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Aston Martin DBS

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Aston Martin DBS
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Sharp-suited replacement for the DB6, offering better road manners and accommodation. Performance only impressive in V8 form, but respect and values are now starting to rise for this once unloved Aston

Perhaps it’s all down to image? Whereas the DB5 found legendary status in the Bond movies, most remember the DBS in the TV fl op The Persuaders and, for many years, the car looked like the runt of the DB litter.

Thankfully, common sense has won through and Aston’s shapely DBS is being seen in a much more favourable light – not least because it still looks positively cheap when compared to DB5 and DB6.


1967 The DBS6 arrived in September of the ‘summer of love’. Sleeker and roomier than the DB6, which remained in production and actually donated the chassis, the DBS benefi ted from a De Dion rear suspension that was fi rst used on the Lagonda Rapide saloon.  The 3995cc came as standard with 285bhp but for the same money it was possible to have a Vantage-spec car offering a much swifter 325bhp, care of better carbs (Webers instead of SUs) and a higher compression ratio.

1969 However, the DBS was always designed with the company’s racing-derived quad cam V8 in mind. Lack of reliability meant that the car had to be launched in DBS6 form but, two years later, the Series 1 V8 was introduced. It looked much the same as the DBS6, except for alloy road wheels. These were a fi rst for Aston, as conventional wires were deemed too weak for the V8’s power. With 5340cc Bosch fuel injection there was 345bhp on tap, although the German system was none too dependable initially and it put a fair few buyers off the car.

1972 May saw the Series 2 make an appearance, with its new nose, to signify the car losing its famed DB moniker – a result of the company being sold off due to fi nancial hardship (sound familiar?). There was now one headlamp on each side and a plain black grille, but the car was otherwise largely unchanged. The introduction of the V8 meant the six-cylinder car was renamed as simply as the Vantage, with the model surviving until July ‘73; just 70 were built and it’s a rare fi nd now.

1973 A month after the Vantage’s demise, the Series 3 V8 hit the streets, identifi ed by its bigger bonnet scoop to cover a quartet of twin-choke Weber 42DCNFs, this being a result of the decision to ditch the dodgy fuel injection. Converting to carbs not only gave the V8 better drivability (lack of torque and surging were two major irritations) but also made it faster and slightly more frugal. Slightly…

1977 From January, this iconic engine could be further tuned to Stage 1 spec and from February 1978 there was a Vantage spec V8 available. Better known as Oscar India with a blanked-off grille, front air dam and tail spoiler, only 50 of these were made, plus there was also a choice of manual or automatic transmission. The Series 4 appeared in late ‘78, with a new bonnet bulge that did away with previous questionable scoop.

1980 In June, a high-compression ‘580’ engine superseded the previous unit. Things got even spicier in Jan 1986, when the Series 5 went on sale. Identifi able by its fl atter bonnet, it also featured fuel injection to give 305bhp but, more importantly, better drive-ability. The new Volante convertible followed but the fi nal V8 was built in October 1989, when the car was superseded by the, ironically unloved, Virage replacement. Around 800 six-cylinder cars were made, against 3300 V8s, meaning that V8s are easier to fi nd, which may determine your ultimate choice.


DBS was often slated for being bulkier and heavier than past DBs but, with the wider track and a lengthened wheelbase over the DB6, it felt much more planted on the road, the sophisticated De Dion suspension also helping here.

Like Big Healeys, these old Astons need to be taken by the scruff of the neck to make them perform at their best. They can really be hustled along on open roads if you have the confidence, although they are really best treated as long-distance cruisers, where the comfy, traditional cockpit and reasonable 2+2 space make the going a pleasure – but not so easy on your credit card perhaps. You’d be lucky to see 18mpg on any car driven softly, moving into single figures if the engine and carbs are past their best and the car is driven hard!

