Currently reading: Used car buying guide: Aston Martin V8
Hairy-chested, patriotic ’70s supercar exudes sophistication but isn't for the faint hearted

Way, way back in the annals of time – otherwise known as 1968, when our man Cropley was still in short trousers – Aston Martin launched the DBS, the successor to the DB6. 

Overridingly butch on one hand and eminently graceful on the other, the William Towns-designed bodywork won admirers and hearts in equal measure. 

Its sleek shape covered a competent chassis, a lavish ‘four-seat’ (2+2 in reality) interior and, originally, just the straight-six engine from the DB6 Vantage. In 1969, the DBS V8 appeared and the headline act was engineer Tadek Marek’s all-aluminium quad-cam 5.3-litre V8. 

The DBS V8 was big, heavy, fast and impressive, and overwhelmingly British. Performance was of the order of 0-60mph in 6.0sec and a top speed of 161mph or thereabouts, and you could choose from a ZF five-speed manual or a three-speed Chrysler Torqueflite automatic gearbox. 

Aston martin v8 front

Alas, such were the costs of making the thing that the firm took one of its many financial nosedives not long after it appeared, re-emerging under new ownership with a revised V8 model that dropped the DBS tag and had tweaked styling by Towns. 

This was the car that, through many iterations and even more owners, ran until 1989, when it was replaced by the all-new Aston Martin Virage

Being a thing of muscular beauty with a badge premium enough to die for, many survive today and some are well kept enough to make this a viable proposition for anyone seriously thinking of cult hero ownership. Driving one, or being driven in one, still imparts a strong sense of occasion. 

The V8 sounds terrific, all camshafts and chains and a deep bellowing exhaust note. Of course, this is a heavy car and, at 6ft, a wide car, even by today’s standards, which adds to the slight intimidation when you take the wheel for the first time. 

The manual gearchange is notchy and needs a heavy hand. Per contra, cars with the automatic gearbox shift through their gears effortlessly. The star of the show is the Adwest power steering, which is nicely weighted, has 2.9 turns lock to lock and is surprisingly accurate. 

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Aston martin v8 rear three quarter

If it isn’t quite butch enough, however, in 1977 Aston Martin launched the V8 Vantage, complete with revised ports, larger carbs, new cam timing and other tuning tweaks that resulted in a claimed 40% hike in power and raised torque by 10%. 

Aston didn’t go in for publishing figures, but wise men put the output somewhere around 390bhp. Performance was upped, said Aston, to 0-62mph in 5.3sec and a top speed of 170mph - figures that made it one of the fastest cars of its day. 

Visually, it was disguised by a blanked-off grille, a deep glass fibre air dam and a ducktail rear spoiler. The suspension was stiffened and the wheels and tyres were suitably upgraded, as were the brakes, and indeed the price. 

If the standard V8 could be intimidating, this bespoilered beauty was definitely not one for the faint-hearted. Driving it requires effort, especially the steering, braking and changing gear, and even the turning circle was a massive 43ft.

Aston martin v8 rear

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This was, though, for those who wanted it, the full British Bulldog. The ultimate hairy-chested, flag-waving ‘70s supercar.

What we said then 

6 September 1973: “Full appreciation comes only when the car is used for a substantial Continental journey; then its unobtrusive way of covering the ground at great speed can be enjoyed to the full. Around town, it tends to feel very bulky, and the high noise level in low-speed acceleration is a bit irksome. As a piece of engineering from a small firm with limited resources, it has to be admired and the change from fuel injection to carburettors seems to have worthwhile improvements.”

An owner’s view

John Foreman: “I bought my red 1974 V8 when it was a couple of years old from an Aston dealer. I noticed the initials RM had been forged onto the car’s ashtray and centre console and found out subsequently that the first owner had been Robert Maxwell, the newspaper tycoon. My car ran perfectly, although I was careful not to put a huge mileage on it. It was always serviced by my local Aston dealer, which cost rather a lot. 

“I loved driving the car, though. The rumble from the V8 was addictive. I used it occasionally for commuting from Kent up to my office in central London. In time, once I’d retired, its fuel economy and servicing costs meant it had to go. I’ve regretted selling it ever since.”

Buyer beware

Body: You need to take a good look below the sill covers, which can easily be removed, to check on the structural integrity of the car. Most V8s of this age will already have had some work done here, so check the previous history. You should look at the sills, floors, the lower parts of the A- and B-posts, bulkhead, boot floor and door inner shells. The aluminium panels corrode where they meet the steel, especially if there’s no barrier membrane: inspect all around the lower/inner edges and look for filler. 

Aston martin v8 engine

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Engine: The V8 is a strong engine known, with regular maintenance, to make high mileages. The engine can do 150,000 miles between rebuilds. Most failures are from lack of use and neglect. Scrutinise the paperwork history for sound maintenance and any repairs. Listen for untoward noises and check oil pressure. A rebuild is very costly. 

Transmission: The ZF manuals are expensive to rebuild. Beware clutch slip and noisy layshaft bearings. Don’t expect the rare ZF five-speed gearbox to have a slick change: it never did, and the synchromesh could be beaten even when new. That said, beware of synchros that crunch even with care. The Chrysler Torqueflite automatics are not so bad and can rack up huge mileages with very little trouble. Some may have been updated by now anyway. 

Aston martin v8 interior

Interior: A hand-crafted wood and leather cabin can be recreated, but at a price. Earlier plastic mouldings, bespoke instruments and switchgear can be more difficult to find. Any tears in the leather or other trim will be expensive to set right.

Also worth knowing

The car has an impressive on-screen CV. A six-cylinder DBS appeared in the 1969 James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, driven by George Lazenby, and the same car had a cameo part in the following film, Diamonds Are Forever. 

A DBS was also used for the TV series The Persuaders!. Roger Moore’s character, Lord Brett Sinclair, drove a Bahama Yellow six-cylinder DBS, which through the use of alloy wheels and different badges had been made to look like a DBS V8. 

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In 1986, Timothy Dalton drove a Series 4 model as 007 in The Living Daylights. Confusingly, it starts out as a Volante (convertible), gains a hard top at Q Branch and later has morphed into a coupé. The V8 coupé made a 007 comeback in No Time to Die, with the same numberplate as in The Living Daylights.

How much to spend

£60,000-£79,999: Early and likeable V8s here, most with a good history and in driveaway condition. Check the history and mileage carefully. 

£80,000-£119,999: A mix of the later V8s with average mileages and a full history. Early DBS V8s sneak in here.

£120,000 and above: The majority are found here. Concours-condition V8s of all ages, including early DBSs. Vantage models start at over £200k and can go for up to £350k.

One we found

Aston martin v8 used

Aston Martin V8, 1976, 104,000 miles, £64,995: This right-hand-drive auto in metallic royal blue has a dark blue leather interior. The seller says its full service history includes “nearly every service invoice and MOT from new”. It has a current MOT with no advisories and was fully serviced in November 2022.

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