By on March 3, 2020

Listen, I know I’ve given Aston Martin a hard time ever since I’ve started writing about cars. My diatribe about the marque choosing New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as a brand ambassador netted me no shortage of attention from upset sportswriters and morning DJs who cared more about football than I ever could. To my surprise, the ordeal even landed my name in a book about the NFL that nobody read. Despite the indescribable waves of pleasure I feel from bashing the marketing efforts of any high-end brand, Aston’s cars have historically been quite desirable. In fact, I have a gigantic soft spot in my head heart for the V8 Vantage Volante Timothy Dalton drove around in The Living Daylights.

That bodes well for Aston as I prepare to exercise every ounce of pettiness from within my soul to comment up its 70th anniversary celebration of the Vantage. But then the manufacturer decided to put a bunch in an empty aircraft hangar for a photo op and I suddenly remembered that the Vantage name has been tainted by more than just Mr. Brady. 

There was a time when the Vantage name was reserved for the high-performance variants of its already fast GT models. These days, it’s just the bottom rung on its lineup of six-figure (or more) automobiles. Using the DB11’s architecture and a (503 hp) 4.0-liter V8 sourced from Mercedes-Benz means the 2020 Vantage isn’t ever going to be a snooze. But this parts-bin status sort of highlights the fact that some of the specialness formerly applied to the Vantage label has been lost.

Aston Martin’s commemorative release makes countless mentions of past models, including the 1990s supercharged version (based off the Virage) that made roughly 5o hp more than the current model. The manufacturer focused on its dazzling performance and the amount of engineering that went into the car to achieve this.

From Aston Martin:

Its engine was shared with the Lagonda luxury saloon of the day, but it used high-performance camshafts, an increased compression ratio, larger inlet valves and bigger carburettors mounted on new manifolds for increased output.

A true British bruiser, the V8 Vantage’s performance belied its significant heft. Contemporary car magazine road tests claimed that the ‘old school’ Vantage offered superior performance to such greats as the Lamborghini Countach, the Ferrari 512BB and even the Porsche 911 Turbo of the day.

While the current Vantage is no slouch, proving sublimely engaging for those who actually like to drive, it’s not capable of taking down the automotive super predators of today. Aston Martin has a whole lineup of bigger (though not necessarily better) options in its own stable and Porsche will build you a more refined racer for less money. It’s not an issue in itself, but it serves as a stark reminder that the Vantage’s most interesting days appear to be behind it.

The manufacturer didn’t have anything new to tease; no hints were provided of there being a special birthday edition or anything. This can be easily forgiven, as this is the car’s 70th anniversary and not a centennial. Aston has 5 years until it needs to offer something commemorative and another 30 before it has to produce something truly special. Still, had the car remained the top-dog GT car, we’d have all agreed it already was special.

Starting with the DB2 in 1950, the Vantage name meant you were serious about performance in addition to being wealthy. Now the Vantage name just means you saved enough dough to purchase an Aston Martin, which is impressive in the general sense but doesn’t make me want to get to know you. I don’t want to bash an otherwise good grand tourer (minus some minor quality control issues — it’s technically British).

It feels dirty to badmouth a car which I’m only sore with over the trivial matter of having the wrong name, so I’m including this sentence to make myself feel better. Ah, relief.

Honestly, this is probably the direct result of about one-third of Aston’s entire product history coming into existence within the last 20 years. What do you do when you’ve already got the DB11 but also a new entry level model, and need a moniker that adheres to a V-based naming strategy? You dig around around the bin and haul up old titles while using Italian to denote lightness on the DBS “Superleggera” — something which probably should have been called the Vantage to begin while the brand found another way to pay homage to Carrozzeria Touringa.

Aston Martin might make some of the most desirable cars on the planet, but I’m going to keep sicking it to their marketing and product strategy teams. It’s no wonder its share price took a dump last July. Hopefully, Lawrence Stroll has some ideas that will help regain honor for England (or Canada, in his case) and the DBX helps turn things around financially. Happy birthday, Vantage. I hope the next celebration is a little more special.

[Images: Aston Martin]

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