DBS V8 Description
Unveiled: September 1969
In production: January 1970 - May 1972
Chassis numbers: DBSV8/10001/R - DBSV8/10405/RCA, excluding 10263 & 10380
The original DBS, a four-seater GT, was introduced in September 1967 with the same 4 litre, straight six cylinder engine that had been in use since 1964 when it powered the DB5. The 4 litre was indeed an enlarged version of the 3.7 litre engine that dated back to 1958 with the introduction of the DB4. Although the DBS will be covered in the Newport Pagnell six cylinder volume of the Register, there is no harm in briefly describing the six cylinder car at this point as its chassis, concept and broad styling were the basis of AML production right through to 1989. The DBS had been designed to broaden the appeal of the Aston Martin range.
While based on the same rigid steel platform chassis of the DB6, the DBS chassis was 115 mm wider, with an extra 25 mm inserted into the wheelbase. Once clothed in the hand beaten alloy panels typical of Aston Martin coachwork since the war, the DBS gained 150 mm in overall width, but was also 30 mm lower and, which might come as a surprise, actually 40 mm shorter than a DB6. The styling was the work of the talented British designer, William Towns, who continued to work for and influence AML for many years afterwards. The length of the doors was greater than the DB6 which allowed quite reasonable access to the individually sculptured rear seats. Instead of the slightly cramped 2+2 accommodation of the DB4/5/6 cars, the DBS was marketed as a full four-seater, although as the average person ha become taller in the last forty years, you could reasonably argue against that now. The attractive stainless steel full width grille which incorporated the pair of twin quartz iodine headlamps was quite a departure from previous models.
The front suspension, by two unequal wishbones, coiled springs with co-axial shock absorbers and anti-roll bar used from the DB4 was retained. For the first time, a de Dion back axle was used on a production Aston Martin (other than the DB3 and DB3S) and roller splines were used on the shafts for the first time on a British production car. It was located by trailing arms and Watts linkage and suspended by coiled springs and damped by double acting Armstrong “Selectaride” shock absorbers, all of which are developed from the rear suspension of a long line of Aston Martins. All cars were fitted with a limited slip differential.
The more generous accommodation was of course detrimental to both weight and frontal area thus with the six cylinder engine, it was slightly slower that the DB6 it was set to replace. The DBS was crying out for more power.
The design of the V8 engine dated back to 1963 when AML engine designer, Polish-born Tadek Marek began work on project MP213, using shared parts, knowledge and experience gained with his previous six cylinder unit. It took until July 1965 for the first prototype engine, a 4.8 litre unit, to be bench tested and it immediately achieved a promising 275 bhp. Versions with capacities of 4.8 and 5 litres began road testing in the experimental prototype DB4, DP200, and DB5, MP222, before continuing in the DBS.
It was no secret at all that the DBS, with its wide engine bay was awaiting the long promised V8. The V8 was announced to the press and public at the Racing Car Show in January 1967. Shortly afterwards, the V8 was tested in the Lola T70 Mark III GT endurance sports car and despite the designers reluctance, was tested in public at the 1967 Le Mans 24 Hours race. Sadly both cars failed to finish, due to engine problems.
Following inspection back at the factory one engine showed cracks around the main bearing housing, the other suffered a holed piston. It may have been a humiliation, but further modifications made the V8 arguably the strongest Aston Martin engine of all time.
When the DBS, complete with 5.3 litre V8, was formally announced on the 27th September 1969, no-one could have possibly imagined that the engine and the basic format of the DBS V8 would form the foundation of AML production at Newport Pagnell for the next 30 years.
By the time the V8 engine was production ready, complete with Bosch mechanical fuel injection, the capacity had reached 5,340 cc, a figure that remained constant for the next 30 years (excepting special conversions). This allowed the manual DBS V8 to reach a top speed of 160 mph, easily eclipsing the DBS, which remained in production alongside the DBS V8, by 20 mph. Motoring magazine road tests achieved 0-60 mph times of 5.9 seconds and 0-100 mph in 13 seconds. Thus the DBS V8 was the fastest production four-seater of its day. At that time and for many years afterwards, the peak power of the V8s was never officially quoted. Following road testing, ‘Motor’ magazine estimated an optimistic 375 bhp, and whilst we now know that road test cars were ‘specially prepared’ the real world performance was slightly less. Whilst AML was aiming for 345 bhp, the reality was actually in the 310 to 320 bhp region. With the V8 engine in place, the DBS V8 gained weight of about 140 kg over the DBS but this was more than compensated for by the significant increase in engine output.
