Thanks to the prospect of ever-more-restrictive safety legislation in the US, it took Aston Martin nine years before it launched a convertible version of the muscular V8 Saloon. When one was finally revealed, on 21 June 1978, it reprised a name first used on the convertible DB6: ‘Volante’.
The stylish new V8 Volante proved an immediate hit, particularly in North America, where demand far outstripped the three hand-built cars a week that the legendary craftsmen of Newport Pagnell were able to produce
Though slightly heavier – with a power-operated hood and some chassis strengthening – than the saloon, the new V8 Volante was still a potent grand tourer. British magazine Motor tested an early example, recording 0-60mph in 7.7sec and a maximum of 150mph.
The Aston Martin V8 Volante was built in two series, broadly mirroring developments of the V8 Saloon. Series 1 cars were equipped with Weber carburettors and based on the ‘Oscar India’ V8. A Series 2 was available from 1986 onwards. The new car adopted the same Weber fuel-injection that was fitted to the final V8 Saloons, a still powerful yet effective response to stricter emissions standards worldwide. Later in 1986 a ‘Vantage Volante’ with the 400bhp carburettor engine of the V8 Vantage was offered, though its unsubtle coachwork was an aberration to many.
Production of the V8 Volante ceased in November 1989 after 439 S1s and 216 regular S2s had been sold. At that time, the list price of a standard V8 Volante started at £120,000.
Today, few cars can match the ‘Jermyn St’ appeal of an Aston Martin V8 hand-built in Newport Pagnell. The V8 Volante took that exclusivity and sophistication to another level.
This Motor Car
Chassis ‘15644’ was supplied by Aston Martin Lagonda of North America Inc. to official agents Palm Beach Motor Cars, Florida. The date of delivery – according to copies of factory records accompanying the car – was 23 March 1988. As ordered, the automatic car was Salisbury Blue with Parchment leather and an off-white hood.
At some point in its history ‘15644’ returned to Europe. Registered ‘HH TN 457’ – quite possibly a Hamburg plate – the service book shows an owner ‘Thomas Neelson’. By the late-1990s the car is in Britain registered ‘E141 CGN’, as confirmed by a British MOT dated January 1998, where the mileage is recorded as 15,001, colour ‘Blue’.
A copy of a faxed British Registration Document (V5) dated 23/2/2000 confirms Jeffery Steiner as the registered keeper of ‘15644’, the number of previous owners as one since February 1998 and that it was an imported vehicle “previously used overseas”. The previous owner is named as RS Williams Ltd of Cobham, Surrey.
Jeffrey Steiner (born 3 April 1937, died 1 November 2008) was the chief executive officer of the Fairchild Corporation, an American conglomerate that included interests in property, aerospace and industrial fasteners. Domiciled in London and Gstaad, Steiner exported the car to Switzerland, registering it locally in March 2000 as ‘BE 464024’. A copy of this document lies in the history file. Various works were completed at that time by ROOS Engineering (official Aston Martin agents in Berne Switzerland) and Pichler AG in Gstaad.
One of the world’s most significant Aston Martin collectors, with particularly close links to the factory in the Victor Gauntlett era, purchased the car from Mr Steiner in the late-2000s, registering it ‘BE 141858’.
Aston Martin expert sans pareil Richard Williams was then entrusted with the task of completing a full ‘nut and bolt’ restoration of the car, upgrading it to 7.0-litre specification. Williams was an apprentice at Newport Pagnell, then Peter Seller’s personal mechanic before starting RS Williams Ltd, a byword for excellence. His celebrated 7.0-litre engines are carefully matched to the characteristics of either automatic or manual gearboxes. In automatic form the emphasis is on mid-range torque, with a typical output of 440bhp and a flat torque curve peaking at 520lb ft.
The car was despatched to the UK and work started in late-summer 2009. The in-house engine shop stripped the standard motor, preparing it for conversion. The process involved machining the block, fitting new 7.0-litre liners, Carillo conrods, new bearings, Cosworth pistons, a nitrided crank and a bespoke ECU (engine control unit). At the same time an uprated automatic gearbox was fitted, as well as a new engine wiring harness.
The crank alone was £4,651.65, labour £23,750.00 and the bill for all engine work and the uprated gearbox totalled £55,840.95.
Meanwhile, the car’s bodywork was stripped back in preparation for painting the deep dark grey in which it is presented today. Totalling £22,164.68, the result in the photographs speaks for itself. Prior to that, extensive rectification work on the body and interior metalwork came to £19,111.60. The interior was retrimmed in tan leather, with all relevant parts re-chromed or, if wood, varnished. Including a new black hood, seat belts, carpets and re-trimming the boot, the invoice was £29,232.75. Underneath the car all suspension components were overhauled or replaced as necessary. The brakes were rebuilt with uprated pads and new pistons. New, ‘RSW-spec’ rear stub axles were installed to take the power and torque of the vastly improved engine. The total for this work – essentially building a brand-new car – came to £83,353.35.
By the end of 2011 the car was ready for collection and it was at this time that the original MPH speedometer, then showing 26,109 miles, was replaced with a new one reading kilometres. This was appropriately zeroed.
In June 2014 the car was returned to RS Williams for further work including new fog lights, new tyres and an air conditioning overhaul (£8,157.83). The kilometre reading was just 1,704km. The following year, in December, a further programme of work at Cobham saw the installation of a bespoke catalytic converter system with new ECUs. Work to the tune of £37,398.98 also included much rolling road work to establish a “low emission configuration”. Two ECUs were programmed – at a cost of £3,650.00 each – for catalyst and non-catalyst operation.
On 19 May 2016 Pichler AG carried out the official Swiss emissions test. According to the accompanying Abgaswartungsdokument for catalyst-equipped vehicles, the kilometre reading at this point was 2,933km. In October 2017 it read just 3,583km, the distance covered since its total rebuild. Later that year it was bought by a European collector of fastidious taste whose garage includes many fine Ferraris and a McLaren F1.
In total, from September 2009 to November 2015, RS Williams completed work to the value of £261,910.01 to deliver what today must be one of the finest examples of its type in the world. The car is now UK registered and is currently at RS Williams for light service work and appraisal.
More powerful than a V8 Vantage Volante – and without the flashy bodywork – presented in a glorious and understated colour combination and ‘just run in’ at 3,827km, we can think of few Aston Martins better warranting the sobriquet ‘brute in a Savile Row suit’.