|Corrosion can be an issue but it’s crash damage you need to be on the look-out for|
If it hadn’t been for the DB7, Aston Martin would almost certainly be nothing more than a footnote in the motoring hall of fame by now. With just a handful of cars trickling out of the Newport Pagnell gates by the early 1990s, Aston Martin was a basket case that needed some serious investment: something new owner Ford was able to provide. Okay, so there were plenty of XJ-S parts under the DB7’s skin, but when the outer wrapping was as good as this, did anybody care? It didn’t seem so; the DB7 stole the show at the 1993 Geneva Salon.
The lithe, muscular shape was universally admired but, while everyone was rooting for Ford’s latest offshoot, those who tested the first cars felt the beauty was merely skin deep. It may have been an Aston but the ergonomics, build quality and braking all needed work.
As a result, the series 2 cars, unveiled for the 1997 model year in 1996, were a big improvement. However, while the firm created a car that was more worthy of the badge, it wasn’t until the V12-engined Vantage of 1999 that the DB7 finally came of age. Even then, it was only with the final incarnation, the GT, that the DB7 could really give its key rivals a run for their money dynamically.
Chiltern Aston is arguably the UK’s premier DB7 specialist, and Derek Campbell is their sales director. Says Derek: ‘There are two distinct types of buyer: those who want to use their car and those who want to mothball it. The first kind will typically want a late six-cylinder auto, while the latter choose an early six-cylinder manual or a GT.
‘The earliest cars are now worth £27,000; there are cheaper examples around but they’ll typically need £10,000 spent on them to make them decent. These series 1 DB7s are more rewarding to drive and have a purer interior design than the series 2; those are the cars with airbags, comfier seats and softer damping, but more powerful brakes and headlights.’
Derek continues: ‘Although Volantes aren’t especially sought after, they still carry a 10% premium over the coupé. The cheapest open DB7 currently fetches £35,000; an extra £5000 will secure a Vantage coupé, while the open-topped equivalent is £44,000.
‘That leaves the run-out models, the GT and GTA. Because the GTA is essentially only a restyled Vantage, it isn’t worth a premium over the standard car. But with its Vanquish-spec V12, a GT fetches anywhere between £55,000 and £65,000 – and with just 84 made in right-hand drive form, there’s not much chance of values going down a lot further.’
The six- and 12-cylinder powerplants are both strong, but they’re not vice-free. Being all-alloy units it’s essential that anti-freeze levels are maintained if they’re not to suffer from internal corrosion. Replacing the coolant every two years is advised; if this hasn’t been adhered to, the engine will overheat. Crucially, V12s use OAT anti-freeze and nothing else; if the system has been topped up with standard fluid, the two will have reacted and turned to jelly, wreaking havoc in the process.
The supercharger belt should have been replaced every 30,000 miles; it’ll snap if it isn’t renewed. That won’t cause any damage, however: you’ll just end up with the horsepower count being much reduced when you end up with a naturally aspirated straight-six.
The exhaust tends not to cause problems because it’s part-stainless and well protected underneath the car. However, six-cylinder manifolds can crack where they go from three into one; replacements cost £140 plus fitting, and there are two of them.
Six-cylinder DB7 buyers could choose between a five-speed manual Getrag gearbox or a four-ratio GM automatic; Vantage buyers were offered a six-speed Tremec manual or five-ratio ZF auto. All units are very strong and easily capable of transmitting the power without problems, but still do the usual checks for intact synchro on the manual and smooth changes on the auto.
Differentials need to have their oil renewed every 30,000 miles; if this hasn’t been done, wear will have occurred. It’s hard to spot, though, because all DB7 axles whine to a degree. Rebuilt units are available off the shelf, with the total replacement cost a very reasonable £1100 or so.
SUSPENSION, STEERING AND BRAKES
Although the suspension isn’t renowned for giving problems, it is of paramount importance that the geometry at the front is spot-on. If it isn’t, the tyres will wear unevenly, perhaps to the point where the inside edges are worn through. Turn the wheels to check.
Cars with the Driving Dynamics package are highly sought after, carrying a 20-25% premium as long as they have everything installed. This package allowed owners to pick and mix between brake, suspension, wheel and bodywork upgrades; but most chose to buy one or two bits rather than the whole lot. The kit used to cost £15,000, but it’s now available off the shelf for around a third less; choosing the chassis improvements alone is money well spent.
Although the DB7’s brakes are not a weak spot as such, they could be stronger. If the car is driven really hard, it can lead to overheated brakes and warped discs. The juddering will be obvious. The cure is fresh discs and pads, at £83 and £137 respectively (£199 and £187 for the Vantage).
DB7s were fitted with 8x18in alloy wheels as standard, with 9x18in rims on the rear of the V12. The wheels can distort if the car has been driven quickly on poorly surfaced roads, because the inside of the rim isn’t supported adequately. The wider rear wheels of the Vantage are even more prone to distortion, and they’re even more costly at £447 each; the six-cylinder car’s wheels are £376 apiece. If the optional three-piece Aliseo alloys have been fitted, make sure the lacquer is intact, because it often isn’t.
