Aston Martin DB7 Vantage | The Brave Pill

We've had cheap Astons before, but never one with a V12

By Mike Duff / Saturday, October 9, 2021 / Loading comments

Every pyramid needs a base, and every summit needs something supportive to rest on. Which, when it comes to the values of used Aston Martins, has long been the DB7’s place in the pecking order. The cars the company produced prior to the DB7 were made in such small volumes that, in just 10 years, it turned the brand’s demographics upside down. By the time it retired the DB7 represented just over 60 per cent of Aston’s total production to that point. Although the later ‘VH’ generation cars would go on to substantially outsell it, the imbalance between DB7 supply and demand has kept it as the brand’s equivalent of the Ferrari Mondial.

But until very recently cheaper versions of the DB7 were universally drawn from the pool powered by the somewhat cobbled together supercharged six-cylinder engine that was fitted to earlier cars – like this example which was Pill’d in March last year. The six-pot isn’t a bad engine, and does have some loyal fans, but very few would argue that the V12 fitted to the later DB7 Vantage isn’t the more desirable option given its increase in both performance and character. Something that, for many years, was reflected by a split in DB7 values, one that created the odd situation of the prices of V12 cars overlapping with those of the much more sophisticated DB9.

Yet, on the evidence of this week’s Pill – a handsome, late Vantage coupe – prices are still softening. The V12’s premium over the supercharged versions is slipping; this one is the second cheapest DB7 currently in the classifieds, running up to a left-hook Volante with a non functioning roof. A £23,990 pricetag looks seriously seductive when attached to any car that looks this good. When new it would have cost £94,500 unoptioned.

Beneath Ian Callum’s elegant design the basic DB7 was always a proper bitzer. Having been born from a cancelled plan to make a Jaguar sports car the Aston-ness was only ever skin deep: it sat one what was a barely altered XJ-S floorpan and was powered by a supercharged 3.2-litre version of the long-lived Jag AJ6 engine. There were plenty of other clues to Aston’s status as a distant outpost of the Ford empire, from Mazda-sourced rear lights to Mondeo window switches and air vents.

None of that prevented the DB7 earning some rave reviews, and Ford was soon working on some much more ambitious plans for Aston – signing off on the substantial spend necessary for both an all-new model range, to be built around bonded aluminium structures, as well as an appropriately grand engine to power this next generation. Despite Aston’s long association with both six-cylinder and V8 engines the decision was taken for this to be a V12.

The new engine’s origin story is a good one. Ford had a high-tech new V6 at the time, the Duratec that was destined to make its debut in the new Mondeo. Porsche Engineering had actually done much of the early development work on this, and it was state of the art by mainstream standards: a light all-alloy unit with four-valve heads and impressive quantities of both power and torque for the era. The 3.0-litre Duratec did indeed serve as the basis for the V12, but its creation was far more complex than the old chestnut about welding two blocks together. The young Ford engineers who designed it made sure there was ample scope for future development and increased outputs – fortunate given how long it would end up living for.

Yet the first production version of the spiffy new V12 was already pretty special. As launched in 1999 the DB7 Vantage’s 5.9-litre engine made 420hp and 400lb-ft of torque, the wide distribution of those figures across a broad rev range giving both serious top-end performance and an effortless muscularity.

This was definitely a motor that turned the DB7 into a very grand tourer; a distinguished feature writer on the magazine I worked for proved it by driving one from Blighty to the Swiss Alps in a day, his story an elegant paean to both the car and the tumbling meltwater it led him too. My experience was less distinguished. Having established the manual version would happily lumber off the line in third, and that the same ratio would take it beyond 100mph, I managed to drive from Islington to Heathrow without changing gear. (Clarkson later proved the GT version could do the same trick in fourth.)

By Aston’s modest standards of the time, the Vantage was a big success. The original plan had been to sell V12 and six-cylinder cars alongside each other, but demand for the smaller-engined version dried up and it was quietly axed. Aston sold around 4,000 V12-powered DB7s before it was replaced by the DB9, meaning there are significantly more out there than supercharged cars.

Our Pill is a 2002 coupe with 81,000 miles and the optional five-speed auto which about 80 per cent of Vantages were ordered with. The exterior features the pleasing but unradical choice of metallic silver paintwork, which looks impressively crisp in the pictures. But the cabin has the far funkier combination of buttoned-down black trim and spray tan orange woodwork. Perhaps recognising that the part-timber steering wheel won’t be to all tastes, the selling dealer is also including a full leather wheel which could be easily swapped over.

Despite the best efforts of our database rodents, we’ve been unable to track down the registration behind the obscured plates, denying us a look at our Pill’s MOT history. That’s a shame given the well documented tendency of even nice looking DB7s to develop underbody grot – a point made by some scary-looking fails on the i6 Pill from last year. The car is being sold by a dealer in rural Aberdeenshire, and beyond a promise that it drives flawlessly there are no detailed claims about service history (although the presence of an AM Owners’ Club pack in the boot picture is a good sign.) This is definitely one of those cars that potential buyers are going to want to do a serious amount of due diligence on.

Regardless of the outcome of that, no V12 Aston will ever be cheap to run. Servicing costs are towering, consumables are consumed with gluttonous gusto and the financial pain that comes from brimming the 89-litre tank will typically buy less than 300 miles of progress. But it’s equally hard to imagine that any V12 Aston could ever be dull to own.

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