Living with the DBSV8
THE DBSV8 offers good value for money to any aspiring Aston owner. For a budget of under £20,000 you can have 'one of these cars up and
running. This compares very favourably with lesser alternatives. Maybe my experiences of owning one of these motor cars will persuade someone just about to enter the market to consider the DBSV8.
An article in Classic Cars first attracted my interest to the DBSV8. Being a committed motorcyclist, it was unusual for me to take more than a passing interest in cars. However, the DBSV8 was something different. Rather like my Vincent Black Shadow it had a reputation for going extremely fast, looked fast and was beautifully made. Both machines were built regardless of cost using the best possible materials. Maybe both machines ended up a bit heavier than one would have wished but there is no doubt about the integrity of the construction. They are a joy to work on as everything has been put together properly.
Most of the people who know will admit that a DBSV8 in good' order approaches the performance of a Vantage. It is not possible to be quite specific because even when the cars were new performance varied from car to car. The road test figures show that the DBSV8 will stay with all the production V8 variants, including the bored and stroked 6.3 Virage, up to 100 mph. Yet it is clear that the Vantage has some 50 bhp more than a DBSV8 at maximum revs. Perhaps the answer lies in the very long induction pipes of the DBSV8 giving very good mid-range torque. Suffice to say that, if it is performance you are after, the DBSV8 will fill the bill. The DBSV8 was timed at 161 mph in 1969 with a twin contact breaker ignition system. Nowadays most are fitted with Opus or the even better constant energy systems which should be good for a few mph more. The actual figure quoted for the bhp of the 1967 DBSV8 in Michael Bowler's book Aston Martin V8 is 310-320 at 5000 rpm. The car Motor road tested had 338 bhp at 5500 rpm. In the same book the 1977 Vantage is quoted as having 370 bhp, and production Vantages produced about this figure after running in.
The youngest DBSV8 must now be at least 27 years old. Enthusiasts with well equipped workshops will enjoy working on the car, which saves forever making trips to and from the specialist. Owners should be prepared to keep the underside of the car clean and either waxoyled or undersealed. Greasing the 16 or so grease points every 2500 miles is a bit messy but very straightforward. Enthusiastic owners can master setting up the injection system if they are prepared to take time and trouble reading the instructions now available and they have a specialist at the end of a telephone when some problem crops up they cannot solve. Most of the car comes apart very easily, although I find the most used socket set is my quarter inch drive as some nuts are tricky to get at with my normal half inch drive equipment. On these cars it is probably advisable to change the oil every 1000 miles but you do not need expensive synthetics - GTX will do nicely.
Doing the routine jobs yourself will enable you to save your money so that your chosen specialist can do the really tricky jobs. Renewing the chains driving the cams is an engine-out task and I think I would think twice before again dropping the differential to renew the inboard rear discs as this is such a very heavy job.
Driving the DBSV8
You will have all read the road tests of all the Aston Martins and these tests are carried out by people driving a very wide variety of motor cars for a living. Any remarks I have to make must be taken in the context of the car I happened to be offered as a company car at the time. When I first owned the Aston 12 years ago my company car was a 3500 Rover SD 1, a competent motor car with very poor brakes. In those days I was a pedal to metal driver and had reasonably frequent accidents hardly ever involving any other cars but many hedges and fields. Against such a motor car the DBSV8 scored very well, even though it was equipped with the original lever arm rear Selectaride dampers. I liked these and the Selectaride mechanism worked well so that even sensitive passengers could detect the differences between the four settings.
However, I was always teased at Aston Engineering for persisting with the lever arm dampers, as they reckoned the way I drove I needed something better. I then managed to persuade my company to provide me with a twin throttle chamber Rover SD 1 Vitesse. This was a most remarkable motor car, very quick and with outstanding handling and roadholding. not for nothing was it called the "Poor man's Aston". The Aston handling no longer seemed in a class of its own, so Aston Engineering fitted a Harvey Bailey handling kit and 255 Goodrich tyres to replace the 225 Avon textile radials. These tyres fitted straight onto the original GKN wheels. The instructions from Dave Jack were to run the tyres at 40 Ibs pressure. This gave a hard and rather noisy ride but simply super handling and grip. Even dropping the tyre pressures to 36 was instantly noticeable as the handling changed from hard and positive to soft and sloppy. I have never driven any other motor car where I could detect such a small change in tyre pressures from the driving seat. Whilst all this was going on the mechanical side of the car was worked on. The engine was completely rebuilt by Aston Engineering. The plan was that Aston Engineering did the really nasty work and I tended to do the easier work under their guidance. The final modification was to fit 50 aspect ratio Goodrich 255 tyres on the special 16" Gotti wheels designed by Aston Engineering.
