Autos: Less Is More
With the notable exceptions of hearses and London taxicabs, everything on wheels
seems to travel better as an open carriage. Even ordinary, invisible coupes
become noticeable when their tops are removed and their drivers’ and passengers’
senses are freed from the confines of spirit-stifling metal and glass.
The Aston Martin V8 Vantage is no exception to this premise. By the simple process of decapitation, an already remarkable automobile has been elevated to a glorious roadster. Without a roof over their heads, riders can gorge on every decibel of the car’s rasping, blatting, rude, and thoroughly wonderful exhaust note.
Building the 2008 V8 Vantage Roadster involved an industrial process that stiffened and strengthened the metal frame, but Aston Martin also has employed some form of alchemy, a chemical/spiritual reaction that transformed a peaceful grand-touring coupe (blessedly without pretend rear seats) into an insanely quick, secure-handling sports car.
The athleticism of this baby Aston (an infant in terms of price, dimensions, and horsepower vis-à-vis the V-12 Vanquish and DB9) is rooted in its development program at the Nürburgring, where the purpose was to produce lap times faster than those of a Porsche 911. The Aston Martin engineers succeeded.
“The V8 Vantage Roadster has a real attachment to the road and the environment, through the steering, the brakes, and the gearbox,” said Aston Martin chief executive Ulrich Bez, who was on hand for the car’s media launch in May in the French Alpine town of Gordes. “You don’t have to be a good driver to enjoy it. You can drive it bloody fast and still be involved [with the car] without looking stupid. If you are a really skilled driver, you can take this car to the limit.”
As a coupe, the V8 Vantage is gorgeous. As a car without a roof—with nothing interrupting a fore-and-aft line of sight except for the leather-covered Speedster fairings behind the headrests—the convertible is visual ecstasy.
The top opens and retracts in 18 seconds, and it can be operated at speeds as fast as 30 mph. Of course, the top’s motors and struts add weight to the car, and you have to rob room from the trunk to store the top when it is retracted. But these additions and loss are minimal, a small price to pay for an exquisite $168,000 roadster.
Apart from an optional paddle-shifted manual transmission (the standard is a stick-shifted 6-speed), the Vantage Roadster is mechanically identical to the Vantage coupe. It has the same bonded aluminum, composite, and magnesium body, and the same 4.3-liter V-8 that produces 380 hp. That may not seem like much power, but when the engine has to propel only 3,600 pounds, it can produce a zero-to-60-mph time of 4.9 seconds and an unrestricted top speed of 175 mph.
We hammered the car around Provence and found the Vantage Roadster to be a seductive beast that interpreted as double dares the alpine two-laners that lead to Châteaurenard. The car’s big brakes, instant steering, and perfectly even weight distribution made ridiculous travel possible.
The future of Aston Martin remains unclear. It recently was purchased from the Ford Motor Co. by Kuwaiti petrodollars that former F/1 racing team manager David Richards collected. Insiders say that Aston Martin CEO Bez has signed a five-year contract to continue with the company, and that plans for a four-door Aston Martin Rapide remain in place. Beyond that?
“Well, not an SUV,” Bez said with a smile. “But maybe a light truck.”