If you're a thirtysomething pistonhead like me, odds are good you once had a poster of a Lamborghini Countach on your wall. Most likely, the Countach spent the duration of your puberty sandwiched between a Ferrari Testarossa and Kathy Ireland. But you probably didn't have a picture of an Aston Martin V8 Vantage. And I say picture instead of poster because they didn't print posters of the British supercar — I had to cut mine out of Car and Driver. Even freighted with pimples, hairy palms and a funny voice, I just knew the reserved British charmer was far cooler than its rival Italian extroverts. Stemming from my still lingering teenage fantasies, I nominate the original Aston Martin V8 Vantage for induction in the Jalopnik Fantasy Garage.
Some of you might balk at the appellation of "supercar" applied to anything rolling out of Newport Pagnell before 2001 (think Vanquish). However, all you Queen-haters do need to step off, as the V8 Vantage was not only Aston Martin's first supercar, but Britain's as well (and yes, I'm fully aware that AMs stopped coming from Newport Pagnell when Ford bought 'em). And hell yeah was it a supercar! When the Vantage first debuted in 1977, the V540's "375 to 380 bhp" gave it a top speed of 170 mph. And that made it the fastest car in the world.
Let us meditate on that for a moment. Star Wars had just been released, burning "the jump to light speed" into the collective consciousness. Top-end mattered. The truly radical (and equally powerful, i.e. 380 bhp) LP400S Countach could only hit 164 mph. We don't even want to speculate about how slow Ferrari's 512 BB was, what with its puny 340 horses [Actually, it was 162 mph that year — ed.]. The Porsche 911 3.0 was just barely coughing up 200 hp and the (awesome) 928 was still a year away. Even if you were to argue that 1978 model year 928s were available for sale in 1977, they could barely crest 150 mph. The Corvette? 180 hp, dude. Plus of course, the Vantage could seat four. Moving on.
Aston Martin had used the moniker "Vantage" for some time to describe cars with a more powerful engine. But the V8 Vantage was much more than just a checkbox. The Vantage was in fact a separate line. Despite what Jeremy Clarkson says about European cars, no one back in the salad days of cocaine and amyl nitrate poppers was really interested in stopping or turning, so the brakes and suspension setup remained unchanged from the standard V8. However, top speed mattered very, very much. So several aerodynamic tweaks were made to reduce lift at 170 mph. They were essential in a car with a chassis design that predates Watergate. The grill was closed up, as was the intake scoop on the hood, creating a very butch and good looking "bonnet bulge." Air was fed to the radiator and four big-ass Webers via an intake below the deep front air dam. And how can we forget the twin 5" Cibie driving lights stuck into the gaping catfish maw? Oh yeah, we can't.
The version we'd like to stick in our Fantasy Garage is the 1978 Series 2 V8 Vantage "Oscar India" (short for "October Introduction"). Featuring an integrated hood scoop and ducktail spoiler (as opposed to the bolt-ons found on the series 1), the 1978 iteration is to our eyes without question the best looking of all Vantages. The Oscar India was slick inside, too as all the vinyl on the dash was replaced with leather. And if there is one thing we love above most other things, it is leather on a dash. Seriously, sit in a Maserati some time. Also important, the Oscar Indias still had the uber-sexy 15" GKN wheels, as opposed to the wider and grippier but so-much-more garish BBS 16"s that eventually became standard. With the fatter wheels came bigger arches, which looked more screaming chicken than Q-car. Of course the eventual and inevitable 5 mph bumpers ruined the rear end. But back to the beginning, and while the Germans will never understand this, you couldn't think of a hotter name for a car than "Oscar India." We tried. Also, before you vote, please consider that the Vantage came standard with a cigar lighter and ashtray. Seriously folks, the original V8 Vantage is one of the greatest cars ever.