We are Delighted to offer this remarkable Aston...
A landmark car in the Aston Martin story, but also a truly great driver’s car – that’s the mk1 Vanquish. Peter Tomalin explores what makes it so special, drives Paddleshift and manual examples back to back, and finds out everything you need to know if you’re tempted by this modern classic
In 2023, leading performance car magazine EVO celebrated its 25th birthday by naming the 25 most significant performance cars of the last 25 years. Close to the top of the list was the V12 Vanquish. This was EVO’s citation…
"Twenty-five years ago, Aston Martin was building tiny handfuls of glorious but positively Jurassic V-car behemoths at Newport Pagnell. Sure, the Jaguar-based DB7, being produced in rather larger numbers down the road in Bloxham, had provided the company with a financial lifeline. But something bold, entirely new and entirely Aston was needed to prove that the winged badge had a future.
It was at the 1998 Detroit Auto Show that Jac Nasser, head of parent company Ford, revealed a startlingly handsome, front-engined super-GT concept called Project Vantage. It had been styled by Ian Callum, it featured Aston Martin’s first V12 engine, and it was received with something approaching rapture. Now all they had to do was put it into production.
The birth was somewhat protracted, partly because it coincided with the arrival of new CEO Ulrich Bez, who had his own ideas about some of the details! Evo got its first look at the production car, now renamed Vanquish, in the late summer of 2000 but it would be almost another year before we and others drove the finished article. In the meantime, the DB7 Vantage with a version of the Vanquish’s V12 had been launched, which kind of stole a little of the new model’s thunder. Still, in the September 2001 issue of evo, Dickie Meaden drove the new Aston flagship – and loved it. ‘A front-engined supercar that redefines the breed,’ was his conclusion.
With a radical (partly Lotus-developed) platform that combined extruded, bonded aluminium with carbonfibre, a six-speed paddleshift transmission (Aston’s first) and a more vocal, 460bhp version of the DB7’s V12, all wrapped in super-plastic-formed aluminium panels, the £160,000, 190mph Vanquish was a giant leap forward for Aston Martin and the car to take the fight to Ferrari’s 550 Maranello.
It wasn’t perfect. The automated manual transmission was a little clunky and ponderous, especially in the earliest examples. That would be improved over time, markedly so when the 520bhp ‘S’ version was launched in 2004, also heralding tighter suspension damping, more powerful brakes, and a pleasingly updated facia.
But right from the start the fundamentals were there. The construction was genuinely mould-breaking and would lead directly to the VH platform that would underpin an entire generation of Astons, starting with 2004’s DB9. Crucially, it gave a stiff and relatively lightweight platform for the suspension to work from, that suspension in turn providing GT levels of comfort with real composure.
The transmission, despite its initial teething problems, was another step into the modern age for Aston, and the 5.9-litre V12 engine was simply glorious. Yes, it had its origins at Ford, but it was and would remain unique to Aston Martin. Indeed it would serve for an entire era of both road and race cars, but it has seldom sounded better than in the Vanquish.
That soundtrack was undoubtedly one of things that made – and still makes – driving a Vanquish such a very rich and rewarding experience. When the full orchestral effect hit at around 5000rpm, even contemporary Ferraris struggled to match it. And the chassis’ blend of suppleness with control – along with with bags of feedback to build the driver’s confidence – would always be something to savour.
But you only had to look at it to be seduced. Ian Callum seemed to have an instinctive feel for reinterpreting classic Aston styling cues for the modern age. He’d pulled off a minor miracle in reworking a stillborn Jaguar coupe as the DB7, but the Vanquish was in a different league again. This time he’d taken his inspiration from the immortal DB4 GT Zagato. You can see the ghost of that car in the Vanquish’s broad, aggressively sculpted grille, the flow of the front wings and the exaggerated rear haunches.
Its charisma remains undimmed today. Just like certain people, some cars have presence. Something about the way they hold themselves draws your attention and won’t let go. The Vanquish is like that.
Had the Vanquish not been such a game-changer, had it not been so warmly received, both by Aston enthusiasts and crucially by Ford management when Project Vantage was revealed back in 1998, then it’s questionable whether the investment in Gaydon and the raft of new ‘VH’ models that followed would have happened at all. Had it been another dinosaur, it could have been game over.
Vanquish was very far from a dinosaur. It heralded a confident new design language; it ushered in new materials and construction methods; it put Aston Martin back at the forefront of high-performance cars – somewhere it hadn’t really been for decades – and it showed that Aston could lead and innovate.
If the DB4 of 1958 signalled the start of Aston’s original golden era, the Vanquish kick-started a new golden age that would see Gaydon-built cars, led by DB9 and Vantage, achieve unprecedented sales. Quite simply, it sparked the most successful period in Aston history, and for that Aston fans – and really anyone who enjoys the rich tapestry of performance cars – should be forever grateful."