Whilst the V8 body chassis and suspension were essentially taken straight from the DBS there is one obvious change, the adoption of 15 inch light alloy wheels (with 7 inch rims) instead of the traditional ‘knock off’ wire wheel as used on Astons since 1922. The greatly increased torque of the V8 would have destroyed them in no time at all. Made by GKN especially for the DBS V8, they were especially designed to channel cool air the brakes.
With such performance the DBS V8 was fitted with 1¼ inch thick Girling ventilated discs (inboard at the rear) and speed sensitive power steering became standard. The ZF five-speed gearbox, with ‘dog-leg’ first gear was standard fit (although with different ratios to those used in the DBS) although the Torqueflite three-speed automatic was a popular option. With the manual gearbox, a back axle ratio of 3.54:1 was fitted and 3.33:1 with the automatic. A little way into production, alternative back axle ratios were made available with 3.33:1 for manual cars and 2.88:1 for automatics.
In addition to the engine and wheels, the DBS V8 had some easily spotted updates over the previous six cylinder DBS. The DBS V8 received a larger but still neat matte black front air dam. Also, the louvres in the C pillar were deleted and replaced by a vertically slatted panel above the boot lid which improved interior ventilation. In addition, the stainless steel sill covers were made deeper. These updates were also applied to the six cylinder DBS at the time the DBS V8 entered production. Badges on the wing vents had the script ‘Aston Martin V8 DBS’ with the ‘V8’ highlighted in red.
The US market was eager to get its hands on the DBS V8 but was initially prevented from doing so as the engine required modification to pass the tight rules on emissions. These detuned ‘federal’ spec engines, also used on Japanese market cars can be identified by the suffix /EE. Due to a compression ratio of 8.3:1 and the fitting of an ignition advance/retard system they were unfortunately producing only about 250 bhp. In addition, all US market cars had as standard, front seat head restraints, Coolair air conditioning, rear seat belts, door mirrors on both sides and side protection beams in the doors. Eventually US customers got the opportunity to acquire a DBS V8 in October 1971 but as certification expired by the end of that year only about 40 were imported out of a total production of 48 with the emission control engine. The US had to wait until October 1974 before new Aston Martins could again be sold. Five cars of the 48 with the federal engine were sold in Japan.
In only a little over two years of production, the total number of DBS V8s reached just 403 examples (309 RHD and 94 LHD) with 121 known to be automatics. After due consideration, the Registrars feel that at least 310 examples still exist although some are perhaps waiting to be rediscovered.
The DBS and DBS V8 were the last cars to be produced under the 25 years of David Brown’s ownership. It would be almost 25 years before the DB badge was again seen on an Aston Martin.
DBS V8 Updates
Although only made for a little over two years, the DBS V8 received many small detail changes scattered throughout the production run.
Initially a wood rimmed steering wheel was fitted but this was replaced by a leather covered item that stayed in use until the mid-1980s. The ignition key was originally located at the bottom of the centre console but following customer comment this was later moved and incorporated a steering lock. Also a centre console was introduced with a lift up lid and elasticated map pockets were let into the backs of the front seats. Air-conditioning was initially only available as an optional extra but was later provided as standard at the 1971 London Motor Show; all DBSV8 model chassis numbers from DBSV8/10315/RC onwards (the Ogle prototype excepted) have Coolair air-conditioning fitted. Cars with original factory air-conditioning can be identified by a third dial on the centre console between the one for the fan speed and the one for type of flow. The US made Coolair system, which continued to be fitted to cars up to 1983, was controlled by sliders rather than the confusing three dial set-up. Early cars had Armstrong lever arm Selectaride rear shock absorbers that could be adjusted from the inside but by 1971, these were deleted.
In the engine bay, later cars received larger air filter boxes which allowed for better air flow into the engine. On the interior, initially, the plastic door handles were provided by Austin but were really not strong enough for Aston drivers! These were replaced by more substantial metal items from the Jaguar XJ6 that not only lasted through to the end of V8 production but incredibly were still in use in the V8 Vantage Volante special edition in 2000.
DBS V8 Derivatives and Specials
During 1974 Staffordshire Aston Martin dealer, Robin Hamilton, began competing a 1970 DBS V8 (chassis number DBSV8/10038/RC) in AMOC events. During three years of development, with the car modified almost beyond recognition, the chassis number was changed to RHAM/1 (Robin Hamilton Aston Martin #1) with the intention of competing in the 1977 Le Mans 24 Hour race. With the engine producing 520 bhp, a maximum speed of 188 mph was recorded on the ‘pre-kink’ Mulsanne straight during qualifying. RHAM/1 competed with honour achieving 17th overall (from 55 starters) and 3rd in the GTP class, having been driven by Robin Hamilton, Dave Preece and Mike Salmon. For the 1978 Le Mans 24 Hour race, RHAM/1 received even greater modification with a peak output of 800 bhp assisted by twin Garrett AiResearch turbos. Unfortunately, fuel consumption dropped to as little as 2.5 mpg (for the 1977 race, the average was 5.75 mpg) so the entry to Le Mans was withdrawn only two weeks before the race.
