Aston Martin DB7 Vantage V12
The beautiful bargain Aston...
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Please note that the bonnet vents above are not standard.
Please note that the boot spoiler above is not standard and not available to purchase.
These are my personal views, opinions and experiences. You are welcome to agree or disagree with any or all of them.
How I approached the DB7 - Click to View
Improvements and Modifications to my DB7 - Click to View
Maintaining my DB7 - Click to View
How I approached the DB7
Older Astons can be fabulously expensive to buy and own. They have been a gold standard of high end classic car investments and are some are heritage pieces and it is almost as though you are a custodian rather than an owner who can fiddle and modify if wanted. I like to fiddle.......
Newer Astons are aggressively styled complex machines with numerous variants aimed at competing in a rapidly evolving market and consequently look and feel less "classic" - perhaps some will in time. The DB7 sits in its own category in the middle (or as some unenlightened may say, at the bottom).
The DB7 has a conventional steel monocoque body, with subframes for the front and rear suspension and drivetrain. It has a number of Ford and Jaguar components incorporated and is often looked down on as simply a “Jag in drag” because of its XJS derived suspension.
For this reason I long steered clear of the only Aston I would ever be likely to afford.
However, one thing kept drawing me back to this car. Photos look good, but whenever I saw one in the metal I was blown away by the sheer beauty of this car; from any angle. What is more, when moving they look even better. A view shared by the ever-controvertial Jeremy Clarkson.
With interest rates knocking on the door of 0%, I decided my savings were seriously underperforming and persuaded myself that I should seriously consider the buying a "classic car" with at least zero depreciation and perhaps even one that is going up in price.
I looked at a whole range of cars within my budget. I should point out that I did look at the obligatory Jaguar E-Type several years ago while still affordable, but it just didn't do it for me. That puts me at odds with the majority I know. I wanted a car I could drive regularly through the summer months in some comfort and in reasonable safety. Older cars are compromised when it comes to crash safety and things such as ABS and climate control are also not easily added. For this reason I was considering a "modern classic".
I rather fancied a Mercedes SL55 and despite their still falling (very slowly) prices was planning to seek out a good one as a "sleeper" as opposed to a classic as such. Sure enough it was a very impressive car to drive and I was almost on the point of signing on the dotted line, but thought I should still go and test drive a DB7 to rule it out once and for all.
I finally went to see a DB7. The car was a Vantage. I have owned 3 cylinder cars, 4 cylinder, V6, straight 6 and V8 cars, but never a V12, so decided to go for a V12 if I was to buy a DB7. The road test had me hooked. It felt sort of old fashioned, but in a good way. Sure, there are faster, more hard core, more planted Astons and other marques, but for me this was perfect.
To be certain, I also road tested a DB9, the DB7 replacement and not much more expensive for an early example. The press reviews all urge towards the superior DB9. The exterior is indeed also very appealing; less beautiful, but more aggressively “sexy” I suppose. So far so good. Now, it’s a very personal thing, but the plastic looking centre console panel, silver plastic dial surrounds, slab-like seats and door panels didn’t appeal. The high waistline is modern, but left me having to peer out (I am 6ft) and after a comparative test drive the DB7 felt more cosy, more comfortable with better visibility and had what I was increasingly appreciating, a wonderfully retro interior (remember, this is a personal viewpoint). In fact, it felt like a “classic car”, but as mentioned, with more modern safety and comfort.
The ongoing depreciation and higher insurance costs for the DB9 finally ruled it out of consideration. The Mercedes SL55 was a better car, better than either Aston in many ways, but the DB7 had touched my soul in a way the SL55 just couldn't. You may be thinking "what a load of .......!", but hey, like I keep saying, this is a personal view. I decided to seek out and buy a DB7 Vantage.
Still in the back of my mind were the reported issues of poor build quality, rust, fragility and questionable reliability. Even after buying the car, my concerns continued. However, I can now report that as ownership has progressed and I have spent more time driving the car and working on, in and under the car, my concerns have now pretty much evaporated. This car needs servicing properly without shortcuts and regular driving on the road, as long periods of unprepared inaction can be troublesome for almost any car. Given that, it is better built than I expected and better designed than I expected and I am happier and happier with my choice as time goes on.
Improvements and Modifications to my DB7
As my car is to be an investment (I hope) as well as my "hobby", I have had to think long and hard about every modification I make. A full respray (done properly) isn't even remotely contentious, but changing the car from its standard specification and design is always a risk.
