Aston Martin Zagato driven from DB4 GT to V12 Vantage

2019 James Lipman and Drive-My EN/UK

Every Aston Martin Zagato driven from DB4 GT to V12 Vantage. All The Zagatos. From DB4 GTZ to V12, we drive the lot. Plus, those Centennial one-offs. These cars represent one of the greatest collaborations in motoring. We celebrate the Aston Martin Zagato. Words Richard Meaden. Photography James Lipman.


As any enthusiast of the marque knows only too well, Aston Martin wrote the book on crisis management. Hardly any wonder when its very survival has been threatened so many times. Yet no matter how dark the days, those at the helm have always managed to summon the strength, initiative and sheer bloody- mindedness to weather the storm.

No-one steered the company back from the brink with quite the panache of Victor Gauntlett. In this issue we take a privileged glimpse into the life of this colourful and magnetic personality. Drawing on the memories of his sons, Richard and Michael, and illustrated with evocative images plucked from the family archive, it’s a wonderful feature and an education for those of us who never had the pleasure of meeting the man himself before his untimely death in 2003.

Every Aston Martin Zagato driven from DB4 GT to V12 Vantage

Every Aston Martin Zagato driven from DB4 GT to V12 Vantage

Of the many initiatives Gauntlett sanctioned during his time at the helm, reviving the partnership with Zagato was one of the most inspired. Now it seems like such an obvious thing to do, but then it came as quite a shock. It’s hard to imagine any car company boss approving such a controversial design, yet the fact Gauntlett had the courage to afford Zagato total creative licence is the reason why, even when surrounded by all its siblings, the V8 remains utterly compelling. Our Zagato cover story begins on next page.




There is no collective noun for a group of Aston Martin Zagatos. As you’re unlikely to see even one of these cars, let alone a clan gathering, that’s hardly a surprise. However, when you’re standing in a courtyard ogling the half-dozen limited production models that represent half a century’s output from one the world’s most exciting creative collaborations, the lack of an appropriate term suddenly seems a major omission from the automotive lexicon.

A zig of Zagatos would be fun but flippant. A gasp would accurately describe every bystander’s first-sight reflex, but still it doesn’t quite capture the unflinching and often shocking individuality that has come to define the work of Italy’s most controversial styling house. Let your eyes rove the DB4’s blissful curves, then immediately shift to the unsettling brutality of the V8 Zagato and you’re struck by the contradictions that exist within this illustrious Anglo-Italian bloodline. Beautiful cars. Ugly cars. Even ugly-beautiful cars. A paradox of Zagatos, then. Or perhaps an enigma?

One thing of which we can be certain is that this gathering is a unique opportunity to get to know these intriguing machines as never before. With time to drive and, yes, to simply stand and stare, we’ll have the benefit of each car providing the perfect – perhaps the only – context by which to truly judge the others. But where to start? At the beginning would make sense, but, this being a story about Zagatos, we’ll challenge convention by starting at the beginning and the end.


Aston Martin Zagato driven from DB4 GT to V12 Vantage

Aston Martin Zagato driven from DB4 GT to V12 Vantage

Our bookends to 50 years of sporadic creative genius are the DB4 GT Zagato and V12 Zagato. Both start with exceptional Aston Martins as their base then run with them to a point way beyond that which the factory would feel comfortable exploring with series-production models. The fact the modern car was built to celebrate the original’s 50th birthday only serves to strengthen the bond between them, and to make the prospect of driving them back-to-back all the more special.


So much has been written about Zagato’s take on the DB4 GT it’s almost impossible to steer clear of cliche. History, rarity and value have only served to augment its significance and desirability, while its beauty remains impervious to the passage of time, like some four-wheeled Dorian Gray. Few cars have such tautness and purity of form, fewer still such perfect proportions. It’s a truly captivating sight.

With gossamer-thin aluminium bodies hand-formed by Zagato’s artisan panel-beaters, it’s inevitable that no two DB4 GTZs are identical, but this car’s differences are more distinctive than most, with a more pronounced beak, softly contoured grille and a striking chrome bead that begins where there would normally be an Aston Martin ‘strake’ and runs the length of the doors. DB4GT/0200/R was the first built and the 1960 British motor show car. It also enjoyed a distinguished racing career. Today it is owned by Simon Draper, who has recently returned it to its original roadgoing specification. One of the world’s great car enthusiasts, Simon has amassed an exquisite collection over the last 25 years, and five of the six Zagato Astons you see in this feature are his (he’s so far resisted the AR1). There’s little doubt, though, that 22 XKX has a special place in his affections.

Approaching this iconic car with the intent to drive it feels thrilling, slightly surreal and rather intimidating, not least because of its delicate body and £5million value. The first thing that strikes you is its daintiness. It really is small, and when you pull on the driver’s door it feels laughably light, swinging on its hinges as though filled with helium. It seems wrong to slam it, but two tentative, respectful tugs see the latch clatter defiantly against its keep. Reluctantly, and with a wince, I close it like I mean it and the door thwacks shut.


