The Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato Mule

The Aston Martin V8 Vantage Mule Zagato

The Aston Martin V8 Vantage Mule Zagato

The former press demonstrator V8 Vantage became the V8 Vantage Zagato test mule. It’s lack of rear seat is just visible: the bonnet has the Zagato’s NACA air ducts and the car rides on the Zagato unique Speedline alloy wheels

Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato Mule
Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato Mule
Aston Martin Vantage Zagato Mule

With no full-size prototype ready, the only way to find which engine/weight combination would ensure the Zagato met the target speed was to use a stripped-out Vantage mule. This was 1978 factory demonstrator and press car “VNK 360S’ - chassis V8/11967/RCAV - which by this stage had become a development hack. It lost its interior trim, spare wheel, rear seats and air conditioning, the side glass was replaced by Perspex, and a smaller fuel tank fitted. A new engine tuned to ‘South African’ specification with peak power of 417bhp to 625orpm was fitted.

To achieve that five-second 0-60mph time, it was important to not be distracted by the sometimes awkward change from first to second on the ZF gearbox, so a final-drive ratio of 3.06:1 (versus the Vantage’s 3.54:1 or 3.31:1) allowed 60mph to be reached in first gear in 4.8 seconds, compared to Motor Magazine’s best of 5.2 seconds on a Vantage.

Production cars would be fitted with the standard Vantage final drive but could be retrofitted with the prototype’s higher-ratio differential. With a weight reduction of 370lb and an extra 60bhp or so over the standard 375bhp Vantage engine, there was an expectation at Newport Pagnell that the Zagato could turn out to be the fastestproduction car in the world.

In an exemplary piece of recycling that must have warmed the hearts of the company accountants, the service departmentprovided Zagato with the rolling chassis to create the initial prototype. Eventually given chassis number 20010, it was sent to Italy in spring 1985. “We had purchaseda badly damaged car from a customer who had had a very big accident with it, “Bill Bannard told Chris Nixon. “We took the skin off the frame and moved the brake servos from the front to the floorpan at the back because we knew that Zagato wanted to shorten the front of the car. We then looked all over it and did as muchas we could (which was pitifully little actually) to make what was, in effect, a lightweight Vantage. “once complete, this first car was also used as a buck for the interior, every trim piece being shaped first in metal to provide the master for production. It was followed by a further stripped-down chassis that become a second pre-production car, chassis 20011.

Peter Livanos recalls. “We got Goodyear tyresbecause the man from Goodyear liked the car, we got Saint-Gobain glass because they liked the car, and De Tomaso liked us, so he gave us the doors. Everyone sort of said“these poor guys, we’ll help them” - no-one felt threatened, and they were right not to feel threatened, as there was no threat.”

Rear lights from the Lagonda, and the bumpers were formed of polyurethane foam covered by Glassfiber. Aston called the bumpers “composite” and stated they were mounted on large rubber-filled rams welded to the chassis. “It was one great illustration of the lack of new technology, the story of the deformable front and rear bumpers on the Vantage Zagato. “SaysNick Mee. “They never made it on to the production car as they were too costly, and so Glassfiber was used instead. Challenged by Rowan Atkinson over the lack of “pop-back” bumpers, Victor was quick to confirm that they were fitted on the cars. “If you damage your bumpers, just pop back to the factory and we'll fix it” was his reply.

The lightweight seats were to Zagato’sown design and basedon a tubular structure used by Abarth for the Lancia Delta S4.

They were upholstered in leather while the door panels used the then novel Alcantaraman-made fabric, which had the appearance and feel of suede.

The General Motors steeringcolumnand stalks of the regular Vantage were retained, and the dashboard air grilles were also standard Aston Martin. Air conditioning and a stereo radio-cassette were standard.

As of December 1985, the final weight of the V8 Zagato was calculated to be 1650kg (32cwt), against a standard Vantage’s 1727kg (33.9cwt).As well as the length reduction and lack of rear seats, the aluminum panels were slightly thinner and a space-saver spare wheel was to be found in the now so smaller boot , which had a Glassfiber lid. The carpets, sound deadening, and trim were also lighter.

Meanwhile Bill Bannard and his team had been using the mule to test wheel and tyre combinations for the Zagato at MIRA. There were several tyre manufacturers present, but I can remember during the wet test when the car was on the new Goodyear Eagles you could actually hear the tyre squealing as it cut through the water, it was finding so much more grip. That was one of the easier decisions to make. We also tested the later viscous-coupling differentials which were all the rage. Much to my surprise, the good old Salisbury limited-slip diff was almost as good and a lot more cost effective. The final 16in wheelswere to Zagato’s own design and came from Speedline, based in Venice, and were fitted with the Goodyear Eagle 225/50VR16 low profile tyres that has so impressed Bannard.

Vents along the rim were designed to channel cooling air to the front brake. “It was like a racer, old VNK 360S’ - a superb car, ScottEllis, who was heavily involved in the development work, said Chris Nixon. “A lot of work on the suspension geometry, handling and tyres was done with it, and then, when Zagato prototype arrived from Italy we transferred a lot of bits and pieces to that and eventually “VNK” got sold off, which was tragic really. It was as quick as the Zagato, handled really well and looked like a standard Aston and everyone wanted to keep it in the company and do some club racing in it. 

Thank you to Palawan Press

Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato Mule
Aston Martin V8 Vantage Mule
Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato Mule

The story of the engine:

VNK360S was not a crashed car. One of the Zagato prototypes (20010) was. 20010 was built from wrecked Vantage 12400 of which the engine had been sold off. So a new engine was built for 20010 in the engineering department.

Zagato 20010 was used in Le Mans, driven by Roy Salvadori, to reach the 300 kph. it did not because of a blocked breather valve in the fuel system. (So: no holed piston!)

It was then used by French motoring journalist José Rosinski of L’Auto Journal on an unused stretch of autoroute on 8th July 1986 and reached 298.75 kph. The engine of this Zagato was transferred into VNK360S and still is in it. You have a picture of the engine plaque.

VNK360S had been an engineering development Vantage for a number of years since the early 1980s. To be effective it was stripped to best approximate the expected weight of the Vantage Zagato in road trim at around 1,600 kgs. (See picture of scale showing just above 1,500 kgs). Interior was removed, all A/C and heating system, side and rear glass replaced with Perspex, boot floor and spare wheel well cut out, a 5 gallon fuel tank fitted and the brake boosters moved to the space once occupied by the rear seats.

According to development engineer Scot Ellis the result was devastating. The car met all the performance targets for the Zagato and proved faster than the production car. Ultimately Aston had built the only lightweight V8 Vantage and the most powerful normally aspirated V8. Lessons learned were transferred to the Zagato and eventually the V580X „X-pack“ Vantage of 1988.

The Zagato mule saw continual development during 1985/86 with multiple setup changes as the development progressed. Eventually, once the final production specification had been finalised, it was retired and quietly sold off to a loyal Aston owner.

As said, its engine first was in the Vantage Zagato prototype 20010 that ran at Le Mans and the French Autoroute to test the maximum speed of 298 kmh. When that got sold off they built up a new engine and transferred its original one into VNKY. Thats why the block number is 460 and the engine number is V/580/0010 V

Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato Mule