It’s probably best known as James Bond’s car of choice, but Aston Martin has a rich history beyond the silver screen. The iconic DB5 first driven by 007 in Goldfinger is far from the only great car Aston has produced during 105 years in the business. The company is currently at a crossroads, with potentially game-changing new models like the Valkyrie supercar, new Vantage, and Aston’s first SUV just over the horizon. But for now, let’s look back instead of forward, and revisit some of Aston’s greatest hits.
The Ulster wasn’t the first Aston Martin, but it was the car that established Aston’s performance reputation. It was a replica of the race car that won the 1934 Ulster Tourist Trophy, hence the name. A 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine developed 85 horsepower and propelled the Ulster to a claimed top speed of 100 mph — heady stuff for the time.
In addition to being one of the most gorgeous cars ever produced, the DBR1 gave Aston its one and only 24 Hours of Le Mans win. In 1959, Carroll Shelby (later of Shelby Cobra fame) and Roy Salvadori drove a DBR1 to victory in the famous French race. Despite trying hard, Aston hasn’t won since.
Bond. James Bond. What else do you have to say? The DB5 is inextricably linked with 007, and rightfully so. When Sean Connery took the wheel of a DB5 in Goldfinger, he turned Aston Martin into a household name. The DB5 itself was more an evolution of the previous DB4 than a completely new model, but its celebrity status makes it the most iconic Aston by far.
Not to be confused with a more recent model of the same name, the original V8 Vantage was Aston’s attempt to make a supercar out of a tired model that had been on sale for years. In 1977 Aston took the AM V8 and boosted output to 375 hp (later 405 hp). The result was a car that could hit 170 mph — impressive for the time. The V8 Vantage also ended up the James Bond movie The Living Daylights, and it’s a favorite of current Aston CEO Andy Palmer, who owns a 1980 model.
The DB7 is arguably the car that saved Aston Martin in the early 1990s. The DB7 introduced attractive styling that defined Aston for 20 years, and a 5.9-liter V12 that is only now going out of production. All of this was choreographed by Ford, which owned both Aston and Jaguar at the time, and used the latter’s engineering resources to help complete the DB7.
Aston kept building the DB7 for about a decade before replacing it with the DB9. Just as the DB7 defined Aston in the 1990s, the DB9 defined the company in the early 2000s. The DB9 improved upon the DB7 formula with similar styling, but fewer overt connections to Ford, which by then had sold Aston. The DB9 was incredibly long lived, staying in production from 2004 to 2016 and forming the basis for spinoff models like the DBS and Virage.
Entering production in 2009, the Rapide is a four-door model built on a stretched version of the VH platform used for the DB9. While some automakers might have tried to hide the shared lineage, Aston styled the Rapide to look like a stretched DB9. That made for one of the best looking four-door cars in recent memory. This triumph of style over substance (the interior isn’t exactly roomy) is still in production as the Rapide S, with a 552-hp V12. It will also be the basis for Aston’s first all-electric production car.
It may look like a DB9 with a bizarre body kit, but the One-77 was a bona fide supercar. Its 7.3-liter V12 produced 750 hp, and the car had a claimed top speed of 220 mph. To get it into production, Aston Martin teamed up with Multimatc, the Canadian engineering company that is now building the Ford GT. Just 77 One-77s were made, priced at over $1 million each.
V12 Vantage S
This ultimate version of Aston’s “entry-level” Vantage is arguably the last of the company’s old-school models. As Aston moves toward turbocharged engines and increasingly complex electronics, the V12 Vantage S bellows a naturally-aspirated war cry. Best of all, Aston offers the option of a manual transmission to harness the V12’s 563 hp. Not only is the V12 Vantage S a car enthusiast’s dream, it’s fast — 0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, and a top speed of 205 mph.
Until the Valkyrie turns a wheel in anger, the Vulcan is the most hardcore production Aston Martin ever. It was so hardcore, in fact, that it wasn’t street legal. The Vulcan sported a 7.0-liter V12 that produced 820 hp, and aerodynamic aids that could generate 2,323 pound-feet of downforce (2,950 lb-ft with the optional AMR Pro upgrade). Aston organized a driver-training program to ensure the 24 owners didn’t kill themselves.