Although England-based Aston Martin is commonly associated with James Bond, its illustrious heritage stretches far beyond the silver screen. It was founded in London in 1913, and it started racing decades before Ian Fleming created James Bond. From an open-top racer to a gasoline-electric hypercar, here are the company’s greatest models.
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 its name. Its 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine developed 85 horsepower and propelled the Ulster to a claimed top speed of 100mph — 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, though it has won first in class a few times.
Bond. James Bond. What else do you have to say? The DB5 is inextricably linked with 007. 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. It’s so sought-after that Aston Martin decided to make a replica of the car, complete with Bond’s gadgets.
The original V8 Vantage was Aston’s attempt at making a supercar out of a tired model that had been on sale for years. In 1977, the company took the AM V8 and boosted its output to 375hp (later 405hp). The result was a car that could hit 170mph, an impressive figure for the time. The V8 Vantage also ended up in the James Bond movie The Living Daylights, and it’s a favorite of former Aston CEO Andy Palmer, who owns a 1980 model.
The DB7 is arguably the car that saved Aston Martin in the early 1990s. It ushered in an attractive design language that defined the firm’s cars for over 20 years, and a 5.9-liter V12 engine that is only now going out of production. All of this was choreographed by Ford, which owned Aston and Jaguar at the time, and used the latter’s engineering resources to help complete the DB7. Without it, Aston may have been consigned to the history book.
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 spin-off models like the DBS and the 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) evolved into the Rapide S, which received a mighty V12 engine.
It may look like a DB9 with a bizarre body kit, but the One-77 was a true hypercar. Its 7.3-liter V12 produced 750hp, and its top speed checked in at 220mph. To get it into production, Aston teamed up with Multimatic, 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
Arguably the last of Aston Martin’s old-school models, the V12 Vantage S is the ultimate version. While the company moves towards turbocharged engines and increasingly complex electronics, the V12 Vantage S refuses to go quietly in an age of advancing technologies. If the sleek design wasn’t enough, Aston offers drives the option of a manual transmission to harness the V12’s 563hp.
Until the Valkyrie turned a wheel in anger, the Vulcan was the most hardcore Aston Martin production ever. It was so hardcore that this car wasn’t street legal. Due to its daring nature, Aston had to organize a driver-training program to make sure the 24 owners didn’t kill themselves while behind the wheel. The Vulcan sported a 7.0-liter V12 that produced 820hp, and aerodynamic aids that could generate nearly 3,000 pounds of downforce when properly configured.
The epic Valkyrie from Aston Martin is making the transition from concept to production. It will arrive as a limited-edition hypercar with a seven-digit price tag and a 1,160hp hybrid powertrain built around a 6.5-liter V12. Aston Martin will make 150 cars during the model’s production run and is highly sought after, so much so that buyers claimed every build slot years ago.