In terms of pace not surprisingly, the V8 easily wins the day, but the DBS6 is not as bad as its painted out to be, and only slower at the top end than its much more valuable forebear, the DB6, due to inferior aerodynamics and heavier weight In today’s terms it is beaten by many modern diesels but so what!

That weight and bulk (six foot wide, remember) means that the DBS doesn’t like to be hustled along tight lanes like a GTi, but that De Dion rear end ensures that it is much more secure than earlier Astons.

Automatic versions are more plentiful than manual transmissions cars. On the one hand they take away one of the biggest gripes about any old Aston – chiefly a lorry like clutch action. However, they sap performance (although a 0-60mph dash in 6.2 seconds – Autocar, ‘73 V8 test – is hardly sluggish!) and the DBS6 can feel almost lazy by today’s standards. This means that it is not especially liked in Aston circles and prices reflect this. But, you’re still looking at GTi-like pace and, anyway, who really drives their prized classics that hard? To our minds, the DBS6, even as an auto, makes a fine way to get into Aston ownership, which is what all most of us ask in life.

How the press viewed the DBS changed over its 20 odd year run, and the ‘gulf’ between supercars and a good performance saloon or GTi was reduced from a gulf to a gap. “S for superb” is how Motor headlined its ‘68 test for the DBS6 and, while it picked some holes in the V8 three years later (namely its lurchy behaviour during bumpy cornering, indifferent heating and ventilation and lack of torque from the fuel injection system), it still thought that this £7500 coupe was a cracker.

Two years later, the single headlamp V8 was on carbs and Motor felt happier, not least because the engine was now more tractable. It still gave the heating and ventilation just two stars and was disappointed with the car’s reliability during the test. When first tested, the V8 cost just over £9000 – fast forward to 1981 and the same weekly said you get just £1 change out of £40 grand, but still reckoned, “The Vantage represents one of the finest means of travel yet devised… it’s nice to note that the British can still be best.”

Motor even acclaimed that, while more sophisticated supercars now existed, no other handled better, even with 400bhp in the latest Vantage form.

Car twin tested the DBS against a Mercedes 500 SEC around the same time and thought the German more “Today’s car”, but still rated the Brit highly, although by ‘87 it viewed the Aston Martin as, “heavy and cumbersome” and that its best days were sadly almost at an end.

The most amusing comment came from Autocar’s 71 test of the V8, where it said that the car’s glutinous economy called fuel stops every two hours on a Continental run “and it’s very easy to run out of working cash in the right currency, most tankfuls costing at least £5.” Happy days!


Just getting the car back to spec may be good enough for most owners. Most cars will have seen their Armstrong Selectaride dampers replaced by conventional units by now – a good move – plus uprated springs, shocks and anti-roll bars are also available, although ride and refinement will suffer. A good set of quality tyres is where we’d start. A dedicated AP brake upgrade kit is available, but costs some £3000, so try uprated (EBC) pads for starters.

A careful setting on a rolling road will work wonders. The six-cylinder can be stretched to 4.2 or 4.7-litres, or you can fit a Jag XK unit which looks pretty much the same and benefits from cheaper repairs, but originality suffers which will become more critical in future years – so it’s your call.

Quicksilver Exhausts of Surrey offers an exhaust which yields another 20bhp, plus more torque, and is a great swap if the existing pipework is poor. Trinity Engineering ( has a wealth of mods and upgrades for the DBS, including sportier four-speed automatic transmission conversions. Even if we were keeping ours standard as possible, we’d opt for better cooling, electronic ignition and a mod to make the clutch lighter.


It wasn’t that long ago that a DBS could be bought for well under five-figures, but now £15,000 is about the minimum for a fair car and add another £10 grand for a decent example. V8s are worth £10k over a DBS6

Vantages and Volantes are worth more than V8 saloons, with the last-of-line Prince of Wales Vantage Volantes fetching around £130,000+. A good Volante costs £40K, while an equivalent Vantage is up to £50,000;  prices double (and even treble) for newer, nicer cars sourced from a good Aston specialist.  At the other end of the scale restoration projects start at £9000 but, make no mistake, you won’t make money on one of these because restoration costs are DB5 dear – it is an Aston after all!