The seat is tiny but beautifully sculpted, with a low, curving back and a pair of buttresses that provide a little lateral support but generally leave you feeling rather exposed. I reach for the reassurance of a seat belt, but there is none. With Simon riding shotgun – a condition of the insurance rather than at his insistence – it feels intimate, but there’s enough elbow and shoulder room to work with. The big three-spoke steering wheel feels fabulous in your hands, its thin wooden rim hinting at a driving experience that trades heft for deftness. A couple of pumps on the throttle, a twist of the unpretentious ignition key hanging from the centre of the black crackle-finish dashboard and the straight-six kicks into life, its meaty pulse fidgeting the stationary DB4 on its springs and filling the cockpit with a heady miasma of burnt and unbumt hydrocarbons. Bliss.

With a little trepidation you snick the thin gearstick across the tight, well-defined H-pattem gate into first, release the fly-off handbrake, tickle the throttle and ease-in the clutch before moving away without any fuss or racy hissy fits. At low speed the sensations you get through the car are alien to those of a modem car. The unassisted steering feels a bit dead and disconnected around the straight-ahead. Over bumps a 21st century car would simply absorb, the DB4 shimmies as the energy of the wheels hitting potholes is transmitted into the structure of the car. With experience you come to appreciate that this is what makes old cars feel alive and new cars feel numb, but if you’re only used to modern machines and their miraculous structural rigidity, cosseting NVH qualities and flattering power-assisted controls you’re almost certainly in for a culture shock.

Fittingly, the great joy of driving the DB4 Zagato comes with speed. The jittery ride settles and the disconnected steering tingles with life and feel. You don’t steer it so much as nudge it through corners, your initial input setting you on a graceful course from apex to exit. It feels light and lithe, dancing on its tyre-treads like a speedboat coming up onto the plane. You can place it just-so, exploiting the improved balance, agility and precision it enjoys over a regular DB4. That gloriously gutsy straight-six snorts and howls as only a motor fed by thirsty carburettors can. Always pulling strongly, but with a perceptible uplift in enthusiasm when fueling and engine revs hit their sweetspot, it really gets up and goes.

Out of deference to the car, its owner and that insurance value my right foot blends out of the throttle not long after the engine begins to hit its stride. Simon’s having none of it, waving his hand like a conductor and urging me to let the straight-six sing. Oh well, if you insist. Winding a DB4 GT Zagato through the gears on a sweeping Sussex road with its laughing owner bouncing up and down in the passenger seat beside me is one of the more surreal moments of my motoring life. But that’s the miracle of this car: when hustled as intended, it drives even better than it looks.

It would be easy to walk away from the DB4 and find anything else an anti-climax, so it’s all credit to the V12 Zagato that it is anything but. Zagato had less design input with this car than they have with previous Aston Martin collaborations, but the influences are obvious. Yet while the V12 Zagato takes its lead from the DB4 there’s no question it makes its own statement, incorporating classic signatures and fresh flourishes in an original and truly spectacular fashion. Most importantly it could not be mistaken for anything other than an Aston Zagato.

It’s a compact car by modern standards, so while it inevitably feels bigger and bulkier than the DB4, it retains some of that car’s tailored feel. The shallow side windows and rakish roofline set it apart, and the striated stitching that runs over the seats and headlining creates a fabulous sense of motion. The sight of a gearstick protruding from the transmission tunnel is a source of joy, for it signifies this Zagato as one of the last great V12-engined cars to feature a manual ‘box. A product of 2011 it might be, but in many respects the V12 Zagato is an old soul and all the better for it.

The starting ritual is simple. With your foot depressing the clutch you push and hold the lozenge-like ‘key’ into the dashboard slot. After a momentary chum of the distinctive-sounding starter, the 5.9-litre V12 punches into life with an exuberant flare of revs before settling into a relaxed idle, tailpipes humming to a mellow, muscular beat. All the major controls – steering, clutch and gearshift – have a satisfying, homogeneous weight that suits the car. The ride is firm. Not uncompromisingly so, but there’s definitely an edge to it that suggests a no-nonsense character, with sharper responses than the V12 Vantage on which its based.

You don’t need to work the V12 hard to sense its potential. Indeed you can surf along on the low-rev torque, short-shifting through the six-speed ‘box and enjoying the elastic performance in the higher gears. Dig deeper and the urgency you unleash is almost startling, the V12 Zagato shifting from mild-mannered to malevolent as the tacho winds past 5000rpm. The sound is sensational; a big-hearted fanfare that’s animalistic in its rawness but symphonic in a way that only 12-cylinder engines can be. It’s not as gritty and mechanical as the DB4, but it’s bloody marvellous nonetheless.

