Journal: Aston’s V8 Trod The Line Between Light and Dark

Aston’s V8 Trod The Line Between Light and Dark

By Alan Franklin
August 8, 2013

The Aston Martin DBS V8 will always be remembered as the English Mustang, a muscle car in a Savile Row suit, a brutish, thick-fisted beast of a car under a thin but exquisitely tailored veneer of old world, bespoke craftsmanship. It was a magic blend of two unlikely, seemingly unmixable ingredients: the thoroughly democratic, unabashedly blue-collar roots of American muscle and the ultra-exclusive, brazenly elitist manner of Aston themselves—like a short-sleeved work shirt matched with an Hermes tie, but a lot more stylish.

Known primarily for a long-running series of powerful, vocal, and sophisticated straight sixes, Aston finally buckled under ever-mounting pressure from their well-heeled clientele for a new V8 powerplant sometime in the early- to mid-1960s. Designed by the Polish-born AM engine design legend Tadek Marek, the new V8 displaced a healthy 5.3 liters and produced 315 horsepower—an approximate measurement as official figures weren’t initially offered, such things as numbers being considered too vulgar for polite discussion. It was brimming with cutting edge features such as dual overhead cams, fuel injection, and alloy construction.

Though a clean slate car was designed to house this new motor, the V8 was still in the oven by the time it was ready in 1967, so Aston installed the old DB6’s six-pumper and called it the DBS—two years later the V8-powered car was unveiled as the DBS V8. This continued until 1972, when the eight cylinder variant was renamed simply “V8”, while the inline-six would soldier on for another year as the “Vantage”. Derivations of the V8 model would continue production for a further 16 years, until 1989. An interesting side-story involves Marek’s personal DB5 being fitted with a prototype V8, reportedly making it the first engine development car.

Though really more of a GT than a classically-defined muscle car, the V8 was nonetheless a serious performance machine, with sub-six-second 0-60 times and a top speed eclipsing 160 MPH from day one. Befitting its status as a luxury coupe, most were equipped with automatics, which I’ve read many times is actually the preferred transmission due to the car’s smooth, mile-eating demeanor—I’d still have mine with three pedals and five gears, thanks.

Regardless of the gearbox, though, any V8 belongs in the books as one of the most underrated exotics of the day. In person, they exude a strong air of restrained menace very much in keeping with their thug-in-a-sharp-three-piece persona—you just know it’d be equal parts relaxing and intimidating to drive, depending on which part of its bipolar disorder you indulge with the go pedal. The trick, then, must be to tread the line between both, settling into a high-speed cruise, tackling fast sweepers with the AC on, balancing yin and yang from atop Connolly hides and sheepskin carpets.

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Matthew Lange
10 years ago

I have a certain affection for the shape as the first car I ever rode in, when I was a week old, was one of the 6 cylinder Vantages you mention in the article (actually very rare with only 70ish made). Of the V8s it has to the mighty (and confusingly) Vantage versions, especially in 420 bhp X pack from with the cross spoke alloys.

Lon Thompson
Lon Thompson
10 years ago

Alan – I agree. When I said “becoming a rarity” I was referring to the most recent versions of their modern “shape” such as the new Vanquish, which seem to have moved away from the elegant simplicity of say the first gen Vantage V8. But certainly all modern Astons are nicer designs than most contemporary cars.

Lon Thompson
Lon Thompson
10 years ago

These were the first Astons I saw as a kid and still one of my favorites. Very elegant and simple design well executed. Simply a very handsome car, which today is becoming a rarity, even for Aston themselves.

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