Whether it’s your favorite French pastry or a pair of shoes, the fact that something is handmade usually means that it’s more exclusive, but likely won’t last as something made by an uncaring robot with no emotions or a chance of making mistakes. Here’s what happens when the effects of time, coupled with 60,000 hard miles are applied to a hand made sports car.
For those not familiar with my outright love for depreciated cars, I recently put my money where my mouth was and bought what was likely the cheapest running, clean titled Aston Martin V8 Vantage on the market, at $36,000. While the purchase price was no small number in itself, comparable models were selling for $45,000 and up, likely fueled by the recent outpouring of newly wealthy millennials that realized driving a manual car is really, really fun.
Although my example was in quite good shape for its price, it wasn’t perfect, and driving it nearly 2,000 miles in the first week of ownership allowed me to get nice and intimate with the few misgivings it did possess. Now, before any commenters with an elephant memory mention that Doug DeMuro, CarMax whisperer, already wrote an article outlining the weird quirks of this exact car, this isn’t that.
These are things that are straight up broken on what’s probably the cheapest Aston Martin V8 Vantage in the country.
Starting on the car’s admittedly elegant and better-in-person-than-it-is-in-pictures exterior, a few OCD-triggering faults make themselves known to anyone with a keen eye and a bank account that has just been relieved of $36,000.
For the car’s history of with sliding on iced-over lakes and completing full-throttle runs on a craggy salt flat, there was little in the way of rock chips on the Aston’s midnight silver paintwork, but it did display one hell of a cantaso on the lower bumper in front of the driver’s side front wheel.
It was a scrape that wore under the car’s previously installed and now-yellowing clear bra and gouged the underlying paintwork, topped off with a black scuff mark that would be considered by the average Ferrari owner to render the car as a complete and total loss.
It would require a bit of body filler and paint to be whole again, but knowing the handmade nature of Astons, it’s likely that the paint has a specific amount of flake in it, probably making it impossible to match by anyone other than the exalted ones at the Aston Martin factory.
On the other hand, there’s also a chance that it’s an off-the shelf paint color for a ‘94 Ford Festiva because it’s all the plucky little factory could afford at the time.
I was told by the car’s eccentric previous owner that he bought the car with this blemish and I’m inclined to believe him, unless someone has video evidence of Doug drifting into a parking lot curb with a fist in the air while blasting Public Enemy. Someone please tell me that exists.
To add insult to injury, the car’s driver’s side side skirt is loose on one end, creating a rattle at highway speeds that takes place right behind the driver’s head, but it’s faint enough that it it would go unnoticed by the passenger.
What this means is that on long trips, a hyper-vigilant driver like myself that’s susceptible to become extremely annoyed by the slightest of errant noises, will likely go into a blind rage and snap at whoever is unlucky enough to sit in the passenger’s seat. I didn’t say that exact scenario happened on my 20 hour trip from New Jersey to Florida, but I’m not saying it didn’t either.
Moving up from the body onto the extremely raked windshield reveals a crack extending from the roof to the windshield wiper. This one’s my fault, as I thought it would alright to wash the car after its long journey in the hot Florida sun. The second that slightly cool water touched the windshield, it was cleft cleanly in twain.
My insurance company is footing the bill, but without that coverage, I would’ve been on the hook for around $1000, as the windshield is both quite rare and contains a heating element. I imagine that with the road trips that this car will take in the future, it won’t be my last windshield to replace.
The car’s interior, however, is where one can truly experience the true nature of something being assembled and created by hand. The leather-wrapped dash was likely put together by a charming British grandmother named Myrtle, who, despite not having the full use of her right eye, makes a mean shepherd’s pie.
Unfortunately that means that Myrtle also doesn’t have stellar depth perception and she can’t really sew straight lines all that well, which gives the dash stitching a look wavier than the bodywork expertly executed in an Autozone parking lot, with the edges of some panels simply coming off of their own volition over time because good glue is apparently hard to come by.
What hand built quality also means is that panel gaps aren’t a flaw—they’re a feature. Sure, you could try and make the case that being able to stick a finger in a glove box while it’s closed makes for easy access, I’d argue that a a boutique sports car that was $126,000 when new should have build quality at least on par with my wife’s 165,000 mile Hyundai Elantra.
Putting all that aside, the interior, while dated in some respects, does actually function as intended. The navigation may be from a time when people still looked forward to having a Blockbuster night, but it still works, and for a car with this many potential paths of electrical failure, that’s a feat in itself.
Putting the foibles of the exterior and interior aside, the real dry-sump elephant in the room is the high-strung drivetrain, and mine has one potentially disastrous issue.
It started when I was headed back to New Jersey, one day after buying the car and spending the afternoon with the yahoos at Jalopnik’s New York HQ. Perhaps choosing to depart the city at 5 p.m. wasn’t the brightest idea in my new-to-me sports car, but if foreknowledge was as reliable as hindsight, we’d all be X-Men.
I waited in a line of cars, honking and creating gridlock, when a flashing red warning came on the car’s LCD panel. For those that haven’t seen any ‘80s action movies, red and flashing means imminent danger.
While I can’t remember what exactly the screen read, it said something to the effect of “Limp Home Mode Engaged, Serious Emissions Fault Detected. Pray To Your Personal God Now.”
Immediately I shut off the car, which didn’t alert anyone around me, because I hadn’t moved for the preceding 15 minutes, despite being 50 yards away from the mouth of the Holland Tunnel. I restarted the car and the warning was gone. Ten minutes later, the ominous red message popped up again, and the car’s engine was stumbling a bit more.
I restarted the Aston like an old wireless router and tried again, except now a yellow Check Engine Light illuminated and wouldn’t turn off, despite the car being able to rev out freely. As I approached the tunnel and drove the car successfully to New Jersey without so much as a hiccup from the 4.3-liter torqueless wonder of an engine, I checked and cleared the code with my OBD-II scanner, and it confirmed that there was something up with the emissions system.
After consulting with the person that just sold the car to me two freaking days prior, I realized that this was an issue that DeMuro had previously, and was checked out by Aston Martin. Upon further inspection, the manufacturer determined that it was, get this, normal operation to have the car go into limp home mode after essentially idling for such a long time. Shutting the car off and on was the goddamn standard procedure.
While I don’t buy that for a second, I do know that the car’s stock exhaust setup is quite restrictive, so I will be remedying that in short order, along with an ECU tune that will run the stock pig-rich ECU tune a bit leaner, to give better power under the RPM curve and eliminate the chance of that red warning ever coming up on my dash ever again. It’ll also have the effect of longer oxygen sensor life, which is what I think the initial problem was anyway.
After giving the car a 2,000 mile Italian tuneup on I-95, no other mechanical issues dared make themselves known, much to my surprise and relief. The car, as it stands now, has a little over 61,000 miles.
While that may not be enough to most people, a Lamborghini with that mileage will have likely spent my Aston’s entire purchase price on maintaining the engine.
My Vantage, however, has simply required routine oil and filter changes, with the occasional $20 serpentine belt thrown in the maintenance schedule.
Hell, I even think the spark plugs are the original ones installed from the factory, and for a car that delivers such consistent performance and driving experience on a daily basis, I don’t think I could’ve asked for more, even if it is a little rough around the edges.