Where the DB4 is about handling over grip, the V12 is much more about road-holding, as is the modern way. With over 500bhp it has to be, but it does mean you need to be travelling far faster before the car feels like it’s working. The poise, body control, traction and especially the braking (via huge carbon ceramic discs) are all light-years ahead of the DB4, as is the pace at which you can cover the ground. However, like the DB4 it thrives on commitment, so if you’re prepared to give your all you’ll find a car that needs skill and confidence to master yet works with you, indeed relies upon you, to get the absolute best from it. That it does so in a day and age when many old-school driving skills are being made redundant sets the V12 Zagato apart. That it does so in a manner that elevates it above the already excellent V12 Vantage is welcome proof that an Aston Martin Zagato remains much more than just a pretty face.


ENGINE In-line 6-cylinder, 3670cc

MAX POWER 314bhp @ 6000rpm

MAX TORQUE 278lb ft @ 5400rpm

TRANSMISSION Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, limited slip diff

FRONT SUSPENSION Double wishbones, coil springs, monotube dampers

REAR SUSPENSION Live axle, trailing arms, Watt’s linkage, lever-arm dampers

STEERING Rack-and-pinion, unassisted

BRAKES Solid discs front and rear

WHEELS 6 x 16in, wire spoke front and rear

TYRES 205/70 x 16 crossply front and rear

WEIGHT 1225kg

POWER TO WEIGHT 261bhp/ton

0-60MPH 6.1sec

TOP SPEED 154mph

PRICE NEW £5470 (£103,000 in today’s money)


ENGINE V12, 5935c

MAX POWER 510bhp @ 6500rpm

MAX TORQUE 420lb ft @ 5750rpm

TRANSMISSION Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, Isd

FRONT SUSPENSION Double wishbones, coil springs over monotube dampers, anti-roll bar

REAR SUSPENSION Double wishbones, coil springs over monotube dampers, anti-roll bar

STEERING Rack-and-pinion, hydraulic power-assistance

BRAKES Vented carbon ceramic discs, 398mm discs front, 360mm rear, ABS, DSC, EBD

WHEELS 9 x 19in front, 11 x 19in rear

TYRES 255/35 ZR19 front, 295/30 ZR19 rear

WEIGHT 1680kg

POWER TO WEIGHT 308bhp/ton

0-60MPH 4.2sec

TOP SPEED 190mph

PRICE NEW £396,000 (2011)

Above and right: DB4GT/0200/R was the first built and features a unique, hairpin-shaped strip around the wing vent. This car was raced for much of its life, including Le Mans in 1962, where it retired after nine and a half hours. This page: Launched to coincide with the DB4 Zagato’s 50th in 2011, the V12 Zagato is based on the V12 Vantage. Wavy stitching brings an extra touch of drama to the cabin. 19in wheels (opposite) frame carbon-ceramic brakes.


DB4 GT Zagato: Spada’s masterpiece

The DB4 GT had been introduced in 1959, with five inches cut out of the regular DB4’s wheelbase to save weight and improve agility, and with a more powerful, twin-plug version of the 3.7-litre straight-six. The Zagato version, which went on sale in 1961, was even lighter, thanks to its thinner-gauge aluminium bodywork and Plexiglass rear windows. It was also slightly more powerful as a result of a higher compression ratio, and more aerodynamic too, its slippery shape the work of Zagato’s brilliant young designer, Ercole Spada.

The Italian, then in his early 20s, had just joined Zagato, and incredibly the DB4 GT was his first job. He would go on to create several more seminal designs for Zagato, before moving on to Ford and then BMW, but the Aston is perhaps his most celebrated work.

Aimed primarily at privateer racing teams (Aston Martin had officially withdrawn from motorsport at the end of the 1960 season), the DB4 Zagato was raced in period by the likes of Stirling Moss and Jim Clark. It enjoyed sporadic successes, but on track it could be something of a handful and it was often out-paced by the V12-engined Ferrari GTs.

DB4 GT Zagato: Spadas masterpiece

DB4 GT Zagato: Spadas masterpiece

It remains, however, a fabulous road car, and one of the rarest and most sought-after of all Astons. A run of 25 was planned, but take-up was slow, and just 19 of these wonderful cars were built (or perhaps 20, depending on which source you believe!).

In the late 1980s, then-Aston Martin chairman Victor Gauntlett commissioned a run of four ‘continuation’ Zagatos using leftover chassis numbers. These became known as the Sanction II cars. A further two cars (Sanction III) were produced in the early ’90s.


V12 Zagato: born to race

Although it features many of the familiar Zagato styling cues – double-bubble roof, pumped rear haunches, gaping grille – the main styling credits for the V12 Zagato go to Aston Martin’s own design director, Marek Reichman. After a series of consultations with Zagato on how best to celebrate the 50th birthday of the DB4 GT Zagato in 2011, Sheffield-born Reichman (above) did a brilliant job of paying tribute to the ’60s classic while creating something fresh, bold and original: in other words something entirely comfortable with its Zagato badging.