When it comes to tyres, pressures and brands make a big difference to wear rates and handling. It’s best to stick to the Bridgestone Expedias (S01 on DB7 and S02 on Vantage) originally specified by the factory; they suit the DB7’s chassis better than anything else available.
Serious rust isn’t an issue for any DB7 that’s been properly cared for, although there are a few areas underneath that can suffer from minor corrosion. You need to check the jacking points, radius arm mountings and front bulkhead, as these will be the first areas to succumb. The scuttle and air-conditioning drain tubes also get blocked, leading to water collecting in the double-skinned bulkhead. This then makes a bid for freedom by eating away the metal; by the time the problem is noticeable, it’s too late as it’s an MoT failure point. Putting everything right means removing the dash and engine (or at least the cylinder head), at a cost of between £2000 and £4000.
Although corrosion can be an issue, it’s crash damage that you really need to be on the look-out for. Your first port of call must be HPI (+44 (0)1722 422422), to check the car’s history. If everything comes up okay, you still need to be vigilant for poorly repaired damage.
Front-end impacts are common. If the car’s nose has been crunched, the chassis rails under the engine may be distorted, along with the subframe that carries the engine. Once this subframe has deformed, uneven tyre wear and odd handling traits will be evident, so be wary if the car has a fresh set of boots.
Panel gaps are usually tight and even, although some early DB7s weren’t that great. However, if you’re buying a later car you can expect a much better fit and finish. Again, it’s the front of the vehicle that you need to inspect the most closely, especially the bonnet and wing gaps. If it looks as though the composite wings, boot lid and bonnet are suffering from rust bubbles, it’s actually because the panels have been inexpertly repaired – although the bonnet was made of steel from the 1997 model year. New panels are the only long-lasting cure, with wings £470 apiece while a bonnet is £1700 and a boot lid is £1000. Bear in mind that all these prices are for the parts alone; you’ll need to add painting and fitting.
In the car’s history, see if it has been given a new windscreen at any point. If so, the plastic scuttle trim may have been incorrectly refitted; it often is, leading to water getting into the cabin. Once this happens, the carpet can rot, along with the floorpans. Also, the two ventilation fans can be ruined: they’re £620 new (£375 exchange) each.
ELECTRICS AND TRIM
A Cobra alarm was fitted to early cars, but from the 1997 model year there was a factory-developed system installed. This has a remote operation for the door and boot locks, but it’s easy to press the latter by mistake. The boot lid then opens only fractionally and it’s often unnoticed – but the luggage bay light comes on and the battery goes flat, stranding the car.
Don’t dismiss a damaged headlamp on a six-cylinder car, because these units are now obsolete. The only cure is to replace both lights with the V12 version, and they’re £871 each.
Also don’t ignore a non-functioning air-conditioning system, either. It may simply need a £100 recharge but more likely the evaporator needs renewing; at £400 the part isn’t too costly but it takes two days to do the job and suddenly the bill leaps to £3000. Part of the problem lies in the way DB7s are used – occasional driving is bad news for any air-con system.
All DB7s featured leather trim as standard; it isn’t especially durable so make sure there’s no serious wear. The trim should have been treated every year or two as preventative maintenance to stop the hide deteriorating; if this hasn’t been done, there may be cracking and possibly even splits. Also likely are broken seat catches: they’re plastic and easily damaged. But they’re also easily replaced, with fresh ones costing only £4 each.
If you’re buying a Volante you need to cast an eye over the roof because problems can arise. The hood iron bolts in the rear quarters are provided with rubber covers to protect the fabric; these sometimes disappear, allowing the frame to create holes in the roof. The only permanent fix involves letting in fresh material – something that has to be done by a soft-top specialist.
The original six-cylinder DB7 is rarer than you might think, with just 2461 examples built, including 885 Volantes. The Vantage is more common, with 4100 produced, around half of which were drop-tops.
There are open or closed cars, six-cylinder or V12 models and manuals or autos – in any combination. Left-hand-drive cars cost 30-40% less than right-hookers.
Whatever you buy, you must ensure it has a full service history: the car should have received attention every 7500 miles or six months according to the factory. However, because most models cover few miles each year, an annual service is usually sufficient. The key ones to watch for are at 30,000-mile intervals for six-cylinder cars and 45,000 miles for the V12.
You’ll pay a premium for buying from a dealer or specialist, but it’s usually worth it. If you take the private route, have an inspection of the car done; since the DB7 went out of production, many parts costs have been slashed yet others have increased massively. But then, if you do your homework before buying, you’re not going to have to buy too many spares – as long as you use the car regularly. Which shouldn’t be too much of a hardship.
» Thanks to Derek Campbell of Chiltern Aston.