V8 Vantage Zagato Description
Unveiled: March 1986
In production: 1986 – 1988
Chassis numbers: 20010 (prototype); 20011 – 20012 (pre-production); 20013 - 20061 (production); 20042 converted to Volante prototype
The DB4GT Zagato is arguably the most revered Aston Martin of all time. Whilst slow to sell in the 1960s with total production of only 19 cars, as the 1980s classic car boom progressed, the Zagato became very hot property. At the same time, a market for low volume modern supercars developed to the extent that manufacturers could sell through an entire production run merely by the unveiling of a concept. Ferrari developed the 288 GTO and Porsche the 959 and thus Victor Gauntlett realised AML could do something similar attracting substantial income from the advance deposits alone.
It was not therefore surprising that Victor Gauntlett and Peter Livanos discussed this idea with Elio and Gianni Zagato of Carrozzeria Zagato at the Geneva Motor Show in March, 1984. Exactly a year later (March 1st, 1985), the first production two-seater since the DB4GT was announced: sales would be limited to 50 with an introductory price of about £70,000. Styling sketches, by Giuseppe Mittino, the Zagato chief stylist, were made available to potential customers and the press showed a rakish, fresh, modern supercar and the order book was quickly filled by marque aficionados anxious to sample something new and exciting from Newport Pagnell.
Customers were promised the exclusive Zagato bodied Aston would be capable of 186 mph (300 kph) and have a 0 to 60 mph time of less than 5 seconds. The engineers at the factory realised the keys to success were weight reduction by a planned 10%, an increase in power to over 400 bhp and a more aerodynamic body with a Cd of 0.29. To this end, an engineering V8 Vantage was acquired and put on a crash diet. Chassis V8/11967/RCAV was stripped of the rear seats, air-conditioning and most of the interior trim. Windows were replaced by Perspex and a new engine tuned to ‘South African’ specification with peak power of 437 bhp at 6250 rpm was fitted. Thus, the Zagato mule allowed the mechanical specification of the car to be developed and evaluated without revealing the final styling. Initial plans to use electronic fuel injection were dropped as the engineers were concerned that the required power output could not be reached without the use of four of the largest Weber carburettors.
The first unclothed chassis, 20010 having initially been driven around Newport Pagnell (see AM, Vol. 22, No. 93, 1985), was dispatched to Zagato in Milan to receive its hand beaten aluminium coachwork and leather and Alcantara interior. Even before it was completed, progress was shown to visiting distributors, customers and even the automotive press (AM, Vol. 22, No. 94, Spring 1986).
When the production ready V8 Vantage Zagato was first shown to the public at the Geneva Show in March 1986, the price had risen to £87,000 (the required deposit of £15,000 had been paid on all 50 cars by the previous August). The first car was scheduled to be delivered in May (it actually happened in July) and the rest were to follow in the next 18 months. Three cars, 20010 to 20012, all finished in Gladiator Red were displayed, one each on the AML and Zagato stands with a third car displayed on the roof of the Beau-Rivage Hotel in Geneva itself.
It has to be said that the Zagato, as unveiled, had lost some of the expected elegance of the styling sketches which hindsight tells us, had been drawn with a degree of artistic licence. The shortened rear overhang and trademark Zagato double bubble roof together with a very prominent power bulge over the air box made the car a bit more chunky rather than delicate and elegant as might have been expected. Whilst the wheelbase of the Zagato exactly matched that of the AM V8, the Zagato was almost a foot shorter, 168 kg lighter and presented a lower frontal area than the traditional Vantage. A first for the marque was the use of body coloured composite nose and rear sections instead of separate bumpers. Also the Zagato had flush fitting glass designed to minimise aerodynamic drag. The door windows were fixed with a modest drop down section just large enough to use in a ‘drive-thru’. The wheels were a special 16 inch 'Speedline' cast alloy to Zagato’s own design and were fitted with Goodyear VR50 255/50 VR16 radial ply low profile tyres. Vents along the rim were designed to channel cooling air to the front disc brakes.
After the Geneva show and following wind tunnel testing, the Zagato gained an extension to the front air dam and a neat tail spoiler, both designed to reduce lift at speed. The target drag coefficient of 0.29 was never attained once the spoilers were fitted and eventually the team had to settle for 0.32. The prototype car, 20010, was often photographed with the black aerodynamic additions stuck onto the coachwork but production cars had these fully integrated and painted body colour. An attempt was also made by Zagato to restyle the hump over the carburettors to make it a little less obtrusive.
The prototype Zagato, as tested by many motoring magazines had the most powerful V8 to South African specification with peak power of 432 bhp @ 6,000 rpm. It had special Weber carburettors with hand-drilled 50 mm chokes, enlarged inlet and exhaust ports in the cylinder heads, enlarged exhaust manifolds and compression ratio was increased to 10.2: 1. Production cars received the fully certified 580X engine with 48 mm chokes and peak power of 410 bhp, although some cars have since been modified to the higher specification.
In June, 1986, the prototype, 20010, was tested by 1959 Me Mans winning driver, Roy Salvadori, flat out down the Mulsanne straight before the 24 hours race. Unfortunately there was a problem due to a blocked roll-over breather valve in the fuel tank which lead to fuel starvation and the maximum speed reached on that occasion was just 150 mph. A little later on an unopened section of Belgian motorway the Zagato was timed at 185.63 mph (298.75 kph) (AM, Vol. 22, No.95, Summer 1986); very close to the planned 300 kph.
Many of the production cars were painted in special colours especially created for the Zagato and named after famous British military aircraft with evocative names such as Gladiator Red, Valiant Blue, Javelin Grey, Lightning Silver, Fury Yellow, Hunter Green, and Vulcan Black.
By the time production ended, some 52 Vantage Zagato coupes (including the prototype Volante) of which 20 were left hand drive for mainland Europe and the Middle and Far East. This left 32 right hand drive cars for the UK and Brunei. Eight cars, all for export, were supplied with automatic transmission, six with left hand drive and two with right hand drive. The V8 Vantage Zagato was not marketed in either the USA or Japan as the 580X engine could not pass the tough rules on engine emissions.
In July 1986, not long after production of the Zagato had begun, it was discovered by Victor Gauntlett that Zagato was perilously close to going into receivership. As this would have put the whole project into jeopardy, AML wisely took a 50% stake in Carrozzeria Zagato to ensure all of the cars would be completed. When in 1987, the Ford Motor Company took ownership of AML, it did not include Zagato so the 50% stake in the Carrozzeria was sold to a Japanese company in 1989, about the time that the final Zagato Volante had been built.