In the early 1990s, with Aston Martin wrapped in the corporate arms of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group, the beleaguered British marque needed something new to break away from the long in the tooth V8 derivatives of the DBS, itself a derivative of the DB6.
Ford-owned sister company Jaguar was planning a new sports coupé to replace the XJS and was working with Tom Walkinshaw and TWR Design on some concepts. When Jaguar decided to pull the plug due to financial issues, Walkinshaw took the idea to Aston along with his young designer and fellow Scot, Ian Callum.
The resulting model was the inline-six-cylinder DB7, a step-change in direction and design but the return of the David Brown nomenclature to evoke the spirit of Aston’s glory days. Although an evolution of the XJS chassis, sporting a “Jaguar” TWR-built engine and production-line built in the same Bloxham factory as the XJ220, the DB7 was a huge success for Aston Martin and came to be known as the car that saved the company.
Further developed in both Coupé and Volante format, adding V12 power for the Vantage variant, the DB7 accounted for one third of all Astons ever built with total production of over 7,000 cars.
To celebrate the success of the model and give it a last hurrah, Aston rekindled their relationship with Italian carrozzeria and styling house Zagato – a partnership begun in 1960 with the sublime DB4 GT Zagato. Aston design chief Henrik Fisker (Callum by now well established at Jaguar) and Andrea Zagato (grandson of founder Ugo) collaborated to create the DB7 Vantage Zagato which debuted at Pebble Beach Concours in 2002 and immediately sold out when launched to market a year later.
The new, more curvy body-shell, sitting on a DB7 Vantage chassis shortened by two inches, featured a very distinctive large front grille opening, a signature “double-bubble” roof line which continued down the sculptured glass rear window to a Kamm tail with single round tail lights either side of a flip-down boot opening. Zagato-designed 5-spoke alloy wheel rims completed what was an incredibly striking external look in comparison to the DB7 Vantage.
Inside, high quality aniline leathers (coloured using soluble dyes to retain the texture of the original leather) cloaked the whole cabin and typically featured diamond quilting and embossing to further add to the distinctive luxurious ambiance.
Under the bonnet was the 6.0 litre V12 from the DB7 Vantage, now tuned to 440 bhp and 410 lb.ft of torque coupled with a six-speed manual transmission and capable of a top speed of 190 mph – a slight increase on the 184 mph of the manual DB7 Vantage.
Due to issues around type approval for the shortened chassis, the DB7 Vantage Zagato couldn’t be offered for sale in the USA but the demand was such that an unshortened Zagato variant of the DB7 Vantage Volante was created and named the DB AR1 (AR standing for American Roadster).
Only 100 Zagato coupés for Europe and Asian markets and 100 DB AR1 convertibles for North America were built, 99 of each for sale and the others for Aston’s museum collection. Just under half of the coupés built are in the UK with only 20 still licensed for the road. So to see one it will likely be at an event like the Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court, or for sale at a specialist dealer like McGurk’s, Dylan Miles or RS Williams where it will cost you upwards of around £280,000 to get your name on the V5.
If the DB7 was “the car that saved Aston Martin” then the DB7 Vantage Zagato will forever serve as a fittingly dramatic and heroic finale for the model and it takes its place as one of the best Aston-Zagato collaborations – perhaps second only to the original DB4 GT Zagato.
In my view though it easily tops the list of Zagato designs that most improved upon the original car. Can you think of any better? Let us know in the comments below.