Using the magnificent V12 Vantage coupe as its base, the V12 Zagato was bodied and trimmed at Gaydon in the facility that had been used to build the One-77 supercar, utilising the time-served skills of the Aston Martin workforce. Each and every aluminium body panel was hand-made, using an English wheel and traditionally formed wooden bucks.

But the V12 Zagato wasn’t just a styling exercise. Like its illustrious ancestor, it was born to go racing, specifically in the VLN endurance series. In fact the race version came first. It was lighter (just 1350kg), featured a slightly more powerful engine and paddleshift sequential transmission, and sported dramatic aerodynamic aids. Two cars, known as Zig and Zag (above), raced in the 2011 Nurburgring 24Hrs, finishing 5th and 6th in the SP8 class. The following year, Zig came 2nd in class, the drivers including Vantage’s Richard Meaden.

Aston Martin V12 Zagato

Aston Martin V12 Zagato race

The road car went into production in 2012. The initial plan had been to build 150, but when the V12 Vantage Roadster was announced, the Zagato run was reduced to 101 cars, each carrying a price tag of £396,000.


V8 Zagatos

The DB4 might be the timeless icon of the group, but whenever I hear or see the name Zagato it’s always the V8 that I think of first. Given I was an impressionable teenager when it first shocked the world in the late 1980s, that’s not a surprise, but even I’m a bit nonplussed at the way this pugnacious car has managed to grip me so completely for so many years without me ever having driven one. Until today.

There’s no question this particular Aston was a product of Zagato’s punk era. Like the Alfa SZ that was assembled in Zagato’s production facility, the V8 was an iconoclastic design that revelled in its ability to arouse powerful and divergent emotions, often at the same time in the same person. It seems astonishing that this was the successor to the DB4 GT Zagato, but then the 25 years that stand between them were amongst the most liberated and forward-thinking periods in car design.

So the V8 Zagato coupe is the very personification of ugly-beautiful, but in shaking convention by the lapels – and polarising opinion in the process – there’s a sense the genius of its design was lost in the furore that surrounded it. It’s nearly 30 years since it first rocked us on our heels, and while it retains the power to shock it’s now possible to take a metaphorical step back and appreciate just how radical and successful the transformation was from V8 Vantage to V8 Vantage Zagato (and of course, Zagato Volante, which we’ll get to in a moment).


Aston Martin V8 Zagato Volante vs. Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato

Aston Martin V8 Zagato Volante vs. Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato

Zagato’s efforts were dedicated to shedding weight, reducing aerodynamic drag and gaining performance. Some 17cm shorter and 200kg lighter than the regular V8 Vantage, it was Aston’s first two-seater since the DB4 GT. With flush-fitting glass, stubby overhangs and a snortier, 432bhp version of the potent 5.3-litre V8 giving a top speed in excess of 180mph and a 0-60mph time of less than 5sec, it was one of the fastest and most accelerative cars in the world, thrusting Aston Martin into the spotlight alongside Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche. To do so in such a provocative manner, and in the face of the cutting-edge Group B Ferrari 288GTO and Porsche 959 was a brilliant piece of PR and marketing by Aston Martin’s bullish leader, Victor Gauntlett.

This particular car was ordered from new by businessman Peter de Savary, then quickly acquired by Simon Draper, who had it resprayed in the same shade of Aston racing green as the magnificent Project 214 racer. He also embarked upon enhancing the performance and handling with the help of marque expert RS Williams. It was quite common for Zagato owners to go for Williams’ 6.3-litre conversion, less so the full-on near- 600bhp 7.0-litre V8 found in the nose of E607 KYH. The spec also includes Rose-jointed suspension, redesigned seats for added under-thigh support and an exhaust system that appears to shun silencing for amplification.

The interior is an odd mix of futurism and tradition, the clean modernist design of the seats at odds with the upright dash, cluttered, clunky switchgear and old-fashioned gearknob that looks like it’s made from Bakelite. Ahead of you sits that mountainous bonnet bulge (necessary to clear the airbox for the Weber 48 IDA carburettors beneath), rising into view from the flat bonnet and flanked by a pair of distinctive NACA ducts. In your peripheral vision you’ll catch glimpses of the side windows, bisected by funky fenestration that allows one section to lower and raise within the main pane of glass. It’s a fabulous, intriguing and characterful driving environment that has your pulse quickening even before you’ve turned a wheel.

Starting the 7.0-litre V8 is akin to triggering an explosion, the whole car rocking and throbbing to its seismic beat. It’s a hotrod, but a cultured one. Dip the clutch and pull across and back for the dogleg first gear, then let the torque do the work, feeding the clutch in without any revs. At low speed you can hear the odd squeak and creak from the Rose-joints in the suspension, but the upside is a tremendous sense of connection to the car and the road surface itself. It feels alive and hungry for road.

Much attention is given to a car’s power-to-weight ratio, but it’s often torque-to-weight that leaves the biggest impression and shapes the driving experience. As the V8 Zagato is light, powerful and immensely torquey you have the absolute best combination of attributes. Consequently it feels effortlessly fast, modest throttle openings really punching you down the road. It’s an incredibly exciting car to be in, the view, feel and immense reserves of performance combining to deliver an intense, all- consuming experience.