What To Look For


All cost huge amounts to recondition properly – £5-7000 for a partial overhaul and perhaps £20k for a no expense spared rebuild!

On the six look for 100lb oil pressure, oil leaks and overheating, together with blown head gaskets and rusted blocks. This engine relies upon replaceable cylinder liners but these often fail.

The V8 is robust. Look for 60lb oil pressure, at least a 50/50 coolant mix and watch how the owner start it up, as 2500rpm shouldn’t be exceeded until oil temp is up to 50 degrees. Poor performance and low compressions point to piston ring or value guide wear due to such abuse when cold…

Timing chains become noisy and ideally require replacing every 75,000 miles. Tensioning is critical so leave it to experts. New chains cost some £70, it’s the fitting that’s the dear part.


The ZF manual is not silent but shouldn’t be excessive either. Parts are scarce and a rebuild costs more than £2000. Clutches aren’t light but latest types ease the heaviness although should be balanced as part of fitting. Pre-76 cars require the interior to be gutted to gain access to the transmission.

Auto boxes are robust if fluids and filters have been serviced. On a test run see that the ratios change smoothy, with no slipping, although latter could be just inexpensive adjustment required.

A limited slip differential was fitted to all models and, while strong, this does wear. Check by reversing; if the car feels like the handbrake is left on, then the LSD is on its (expensive) way out.


Sills are a major concern. Remove trims to inspect fully as it can lead to rusting A/B posts, jacking points and so on. Floors (including the boot, due to water leaks) can rot badly, so check, along with the massive box sections.

Not Superlegga, panels are aluminium over a steel frame, so watch for a reaction between metals. Other rot spots include base of windscreen, floors door and wings. If you’re looking at a Volante inspect metal between fuel flaps; early cars weak plus top of windscreen.


Always quite heavy for a PAS set up (if fitted), listen for noise and wear. Leaks are common - a new rack is usually around £400.

Being a heavy car, springs and dampers take a beating. Check the car sits level – you should be able to insert two fingers between wheel and rear arch; if not they have sagged. New ones cost around £120.


As with any Aston, it pays to buy the best you can, as restoration costs are prohibitive. To compound the issue, too many DBSs were maintained and repaired poorly, meaning trouble is probably in store.

Never underestimate the cost of body repairs. Sills can cost thousands, while a front can run to £7000. On the other hand, there’s a lot of mix-and-match from cheap parts bins; rear lights are Hillman Hunter, front indicators Ford Cortina Mk2, suspension track rod ends a humble Morris Minor, for example.

Three Of A Kind

This was the car that replaced the DBS, but the earliest Virages hardly shouted progress, despite new 32-valve engines. This Aston now suffers the cold shouldering which the DBS once experienced, but this means these cars can be bought for around £10,000. Get one while they’re so cheap!
A much better car than the Virage, and perhaps the nicest Aston ever styled after the DB4, but some dislike the ‘Jag in drag’ image, even though the DB7 drives a treat, especially in V12 form. Earliest ‘six’ version is cheapest and auto models are easy sub-£15,000 buys. But for how much longer?
For the same money as a nice DBS you can go the modern route with a DB9. Delightful styling, beautifully trimmed and executed, the DB9 is great value and well built, although transmission oil leaks can cost over £2000 to rectify. All come as six-speed autos. But does a modern float your boat?


We’ve said for years that the DBS is a greatly underrated and wronged Aston that needs a second look and it seems that enthusiasts are finally coming around to this as well. There’s no denying that the car lacks the sleekness and image of earlier DBs but like-for-like the DBS is a nicer car to drive. Try one and you may feel the same and be quids in by opting for one.

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