From rarity to world-class head turner.
If you've heard of Aston Martin, then you know the Vantage name. It's an iconic part of the long history of the British marque, but it's also a surprisingly inconsistent one. It was first seen as a specification for a model of DB2 back in 1950 and seems to crop up every time Aston Martin has needed to pull something special out of the bag. That's happened a lot in Aston's long and complicated history and has given the Vantage name a rarity factor as well as a sign that a car is something special.
More recently, the Aston Martin Vantage has become a performance monster and one of the most striking vehicles on the road. With that reputation increasing with the reveal of the gorgeous 2021 Vantage coupe and roadster models, we thought we should take a look back at the history of the Vantage name.
At the time of the DB2 in 1950, the company was incorporated as Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. Only 250 DB2 Vantage models were built featuring a 2.6-liter Lagonda straight-6 engine and the one you're looking at is thought to be the first. It sold via RM Sotheby's for close to $370,000, and specific to the Vantage models has larger SU HV6 carburetors, a different inlet camshaft, and a higher compression ratio. It made 126 hp, but the higher compression ratio made the engine non-road legal for the British market. The first one was sold in the US and, depending on whether you believe this was the first one or not, was raced by either Bill Spear or Briggs Cunningham.
If you want to start an argument on an Aston Martin forum, bring up the idea of the 1961 Series IV DB4 Vantage being the first 'real' Vantage. That discussion point stems from the DB4 Vantage being visually distinctive as well as getting engine upgrades in the form of three SU HD8 carburetors, along with revised cylinder heads with bigger valves and a higher compression ratio. It made 270 hp, a 10 percent increase over a stock DB4, but the aesthetic change isn't drastic. It's different look is limited to headlights pulled from the DB4 GT with additional chrome surrounds. The Vantage model transitioned into the Series V DB4 chassis model, which is pictured below.
In 1972, the first full model named Vantage arrived. In 1967, Aston Martin launched the four-seater DBS, but customers wanted more power in the form of a V8 engine. When the DBS switched to a V8 engine in 1972, the straight-six powered version got new bodywork and became the Vantage. Its 4-liter engine was first used in the 1963 DB5, and the 1972-1973 Vantage was the least powerful model in Aston Martin's range at the time. It was also the least expensive, and as close to an Aston Martin economy model as you'll ever see.
In 1977 Aston dropped the first Vantage V8 onto the roads, and it took off as the fastest production road car on the planet by hitting 170 mph. Despite having a front-engine design and four seats, it competed strongly with the mid-engined supercars of the time in all-round performance, including a 0-60 mph time of 5.2 seconds. Revisions to the AM V8's 5.3-liter engines cranked the power up to 385 hp, although Aston Martin didn't give numbers and told people its power was "adequate." The Vantage also got a larger roll bar than the AM V8 as well as Koni dampers and shortened springs. The Vantage V8 became Aston's flagship car through to 1989.
The Vantage was replaced as Aston's flagship model by the Virage. This is where things get confusing, as, in 1993, the Vantage name was brought back as a high-performance model of the Virage. Most know it just as the Vantage, and in its most potent form with the V600 package ticked from the dealer, it made 600 hp with the help of two superchargers. That made it the most potent Aston Martin road car engine built until the One-77 showed up, and Aston claims it could hit 200 mph. Some V600 models were bought with automatic transmissions, but most were sold with a five-speed close-ratio manual. The model pictured below is the Vantage Le Mans V600 Coupe, complete with 600 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque.
Vantage became a variant again on the DB7 from 1993 through to 2004. It sold well for Aston, and the cherry on top of the DB7 series was the V12 Vantage model. It debuted at the 1999 Geneva Motor Show with a massive 5.9-liter powerplant under the hood. The DB7 was another rebirth for Aston Martin, and the Vantage lived up to the hype with 420 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque going to the rear wheels giving it a 0-60 mph time of 4.9 seconds. It also boasted a top speed of 186 mph and an exhaust note from heaven. The DB7 Vantage came into the DB7's life cycle as sales were waning, so it was only built in 1999, although the less powerful supercharged straight-six model lasted until 2004.
With the DB9 taking over from the DB7, Aston Martin took the Vantage name and built a back to basics two-seater V8 sports car with it. It was pretty, small, powerful, and debuted in 2005 to set the benchmark for the current Vantage model. The V8 was a 4.3-liter lump with a five-speed manual transmission as standard. In 2008, the engine was reworked to 4.7 liters and made 420 hp, the same as the earlier V12-powered DB7 Vantage. The Vantage S showed up in 2011 with upgrades to the chassis, braking, aerodynamics, a close-ratio 7-speed 'Sportshift II' automated manual transmission, and an extra ten hp from the engine.
In 2009, the V12 and Vantage name were reunited again. It was only 110 lbs heavier than the V8 car and had the equivalent 510 hp of the V12 DBS. The weight came off by using light materials, including the requisite carbon-fiber, and less weight and more power made for a 0-60 mph run of 4.2 seconds and a top speed of 190 mph. It didn't reach the US until October 2010, though, as the crash structure needed to be redesigned. The Vantage S then showed up in 2013 with an astonishing 205 mph top speed and a 0-60 time of 3.5 seconds, helped by a new 7-speed Sportshift III transmission as standard equipment. It took a while for a manual version to come out, but when it did, it was a seven-speed manual transmission with a throwback dog-leg first gear position.
The outgoing model had been in production for 12 years before a new generation Vantage arrived in 2018. The current Vantage rides on a new architecture shared with the DB11, but uses a potent 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine supplied by Mercedes-AMG. The Vantage's new taught and angular body style raised some eyebrows, but nobody is arguing with the 0-60 mph time of 3.6 seconds and 195-mph top speed. Pushing performance even further, the current Vantage is the first Aston Martin car to use an electronically controlled differential with torque vectoring. That's an insane amount of performance in a small package, and despite being the "entry-level" Aston Martin, it starts at $149,995.
A few years ago, Aston's boss, Andy Palmer, promised that Aston Martin will always have a manual transmission option, difficulty be damned. For 2021, he's holding that promise with the 2021 Aston Martin Vantage. It may be more fun to drive, but those that want their Vantage to be as fast as possible should remember last year's track-tuned Vantage AMR was a little slower than the automatic-equipped base model. Whichever way you want to mix your gears up, there's no denying both the coupe and the roadster look gorgeous. Under the hood is the same Mercedes-AMG-sourced 4.0 twin-turbo V8 with 503 hp and 505 lb-ft of torque, and we can't wait to drive it.