It handles, too, thanks to a responsive front end and a good balance of grip front-to-rear. Of course you can sense the tail is willing to do the throttle’s bidding, but if you keep things smooth and don’t take liberties with your right foot the front end will find its limits first, gently pushing wide under power but tucking neatly back into line when you ease off the throttle. You don’t need long behind the wheel to appreciate it’s a confidence-inspiring car to thread quickly along a twisty road, and one that would continue to reveal more secrets with every journey.

With so many cars to drive, time is limited, but I have to confess to spending rather longer in this Aston Zagato than I ought. It’s just one of those cars that’s a constant pleasure to drive. Miles melt beneath its wheels, inclines are steamrollered, straights devoured and corners strung together with poise and verve. What’s most impressive is that while the monstrous engine is central to the driving experience, it doesn’t overwhelm the car as you might expect. Given it has a good 40 per cent more power than the regular V8 Vantage Zagato, that’s testament to the inherent balance and ability of the chassis.

Don’t mistake this for a suggestion that it’s anything less than wild, though. In terms of its all-out performance, I reckon it’s just the right side of insane (always a good thing in my book), but the clever bit is that it will go slowly, too. Not that you’ll want to, but it is at least an option. What you don’t have a choice with is the noise. I’ve never before experienced a car that produces sounds you can feel as well as hear, but when you give it some stick the pops, bangs, rumbles and gunshots really do come crashing through the exhaust pipes, sending percussive shockwaves up through the fioorpan like hammer-blows as they fight their way to freedom. It’s truly a noise from the gods.

All this power and glory would be useless if the Zagato couldn’t stop, so it’s a relief to find it has decent brakes. Not anywhere near the league of the V12 Vantage Zagato, but because you don’t tend to stand cars like these on their nose into every corner the brakes feel more than up to the job, with great progression and decent power and stamina. I suspect they’d need nursing if you took this monster on track, but they’re no cause for concern on the road.

Compared with the coupe, the V8 Zagato Volante looks rather genteel. Losing that distinctive turret top and fancy glasshouse robs it of two unique and distinctive features, but it still has undeniable presence. The interior reflects a rather softer brief, too, pale hide and a classic wooden- rimmed steering wheel suggesting a car dedicated to less feral, febrile thrills. The impression is somewhat misleading, however, as this is one of a handful of Volantes ordered with the 432bhp Vantage-spec motor from the factory. That means it also has the huge bonnet bulge to clear the stack of bored-out Weber carbs (most Zagato Volantes had the less powerful fuel-injected engine and hence a flat bonnet that looked neater, but rather emasculated) and it does without the curious headlight covers that resemble the lid of a roll-top desk.

It’s a handsome, surprisingly understated car and a genuinely beguiling driving experience. Quick too, but far less combative than the war-like 7.0-litre coupe. The power delivery is sweeter, its responses slightly softer, the soundtrack steely but with a suggestion of mellowness and musicality. It’s an impressive and enjoyable car to drive, but to me Zagatos are meant to be athletic shrink-to-fit coupes, so while I can appreciate the Volante’s broad appeal, the hardcore coupe is the car I’d always yearn to drive. Especially in 7.0-litre spec. A brain-out 20 minutes in this epic piece of ’80s exuberance would keep you buzzing for a week. Raw, explosive, anti-social and completely addictive, it’s just about as exciting as road cars get. If I could take any of these cars away with me, this would be it.


ENGINE V8, 5340cc

MAX POWER 432bhp @ 6250rpm

MAX TORQUE 400lb ft @ 5000rpm

TRANSMISSION Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, Isd

FRONT SUSPENSION Double wishbones, coil springs over monotube dampers, anti-roll bar

REAR SUSPENSION De Dion axle on trailing arms, Watt’s linkage, coil springs over monotube dampers, anti-roll bar

STEERING Rack-and-pinion, hydraulic power-assistance

BRAKES Vented 11.5in discs front, vented 10.4in discs rear

WHEELS 16in cast alloy

TYRES 255/50 R16 front and rear

WEIGHT c1600kg

POWER TO WEIGHT 274bhp/ton

0-60MPH 4.8sec

TOP SPEED 186mph

PRICE NEW £87,000 in 1986 (£220,000 in today’s money)

TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS Aston Martin V8 Zagato Volante (Vantage spec)

EENGINE V8, 5340cc

MAX POWER 432bhp @ 6250rpm

MAX TORQUE 400lb ft @ 5000rpm

TRANSMISSION Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, LSD

FRONT SUSPENSION Double wishbones, coil springs over monotube dampers, anti-roll bar

REAR SUSPENSION De Dion axle on trailing arms, Watt’s linkage, coil springs over monotube dampers, anti-roll bar

STEERING Rack-and-pinion, hydraulic power-assistance

BRAKES Vented 11.5in discs front, vented 10.4in discs rear

WHEELS 16in cast alloy

TYRES 255/50 R16 front and rear

WEIGHT c1635kg

POWER TO WEIGHT 268bhp/ton

0-60MPH c5.0sec

TOP SPEED c180mph

Opposite page: This Zagato Volante was one of six that were factory-uprated to Vantage spec, hence the bonnet bulge and exposed headlights. Designer of both the coupe and Volante was Giuseppe Mittino (below) Opposite and below: Flush-fitting glass reduced drag, while a panel within the side window dropped down for those autostrada tollbooths. Cockpit, with its angular dash and all-black trim, is almost as uncompromising as the exterior.


