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The Aston Martin V8 Vantage was hailed at its 1977 introduction as "Britain's First Supercar" for its 170 mph (270 km/h) top speed. Its engine was shared with the Lagonda, but it used high-performance camshafts, increased compression ratio, larger inlet valves and bigger carburettors mounted on new manifolds for increased output. Straight-line performance was the best of the day, with acceleration from 0–60 mph (97 km/h) in 5.3 seconds, one-tenth of a second quicker than the Ferrari Daytona. Notably, it was featured in the 1987 movie The Living Daylights.
The first series had 375 hp (280 kW), and series specific details such as a blanked bonnet vent and a separate rear spoiler. 38 of these were built (plus 13 "Cosmetics" for the US). The Oscar India (for October 1, the date of introduction) version, introduced in late 1978, featured an integrated tea-tray spoiler and smoother bonnet bulge. Inside, a black leather-covered dash replaced the previous walnut. The wooden dashboard did find its way back into the Vantage during the eighties, giving a more luxurious appearance. The Oscar India version also received a slight increase in power, to 390 hp (291 kW). This line was produced, with some running changes, until 1989. From 1986 the engine had 405 hp (302 kW).
The Vantage name had previously been used on a number of high-performance versions of Aston Martin cars, but this was a separate model. Although based on the Aston Martin V8, numerous detail changes added up to a unique driving experience. One of the most noticeable features was the closed-off hood bulge rather than the open scoop found on the normal V8. The grille area was also closed off, with twin driving lights inserted and a spoiler added to the bootlid.
The 1986–1989 580X was a performance package, with bigger carburetors and Nimrod racing-type heads, the same 437 hp (326 kW) V8 as fitted to the limited-edition V8 Zagato. 16-inch (406-mm) wheels were also now fitted. If this wasn't enough, a 450 hp (336 kW) 6.3 litre version was also available from Aston Martin, and independents offered a 7 litre version.
304 Series 2 coupés were built, and 192 Volantes (in spite of only having been officially introduced in 1986, near the end of production). Of the Cosmetic Vantage (for the US), 14 Series 2 coupés and 56 Volantes were built. Cosmetic Vantages were built for the United States market – they lacked the powerful Vantage engine but retained the Vantage name, and the look was changed with a flattened hood. From 1980 they featured DOT-approved 5 mph (8 km/h) safety bumpers front and rear. Most of these cars have since been retrofitted with full power, European spec engines.
Alongside the Vantage saloon, ‘Britain’s first supercar’ could be had as a steroid-enhanced convertible. It came with the same luxuries as the ‘ordinary’ Volante, but also trumpeted the 5.3-litre Vantage-spec engine. The USA was desperate for a new high-performance drophead coupé – Aston hadn’t built one since 1970 – so this breeze machine was keenly received there. That’s where the vast majority ended up, making them a rare sight in Europe and their homeland...although James Bond managed to get hold of one for 1987’s The Living Daylights.
James Bond's V8 Vantage Volante
The film reunites Bond with British car maker Aston Martin. Following Bond's use of the Aston Martin DBS in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the filmmakers turned to the Lotus Esprit in 1977s The Spy Who Loved Me, which reappeared four years later in For Your Eyes Only. Despite the iconic status of the submersible Lotus however, 007's Aston Martin DB5 was recognised as the most famous of his vehicles. As a consequence, Aston Martin returned with their V8 Vantage. According to special effects supervisor, John Richardson, the decision to use Aston Martin occurred late into production, resulting in problems obtaining vehicles. With an 18 month waiting list for Aston Martin's V8 Vantage Volante, the production team sourced and bought three used Vantages for filming. While one was being outfitted with gadgets, another stunt vehicle began filming the chase scene in Austria.
For The Living Daylights a total of 11 cars were used, though only three of which were real drivable vehicles. One was an unmodified Vantage used for filming scenes with Timothy Dalton, the second was a stunt car and the third was dubbed a "special effects car", complete with missiles and rocket booster. Aside from one other vehicle which was little more than a steerable chassis without an engine, the rest were fiberglass mock-ups produced at Pinewood. At the beginning of the film, the car is first introduced as a V8 Volante (convertible). The car used in these scenes was a Volante owned by Aston Martin Lagonda chairman, Victor Gauntlett. To allow for the transition from the Volante to the hardtop saloons used later in the movie, Q-Branch is shown to have fitted Bond's Volante with a hardtop (it has been "winterised"). Effectively transforming the Volante into a saloon car for the benefit of the audience.
As with previous Q-Branch vehicles, all the Vantage's "optional extras" were armed and operated by switches concealed in the center arm rest.
|Missiles — Two forward-firing missiles hidden behind each of the front lights. They are armed/disarmed by switches concealed in the centre arm rest. Firing angle was fine-tuned by an air vent slide-switch and fired by a switch concealed as the cigarette lighter.|
|Heads-Up Display — Working in conjunction with the missile system, a targeting display was projected onto the windshield. Details included target distance and elevation, car speed, time to target, safe distance, ambient temperature, and two adjustable targeting reticles.|
|Lasers — Concealed in the front port and starboard wheel spinners are laser emitters capable of cutting through the chassis of any vehicle alongside. Modelled on the DB5's retractable chariot-blades, the mechanism was used to cripple a pursuing KGB vehicle.|
|Outrigger — As part of the "winterisation" of the V8 Vantage, Q-Branch equipped it with a set of retractable metal skis which could be deployed from either side of the car.|
|Tire Spikes — In addition to the outrigger, the Aston was also winterised with retractable ice spikes embedded in the vehicle's tires. Degrees of traction were provided via a slide switch on the weapon-control panel.|
|Rocket Motor — The car also came with a rocket booster for providing a short burst of speed. It was concealed behind the rear number plate, which flipped upwards and retracted into the body of the car.|
|Radio Scanner — A modified Philips DC954 car radio/cassette player, the radio scanner was capable of eavesdropping on civilian, police and military radio frequencies.|
|Reinforced chassis — The Vantage's chassis has been reinforced to withstand impact damage from most conventional firearms. The rear windscreen is also bullet-proof.|
|Self-Destruct — As with the Lotus Esprit, the V8 Vantage came equipped with a self-destruct mechanism. It was armed by a switch hidden in the centre console.|