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Aston Martin V12 Vanquish (2001 - 2007): Britain's answer to the Ferrari 550 Maranello

The original Vanquish proved that Aston could take on the world’s best. Here's why it's one of our top 25 cars of the last 25 years

Twenty-five years ago, Aston Martin was building tiny handfuls of glorious but positively Jurassic V‑car behemoths in Newport Pagnell. Sure, the Jaguar-based DB7, being built in rather larger numbers down the road in Bloxham, had provided a financial lifeline, but something bold, entirely new and entirely Aston was needed to prove that the winged badge had a future.

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It was at the 1998 Detroit Auto Show that Jac Nasser, head of parent company Ford, revealed a startlingly handsome, front-engined supercar concept called Project Vantage. It had been styled by Ian Callum, it featured Aston Martin’s first V12 engine, and it was received with something approaching rapture. Now all they had to do was put it into production.

> New Aston Martin Vantage has Porsche’s 911 Turbo in its sights

The birth was somewhat protracted, partly because it coincided with the arrival of new CEO Ulrich Bez, who had his own ideas about some of the details. We got our first look at the production car, now renamed Vanquish, in the late summer of 2000, but it would be almost another year before evo and others drove the finished article. In the meantime, the DB7 Vantage with a slightly milder version of the Vanquish’s V12 had been launched, which kind of stole some of the new model’s thunder. Still, in the September 2001 issue of evo, Dickie Meaden drove the new Aston flagship – and loved it. ‘A front-engined supercar that redefines the breed,’ was his conclusion.

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With a radical (Lotus-developed) platform that combined extruded and bonded aluminium with composites, a six-speed paddleshift transmission (Aston’s first) and a more vocal, 460bhp version of the DB7’s V12, all wrapped in super-plastic-formed aluminium panels, the Vanquish was a giant leap forward for Aston Martin and the car to take the fight to Ferrari’s 550 and 575M Maranello.

It wasn’t perfect. The automated manual transmission was a little clunky and ponderous, especially in the earliest examples. That would be improved over the years, markedly so when the 520bhp ‘S’ version was launched in 2004, also heralding tighter suspension damping, more powerful brakes and a pleasingly updated facia.

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But right from the start the fundamentals were all in place. The construction was genuinely innovative and would lead directly to the VH platform that would underpin an entire generation of Astons, starting with 2004’s DB9. Crucially, it gave a stiff and relatively lightweight platform for the suspension to work from, that suspension in turn providing GT levels of comfort with real composure.

The transmission, despite its teething problems, was another step into the modern age for Aston, and the 5.9-litre V12 engine was simply glorious. Yes, it had its origins at Ford, but it was – and would remain – unique to Aston Martin. Indeed it would serve for an entire era of both road and race cars, including the Le Mans class-winning DBR9. But it has seldom sounded better than in the Vanquish. 

That soundtrack was undoubtedly one of things that made driving a Vanquish such a very rich and rewarding experience. When the full orchestral effect hit at around 5000rpm even contemporary Ferraris struggled to match it. And the chassis’ blend of suppleness with control – combined with bags of feedback to build the driver’s confidence – would always be something to savour.

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But you only had to look at it to be seduced. Ian Callum seemed to have an instinctive feel for reinterpreting classic Aston styling cues for the modern age. He’d pulled off a minor miracle in reworking a stillborn Jag as the DB7, but the Vanquish was in a different league. This time he’d taken his inspiration from the DB4 GT Zagato. You can see the ghost of that car in the Vanquish’s broad, aggressively sculpted grille, the flow of the wings and the exaggerated rear haunches. Its charisma remains undimmed today. Just like certain people, some cars have presence: something about the way they hold themselves draws your attention and won’t let go. The Vanquish is like that. 

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Had the Vanquish not been such a game-changer, had it not been so warmly received, both by Aston enthusiasts and crucially by Ford management when Project Vantage was revealed back in 1998, then it’s questionable whether the investment in Gaydon and the raft of new ‘VH’ models that followed would have happened at all. Had it been another dinosaur, it could have been game over.