This was because the 60/255 Goodrichsto fit 15" wheels were no longer available. I had some misgivings about this as the 60/255 Goodrichs were superb and the Gotti wheels looked a touch modern for my not immaculate DBSV8. However, the results were truly remarkable. The
50/255x16" Goodrichs could be run at 36 pounds, were much quieter and gave a softer ride with tremendous grip.
A well-sorted DBSV8 with these modifications is a joy to drive. Very quick with very forgiving handling. The engine is turbine smooth and makes all the right noises. Details like the throttle pedal and linkage, which is properly engineered with decent bearings, rods and levers, gives a great feel to the operation of the accelerator pedal. A small point, perhaps, but it is a very different feel from linkages consisting of bent wires and cables which we normally put up with. It is a car that can be flung around with enormous confidence on dry or wet roads. It can also be driven very fast on very bumpy roads which really shows up the advantage of the de Dion rear end. Compared to some modern
vehicles the brakes need a firm push but they are first class. The gearbox on my car must have done 50,000 miles and is quite the best I have experienced on any car I have driven. It can be flicked through the top four gears with lightning speed. I have tried very new ZF boxes and I do not like them as much as my slightly sloppy one. Some motoring journalists describe this box as "agricultural" but they cannot have tried one like mine. The dog-leg first to second change takes some getting used to and, although enthusiasts are supposed to prefer this arrangement, I prefer the dog-leg to be from fourth to fifth. My reasoning is that you can be in a hurry to change from first to second but you are seldom in such a hurry to change from fourth to fifth or from fifth to fourth.
Being the first of the V8s my car does have some shortcomings. If you are cold in winter a hard blast in third will warm you up as the silencer heat comes up through the floor of the car. It also does this in summer! The DBSV8 also seems a very wide car. I have driven cars of the same width but they do not seem quite as intimidating as the Aston. The Harvey Bailey handling kit and Konis all round give a hard ride, and by modern standards it is a noisy car both wind noise and engine noise being higher than a modern car. The engine in particular gives out a very aggressive roar when driving really hard which can frighten nervous passengers. It can be flung around with gay abandon but always in the back of your mind there is the feeling that it is 35 cwts. you are chucking about. It is in its element in the 100 mph region swooping round long bends. It feels a bit like driving a lorry when trying as hard as possible up a twisty hill climb like Prescott.
As most people reading this will know, the body is hand-built from aluminium sheet. This means that if you destroy your bonnet for any reason a new one has to be made to fit the unique orifice on your car. Same with doors and boot lids, etc. The cheese-cutter grille is a work of art, so do not hit a pheasant at high speed and expect to replace it for less than £600. I was amazed to learn at Aston Engineering that the cars are not symmetrical from side to side. I examined my own car and sure enough this is true: particularly noticeable on my car is the lack of symmetry of the two rear wings. The real work of art of these cars is the sill area. These have been designed to ensure that water gets in and rots the sills from the inside out, eventually reaching the rear pick up points for the radius arms. Even if you fill everything up with Waxoyl and put the stainless steel finishers back on with sticky goo, a year later you will find water has got in from somewhere. Even if by constant attention with underseal and waxoyl you manage to keep some of the water out, the makers provided a secret passage which lets water in when you wash the car. I have never found out where this is. Even though the sills are rotten, the stainless steel finishers below the doors can look great, completely deluding you to the state of the mild steel sills underneath. It is very unlikely that you will buy a DBSV8
which does not need attention to the sills. I would always budget for this, unless I had proof that the sills had been attended to by a recognised specialist in the last six to eight months. In any event, routine maintenance must include lying on your back underneath the
car treating anything going rusty. On my car a little weep from the rear of the gearbox and from the front of the rear axle keeps the centre oily and rust-free but towards the edges vigilance is required to
keep rust at bay. Here I prefer waxoyl diluted with white spirit rather than underseal. You have to use underseal in the really hard hit areas like behind the front wheels, but it can give a false sense of security as it looks great from outside but may have lifted away from the metal and rusting is taking place out of sight. I do not know why but my Aston seems very rustprone compared to other motors I have owned in spite of being really cossetted and living in a dehumidified garage. I have also been ticked off by Aston Engineering for letting mud accumulate under the car. If you live in a farming area, like I do, you have to grovel underneath and get all the mud off as it acts as a moisture collector and starts off corrosion.
The DBSV8 interior is a revelation to work on compared with modern machinery. It is all screwed together, with none of the little clips which break off and are hard to replace, as you find on modern cars. With reasonable care you can take all the trim out and replace it exactly as it was - even better perhaps. This is may be a blessing because the rear seats and some of the trim has to come out to replace the rear brake pads. I always heave a great sigh when I have to do this, but, when it comes to it, it is really very straightforward and not very time consuming. The designers had a bit of fun with the doors, however. To get the trim off there is one nut revealed when the ashtray is removed (easy one) and one which can be seen by lying on your back and peering up into the rear of the armrest with the lower panel removed (difficult one).