By 1979, the shape of RHAM/1 was dramatically altered with a lowered roof, steeply raked windscreen, huge front airdam and dropped bonnet line. Both the fitting of fuel injection in place of the Weber carbs and reducing boost pressure to give maximum power of 650 bhp helped to reduce fuel consumption to around 4 mpg. During the 1979 Le Mans 24 Hour race and with the same set of drivers as 1977, the car unfortunately had only competed for 2 hours 45 minutes when a connecting rod broke due to a melted and holed piston.
In 1980, RHAM/1 competed in the Silverstone 6 hour race, now sporting a huge rear wing which is still fitted to this day. After just 61.5 miles, the rear hub failed. RHAM/1 had sadly completed its last race. Just for something a little different, in October 1980, RHAM/1 broke the world caravan towing record at almost 125 mph, on the runway at Elvington Airfield, Yorkshire.
With his first-hand experience at Le Mans, Robin Hamilton went on to develop the Aston Martin Nimrod Group C racing car in the early 1980s. Whilst this could never be seen as a Works car, support was provided by the factory, and indeed lessons learned from the wind tunnel were applied to the V8 Vantage in the form of front air dam and rear spoiler.
DBS V8 Vantage
In 1974, Dudley Gershon in his book, Aston Martin 1963-1972 wrote that a Vantage version of the DBS V8 was considered in 1968. It is now known that one of the DBSs used as a DBS V8 prototype (DBS/5002/R) was tested with a tuned V8 engine with an output of 384 bhp, considerably more than the 310-320 bhp of the production cars. During tyre testing in June 1969, a top speed of 172 mph was achieved with 0-60 mph time of 5.7 seconds. Sadly the DBS V8 Vantage never proceeded further.
Despite the factory having added a Volante to the model range, there was still a demand for coupes to be converted to Volante specification. Banham Conversions, founded by Paul Banham, offered conversions from the mid-eighties for both six-cylinder and V8 Aston Martins.
Paul Banham was well known for his cabriolet conversions on Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce, Ferrari and Jaguar cars. His company also offered interior and styling kits and is perhaps most noted for its stylish XJSS conversion on the Jaguar XJ-S.
Almost entirely, the cars converted were in a poor state of repair or accident damaged but the rapid rise in the value and demand of Aston Martins at the time meant that the conversion of V8s could be an economic proposition. The majority of V8 conversions known to the Registrars have been of the DBS V8, the Bosch fi and the Weber carburettor variants although an Oscar India convertible has been seen. It is believed that in excess of twenty V8 Aston Martins may have been converted by Banham Conversions. Whilst examples by Banham Conversions may be the most numerous to be found, others do exist.
Aston Martin Ogle
The unusual DBS V8 Ogle Aston Martin (DBSV8/10380/R) was first shown at the Montreal Motor Show in January 1972. The idea behind it came from David Ogle in the 1960s but it wasn't until after his death that the project really evolved into a finished car. With the cost of the car being met by the tobacco company, W.D. & H.O. Wills, the car was designed and the prototype built during 1971 under the guidance of Tom Karen. The car was known as 'The Sotheby Special' and finished in dark blue with gold pinstripes in order to promote the cigarette brand that Wills had just introduced. The prototype which appeared at the motor show wasn't a running car and lost some parts to DBSV8/10381/RC which was built up as the complete, roadworthy Ogle. As the brand failed, the car was subsequently repainted in the 'Embassy' colours of white with a logo of red triangles.
Based on a DBS V8 chassis, the Ogles' bodywork was constructed from glass-fibre and above the waistline was totally formed from glass supported on a tubular frame of Reynolds 531 steel tube (as found on the very best bicycles of the time). The rear panel was made of a single sheet of brushed stainless steel with 22 holes cut into it for the rear lamps. The harder the driver braked, the more lights became illuminated. The headlamps were hidden by panels that dropped down when the lamps were illuminated. It is interesting to note that the Ogle cars had a single, sideways, rear seat which must make them the only post war three-seater Aston Martins! A third sister car based on a slightly later AM V8 fi automatic chassis, was built at the request of a private customer the following year, but the price was very high indeed. The car was reputed to have cost an incredible £28,750 when the standard car was a mere £8,749. This third car had had the original fuel injection system removed and replaced with Weber carburettors necessitating a modification to the bonnet bulge to give the extra height required.