V8 Zagato: child of the ‘80s

The mid-1980s saw a surge of interest in super-exotic low-volume supercars from wealthy collectors. Porsche had its 959, Ferrari the 288GTO, and Aston Martin chairman Victor Gauntlett decided Aston should have its own slice of a very lucrative pie. Looking back through the company history, he seized on the 1961 DB4 GT Zagato (of which he owned an example) as the ideal model for an ultra-collectable, high-end Aston.

Zagato leapt at the opportunity to renew the collaboration, and its then chief designer Giuseppe Mittino produced a set of drawings for a modern take on the DB4 GTZ – shorter, lighter and radically different from the regular 1980s V8 Vantage on which it would be based. Armed only with these drawings to show potential customers at the 1985 Geneva show, Gauntlett managed to secure deposits for the whole proposed run of 50 cars at a (for the time) eye-watering £87,000 a pop.

Vantage chassis were shipped out to Italy, where Zagato panel-beaters would hand-form the thin-gauge aluminium bodywork around the wooden buck (below). More weight was saved by making the V8 Zagato a two-seater and by using Perspex for the rear windows. Altogether around 200kg was trimmed from the Vantage saloon’s kerb-weight. The next challenge was to deliver enough power to take the V8 Zagato to Gauntlett’s targeted top speed of 300kph (186mph).

V8 Zagato: child of the ‘80s

V8 Zagato: child of the ‘80s

That meant carburettors, the Weber 48s being bored out to 50mm to help deliver a quoted 432bhp. A prototype was timed at 185.8mph on an empty stretch of French autoroute, though whether customer cars could have achieved the same is open to question.

With the coupe being such a commercial hit, Gauntlett then announced a run of 25 Volante versions. However, to keep the coupe buyers sweet, it was declared that the convertibles would have the less powerful fuel-injected V8 (though a number were taken straight back to the factory and uprated to Vantage spec). Again, demand was high and the eventual run of Volantes totalled 37.

The V8 Zagato wasn’t intended as a race-car, but a handful – including one famously owned by Rowan Atkinson – have been raced in AMOC events in recent times.



Much like fine wines or whiskies, Zagato Astons seem to get better with age. The DB7 Zagato and DB7-based DB AR1 never had the V8 Zagato’s initial shock value, but that’s largely because they followed in its wake. They were also less of a stylistic departure from the regular production car than the V8: an evolution rather than a total reinvention.

The DB7 is the first Zagato I drove when it was a brand new car. I was already very familiar with the V12-engined DB7, having been fortunate to live with a GT for nine months when I ran a long-term test car for Vantage’s sister magazine, evo. As a result, I came to Simon Draper’s DB7 Zagato with genuinely informed expectations, rather than the naive curiosity I’d harboured for the DB4 and V8. It didn’t disappoint.

I can still remember the day I saw – and drove – a DB7 Zagato for the first time. It began with that disquieting unease that Zagato designs often generate. Some elements I loved instantly – the bubble roof and softly curved rear window. I also loved the fact that the wheelbase was a little shorter and it was mechanically related to the DB7 Vantage GT, the most focused and dynamically together DB7 that Aston ever built. I didn’t like the single round tail-lights, and it was disappointing that much of the body remained steel, but the indulgent curves and the oversize mouth with its chip-cutter grille gave Ian Callum’s familiar, graceful and comparatively polite design some real attitude.


Aston Martin DB7 Zagato

Aston Martin DB7 Zagato

That was 12 years ago, in which time the DB7 Zagato has aged well. Simon’s bright blue example looks fabulous. It’s still a bit awkward from some angles, but it has undoubted star quality. The interior, still too new to be classic, but too old to look contemporary, is less impressive. Those Ford group-sourced switches look a bit cheap (in truth they always did) and the instruments also seem a bit too mainstream for a car that is rightly regarded as exotica. Those areas that Aston could influence, such as the wonderful aniline leather upholstery, lift the ambience and feel unmistakably special. Despite the lack of expensive detailing it has that all-important sense of occasion, especially when you glance in the rear-view mirror and see the distortions generated by that undulating rear screen.

