it would be revealed before the end of 2003.