I must confess that I had a moment of panic when I got my DBSV8 home and looked under the bonnet. I did not even know what some of the bits and pieces did, let alone know how to maintain them. However, I also knew that I could never justify the expense of taking it to a specialist every time the slightest thing went wrong. Somehow I had to find my way round the problem.
It was not as easy as I thought to get to grips with the injection system. The big help was Andy Chapman's article in the AM Quarterly, which explained how to set it up. After reading the article several times I tried to get the angles right on pump and throttles to the tolerances in the
article. After several attempts I thought Andy Chapman was having a joke with us all, as I could get nowhere near the precision he specified. In desperation I took a bottle of whisky to the workshop and vowed I would not come out until I had achieved the necessary accuracy.
After several hours work I got there but discovered that half a flat on one of the adjusting nuts makes a big difference to the read-out. Dave Jack of Aston Engineering gave me great encouragement during these troubled times and encouraged me to be a bit more adventurous with the adjustments than I would have been left to my own devices. In fact if you are a reasonable mechanic the engine is not difficult to work on, so just be patient and learn as you go along. Because the inlet pipes and throttle boxes extend over the cam covers to fill up the engine bay most jobs take a lot longer than they would on a carburettor car. For example, the Workshop Manual instructions for removing the alternator says, "Remove the bolts holding the alternator and lift from car". Replacement is the opposite of the above. What it does not tell you is that the top bolt holding the alternator on is really difficult to get at and the alternator looks as though it can be withdrawn downwards and pass between the engine and the tubular cross bar in front of the engine. In fact it will not come out this way so it is necessary to remove
various bits and pieces from the top of the engine to allow it to come out upwards.
There are some marvellous little touches. The alloy caps retaining the camshafts are all stamped with letters and numbers to correspond with the same numbers stamped on the cylinder head. This to prevent you getting them mixed up but somebody had to take all the trouble to
manually stamp these symbols. The valve clearances need setting more often than later Astons as the cams have a fiercer lift and the DBSV8 does not give of its best unless the valve clearances are correct. Setting the clearances is not difficult but is quite a long job. The long inlet tracts need to come off which means that the fuel injection linkages are disturbed. If the clearances need adjusting this is done with shims under the bucket tappets. The cams are held on by the previously mentioned alloy caps and 19 nuts. To get the clearances right will probably involve removing and replacing each camshaft two or three times. Four camshafts, three times and 19 nuts means 228 nut movements. Aston Engineering are very kind to me when I have to do this job as they post the required shims to me and I return all the ones I remove at the end of the task.
Buying a DBSV8
Before I bought my DBSV8 I joined the Aston Martin Owners Club in the hope that some of the Members would be able to give me plenty of information on the car. I met some charming people but learnt nothing about the trials and tribulations of the injection cars except that there was a strong belief that they were "a load of trouble". However, Richard Zethrin and his team at the now non-existent Hyde Vale Garage were willing to talk to me and reassure me and eventually Richard found me a suitable car which I have owned for the last 14 years.
A year later I "found" Dave Jack at Aston Engineering, Derby. My sills needed repair and I was impressed when Dave Jack took time out to demonstrate on cars in his workshop exactly what was entailed. Since then Dave and his happy team have helped with advice and encouragement, and this has greatly increased my enjoyment of the car. Another "landmark" in the ownership of this car was the superb article written by Andy Chapman in the Summer 1984 AM Magazine giving instructions on how to set up the Bosch fuel injection system. It is well worth studying, although I will confess it took me some time to be able to put all its advice into practice. So the message is clear. If you intend to buy one of these cars, have a specialist who knows and likes them at your elbow. There are three noted above and there are sure to
be others I do not know. Having spotted your DBSV8 and bought it, sit down with your specialist and decide a programme of work. You may find a car that nothing needs doing just at the moment, but you would to be very lucky. Last piece of advice. Having found your specialist, listen to what he says and stick with him. This sounds rather obvious but there are a great number of people who take work to a little man who can undercut the specialist only to find that the specialist has to sort out the very expensive problems in the end. There were only 406 DBSV8s made and probably only 300 or so left in existence as many were turned into racing cars. The scarcity of their numbers means that
specialists in these cars are rare. Remember also that, if you stick with your chosen specialist, he gets to know your car intimately and can spot problems you could not pick up, however keen you are. If he knows you will give him all the work you cannot or will not do, he will be very helpful with advice and help on the things you can do.
I cannot say there have not been times when I have come in from the workshop vowing to sell my Aston. Maybe because you have to have a good sense of humour to own one these cars they seem to attract very charming people, both specialists and owners. But in between the frustrations I have had the greatest possible fun; Aston ownership is a very special experience.