Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

Clarkson on: the DB7

Imagine, just for a moment, that no car firm had a history. Imagine there'd never been any racing at Spa or Le Mans. Imagine there'd never been a film called The Italian Job and that Bullitt was a spelling mistake.

Suddenly, every car would have to be judged, not on preconceived ideas or expectations, but on what it's like in the here and now. Where would that leave the Aston Martin DB7 Vantage?

You'd look hard at that £94,000 price tag and think: hang on a minute, what exactly am I paying for here? Not space, that's for sure. Because the engine's whopping great computer is located under the driver's seat, the only person who could get genuinely comfortable behind the wheel is Anne Boleyn.

Performance? Hardly. It may have a six-litre V12 engine under the bonnet and it may make the noise of every thunderstorm there's ever been but the speedo does not exactly move round the dial like lightning.

So what about the driving; the sheer string-backed, tweedy thrill of hurling this 420bhp British GT car up some mountain pass? Well the car I drove this month was by far the best I've ever tried. It had a nimbleness I've never encountered in a DB7 before. It braked straight and true. It was nice.

But it still wasn't as nice as the competition.

So perhaps it's loaded up to the gunwales in expensive electronic trickery? Nope. You get air-conditioning and a woman in the radio who tells you where to go but that's it. Can I even set a temperature and expect the cabin to remain just so? No, I can't. No matter what you do with the knobs, which come from a 1940s gramophone via the XJS, all you're offered is either an icicle in the eye or a jet of invisible flame.

Have you ever tried moving the seat in a Vantage? The only people who might be capable of doing such a thing are those surgeons who can remotely operate delicate equipment while watching a television screen. The switches, you see, are in a quarter inch gap between the handbrake and the seat.

I could go on. So I will. You can't open the boot unless the ignition is on. The satnav woman is only interested in taking me to Letchworth. And oh no, I just banged my head again, getting out.

"No matter what you do with the knobs, all you're offered is either an icicle in the eye or a jet of invisible flame"

Then there's the gearbox. While it's nice to have a six-speed manual bolted to that wonderful engine - I wish they'd do it on the Vanquish - I wonder why they've chosen to fit something that was plainly designed for a combine harvester.

We can't forget either that, before the V12 came along, DB7s were exactly the same, only badly made and much slower.

Which brings me back to where we started. Why is this the most successful Aston Martin of all time? Why does anyone buy it at all when it is so comprehensively thrashed by the Mercedes SL, the Porsche 911 and even that big Fiat called the Ferrari 360?

And why is it just about impossible to find any DB7, even an early one, for less than £50,000 in the secondhand sections. They just seem to get to this point and stick, no matter what you do with them. ‘For Sale. DB7. Five years old. Regularly raced and rallied. Two million miles. Used as a hen house for past two years. £50,000. No offers.'

Why? Well let's re-introduce the name at this point and see what happens.

For sure, as you leave the house of an evening it sounds good to say, in a Leslie Philips's voice, "Shall we take the Aston?" But what does that mean exactly?

None of us is old enough to remember Aston Martin's heroic but usually doomed attempts to win Le Mans in the Fifties. And if we are old enough, we should be in bed by now, with some Ovaltine.

James Bond leaps into the frame, of course, but let's be honest. He hasn't used an Aston since he stopped being Scottish and became Australian. All through his English, Welsh and Irish years, he's been in something else.

Whatever, I don't think the name is it. It'd be easy and comfortable to think people buy the DB7 because of some past glory on the race track or some heroic moment in the cinema but that's only a small part of it.

I think a big part of it is that styling. This is one of those cars that you simply cannot walk away from without turning for one last look. It's like sitting opposite a stunning girl in a restaurant; you can't concentrate on your food, and you don't even notice that your wife has got up in a temper and left.

Some say that the new Guigaro concept car - the Alfa Romeo Brera - has stolen the DB7's beauty pageant sash but I say pah. Italian cars, and particularly Alfas, only ever look good when they are launched. They date as well as milk. The DB7, on the other hand, looks as good today as it did when it first nosed out of the factory. And it will continue to look as good forever.

It may even improve. New laws, due to be imposed in 2005, mean cars must offer the same level of protection as they do now, even if the occupants are not wearing seat belts.

Couple that to proposed new rules about pedestrian safety and in future, you're going to be sitting six feet from the windscreen in a car with a bonnet like the cow catcher on a trans-Nevada express train.

Never again will we see the classic long nose and short tail which have, since the Sixties, been the hallmark of truly good looking cars. The original Mustang. The Ferrari Daytona. The E-Type. And best of all, the DB7.

But can styling alone justify the price tag? Well it must do. There's no other reason I can see why some one would buy such a car.

And £94,000 for a piece of art is nothing. I went to that Henry Moore park up north where the fields are littered with his meaningless sculptures - one looked like a giant piece of sheep shit - and I'll bet that every single one was worth half a mill. Maybe more.

I recently bought a steel wolf which sits in the garden frightening the children and it was, how can I put this, expensive. Not DB7 expensive, obviously, but it's not as pretty.

Nothing is, apart perhaps from the Humber Bridge and the Blackbird SR71 spy plane.

If I were rich enough, and contrary to what you may think, I'm not, I'd be happy to buy a DB7 and put it on a pole outside my house.

As a driving machine it's worth about £4.50. The name adds another 40p. The looks make it worth a million.

 

Jeremy Clarkson, Column

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