Used Aston Martin AM V8 review: 1970-1987
July 16, 2009
Aston Martin will forever be linked with movie spy James Bond. Secret Agent 007 drove an Aston Martin DB5 in the 1965 movie ‘Goldfinger’ and the prestigious British luxury sports car became one of the most desired cars of all times as a result.
While the prices of the classic DB5 and its DB6 cousin have gone through the roof, and out of the reach of most enthusiasts, it is still possible to enjoy the thrill of classic British motoring at the wheel of a much more affordable Aston Martin. For the price of a BA Falcon GT or a HSV Clubsport you could be driving an AM V8, a classic GT that won’t drop in value every time you fire it up for a Sunday drive.
The AM V8 was a development of the DBS, which in turn followed the DB6 in 1967. The DBS was originally designed to accept a new V8 engine that had been developed by Aston Martin, but when that was delayed the familiar Aston Martin double overhead camshaft six cylinder was fitted.
The V8 eventually found its way under the bonnet of the DBS in 1969, but by then the company was in financial trouble and David Brown’s ownership was about to come to an end. Control of the ailing company passed to Company Developments, which then took the DBS V8 and updated it to produce the AM V8.
When the DB5 and DB6 are such highly sought Aston Martin icons, the AM V8 is often overlooked. Anyone who dares to consider the striking AM V8 would find a luxurious, refined, high performance four-seat GT with a surprisingly affordable price tag.
The DBS V8 is regarded as the first in the line of Aston Martin V8s. It was launched in 1970 and immediately addressed the perceived lack of performance of the six-cylinder DBS, regarded by many as a poor man’s Aston.
The body was largely unchanged from the DBS, the modifications were limited to those needed to accept the 5.3-litre all-alloy 90-degree V8 engine. It was built on a steel platform, with all upper panels made from aluminium. The front end had quad headlights in a full width grille styled in the traditional Aston Martin manner, while a large scoop dominated the long sleek bonnet.
With double overhead camshafts and Bosch mechanical fuel-injection the Aston V8 was said to put out around 320 horsepower (239 kW) at 5000 revs. Gearbox choices consisted of a ZF five-speed manual and a Chrysler Torqueflite three-speed auto. It was a package that could power the 1727 kg coupe to 150 mph – 241 km/h – when owners had the chance to stretch its long legs on the freeways that criss-cross Europe.
Not only was it capable of such high speeds, it was also able to accelerate ferociously. It took just six seconds to go from rest to 100 km/h, and just over 14 seconds to rush through the standing 400-metre sprint. To put it into context, that puts it slightly ahead of the XY Falcon GT HO Phase 3, which was regarded as the fastest four-door sedan in the world at the time.
Under the sleek skin lay a combination of unequal length upper and lower wishbones with coil springs and an anti-roll bar at the front and a de Dion layout at the rear. For the first time in Aston Martin history the wheels were alloy instead of classic wires.
The interior was roomy with accommodation for four in sumptuous leather trimmed seats, but oddly there was no sign of wood. The dash was rather lacklustre, there was a full array of Smiths instruments, but it was more plastic than classic. In an era of wood rims and polished stainless steel spokes, the dark three-spoke steering wheel was also uninspiring.
The DBS V8 is regarded as the Series 1 in the AM V8 lexicon. Series 2 came after the company was taken over by Company Developments in 1972. Although it looks much the same as the DBS it followed the AM V8 boasted a number of changes that make it stand out. Among them, the single headlight design of the front end recalls earlier classic models more closely than the quad-lamp DBS. It was also longer, the extra length used to enlarge the boot, enabling the spare wheel to be laid flat and better accommodate luggage.
Another update, the Series 3, arrived in 1973. Gone was the Bosch fuel-injection, which was replaced by a pair of twin choke downdraught Weber carbs, which were claimed to make the V8 smoother and more flexible.
Series 4, known as ‘Oscar India’, was released in 1978. A revised bonnet and a boot lid spoiler were the obvious give-aways on the outside, but it was the more refined interior that made the Series 4 stand out. The dash and centre console were revised, there was wood grain, and the headlining was leather instead of cloth.
The last AM V8, the Series 5, was released in 1986 and saw the return of fuel-injection. This time it was a Weber sequential system. Just 2380 DBS V8 and AM V8 cars were built in the 19 years of production. It is thought that between 70 and 80 are in Australia.
IN THE SHOP
Mechanically the AM V8 is quite robust and will do high mileage without any difficulty. Check the engine’s oil pressure, which should be 80 psi at 3000 revs when warm. The transmissions are also robust, the ZF five-speed a proven unit, and the Chrysler auto tough as nails. Look for rust in the steel sills and the rear suspension mounting points.
Parts are generally easy to get, either from dealers here or from sources in the UK. With many generic parts, like power steering pumps, air-con components, they’re easy to find and simple to work on.
IN A CRASH
Safety was still an issue to be addressed in the future when the AM V8 was launched. It relied on agility, responsive handling, four-wheel disc brakes, and the power to get out of trouble. Inertia real lap sash seat belts were fitted, but these need to be checked for wear and tear after so many years in use. It may be prudent to replace old belts, even if they don’t appear worn.
Paul Sabine fell in love with Aston Martins when he saw a DB4 in 1959. He was just 15 years old, but was instantly smitten by the DB4’s sleek shape, which was so exotic compared to the FB Holdens and Ford Customlines of the day.
Today his passion burns just as brightly, and he rates the AM V8 a particular favourite. “The V8 handles a lot better than people give it credit for,” he says. “It might seem a bit ponderous around town, but it’s fantastic at high speed.”
The engine, he says, is very responsive and reasonably economical for what they are. Although the DBS six-cylinder is dismissed as a poor man’s Aston Martin, the V8 is proving popular with recent Aston converts who’ve discovered the marque after buying the current DB7. “Many of these new owners are now wanting a classic model,” he says, “and the V8 is the one they’re going for.”
• sleek exotic styling
• classic British leather trim
• four-seat accommodation
• power to burn
• seek expert advice
• rusty underbody and sills
• low oil pressure
A high speed four-seat Grand Touring car packed with classic British charm at an affordable price.