Vanquish was very far from a dinosaur. It heralded a confident new design language; it ushered in new materials and construction methods; it put Aston Martin back at the forefront of high-performance cars, and it showed that Aston could lead and innovate.

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If the DB4 of 1958 signalled the start of Aston’s original golden era, the Vanquish kick-started a new golden age that would see Gaydon-built cars, led by DB9 and Vantage, achieve unprecedented sales. Quite simply, it sparked the most successful period in the marque’s history, and for that Aston fans – and really anyone who enjoys the rich tapestry of performance cars – should be very grateful. 

What to look out for

Predictably, mileage, service history and condition count most when buying one in 2024, but specification also plays a part. The Linn audio system that replaced the original Alpine hi-fi for the 2003 model year is desirable, as is full leather (some Vanquishes have Alcantara centre panels on the seats), while 2+2s are slightly more sought-after. 007-spec Tungsten paint adds value; conversely, dark blues and greens are not so saleable.

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A really worthwhile option was the Sports Dynamic Pack, available from 2003, which added uprated suspension and brakes. The Vanquish S, introduced in 2004 (from chassis 1506), incorporated the handling upgrades, along with a new aero package, an improved gearshift and a power increase to 520bhp. ‘The S is a better car,’ says Paul Spires, ‘but it’s worth noting that an early car can be uprated to what is effectively S specification.’ Works has also converted a number of Vanquishes to manual transmission, using the six-speed Tremec unit from the DB7 GT.

‘You do need to tread carefully,’ says Spires. ‘The thing is, Vanquishes were in the doldrums for a while, and many cars weren’t looked after as they should be. Those cars can take a lot of money to bring back into good order. And the way it’s constructed means restoration can be expensive. It’s a flagship Aston Martin, you can’t get away from it, and the running costs are those of a £180,000 motor car.’

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So, how to find a good one. A full service history by reputable specialists is the first box in need of ticking. Ideally Vanquishes should be serviced every six months or 7500 miles; if a car’s had anything less than an annual service it should certainly put you on your guard. If in doubt, have your potential purchase inspected. Works offers an inspection and road test report for £720 plus the cost of transporting the car to Newport Pagnell; several of the other Heritage specialists like Nicholas Mee offer a similar service. It’s possible to buy a warranty, too.

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The good news is that the V12 engine is very strong, and serious faults are rare. The most common problem is with the coil packs, which suffer both from heat damage and occasionally from water ingress causing shorting. It’s an expensive job to replace them, and always best to do a bank at a time (budget around £600). So check the engine pulls cleanly and smoothly. Any misfiring points to problems.

Potentially the most serious issue is oil consumption caused by the engine ingesting its own oil vapour because the reed-type valves in the breather system have stuck open. A low oil level could eventually lead to starved big end bearings at the back of the engine. So look inside the air filter for a heavy oil deposit; anything more than a light misting could spell trouble. Don’t be put off by the automated manual – properly set up and driven with a little sensitivity, it’s a decent system. The Magnetti Marelli hardware sits on the back of the transaxle, providing electro-hydraulic actuation of the gearchanges. ‘Early cars had analogue gear position sensors, which can wear, which is when you can get problems,’ says Paul Spires. Later cars (chassis 600 onwards) had magnetic sensors, which are much more robust. Most early cars have had them retro-fitted when the clutch has been replaced. The shift has benefited from software updates over the years, too.

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Neal Garrard, of Nicholas Mee & Co, makes the point that the system benefits from crisp handling so as not to overwork the clutch plate (budget around £4k if a new clutch is needed). It’s something those familiar with the car do automatically, along with selecting neutral whenever it’s likely that the car will be stationary for more than a couple of seconds.

Unsurprisingly, clutch wear varies hugely depending on driving style. Clutches can last as few as 15,000 miles or as many as 40,000. On the test drive you’re looking for a nice crisp pull-away and a crisp change, with no slip, no untoward noises and no serious vibrations. A whistling sound as you pull away suggests spigot shaft bearing wear, which is a £2000 repair; £5000 if the shaft needs replacing too.