Early Autumn, and I’m heading over to Nicholas Mee & Co to sample not one but two mk1 Vanquishes – a 2007 Vanquish S with the standard-fit paddleshift gearbox, and a 2005 car with the Aston Martin Works manual conversion. Transmissions aside, they’re perfectly matched, which should make for a fascinating comparison.
What’s more, I’m driving across in my own 2006 V8 Vantage, which will provide another intriguing perspective – Vantage and Vanquish, Astons of a similar age but with different pedigrees and quite distinct characters. It’s a tough job, etc…
First it’s into the paddleshift car – or Auto Shift Manual/Select Shift Manual to give it its official title (ASM/SSM for short). It’s a welcoming interior and a richer, more sumptuous experience than that offered by the contemporary Vantage and DB9. They do share some of their minor switchgear, but the Vanquish has unique architecture and a number of unique details too, such as the polished aluminium door spars with their AM script. Overall it feels a touch more bespoke than the Vantage and DB9 – reminders that it was the last model to be built at Newport Pagnell (excluding the recent Continuation models) and largely assembled by hand.
Fire up that 5.9-litre V12 and if the roar of 12 cylinders doesn’t put a smile on your face, then you’re probably ready for your first EV. The Vanquish sounds particularly good, even by Aston standards – something to do with its unique intake and exhaust manifolding – with a rich, breathy quality to it.
You can put the gearbox in Auto mode and leave it almost entirely to its own devices, but past experience tells me it works slightly better – and is considerably more enjoyable – in Manual. So pull back on both paddles to select neutral, then it’s a tug on the right-hand paddle to select first and move up through the gears; left paddle to come back down.
Almost as soon as the wheels are turning you can sense the tightness of the structure and the underlying suppleness of the suspension, aided by a little extra pliancy from a slightly taller tyre sidewall than you tend to find in more recent high-performance cars. At first it feels as though you’re sitting a touch high, especially in relation to the low-set instrument binnacle, but the feeling dissipates the further you drive, helped by the fact that you feel so connected to the car, both through the steering and through your backside.
Turn in to a corner at speed and there’s quite a bit of initial give in the suspension as you load it up – considerably more than in a contemporary Vantage and probably a DB9 too. So it doesn’t have quite the same sharpness of response. But this calmness in the ride and the steering is true to its super-GT nature, and in fact when you push on you uncover a real depth of composure. It also feels entirely natural as it shimmies its hips at the exit of a corner – everything relayed back to the driver in a rich stream of feedback from both ends of the car.
Outright performance naturally can’t match today’s hypercars. But it’s strong and urgent enough to be engaging, the power swells pleasingly, and that soundtrack is very special indeed. Sustain an open throttle past 5000rpm and you rouse the full string and brass sections of the V12 orchestra. No V8 can touch that.
Understandably, the gearshifts can’t match a modern dual-clutch transmission for speed or smoothness, but they’re all the better for a slight and well-timed lift of the throttle. There’s satisfaction to be derived from finessing the shifts, both up and down the ’box – approaching T-junctions and roundabouts it’s much slicker if you paddle through the down-changes yourself.
But there is another option on the transmission front. Back in the mid-2000s, Aston Martin Works at Newport Pagnell developed a conversion from ASM to a traditional manual gearbox with a stick shift and three pedals. By a stroke of luck, Nicholas Mee & Co have another pristine, low-miles Vanquish S in stock, this one a 2005 car that was subsequently converted to manual by Works.
The gearbox is physically the same Tremac unit but with all the electronics and hydraulics stripped away and some internal changes too. Oh, and some surgery to the Vanquish’s central carbonfibre tunnel to allow a lever to emerge through it, while a clutch pedal takes its place in the footwell.
Around 100 cars have had the conversion, at a cost of around £20,000. Which is a substantial sum, but it’s all very well executed and beautifully finished – as you’d expect for what is, in effect, a factory conversion, developed by some of the engineers who built the car originally.
Both the clutch pedal and the shift action have a similarly weighty feel to the V8 Vantage’s, but once everything’s warmed through and you’ve tuned in to the Vanquish, you can palm the gearstick around the six-speed gate with pleasing ease.
What’s more, you immediately feel more connected, more in control, more involved. It subtly changes your perception of the Vanquish. For a fleeting second, you can almost kid yourself you’re driving a sports car – the pedals are well-positioned to pivot your braking foot and give the throttle a squeeze on down-changes.
