2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Prodrive
In 2006, Prodrive revealed a series of performance enhancements for the V8 Vantage that made the car even more driver focused. Now one of the most sought-after models, we look at the car’s history before driving one for ourselves.
WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY PAUL WALTON
RACING PARTNERSHIP V8 VANTAGE PRODRIVE
In 2006, the company behind the successful Aston Martin Racing team Prodrive, developed a range of parts for the V8 Vantage resulting in a harder and more driver-focused car.
Whether it's the sun rising in the morning or heavy rain on a bank holiday, there are some things that are inevitable. Another is the team behind Aston Martin Racing, Prodrive, developing a special version of the original V8 Vantage. With the company in charge of Aston Martin’s racing effort since 2004, there was little surprise when two years later the British motorsport specialist turned its attention to its road cars.
Yet it wouldn’t be some marketingled limited edition featuring nothing more than some fancy colour schemes or a boot badge, but a fundamental upgrade of several major components resulting in an even more focused driver’s car than normal.
The company now known as Prodrive was founded in 1983 by a former rally co-driver, David Richards, who in 1981 had won the championship with Finnish driver Ari Vatanen.
Prodrive’s first successes came with the Porsche rally team in the Middle East and European championships in the early Eighties. It turned to circuit racing next with touring car programmes for BMW, Alfa Romeo, Honda and Ford. But the company found greater success and prominence with the Japanese firm Subaru in the World Rally Championship. Between 1990 and 2008, the team won three drivers’ and three manufacturers’ titles plus 46 rally victories. From 2002, Prodrive was contracted to run the British American Racing F1 team, finishing a fine second in the Constructor’s Championship two years later.
The team moved into sports car racing in 2001 with its own privately developed Ferrari 500 GTS Maranello that won numerous races in the FIA GT and American Le Mans Series. A highlight of the project was GTS class honours at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2003.
It was the success of this project that led to the birth of Aston Martin Racing, a joint partnership between Prodrive and the British company that would return Aston Martin to international motorsport. For Richards, this was the fulfilment of a long-held ambition.
“I’ve been passionate about Aston Martin from my early days – as soon as I could afford to, I saved up and bought a DB6 Volante that I still own,” said Richards in an interview in the October 2021 issue of Motorsport. “I always wanted to race them, too, and used to go to the factory every year in a bid to persuade them to invest in a racing programme, which we would run.”
After developing a competition version of the DB9, the eventual DBR9, the car was quick from the outset, winning its debut at the 2005 12 Hours of Sebring. “The project has exceeded our expectations,” admitted Richards at the time.
Over the next few seasons, the car won several times, including the GT1 class of the 2007 Le Mans. Prodrive then developed a racing version of the Vantage, the N24, that on its debut at the 200624 Hours of Spa finished fourth in class. Although Aston Martin Racing pulled out of the World Endurance Championship at the end of the 2020 season to concentrate on its F1 effort, Prodrive remains responsible for developing the current Vantage GTE which continues to be used by several private teams on both sides of the Atlantic.
These successes resulted in a close relationship between the two companies which was further cemented in early 2007 when, after leading a consortium of investors to buy Aston Martin, Richards became its chairman.
In 2006 and with the blessing of the factory, Prodrive started to develop a range of upgrades for the V8 Vantage. These included a 45bhp increase in power from 380bhp to 425bhp, courtesy of a remapped ECU, high-flow sports catalysts and a driver-selectable exhaust system. This dropped the 0-60mph time by 0.3 of a second to an estimated 4.7 while the top speed went up by around 9mph to 176mph.
Suspension changes comprised driver-adjustable Bilstein dampers and Eibach sports springs while there were also 19in forged alloys by Prodrive Japan, similar to those used by the DBR9, that together weighed 9kg less than the standard wheels. These were fitted with bespoke 245/40 and 285/35 Pirelli P Zero Corsas. Finally, there was a new front splitter and boot spoiler that offered a 45 percent reduction in high-speed lift.
The new range of parts were unveiled jointly by Prodrive and Eibach at the Essen Motor Show on 30 November 2006, becoming available early the next year. Although the modifications could be ordered through Aston Martin or Prodrive, they could only be installed by officially appointed agents of the former.
As a post-registration fitment, it allowed both new and existing V8 Vantage owners to upgrade their cars with the four updates that could be bought individually. Good job, too, since none of them were cheap; the engine improvement cost £6,239, the suspension package was £5,581, the wheels were £3,995 while the aero update was £2,937.
The best part of £19,000, it was a lot to spend on a car that if bought new had already cost £82,000 and it’s little wonder just 87 cars were modified. But the upgrades had a remarkable impact on the car’s performance and its handling.
“The Prodrive Aston V8 Vantage corners flat and very fast,” said Evo magazine in its July 2007 issue. “Of all the Astons we’ve driven recently, it’s the one most transparently dedicated to the provision of pure driving pleasure. It looks gorgeous, sounds shattering in full cry, is very quick and handles beautifully.” It’s due to praise like this why the Prodrive Vantage has become highly prized by Aston Martin and sports car enthusiasts and why they demand a sizeable premium. Whereas a standard Vantage from 2007 is worth between £25k to £30k, a Prodrive version can be up to £10,000 more.
Even before I’ve driven the 2006 Merlot Red example featured here – which didn’t have the Prodrive upgrades fitted until it was already three years old – I like the car for its subtlety. Unlike other, more garishly designed motorsport-inspired special editions, such as the Alfa Romeo Racing Quadrifoglio and Stelvio from 2019 or the ridiculously named Mercedes-AMG A45 Petronas 2015 World Champion Edition, the Prodrive Vantage keeps its direct links to one of the most successful teams in history quiet. Just a small Prodrive transfer on the boot sets it apart from standard cars.
And since this particular car doesn’t have the aero package or the lighter wheels, it looks even more like a standard version. It makes the Prodrive Vantage a car to be enjoyed rather than just be seen in.
Yet doesn’t take me long behind the wheel to feel the difference over an unmodified car. Similar to the standard 4.3-litre V8, the Prodrive version still likes to be revved hard but it now feels sharper and stronger, the acceleration even punchier. Watching the needle extend across the dial to 6,500rpm-7,000rpm, listening to the motor reaching its dark and savage crescendo is genuinely thrilling.
With the Bilstein dampers in Normal mode, the car feels largely as per a standard example, offering plenty of grip but still some noticeable body roll. But when I switch the suspension to Sport, I can instantly notice the difference. The car feels better planted, the tyres finding more front and rear grip and its cornering abilities verging on aggressive. Even through fast bends, it remains composed and beautifully balanced, never threatening to oversteer unless severely provoked.
Prodrive injected just enough of its racing DNA into the car’s character to make it feel more focused but without ruining its usability. This isn’t some hard and uncompromising track car like a Caterham 7 or Lotus Exige Cup 430, for example, but retains – with the dampers in Normal mode at least – the suppleness and driveability of the standard car.
Maybe it was due to the high cost of the upgrades or the cars looking too similar to a standard model but the Prodrive updated Vantage was soon overshadowed by the later and even faster in-house motorsport-inspired specials such as the Vantage N400, GT8 and AMR. Yet with their often lurid colours, multiple stripes and extreme aero packages, they lack the discretion of these Prodrive-equipped cars.
It might have been inevitable that following its many Aston Martin successes, Prodrive would turn its attention to improving the V8 Vantage. But doing so in keeping with the company’s tasteful image and personality certainly wasn’t.
Thanks to: the owner of the car featured here, Liisa Daniels