The standard brakes aren’t up to track-work but are fine for anything but the most extreme road driving. Cross drillings should be cleaned as part of a service; if they’re blocked it can lead to corrosion, particularly on the inner face.

Speaking of which, look for bubbling at the edges of the aluminium body panels, the first signs of electrolytic corrosion, which if it develops will eventually necessitate a respray. Also check the front wing strakes – they’re cast on some cars and also prone to bubbling (replacements cost around £300 each).

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The single biggest problem with the Vanquish, though, is its steel front subframe. Water gets trapped between undertray and frame, causing rust. If it’s extensive it may require replacement (£5000-plus). So remove the tray and check. And also check the small steel bracket at the end of each sill. Corrosion here can spread through the mounting bolts and cause electrolytic reaction in the tub itself. The carbonfibre crash structure front and rear is visible underneath so check for signs of damage, though it is repairable.

So plenty to keep in mind, but a good Vanquish is well worth seeking out. Nicholas Mee & Co have no doubts about the Vanquish’s status. ‘In 25 years’ time we believe it will be seen as a significant turning point for the company, just like the DB4 was in the late 1950s,’ says Neal Garrard. ‘The DB7 was never quite accepted as a proper Aston – the hardcore never really took it to their hearts – but the Vanquish was the real thing.’ 

Choose wisely, and you’ll have one of the most significant Astons of recent times and surely a sound investment. But you’ll also have an Aston that still feels capable and useable, and one with an unmistakable presence, a real aura about it.

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As Paul Spires says: ‘I was lucky enough to own one for a while. When you open your garage door and there’s a Vanquish there, you can’t help but smile.’ – John Simister

What we said

'It’s a wonderfully comfortable car, with a good driving position, firm seat-cushioning and effortless cruising ability. Wind noise is almost non-existent, even at three-figure speeds, and the engine, so vocal at start-up, remains hushed at part throttle. If there’s a car more suited to chomping through continents, I’ve yet to drive it.

It’s in urban conditions you first appreciate the paddleshift transmission. Pre-Vanquish, driving a big Aston in town required the calf muscles of a Tour de France cyclist to pump the leaden clutch pedal up and down. Now you don’t even need to flex your fingers, thanks to the fully auto ASM mode, which slurs through the gears for you.

With not a splinter of walnut veneer to be seen, it’s not your usual Aston interior. Sure there’s plenty of leather and chrome-trimmed dials, but the bold slab of silver centre console is a bit of a shock. One thing that really does grate is the clock, which looks like it fell out of Jac Nasser’s cracker at the Ford Christmas dinner…

Perhaps the answer is that Aston blew the budget on the hardware, for a couple of feet ahead sits one of the finest engines in production. Though based on the mellow V12 found in the DB7, Cosworth’s brief was to hone it into a sharper, angrier, more rev-hungry engine, and to this end installed new inlet manifolds, camshafts, valve-gear, crankshaft and exhaust. Power is up by 10 per cent – 40bhp to be precise. Not a huge leap, but the way in which it delivers is far more dramatic, encouraging you to wring out each gear to the red line. With three rapid tugs on the left-hand paddle, the gearbox punches from sixth to third seamlessly, accompanied by a hearty blip of the throttle.

Although the Vanquish lacks the old Vantage’s mountainous muscle, it’s light years ahead dynamically. It devours the straight bits with relish, but it also has a ravenous appetite for corners. It’s so fluid, so controlled and precisely damped, you’re barely aware of all that weight at work through the bends.’ - evo, September 2001

Aston Martin V12 Vanquish Mk1 specs

EngineV12, 5935cc
Max power460bhp @ 6500rpm
Max torque400lb ft @ 5000rpm
TransmissionSix-speed automated manual, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential
Weight1835kg
Power to weight255bhp/ton
0-60mph

5sec

Top speed190mph
Price new£160,000 in 2001 (£287,000 in today’s money)
Price today£45,000 - £115,000
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