Powered by the GT’s 435bhp version of the 5.9-litre V12, the DB7 Zagato sounds like it means business. Not as brassy and bombastic as the V12 Zagato, but big-hearted and potent nonetheless. The six-speed manual gearbox has a weighty shift quality but a longish throw. The clutch requires modest effort. Thanks to the V12’s abundant muscle and smooth manners it makes assured, comfortable progress in that all-important getting-to-know-you phase when you begin to bond with the machine.

Explore more of the throttle’s long travel and the DB7 Zagato reveals a satisfying blend of emphatic, any-revs response, rounded ride, measured steering and sure-footed balance. It lacks the iron-fisted body control and direct responses of the V12 Zagato – and feels significantly heavier than the V8 Zagato – but it’s far from a blunt instrument. Wind it through the last 1500rpm of its rev-range in the intermediate gears and it’s still a supremely rapid car, lungeing between the comers with the kind of otherworldly shove that makes any V12-engined car so seductive to drive.

Where it scored over a DB7 GT when new, and what ensures it’s still a fun car to hustle, is the increased agility you get from the shorter wheelbase. It’s keener to peel into corners, sharper and more incisive when you ask it to make quick direction changes. Where a DB7 seems to lean on its front axle through fast comers, the Zagato prefers to share the work more evenly between the front and rear, so it always feels more eager and finely balanced. There is traction control, but it’s a far cry from today’s sophisticated systems and can feel a bit clumsy and slow-witted when it does intervene. It can be disabled, but hooning really isn’t the DB7 Zagato’s style. Better to keep things smooth, get it settled into the comer then revel in the V12’s huge spread of power and soaring soundtrack.

Much like its name, the DB American Roadster 1, or DB AR1 for short, is something of a strange fish. Built only for the USA after homologation issues prevented the DB7 Zagato from being sold Stateside, the AR1 borrowed heavily from the “the coupe’s” styling but applied it to the longer wheelbase of the standard DB7. With no roof whatsoever, it was designed for a charmed life on the sun-baked West Coast – or more likely in the air- conditioned, dehumidified cocoons of wealthy collectors’ garages. As a result, European enthusiasts regarded it somewhat sniffily (I know I did) for it seemed too compromised to be taken seriously.

Was that strictly fair? Looking at the DB AR1 among the other Zagatos, I think it probably is, though I’ll concede it does look rather more graceful than I remember it. The real problem is, much like the V8 Zagato Volante, lopping the roof off seems to diminish its identity. This is even more marked in the case of the DB7, losing such a pronounced ‘double bubble’ roof and beautifully sculpted rear window. That said, the DB AR1’s double-cowl deck lid makes its own dramatic statement – and you’re better able to admire that quilted leather interior.

It’s incredibly rare to see a DB AR1 in the UK, which is reason enough to celebrate its presence in our gathering, but as its styling and target market suggest, the driving experience is more boulevardier than B-roader. The longer wheelbase makes it feel less dynamic than the coupe, which in turn means you feel less inclined to drive it with genuine commitment. It’s a softer and more mellow machine, which, though not a crime, does seem at odds with what a Zagato should be. Whether this was the reason Zagato was not included in the name isn’t documented.

Of course, the obvious benefit of having no roof is your exposure to the elements. On a summer’s day it would most certainly be a fantastic experience, not least because it immerses you so completely in the V12’s sonorous exhaust note. And if the svelte AR1 is the least compelling of this group, that only speaks volumes about the enduring magic of Aston Martin and Zagato’s inspired – and inspirational – partnership.

Huge thanks to Simon Draper, and also to Aston Sales of Kensington for supplying the DB AR1, which is currently for sale. More at

Below and right: DB7 interior enhanced by copious quantities of aniline leather for the DB7 Zagato. Opposite: the way the curves of the roof are continued into the rear screen is one of the DB7 Z’s most striking features. Opposite and below: Deprived of a roof (of any kind), the DB AR1 features an echo of the ‘double bubble’ in its rear deck. Below: Zagato’s chief designer, Norihiko Harada, and some of his sketches for the DB7 Zagato and AR1.


ENGINE V12, 5935c

MAX POWER 435bhp @ 6000rpm

MAX TORQUE 410lb ft @ 5000rpm

TRANSMISSION Six-speed manual or five-speed auto, rear-wheel drive

FRONT SUSPENSION Double wishbones, coil springs, monotube dampers, anti-roll bar

REAR SUSPENSION Double wishbones, coil springs, monotube dampers, anti-roll bar

STEERING Rack-and-pinion, hydraulic power-assistance

BRAKES Vented discs, 355mm front, 330mm rear, ABS

WHEELS 8 x 18in front, 9 x 18in rear

TYRES 245/40 ZR18 front, 265/35 ZR18 rear

WEIGHT 1710kg

POWER TO WEIGHT 258bhp/ton

0-60MPH 4.8sec (est)

TOP SPEED 190mph (est)

PRICE NEW $160,000 in 2003 (£214,000 in todays money)