Get too carried away and the Vanquish’s weight and slightly cushioned responses are there to remind you that, while it is many things, a sports car it ain’t. The Vanquish does things its own way – and it’s all the better for it. The manual adds another layer of driving enjoyment to what is already an immensely enjoyable car. There’s just enough of the hand-crafted about it to connect with its Newport Pagnell roots. But at the same time it’s tangibly a giant stride on from the DB7 and the old Virage-based monsters that came before it.
It’s also the consummate GT. Driving down the Hertfordshire back-roads near Mee & Co’s base, you’re constantly thinking about the big road trips you’d want to do in it. Le Mans, perhaps, or even further afield. And whatever your destination, you’d always take one last lingering look back.
The team at Nicholas Mee & Co have no doubt about the Vanquish’s significance in the long story of Aston Martin.
‘The Vanquish is, to us, one of the most important cars in Aston Martin’s 110-year history, a real landmark car,’ says commercial director Neal Garrard. ‘Had it not been well received, Ford may not have had the confidence to back the company, build a new factory at Gaydon, and commit to the DB9 and everything that followed.
‘It marked a repositioning for Aston Martin. Like the DB4 in the late 1950s, it was an announcement to the world that this was what the company was going to be about in the future. It also had real global appeal and attracted a new kind of buyer who probably wouldn’t have considered the old coach-built cars.
‘And they absolutely nailed the design. It’s muscular but it doesn’t try too hard. One of the beauties of the design is its simplicity: more than 20 years on, the silhouette still looks as good as the day it launched. When you see a Vanquish out in the wild, on the road, you really do look twice.
‘And of course, shortly after production began sit appeared in the Bond film Die Another Day. As product placement goes, it really doesn’t get any better!’
That 2002 film was Pearce Brosnan’s last outing as 007 and saw him issued with a brand new company car – the V12 Vanquish – by Q division. It was equipped with front-firing rockets, machine guns, even a passenger ejector seat in homage to the original Bond Aston, but most famously a cloaking device that rendered it invisible – ‘the Vanish’, as it was dubbed by Q. Its starring role immediately boosted Vanquish sales, with Tungsten Silver, the colour of 007’s car, becoming the most popular paint choice.
So just how many Vanquishes were sold, and how do the numbers break down?
Around 1500 examples were built before the S version came on stream in summer 2004. Around 1000 Vanquish Ss were subsequently produced, including a final short run of 50 ‘Ultimate’ editions. A few additional special builds brought the total to 2578. It’s a sizeable number compared with previous Newport Pagnell-built cars – but not compared with around 16,000 DB9s and even more ‘VH’ Vantages, which is why the Vanquish remains such a rare sight.
The S, which ran until production ended in July 2007, was a significant improvement over the original in a number of ways, with power boosted to 520bhp, improved gear-shifting, uprated suspension and quicker steering, bigger Brembo brakes, a revised aero package and a leather-wrapped centre console. And that difference has always been reflected in values.
When they reached the bottom of their depreciation curves, non-S Vanquishes dropped to around £50k at one point; whereas Vanquish Ss seldom dropped any lower than £80-85k. Then in the mid-2010s values began to climb quite steeply – at their height, a really good S was fetching around £130,000, and an end-of-line Ultimate limited edition £175,000-plus.
Those values have cooled a little since then. Today, that same Ultimate would be £150,000-plus, while £100,000 gets you a really nice, low-mileage, collector-condition Vanquish S. ‘For a non-S Vanquish, best budget for £75,000,’ says Neal. ‘You do see them for less, but they generally have quite patchy service histories.’
In between there’s the ‘SDP’ for Sport Dynamic Pack, an upgrade option on the regular Vanquish that provided the chassis upgrades that would soon be standard on the S but kept the regular Vanquish’s 460bhp engine. Just 94 were thus equipped, making it quite a rarity. ‘For around £85,000-£90,000 it’s quite a compelling proposition,’ says Neal.
And what about paddleshift versus trad manual? The Works manual gearbox conversion generally adds a 10-15 per cent premium, but there are two distinct schools of thought as to which is the most desirable.
‘For the customer who likes a car to be just as it left the factory, the paddleshift is the car to have,’ says Neal. ‘And speaking personally, I would very happily have a Vanquish S with the paddleshift – because the Vanquish isn’t a car I would be driving so hard to the point where the gearbox couldn’t keep up. If I wanted a sports car, there are other Aston Martins I could choose…
‘And I’d say the gearbox really suits the nature of the car. No, it isn’t as quick as gearboxes we’ve become used to 20 years on, but it’s very appropriate for a GT car that’s doing those big distances.
‘That said, I believe that the manual will continue to command a premium. It’s very well executed – almost to the point where you’d never know the car was never offered with a manual when new. Only about a hundred cars have had the conversion out of about 2500, and as the Vanquish is appreciated more as a classic car in years to come, the manual might well be viewed as more desirable.’