Modifying a car just to make it different could so easily make it less desirable than a standard car and devalue it (we have all seen cars that fall in to this category). I realise that every change I make still risks its potential resale value. With this in mind I have tested every planned change with the following:
a. Does it genuinely enhance function?
b. Does it genuinely improve visual appeal and is it subtle and in-keeping? (I know this is a subjective criterion)
c. Would it pass for OEM?
To pass my test it has to be a "Yes" for a. or b. and must always be a "Yes" for c.
This has meant meticulous attention to detail (for example, mods involving any wiring changes mean fully detailed updates to the wiring diagrams in my workshop manuals).
At various car meets this approach has been vindicated by the comments made. The consensus of all those who have seen the car is that the value has been increased rather than decreased. There will always be purists who will find it less desirable, but these will be outnumbered by those who recognise the enhancements as such and the bonus of individuality/rarity. As a precaution, many modifications will be reversible (duplicate spare parts have been bought to allow for this).
I don't currently plan to make any modifications to the car's powertrain, brakes or suspension (but do intend to overhaul and renew as required).
The car had the factory sports exhaust and mesh front grille fitted by previous owners.
1. Full respray.
The paintwork was fine, but had minor imperfections inevitable on a car that has been driven for 14 years. This included a questionable colour match on the nose cone following a pre-purchase stone chip removal respray. There was also a slight patch of bubbling on each of the front and rear screen frames and the same inside the O/S rear wheel arch lip. None of these were bad and very easily missed, but I didn't want to live with "fine". I plan to keep this car and only "A1" will do.
The car was taken to the body shop and the owner, Tim, was happy for me to work alongside his team which allowed me to keep costs down and get to know and work on the bodywork underneath at the same time.
The car was fully stripped, including removal of front and rear sections, side skirts, lights, handles, both front and rear screens.
Once stripped down, the state of the bodywork could be properly assessed.
What looks like rough welding at the front of the sill box section in the photo above is in fact mastic. Both sides were the same. No damage and no rust, other than some surface staining around the front jacking point. Phew!
Having been warned about rust on these cars I was very pleased to find that there was no evidence of rust at all other than minor surface blemishes on some edges under the car. In this case the scaremongers had it wrong (for my car at least), in fact, while at the paint shop several mainstream vehicles of similar age came in with far more serious MOT-failing rust.
The bubbling in two places around the screens turned out to be caused by clumsy previous glass replacement and not more serious rot. The bubbling was purely a surface blemish (Note – I was present for glass refit and great care was taken to ensure no repeat). Likewise, the bubbling in the rear wheel arch was also surface deep.
The tray below the scuttle in front of the windscreen was totally rust free.
As you can see we stripped the car pretty comprehensively. The headlights were dismantled and cleaned. A lot of Waxoyl was applied in areas not usually accessible. Again, no rust was found, just some flaking of the rubbish paint AML applied to the nosecone brackets. While the receiver drier was so accessible I had it swapped and an A/C service carried out.
The respray involved extra thick lacquer and subsequent flatting and polishing over several days to achieve the desired finish which has been very much admired.
When reassembling the car I decided for longevity to use copious amounts of Waxoyl on “under” surfaces rather than aim for a concours paint finish in areas which only a "concours judge" would ever look.
2. Bonnet vents
The large V12 engine in an engine bay originally designed for a straight six can lead to a very warm engine bay indeed. Several later V12 Astons have vents in the bonnet to allow excess heat to escape, including the DB7 GT/GTA, but this was not an option for me due to horrendous cost - even second hand.
I chose vents from a Jaguar XK, so the DNA fits given the car's underpinnings.
The GRP units needed fettling to fit and placement was critical for clearance (very tight) and minimal bonnet structure cutting.
The amount of heat coming out of these when parked up is amazing. I think they look rather good as well.
The mesh keeps out debris and strengthens the delicate lips of the vent louvres. The picture was taken before the post spray-job polishing was completed and before I cleaned up all the inevitable mess this makes.
3. Wiper update
The above pictures of the bonnet vents also clearly show the wipers. If you don't know the DB7 you wouldn't know about these.
The standard later i6 and all Vantage wipers feature a pantograph arrangement for the driver's side to ensure maximum screen wiped area. This is quite delicate, unsightly, wears and is expensive to replace. What is more, to accommodate the pantograph arm the wiper sits higher than is ideal on the spindle.
The fixing on the driver's side also means that modern low profile blades won't fit. So, the wipers sit very high spoiling the looks of the car and virtually obscuring the view of the passenger. Add to this the old fashioned on-arm washer jets and you have, in my eyes, an unsatisfactory set up.
