Its tail-lights infamously came from a lowly Mazda 323, its interior allowed you hours of spot-the-component entertainment and its air-conditioning gusted like an electric hand-dryer.
Yes, it was easy to criticise the DB7, but this Aston was one of the prettiest cars to come out of Britain in years – thank designer Ian Callum for that - and drove convincingly enough to deliver on the road. It utterly transformed the future for the famous Newport Pagnell marque, which by the end of the ‘80s needed the kind of rescue effort that would have needed the combined forces of James Bond, ‘M’ and ‘Q’ to mount (sorry, Miss Moneypenny) if extinction were to be averted. As Aston launches its new Vantage, it's time to look at the car that saved the company.
While one-time owner Victor Gauntlett and his tiny team were battling to develop the Vanquish, a much-needed replacement for the V8 (pictured), surprise help came from perhaps the closest equivalent to ‘M’ that the Ford Motor Company could muster, in the shape of charming PR head-honcho, Sir Walter Hayes. Supremely well connected, Hayes was a close friend of Henry Ford II, and wrote a biography of 'the deuce'.
In a chance conversation with Gauntlett, Hayes (pictured) realised that the Blue Oval had the wherewithal to launch a rescue - especially as Ford was in acquisitive mood having just bought Jaguar. Though it took its time digesting Aston, buying 75% in 1987 and the full 100 in 1994, it also largely resisted interfering with Newport Pagnell’s quest to launch the Virage.
However, it would be seven years after Ford’s arrival that an all-new Aston would debut. The idea for a smaller, less expensive Aston was Gauntlett’s, but it was Hayes - by then Aston’s chief executive - who enabled the car to be realised.
As Aston’s own website says, the DB7 was the company’s most developed model yet. With no less than 30 prototypes built, the number that would previously have constituted a modest production run. But those prototypes would be nothing to the 7,000 DB7s that the company would eventually build, these cars accounting for almost one third of its total production of 22,000 cars since 1914.
There was no possibility of turning out these quantities from Aston’s antique Newport Pagnell factory, so the cars were instead built at an all-new, purpose-built plant in Bloxham, Oxfordshire. Here the DB7 would benefit from modern build methods and materials - its front wings, bonnet and shapely nose cone constructed from composites. Moulding and painting these panels so that they were indistinguishable from the car’s pressed steel hull posed quite a challenge.
Another test of skill was the DB7’s interior design, whose lavishly applied leathers and woods did a valiant job of distracting you from the troubled driving position - an ugly, airbag-bulked wheel and Ford-sourced componentry which included airvents and switchgear from grandad’s Scorpio.
But almost all of that could be forgotten when you took a drive. The DB7’s Jaguar-derived 3.2 supercharged straight six delivering enough urge to escape SMERSH, and in the kind of bump-soothing comfort that would leave Bond’s cocktail surprisingly unshaken. There was Jaguar hardware to thank for that, too.
Though a bit of a rough-edged drive (despite its five-star ride) a driveline shunt, a heavy clutch and a ponderous gearchange saw to that. The DB7 sold well enough to encourage its major redevelopment into the V12 Vantage (pictured), which found even more buyers and confirmed Aston as a serious player. These days the DB7 is a little forgotten, eclipsed by the considerable draw of today’s range. But without it, and Walter Hayes, Aston would have withered.