The world of classic cars is full of conundrums. Why is the DeLorean so revered but the Renault Alpine GTA overlooked? Will the world ever 'discover' the Lotus Excel? But no conundrum taxes me quite as much as the reverence given to classic Aston Martins.
Let's be clear: I'm not talking about the pre-DB5 Astons or the post DB7 cars, which are variously quite good and very good. No, my ire is directed at the ones in the expansive middle - the cars of the 60s to 90s that are what most people think of when they think of Aston Martin. Their values are, frankly, astronomical, putting them firmly in the 'passion investment' category ahead of pretty much every other marque except Porsche and Ferrari.
These Aston's aren't exactly bad. They're just not, in my opinion, worthy of the adulation and sky-high prices that they command. There are other less exalted cars of the period that are infinitely better.
Exactly why is that? Ferrari and Porsche have made some amazing cars, four wheeled wonders that are beautifully engineered, have race pedigree and drive beautifully. Aston Martins of this era aren't any of those things. I feel I know of what I speak because I've been fortunate enough to drive several Astons, including DB6, V8 coupe and Volante and DB7.
Of course, the answer is pretty obvious: Bond. James Bond. The world's favourite Man drove a DB5 and ever since Aston has milked the association beyond the point of embarrassment. Just as well because by any objective assessment its cars for many years were Not Very Good.
The '6 is undeniably beautiful but its reputation seems to far outweigh its place in the aesthetic firmament. Plenty of 60s GT cars arguably look a lot better, including the Iso Grifo and Riviera, the Jensen Interceptor and even the Ford Mustang. The DB6 is barrel-sided, with long overhangs and excessive height in a world of sleek and low sports cars. The engine is under-powered and rough, the gearbox clunky and the handling more befitting of David Brown's tractor heritage than the world of cars. It steers nicely, rides smoothly and the interior is lovely, but is that enough to justify the price of a nice detached barn conversion in Hertfordshire?
The DBS and then the V8 were meant to move the game on considerably from the clunky DB6. Smooth, typically attractive styling and new engines brought the GT game to Aston's rivals. And the V8 is a much better car than the DB6, but it is just a low volume Ford Mustang. Once you make that association it's hard to shake it. The V8 is heavy, has a horrible interior littered with Jaguar switchgear and a Mustang, even a Mk3, would run rings around it in a straight line.
Aston V8 Volante
In the 80s Aston decided that the route to personal expression lay in bulging bonnets and wheel arches. The drop-top Volante took the little that was good about the V8 coupe, ditched it and replaced it with scuttle shake and the styling equivalent of your Granny in fishnet stockings. Naffness on four wheels.
By the late 80s Aston was scraping the barrel. The hairy-chested Virage was heavily influenced by the 'bulldog' end of the British cultural pantheon and was a car Bond would never have been seen dead in. Where the DB6 could lay claim to lithe and svelte, the Virage was bulbous and lardy.
The story of the DB7's genesis is one of a magpie-like approach to design and specification. The story goes that Jaguar designed it and Tom Walkinshaw stole it, gifting the idea of a new DB to Ford management. If true, the DB7's calling card - its looks - can't even be credited to Aston. The '7 is undoubtedly gorgeous, perhaps the best looking GT of the 90s, but that's where the good stuff ends. The interior is a riot of half-arsedness, a horrible amalgam of bits of wood nailed on at random and Ford Fiesta switchgear. It's truly, truly horrible. The XJS under-pinning so and Ford-derived V12 should make up for this but they don't. The DB7 has none of the Jaguar's supple handling and ride and the V12 is somehow less silky smooth than in the XJS.
Thankfully, post-DB7 Aston has found its mojo. The DB9, which I've driven, is a hefty, road-hogging thing of beauty and wonder that goes as well as it looks. The V8 Vantage is arguably even better, a proper 911 rival that disguises its parts bin origins brilliantly. Both have interiors to die for and I'd readily find a home for a V8 Vantage. This Renaissance is perhaps all the more remarkable considering how mediocre the cars of the previous 40 years were. And yet I have a sneaking regard for Aston's ability to eek an enduring business from such uninspiring metal.
I will always want a Jensen Interceptor over a DB6 and always regret that 'passion investors' pick on certain marques over others. But perhaps their success in pushing classic Astons out of the reach of us humble commoners and ignoring better, more capable motors is ultimately our win. We get to enjoy great cars at reasonable prices and know that the cars most of us will never have a chance to drive are really not worth driving at all.
Great Escape Cars has several Aston-beating classics on its fleet, including Jensen Interceptor, Porsche 911, Ford Mustang< Jaguar XJS and Jaguar E Type. To find out more call 01527 893733 or visit www.greatescapecars.co.uk.