If you study the above pictures the wipers look utterly unremarkable, but this was more difficult to achieve than you might think.
The spindle ends of the wiper arms are Aston Martin, the blade end of the arms are Fiat. Getting the angles of these right took a while before final welding! Then came the complication that without the cantilever, the driver's side wiper now wiped too large an arc to contain on the screen. This meant some tweaking of the main wiper motor drive arm to reduce its radius and achieve the desired effect.
At the same time I decided to go to more conventional washer jets - visible on the scuttle.
4. Rear boot spoiler.
The later GT and GTA DB7 cars have a different boot lid with a duck tail type flick at the rear.
Used boot lids like these are very hard to find and very expensive, but also, because the built-in spoiler has to blend from nothing to full height within the width of the boot lid they visually make the rear end of the car look too narrow in my view.
So, I decided the make a stick-on spoiler which could be wider than a GT/GTA version. I found a GRP item made for a Mercedes CLK. It didn’t fit of course and was the wrong shape, but had potential and was cheap enough to try with financial minimal risk.
The spoiler needed cutting apart and then reshaping and twisting to follow the DB7’s lines. I achieved this by making a jig which allowed me to apply force accurately to get the shape right. The core of the spoiler was then filled with chopped strand glass mat and resin to make sure it held the new shape once released from the jig. Then the base of the spoiler had to be shaped to suit the car.
I spent many hours finishing the spoiler shape.
Being a stick on item, after applying the foam tape, but before “peeling and sticking” I tried the spoiler on and off and on and off and on……….
The real decider was that when removing the spoiler the rear looked too "droopy". This was highlighted at a recent car meet where the comparison could be made instantly between two DB7s, one with spoiler and one without. The consensus was that the spoiler was a definite enhancement.
Anyway. It’s on for now.
I have been asked if I will be manufacturing and selling these spoilers. I have looked briefly at the work and costs to make more and have decided to leave this as a one-off for now.
5. Ultra discrete traffic camera install.
With the standard of driving falling in direct proportion to the number of cars on the road I decided to add the peace of mind accessory of a traffic camera/recorder. There was no way I could live with the standard arrangement obscuring part of the screen and trailing wires. I bought a very small camera (small because it has no screen) and before the front screen was put in following the respray, I extended the black area below the mirror mount. This was to avoid seeing the unsightly adhesive pad of the camera mount. The wiring was quite tricky. I had a +12V and Earth wires for the interior lights, but also needed a 12V ignition feed to activate the camera automatically whenever driving. I eventually managed to route a cable through the headlining and down the C pillar to the boot area. The supply has its own fuse and the appropriate wiring schematic added to the correct page of the workshop manual.
6. Daytime running lights.
As all exterior bulbs are now LED (apart from HID dipped beams) and the front side lights much brighter and whiter than the originals I decided these would make excellent daytime running lights (DRL) and better still look OEM rather than the usual obvious add-on.
I inserted a changeover relay into the supply for the front side lights to operate with the following function (wiring diagrams updated in manual):
IGN on - front sidelights operate as DRL powered from IGN feed. The rest of the lighting circuit is isolated.
Sidelights on - the sidelight feed triggers the relay to changeover the front sidelight supply to the lighting circuit, isolated from the IGN supply.
7. Sound system upgrade.
I want very good sound, but an installation that looks as understated as possible within a sensible budget.
The first dilemma is the head unit. The Becker single DIN variants blend in well visually, but are now just too out of date - including the Becker NAV upgrade.
I had an Alpine unit which looked OK, but eventually bought a higher end Kenwood DAB unit which has a relatively plain facia and is able to display any colour and brightness and blends in perfectly well.
The head unit now fitted has DAB and so a new aerial was needed capable of good DAB reception in weak signal areas.
I also had an Aux input and 2 X USB inputs which I threaded through to the cubby beneath the arm rest. Luckily my centre console mod meant that the gear gaitor unclips to gain access to guide the cable through.
The microphone for the phone connectivity was simple to press behind the A pillar trim for a neat (no wires visible) install at the top corner of the screen.
The sound was already much improved apart from weedy and thin bass.
Ninety percent of an amp's power is used kicking out bass - large mass, large movement. I didn't need a multi-channel amplifier, just a decent single unit to drive a subwoofer which would need to be added.
Out went the CD changer (one of the USB inputs holds a flash drive with hundreds of high bit rate tracks, so CD changer not missed).