So what of the future prospects for Vanquish values? ‘I’d be surprised if they become much more affordable than they currently are,’ says Neal. ‘And when the world settles down again, I can see them outperforming most Gaydon-built cars over the medium to long term.
‘They have a soul and a charisma that arguably the Gaydon cars can’t quite match. The hand-built nature and the relatively small volume of cars available only adds to that specialness.
‘We’re lucky enough to drive all these cars on a daily basis, and whenever I get in a Vanquish it does feel more of an occasion than, say, driving a DB9 or a DBS. You have to think about the process of driving a little bit more – but isn’t that exactly what you want from a high days and holidays car?
‘And you have to treat it with respect – in the case of the Vanquish S there’s 520 brake horsepower under your right foot. But it’s a lot easier to make quick progress than in, say, a V550 Vantage, which really does command the utmost respect. And it’s a great GT car. It has true ride quality. You can do 200-300 miles and get out the other end not feeling fatigued.
‘For someone in their 40s or a little older, looking for a modern classic that’s perfect for driving to Caffeine & Machine or on a road trip to Le Mans, a car that will always gain you kudos with those in the know, the Vanquish ticks an awful lot of boxes.’
Commercial Director at Nicholas Mee and Company
‘There’s a perception that Vanquishes are onerous to maintain. It absolutely doesn’t have to be the case.’ The words of Chris Green, service and aftercare manager at Nicholas Mee & Co.
‘Buying a good one in the first place is key,’ Chris continues, ‘and that means a car that's been regularly and properly maintained.’ The worry here is that when Vanquish prices reached the bottom of their depreciation curves, some cars weren’t looked after as they should be.
But buyers shouldn’t necessarily expect them to have been serviced to the factory schedule, adds Chris. ‘The official servicing schedule is six months or every 7500 miles, and you’re not going to find a Vanquish that’s been serviced every six months. Every 12 months would be nice, but every 18 months is fine, given the typical mileage these cars do.
‘What is critical is that the servicing has been done by a service agent who really knows the cars and has the specialist tools. For example, to configure the gearbox and set all the parameters for the gearchanges you need to plug in a piece of equipment known as The Spider, which is an expensive bit of kit.’
On the subject of gearboxes, it’s possible to have the automation of an early Vanquish modified to the later, improved electro-magnetic system to make the gearchanges smoother and more positive. Software improvements to later cars can also be retro-installed, as can the uprated clutch from the S.
‘Most of the cars we now see have had the necessary upgrades,’ says Chris. ‘Again, the important thing then is making sure it’s set up properly and well maintained.’
Having the correct equipment to access the onboard diagnostics for the powertrain and other systems – as the service department at Nicholas Mee & Co does – is critical. Among other things, this will allow checks for any engine misfires. The V12 is essentially a very robust unit if properly maintained but can suffer from misfires – never easy to detect from the driver’s seat – which can point to failing coil packs. A full set of replacements can cost as much as £xxxxxx.
‘For all these reasons, we’d strongly recommend a pre-purchase inspection,’ says Chris. ‘To inspect the underside of the car, you need to remove the aerodynamic flat floor. And it’s particularly important with the Vanquish because it’s the only way to inspect the front subframe.
‘This is made of steel, it wasn’t well protected against corrosion at the factory, and it is prone to rust. If it’s not regularly cleaned off and rust-treated, it will eventually perforate. If you need to replace the frame it could cost as much as £xxxxxxx.
‘We have a well-tested way of treating them which will preserve them very successfully, and to be honest you don't see many bad ones these days, but it is still important to check.’
So, are mk1 Vanquishes more expensive to maintain than Gaydon-built cars? Yes, to a degree. ‘They are going to be more expensive than, say, a DBS or second-generation Vanquish,’ says Chris, ‘primarily because parts are more expensive – and that’s because a lot of them were made only for the Vanquish rather than being shared across a range of models.
‘We think a realistic budget to maintain a Vanquish, averaged over a three to five-year period, is £2500 a year where a Gaydon DBS might be £1500 a year.
‘Importantly, though, there isn’t anything especially exotic in the servicing schedule – unlike Ferraris of a previous generation that required their engines to come out every three years! The most expensive service – and all the prices are available through our Fixed Price Servicing menu at nicholasmee.co.uk – is £1985, which is when it’s recommended to change the spark plugs along with other items.
‘So yes, expect it to cost more to service and maintain than a DB9, but then this was Aston Martin’s flagship, 200mph, super-GT. Buy the best you can afford, get it inspected, have it serviced regularly by a specialist who knows the cars, and it should be a joy to own.’
Service and Aftercare Manager at Nicholas Mee and Company