Ask Jack: The Name's Bland… James Bland
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.
It’s a question that comes up a lot more often than one would think, particularly in the lifelong molasses-sludge known as “middle-class American existence”: When purchasing a new (insert name of new thing here), should you get a fully-equipped or high-end item from an “everyday” brand, or should you stretch to the stripped-out base model of the prestige brand? I have a lot of admiration for the fellow who buys a Grand Seiko Spring Drive for the price of a plain-Jane Panerai or Rolex Submariner — but on the other hand, I think a plain wool suit from a Savile Row tailor is probably more desirable than the pimped Zegna Trofeo coats that have accompanied me around the world for the past 15 years.
The fashion comparisons are fun (for me, at least) but the majority of buyers are most likely to face this problem when car shopping. Loaded Camry or base Lexus ES? Yukon Denali or no-options Range Rover Sport? Nismo 350Z or Corvette Z51 1LT? Then, of course you have my pal Chuck, who after years of trawling Porsche’s bargain basement wants to try… something that isn’t much better, IMO.
Across several e-mails, Chuck writes,
What do you think of an older (2007 or newer) Vantage to replace my Boxster….
I still like the Boxster but the newish ones are expensive and I am not ready for the blown 4 boxster yet. Besides, I lookd at an S equipped like mine and it was $85K, crazy. I keep looking at Astons for sale, looks like they might be hard to sell.
The Boxster is now at its new home… A guy bought it as a wedding gift for his fiance without her knowledge and she had never asked for a Porsche (she wanted a Jeep)… Hence, I went Saturday to drive a Vantage and despite you best advice I am again lusting for that car…
Entry and exit in the Evora is impractical for me and, while I still like the XK (drove a coupe last week), it would be hard to drive one knowing I could have had the Aston. Plus, I believe the XKs will continue to lose value just like the XK8s have. Astons are probably at their bottom now, like 308s were a decade or so ago. Any last dire warnings on the V8 Vantage OR another alternative would be welcomed.
As you may be able to guess from reading between the lines here, I’ve been counseling Chuck against a used Aston Vantage. Why, you ask? Simple.
Let’s begin by pretending that the Vantage was the product of a company besides Aston Martin and therefore subject to criticism just like any other everyday ordinary car. Just look at it. The original Benz SLK was hardly any more of a stunted little runt than this 7/8th-scale sports car. It looks exactly like what it is: an attempt to take a sleek four-seat grand-touring car for adults — namely, the DB9 — and shrink it into a cheaper, smaller model that takes up less space on the road, costs less, and uses less fuel.
In other words, it’s the Ford EXP to the DB9’s Fox Mustang. Except the Ford EXP was actually proportioned correctly. The Vantage has this little turret roof on its squished little body. Whenever I see a Vantage, I imagine somebody describing an Aston Martin to a computer hooked to a 3-D printer with a damaged nozzle or something like that.
You can harp all you like about the Boxster, which happens to be Chuck’s old car and is a great example of an entry-level luxury product that almost nobody really wants, or about the 944, which was an odd attempt to sell a VW as a Porsche, or the 914, which was like a 944 only even more feckless, but at least all of those cars had their own distinct style. The Vantage isn’t different from other Astons. It’s just worse.
Defenders of the Vantage, if any exist, may point out that is available with a V8 and a manual transmission. Okay, you have a point. But you know what else is available with a V8 and a manual transmission? Approximately a half-dozen cars that are cheaper, faster, and better than the Vantage. Every Coyote Mustang. Every Corvette since 1997. The E92 BMW M3. I could go on, but I don’t want to get to the point where we are seriously discussing how a used Camaro ZL1 compares to a used Vantage at the same price, because the answer is: like a Smith 629 .44 Magnum compares to an old Model 10 “M&P” surplus .38 revolver.
Did I mention that it’s astoundingly expensive to fix, and that nobody wants to fix them at any rate? What about the interior quality, which is better than that of a Camaro but only marginally so? Have we discussed what they cost to insure?
In truth, we don’t need to do any of that. Because there is only one reason that anybody buys a Vantage, and it’s the same reason that people pay $2,799 on Touch Of Modern for scrubbed up Seventies Rolex Oysters with glossy aftermarket dials and “remanufactured” mainsprings: they want the brand. They want to tell people they have an Aston Martin.
The problem with that is as follows: Car people know that the Vantage is the van-engined 924 of Astons. Non-car people don’t understand what an Aston is. If you tell them it’s the James Bond car, then they will either be confused when they actually see your Vantage or they will laugh at you for modeling your life after a fictional character. Buying an Aston because it appeared in a few movies is as stupid as carrying a Walther PPK for self-defense because “Major Boothroyd” says it hits like a brick through a plate-glass window.
Far better, I think, to buy a car on its own merits. Like the gorgeous aluminum Jaguar XK and XKR, which are perfect classic Jaguars and have no excuses to make. Like the Evora, which would be brilliant even if it wore a Suzuki badge. Like a good C6 Corvette, or a Shelby GT500 Mustang.
If Chuck needs that Aston badge, I think he’d be better off buying a DB7 Vantage with the V12. It was a “Jag in drag” but it saved the company and it looks proper. Or he should stretch for a some-stories-included DB9 like this one. Fifty grand. It will need a few things. But it’s a proper Aston, no excuses needed. Personally, I’d rather be in hell with a British Racing Green XKR than be a servant in Aston heaven with a stubby little Vantage. Count this as one of those many times in literature where the bad guy had the right idea. Chuck, I think you should be a bad boy in a Jag.
[Images: Lexus, Aston Martin]
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