In its place went an Alpine mono subwoofer amp. This was a doddle to wire up as the power aerial lead turns it on and the battery is just next door to hook up the fat power cables (through a fuse of course!). The physical mounting was tricky to fit in the space and necessitated a fabricated steel and plywood bracket at an angle to get clearance and access to the controls.
The DB7 is an awkward car to fir a sub into because the fuel tank is in the way. This proved quite a challenge.
Step one was to cut a hole in the rear deck above the fuel tank (only really possible/safe with the rear screen removed (mine was during its respray).
Step two is to cut a hole in the nice expensive leather and fit a new grille above the new hole.
Step 3 is to get hold of a shallow 10” sub in a shallow enclosure and find a way to mount it.
My car didn't come with the factory premium sound system - but this was no big loss as the one I heard was nothing special despite the big amp in the boot, but the big amp mounting brackets were still there in my car. This allowed me to make a custom ply faceplate, some angled sides to allow clearance and sound passage and bolt the sub enclosure in place just clear of the boot floor.
You can see how shallow the enclosure is by the amount of space still left.
Best of all, because the sub is attached to the rear of the tank and not the boot floor the cover still lifts out to get access to the boot “basement”.
As I bolted through the speaker enclosure I had to add extra bracing to prevent the cabinet being distorted/damage when the bolts/studs are tightened. This extra bracing working against the tension in the bolts greatly increases the enclosure's rigidity - improving its performance above standard. Bonus!
The difference in sound quality is incredible with wonderful rich (but not overpowering) bass.
Couple that with the multiple inputs, crystal clear DAB and phone interface and we have a proper entertainment/communication system. Well worth the trouble.
I did consider making a pop up double din arrangement with SatNav that would pop out of the top of the dash, but this much simpler package is more than adequate for now.
8. Touchtronic retrofit / upgrade.
One thing missing from my car was the Touchtronic option. I have owned BMWs with this system (Steptronic) and really thought it made the DB7 much more spirited to drive.
I had originally had Touchtronic on my “must have” list when searching for a car, but as it happened the overall package of the car I bought justified its omission (at least temporarily).
The simple solution would have been to buy second hand AML parts, but these are rare and expensive and having discovered that the DB7 Touchtronic gear selector was an ancient BMW variant I felt more comfortable looking for a newer, better and cheaper alternative.
I settled on a BMW E46 selector: Better action than the DB7 variant and 90% cheaper than AML items on offer at the time. The major challenge with this selector is the interlock arrangement. To ensure safe function I added an extra microswitch linked into the “start” button circuit. This means that the “ready to start lamp” only comes on when in “P” and you can only start in “P”, so safety reassured. The Touchtroninc wiring is already in later cars and the plug for this even fits – however, the wires don’t correspond so out came the multimeter and more complication.
I also discovered at the same time (2015) that Chiltern Aston were selling off old stock of Touchtronic steering wheels for under £100 – so a no brainer. This is a very simple plug and play.
I have always thought that the DB7’s gear surround looked cheap and nasty and spoiled the nicely finished interior. The Touchtronic version is no better and with used, shabby surrounds costing silly money I decided to “upgrade”. I tried several variants (including the BMW E46) but finally settled on a surround from an Audi TT. The selector display wiring is totally different and so some more rewiring and microswitches were needed to make it light up as required. There was also a small matter of getting the surround to fit and look in keeping. Luckily I have done some retrimming before and had some matching blue leather ready for a future headrest “upgrade”.
The “S” on the display now comes on with the +/- when you select “Sport” by moving the gear lever sideways.
When a used Touchtronic instrument cluster came up on Ebay shortly after I bought the car I snapped it up even though it cost £150. I wasn’t sure if the gearbox controller needed to talk to the cluster via the data bus, making the cluster a necessary retrofit component. Well, as it happens the system works perfectly happily without the matching instrument cluster, but I had it so it would be included. Problem was the odometer reading. Nobody wanted to try and “adjust” it and I didn’t want to jump from 41,000 to 65,000 miles overnight. Time for more DIY. Luckily, the circuit boards are identical on both variants. This meant I could dismantle both units and make up one which shows my 41,000 miles and has the Touchtronic display.
As for all my mods updated my printed workshop manual with the new wiring so that any competent service agent can see what’s what if and when I sell the car.
So, what does this look like installed and should I have spent lots of money on a genuine DB7 gear surround?
First a picture to compare the Aston version and the my version of the gear surround.
And here is the finished install.....
The above picture also shows the Touchtronic instrument cluster and steering wheel.