ENGINE V12, 5935c

MAX POWER 435bhp @ 6000rpm

MAX TORQUE 410lb ft @ 5000rpm

TRANSMISSION Six-speed manual or five-speed auto, rear-wheel drive

FRONT SUSPENSION Double wishbones, coil springs, monotube dampers, anti-roll bar

REAR SUSPENSION Double wishbones, coil springs, monotube dampers, anti-roll bar

STEERING Rack-and-pinion, hydraulic power-assistance

BRAKES Vented discs, 355mm front, 330mm rear, ABS

WHEELS 8 x 18in front, 9 x 18in rear

TYRES 245/40 ZR18 front, 265/35 ZR18 rear

WEIGHT 1740kg

POWER TO WEIGHT 254bhp/ton

0-60MPH 5.0sec (est)

TOP SPEED 170mph (est)

PRICE NEW c$250,000 in 2003 (US only)


DB7 and AR1: the third generation

It was a chance meeting between Aston CEO Ulrich Bez and Andrea Zagato, current head of the design house, at the Pebble Beach concours in 2001 that led to the third collaboration between Aston and Zagato. Excited by the prospect of adding to the legacy established by the DB4 GT and V8 Zagatos, they agreed on a new partnership, using the DB7 Vantage as the base car.

The styling was led by Zagato’s Norihiko Harada (above) but with Aston’s then design chief Henrik Fisker keeping a close eye on the project and suggesting detail changes as it progressed. It was agreed that, as with the earlier cars, the DB7 Zagato should be shorter, lighter and quicker than the regular model. So starting with a Vantage Volante platform, the wheelbase was reduced by 60mm, with a further 24mm trimmed from the front overhang and 127mm from the rear. Aluminium was used for the bonnet, door-skins, bootlid and front wings, and with the rear seats removed in time-honoured Zagato Aston fashion, around 60kg was saved.

The finished car was shown in the summer of 2002 and the strictly limited run of 99 was snapped up within a week, with Aston Martin retaining a 100th example, a pre-production car, at Gaydon. The DB AR1, using a regular DB7 Volante chassis to avoid expensive US crash-testing, was revealed the following year and sold its own run of 99 cars in similarly quick order.

DB7 and AR1: the third generation

DB7 and AR1: the third generation



Ten years ago, the 2004 Geneva motor show saw the debut of what many thought would form another chapter in the Aston Zagato story. Unlike many show-cars, the Vanquish Roadster concept displayed on the Zagato stand was so clearly geared towards production that many assumed an announcement from Aston Martin was imminent.

Zagato chief stylist Nori Harada’s design had clear links to the DB AR1, which had appeared the previous year, specifically in the round rear lights and the suggestion of the signature double-bubble in the rear deck. Unlike the AR1, the Vanquish Roadster was intended to have an electrically folding canvas roof, which would stow flush beneath the rear deck, though this was not shown on the concept car. All the changes were aft of the A-pillar: the front of the car was unchanged.

Overall it was a neat and attractive design, which may well have found a limited market, but Aston had just announced the DB9 Volante and CEO Ulrich Bez saw no role for a convertible version of the Vanquish, which was by then a previous-generation design. The one-off Roadster was sold to an American collector and has rarely been seen since, though it did appear at Pebble Beach in August 2013.

Aston Martin Vanquish Roadster

Aston Martin Vanquish Roadster

Aston Martin Vanquish Roadster
Aston Martin Vanquish Roadster


The Zagato dynasty

Andrea Zagato (above) is the latest family member to head the celebrated design and coachbuilding house. The business was founded in 1919 by his grandfather, Ugo Zagato, who used his aeronautics training to create strong but lightweight and highly streamlined car bodies in aluminium. Zagato-bodied Alfa Romeos scored numerous racing successes in the ’20s and ’30s, and other manufacturers, including Bugatti and Maserati, were soon beating a path to Zagato’s Turin studios and workshops.

Ugo’s first-born son, Elio, an accomplished racer himself, gradually took over day-to-day management after the Second World War, along with his brother Gianni, and saw Zagato reach ever-greater heights in the ’50s and ’60s with a series of striking and innovative designs for Alfa, Bristol, Ferrari, Fiat, Maserati and others – including, of course, Aston Martin. It was Zagato’s expertise in constructing aerodynamic cars in lightweight aluminium that led David Brown to commission the DB4 Zagato and start a relationship that has endured for more than 50 years.

Andrea Zagato, Elio’s son, who became CEO after his father’s death in 2009, is immensely proud of the partnership. The first Aston project he was heavily involved with was the DB7 Zagato, which he cites as a perfect illustration of what the two sides bring to the collaboration. ‘DB7 Zagato was considered a masterpiece because you had the Aston Martin-ness and Zagato-ness together in one car, the cultures of two different brands: the elegance of an Aston Martin and the functionalist approach of Zagato.

‘It’s a marriage between Italian design and classic English car-making. It’s a love story – a car love story.’


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Additional Info
  • Year: 1960-2019
  • Engine: Petrol