The Aston Martin-Zagato assocation is legendary. Their collaboration on the DB4 GT during the early 1960’s was a high point for the two companies. The DB4 GT was the only DB Aston Martin fitted with Zagato coachwork and since the mid-1970’s the press had speculated as to whether a Zagato-bodied Aston Martin V8 would ever be constructed.
When, by happy coincidence, the Aston Martin show stand was placed near that of Carrozzeria Zagato at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1984, an idea occurred to the AML Chairman. The thought was further promoted by co-owner Peter Livanos’ visit to the Ferrari stand on the same show, where potential customers were clamouring to be first in line for one of its 200 limited-edition Ferrari 288 GTO’s.
At the same show Porsche also displayed one of its own limited-edition 959 models. If other manufacturers could produce limited-edition runs of a particular model, and customers were prepared to pay incredible prices for them, why not Aston Martin?
Wanting to take advantage of the situation, Gauntlett, Livanos and Elio and Gianni Zagato met to discuss the possibility of rekindling the famous association. The idea gathered momentum and by the end of the show the plan was already becoming a reality.
A stripped and lightened V8 Vantage ‘mule’, an ex-demonstrator factory car had already been timed at 175 mph with a 437 bhp version of the Vantage engine, but this was obviously not enough. AML and Zagato wanted to produce a supercar capable of taking on the fastest cars in the world. A top speed of 186 mph and a 0-60 sprint in less than five seconds was thought to be sufficient.
At the time it was felt that the V8 engine had reached its development limit. Therefore a lighter body with low drag coefficient and lower frontal area was needed. This was where Zagato came in.
In July 1984, Gianni Zagato and Chief Stylist Giuseppe Mittino visited Newport Pagnell to present a styling sketch and to study the V8 chassis. It was decided that a production run of 50 cars would provide the right balance between exclusivity and design and tooling costs, and would ensure advance orders. At the beginning of 1985 Aston Martin agreed in principle to proceed with the project and on 1 arch 1985, exactly one year after conceiving the idea, a design sketch of the V8 Vantage Zagato prototype was unveiled.
Simply co-joining these two famous names was enough to sell the car sight unseen. There was no full-sized mock-up, scale model or even photographs – the only image prospective customers had was a styling sketch. All 50 cars were sold in August of the same year.
During the car’s development several potential clients were taken to the Zagato factory to see the prototype taking shape. Deposits of £15,000 were needed from prospective customers in order to secure a car, but the initial price, quoted as £87,000, quickly rose to £95,000.
Aston Martin still used manual drawing techniques at that time and while Zagato was capable of using computer aided design (CAD). The complete body design was drawn up in full size with all contour lines and section shapes. The necessary supporting was then constructed and its attachment to the main platform was designed. Concurrently, a full-size body buck was fashioned in wood.
Giuseppe Mittino’s design was dictated largely by function. Aluminium and other weight-saving materials were used to achieve lightness. Both nose and rear sections were constructed from glass/aramid-hybrid composite, stiffened with metal-reinforced polyurethane foam, and then bolted to shock-absorbing bumpers.
Flush-fitting glass with an all-encompassing, ‘grindle’ design was used for aerodynamic efficiency. The driver and passenger windows were fixed, containing small, drop-section glass. The rest of the body was constructed from hand-formed aluminium panels beaten into shape on bucks and fitted to the frame attached to the shortened Vantage chassis.
The V8 Vantage was 15 ft, 4 in long and 6 ft, 2 in wide; the V8 Vantage Zagato was shortened tot 14 ft, 4,75 in and narrowed to 6 ft, 1,75 in, but retained the Vantage wheelbase. The Mittino design was stout and aggressive with the lack of rear overhang giving the car powerful rear haunches, enhanced by the aerodynamically necessary inbuilt spoiler. The calculated coefficient of 0,29 was never attained but a still-respectable 0,32 was achieved in the wind tunnel at Southampton University.
The car featured both Zagato and Aston Martin design signatures. The roof contained a hint of the famous ‘double-bubble’, a long-established Zagato trademark. A salute to Aston Martin was the stylished angular shaped grille, looking more like an elongated version of the ‘bowler hat’ grille of Frank Feeley’s DB2.
The twin-seat interior, trimmed in alcantara and leather was functional, if not luxurious, although air conditioning and a stereo were standard equipment. The interior was designed and fitted-out in-house by Zagato with a view to weight saving.
Aston Martin had recently introduced the Weber-Marelli fuel injection system on its AMV8s and at one stage consideration was given to its use in the V8 Zagato. However, it was finally decided to continue with Weber-carburettors, thus creating a problem with the styling. A hump in the bonnet was needed to clear the four carburettors and unlike the earlier AMV8’s power bulge, the Zagato prototype’s hump drew harsh criticism.
Engine chosen for the V8 Vantage Zagato was the 410 bhp 580X version. The production engine utilised four 48 IDF Weber carburettors, higher-lift camshafts, larger porting to the cylinder heads and a 10.2:1 compression ratio. Only a few cars were converted to 50 IDF carburettors.
To help achieve the car’s high-speed performance targets, the prototype’s final drive was changed from 3.31:1 to 3.06:1. All other production Zagatos were supplied with the 3.31:1 final drive, although owners could retrofit the 3.06:1 to match the sprinting capacity of the prototype. Unique Zagato designed Speedline 16-inch wheels, with aided ventilation of the large Girling disc brakes, were used in place of the standard Vantage wheels.
The V8 Vantage Zagato was launched at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1986. A single car graced the Aston Martin stand; another posed on Zagato’s stand and a third was perched atop the Beay Rivage Hotel overlooking Lake Geneva. All three were painted in the same evocative racing red to emphasise the car’s sporting heritage. The first production Zagato was delivered on 14 July 1986.
On 8 July the French motoring magazine Sport-Auto officially timed the factory prototype (which was special prepared, 370 lb lighter than standard) at 185,52 mph, only marginally short of the projected target. The 0-60 sprint was achieved in 4,7 seconds.
Source & copyright note: from the book ‘Power, Beauty and Soul’ written by the author David Downsey (obtained with permission). None of the text above may be used without the prior written permission of the rightful author, including copying, duplicating, printing, publishing (even on a website), reproducing, storing, or transmitting by any means what so ever.