Although not standard in some minor detailing ways, this retrofit functions identically to the standard Touchtronic car in that it uses the same gearbox, and gearbox ECU and main loom wiring. Consequently it posed no problem as a declared modification with my insurance company.
9. Head rest pads in matching leather.
Pending - to turn the head rests into items you can comfortably rest your head on. Must look OEM. Are aftermarket ones available but not designed for the DB7 and look like it.
10. Tail pipe aperture sealing.
A very small modification, but visually makes quite a difference. Usually the exhaust silencer and boot floor are visible through the aperture. I have fixed 5mm thick black silicone sheet around the tail pipe. The silicone is heat resistant and very flexible. Next will be splash guards for the rear of the rear wheel arches as these are very exposed and make the car look open and hollow at the rear as opposed to being carved from solid rock...
11. Lighting upgrades.
Dipped beam bulbs are HID. The light from the HID units is so good the main beams are not really necessary (unless you drive really really fast along country lanes at night - I don't), so I have used LED bulbs in the main beam units. These are easily bright enough to fulfill their most important function - flashing or FTP. The front fog lights are also LED as the last time I remember fog thick enough to need "fogs on headlights off" was decades ago. Just been through its MOT with no issues.
All other exterior bulbs are LED. This meant new electronic flasher units to avoid fast flashing of indictors (one bonus is that I can now hear the indicators ticking) and load resistors in the brake light circuit to prevent brake lights glowing when side lights turned on.
As part of the LED makeover the amber repeaters were swapped to clear versions.
Interior lights remain as standard as warm white suits the ambience.
12. Trickle charger upgrade.
The AML charger is certainly expensive, but not that special. The three pin connector is purely to ensure correct polarity as only two are connected. I tend to leave my car plugged in whenever not in use and not just when left for long periods. This practice with a good CTEK charger over several years has meant I have never had to replace a battery in 30 years of owning "weekend" cars (most worth way under £10k until now).
Plugging the AML charger in regularly is a pain as it means leaving the boot open and lifting the boot floor. To make life easier I have added a second charge connector under the fuel filler flap. This has a silicone rubber sealing cap and is completely waterproof. I have a hanging power lead which means simply lifting the filler flap and plugging in.
13. Rear badging
While removing the rather cheap looking plastic DB7 and Vantage badging in preparation for respraying some of the location pegs broke off despite great care being taken. I decided to abandon originality in favour of what I regard as a more subtle and aesthetically pleasing result. We filled in the locator holes and when all done, used a small discrete V12 badge from a V12 Vantage - so you could almost say it was made for the job! I have kept the original badging in case any future owner wants to use it.
14. Indicator tell-tale light modification.
The steering wheel totally obscures the indicator tell-tale lights above the instrument cluster. This means that if the car doesn't auto cancel and the driver doesn't cancel and doesn't hear the quiet ticking of the flasher relay he/she will drive down the road confusing and annoying others.
The solution was simple in principle, but fiddly to get right in practice if it was to look OEM.
In the picture you CAN see the original tell-tale light, but only because the camera was resting on the steering wheel centre.
Maintaining my DB7
This is where I have taken a risk when it comes to maintaining the car’s value.
No Aston Martin Works service, no Independent Specialist service and not even a back street garage service record – I am servicing the car myself. At least having my own work documented and published by AMOC will help persuade doubters that I am doing "what it says on the tin".
I have a good sized double garage with a clean tiled floor, a hydraulic scissor lift and plenty of tools (5 torque wrenches for example), a commercial OBD reader and many years of experience working on cars.
My garage. Spot the special charger system.
The ramps give clearance for the scissor lift. I have also made special jacking point adapters.
Spot the dehumidier which runs over the Winter to keep low humidity and prevent rust.
Spot the removed set of coil packs.
I have a full Aston Martin multi-volume workshop manual.
I keep full records and receipts as evidence of the work done and the quality of the work done.
The car is my pride and joy, so I care about the work I do in a way no garage could.
I know that should I ever sell the car, some potential buyers will run a mile, but I hope that others would spend time here to look more closely and make a more informed decision.
One piece of evidence to support my DIY servicing and maintenance is the publishing of my "coil pack replacement" guide in the international owners' club magazine (see below).
What I do know is that the total ownership savings I will make will be thousands of pounds.
Record of additional work not in the Service Schedule, including Modifications and Upgrades: Click to View.
DB7 Vantage Spark Plug/Coil Pack replacement write-up: Click to View. (As published in Autumn 2016 AM Quarterly magazine).
If you would like to make contact to comment/ask questions email: [email protected]