Carburettor and modern electronic fuel injection conversions
The DBS V8 had an Achilles heel that held it back for perhaps 30 or more years. The Bosch mechanical fuel injection system initially proved troublesome and difficult to set up correctly. As a result, a few cars known to the Registrar have been converted to Weber carburettors, often by the factory. With knowledge, expertise and modern equipment, the fuel injection system can however be made to work and work very well indeed. An article by Andy Chapman, AMOC Summer 1984 AM Quarterly Vol.21 No.88 told how. It must be noted that the V8 fuel injection engine is the most powerful 16 valve V8 this side of a Vantage, easily eclipsing any Weber carburettor equipped standard AM V8. Some cars have also been upgraded with modern electronic fuel injection which as well as liberating the most power retains the correct lower bonnet line.
DBS V8 Specification
|Two-door 2+2 coupe|
|Steel platform chassis with handcrafted aluminium alloy body panels|
|Four Lucas 5.5'' quartz-iodine headlamps within full width grille|
|Connolly or Bridge of Weir leather interior, optional Parkertex (Draylon)|
|Standard interior heater. Coolaire air-conditioning system initially optional then standard fitment from late 1971|
|Adjustable seats with tilting squabs to allow access to the rear seats|
|Stereo radio, optional Voxson eight-track stereo|
|Front mounted all-alloy 90° V8, 5,340 cc, two-valves-per cylinder, twin overhead camshafts per bank. Engine number prefix V540/|
|Bore 100 mm. Stroke 85 mm. Compression ratio 9.0: 1 (8.3: 1 on EE engine)|
|Bosch PES 8KL mechanical fuel injection system. Fuel supplied by Bosch OF 602 electric, vane type, pump|
|Maximum power: not quoted at the time but now believed to be up to 320 bhp @ 5,800 rpm (250 bhp with EE engine)|
|Maximum torque: 360 lb.ft @ 4500 rpm|
|Ignition system: Lucas 'OPUS' Mk 2 electronic. 12 volt coil and engine driven Lucas 35D8 distributor|
|Ignition advance/retard system on EE engine|
|Automatic: Chrysler TorqueFlite three-speed automatic|
|Manual: five-speed ZF. Hydraulically operated 10½" Borg and Beck single dry-plate diaphragm clutch|
|Final drive: Salisbury hypoid bevel with Powr-Lok limited slip differential|
|Final drive ratio: 3.33:1 (automatic), 3.54:1 (manual). Optional alternative axle ratios, 3.33:1 (manual) and 2.88:1 (automatic) |
|Power-assisted Adwest rack and pinion, 2.85 turns lock to lock. Turning circle 11.58 metres|
|Bolt-on, five-stud, GKN Kent 15 x 7'' light alloy wheels|
|Pirelli Cinturato GR70 VR15 radial low profile tyres |
|Front: independent, unequal transverse wishbones, coil springs and co-axial Armstrong telescopic shock absorbers with an anti-roll bar|
|Rear: de Dion axle tube located by parallel trailing links and a Watts linkage. Coil springs and damped by Armstrong 'Selectaride' DAS 12 PXP double-acting lever shock absorbers (to 1971)|
|Front: Girling, ventilated discs, 10.75" diameter|
|Rear: Girling, inboard ventilated steel discs, 10.38'' diameter|
|Tandem master cylinders and dual vacuum servo assistance|
| Length: 4,585 mm |
|Width: 1,829 mm|
|Height: 1,327 mm |
| Kerb weight: 1,727 kg|
| Wheelbase: 2,610 mm |
| Front track: 1,499 mm |
| Rear track: 1,499 mm |
|Fuel tank capacity: 95.4 litres|
| Maximum speed: 162 mph (manual, 1:3.54 back axle) |
|Acceleration: 0-60 mph 5.9 seconds (manual)|
|Acceleration: 0-100 mph 13.8 seconds (manual) |
| 1970: £7,501|
| 1971: £7,797|
| 1972: £8,749|
DBS V8 Number Guide
The DBS V8 was the first AM to have a five digit sequential chassis number; interestingly the five digit format is common to all Newport Pagnell production V8s until production ended in 2000. Sequential chassis numbers were used and the Registrars believe that two chassis numbers were unused as there is no documentation about those in the factory records. During the early 1970s, engines were not mated to particular cars, but generally the engine and chassis would approximate to each other, the lowest known engine number in a production car being V/540/006. Emission control engines followed their own numbering sequence with the earliest known on a production car being V/540/003/EE.
The first letter of the suffix is thankfully easily understood with R for right hand drive and L for left. Cars could be specified with ‘Coolair’ (suffix ‘C’ on the chassis number) or special air conditioning (suffix ‘CA’). At the time of the 1971 London Motor Show, the meaning changed slightly; ‘C’ still indicated Coolair but the following ‘A’ indicated acrylic paint.