From Tokyo to London, driving a first generation of 2005 Aston Martin V8 Vantage 4.3

From Tokyo to London, driving a first generation of 2005 Aston Martin V8 Vantage 4.3

Whether being used by Aston’s then CEO or driven across Asia, this early V8 Vantage 4.3 has had a remarkable life. We look at its unique history and speak to the current owner who has no plans to retire the car.



A look at a very early V8 Vantage from 2005 that’s had a remarkable life including an unforgettable journey between Tokyo and London


From Tokyo to London, driving a first generation of 2005 Aston Martin V8 Vantage 4.3

Of all the ways to travel from Tokyo to London, driving a first generation of V8 Vantage wouldn’t be high on anyone’s list. With poor ground clearance, lack of interior room and a thirsty engine, it would make an already gruelling journey close to impossible. But that’s exactly what this example achieved in 2007 when it became the first car to be driven from one side of the newly completed Asian Highway Network to the other.

From Tokyo to London, driving a first generation of 2005 Aston Martin V8 Vantage 4.3

Yet incredibly, this mammoth journey is only one of the car’s many achievements. Built in August 2005, the car is the 41st example produced and was originally used by Aston’s then CEO, Ulrich Bez, as his company car. Left-hand drive and German registered, he regularly drove the grey Vantage between the company’s Gaydon headquarters and his home in Düsseldorf, the service book is still filled with stamps from Moll Sportwagen, the company’s official dealership in the city.

From Tokyo to London, driving a first generation of 2005 Aston Martin V8 Vantage 4.3

To mark production of the 30,000th car to be produced by Aston Martin, which rolled off the line during the summer of 2006, Bez’s Vantage was chosen for a unique project. It would be driven day and night for 30k miles across Germany’s autobahn network by 30 employees in 30 days. The CEO himself drove the first stint that started from the Nürburgring circuit immediately after he and three others finished 24th overall and fourth in class at the annual 24-hour race for GT and saloon cars in June 2006 driving a Vantage N24.

From Tokyo to London, driving a first generation of 2005 Aston Martin V8 Vantage 4.3

“When we launched our plans to reinvigorate the brand in 2001, Aston Martin had produced just under 20,000 cars in 87 years and now, barely five years later, we are approaching our 30,000th car,” said Bez at the time. “This exercise – in conjunction with our success at the Nürburgring – proves what we have always believed; the Vantage is a true 24-hour sports car, tough and usable, and as durable on the track as it is on the road.” To make the dark grey car more visible, it was given some green highlights around the air vents, radiator grille and wing mirrors.

From Tokyo to London, driving a first generation of 2005 Aston Martin V8 Vantage 4.3

The project finished with the car taking pride of place on Aston Martin’s stand at the 2006 British Motor Show. By now it had covered 100,000km (60k miles). Yet this was only a warm-up for what was to come.

While attending a conference in the United Nation’s Bangkok building in July 2005 about the opening of a new network of roads, the Asian Highway, British journalist turned adventurer, Richard Meredith, had the idea of driving from one side to the other, from Tokyo to Istanbul, before finishing in London. Although this had never been achieved before, Meredith was no stranger to adventurous journeys having driven a Daewoo Kalos hatchback from Luton to Seoul in 2003.

From Tokyo to London, driving a first generation of 2005 Aston Martin V8 Vantage 4.3

This included an unscheduled drive through the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan only weeks after America’s invasion of the country. Since he needed help from the United Nations to get through the war-torn country safely, it put Richard into contact with the organisation that would later be instrumental with his Asian Highway trip.

Richard would be joined by fellow Brit, Phil Colley, a travel specialist and tour operator who had previous experience of travelling in central and eastern Asia. First, they needed a car, securing perhaps the most inappropriate model imaginable, but one that would bring them plenty of publicity. After contacting several manufacturers, it was Aston Martin that agreed to lend them an example of the V8 Vantage; Bez’s former car that had been driven for 30k miles in 30 days.

In his 2008 book about the journey, Driven Together, Richard admits the car wouldn’t have been the first choice for many, but it did have advantages. “Its high performance engine and low ground clearance would present obvious difficulties on unprepared roads and in remote locations” he wrote, “but, on the other hand, Aston Martin’s fame as providing the vehicles of choice in James Bond films and with customers including the British Royal Family, we thought it would give the car an edge for attracting attention everywhere which would ultimately be to the benefit of our other causes.” As for Aston, the journey was an opportunity to provide further evidence of the durability of the car and increase global awareness of the brand. “Richard, Phil and the V8 Vantage face a tough journey,” admitted Bez before the trip, “but I have every confidence all three will succeed.”

Yet the modifications Aston Martin made to the Vantage prior to the trip were minimal and included raising the suspension a little, adding underbody protection, fitting a full-size spare and two jerrycans in the boot plus a hidden safe behind the passenger seat for valuables. With Richard wanting to use the trip to raise awareness about road safety, through his contacts in the UN he found support from the FIA Foundation, the charity arm of the motorsport association which had recently embarked on its Make Roads Safe campaign. The trip would also raise money in aid of UNICEF to provide road safety education for children in China.

After two years of preparation and planning, the now UK-registered Vantage was transported to Tokyo with Richard and Phil following, ready for their journey to start on 25 June 2007. The first leg took them through the relative safety of Japan before catching a ferry to South Korea and then another to China. After waiting six days for the car to clear customs, the duo finally set off across this massive country, passing over the desolate high plains.

“Other than widely in Australia and partly in Arizona,” wrote Richard, “I cannot remember experiencing distance-driving conditions like this before. The stretch is turning into another great test for the car.” Yet apart from requiring an occasional ‘throat clearance’ – which Richard reckoned was caused by poor fuel quality – the Vantage behaved impeccably as it would throughout the journey.

On July 17 and after covering 6,705km (4,166 miles), the pair entered Kazakhstan where the poor condition of the roads took them by surprise. “Unlit, unmarked and apparently unmaintained for years, whole sections were rutted and pitted and the passage of large trucks had deformed long stretches into mounds and hollows. Driving it in the road-hugging Aston Martin was like riding a switchback or surfing a wave and the danger of ‘grounding’ the car was quickly evident.”

Yet the car survived, and Richard and Phil soon passed into Uzbekistan where they struggled to find fuel of a suitable grade for the Vantage, finally filling up with 98 Octane on the advice of the factory. Not wanting to use anything else, they reached the border with Turkmenistan (and better fuel) 977km (607 miles) later with barely anything left in the tank.

But poor petrol wasn’t the worst thing they had to cope with during this section of the trip as Richard explained in Driven Together. “The journey was punctured only by the antics of wandering camels in the habit of sitting on the warm asphalt towards the end of each day, causing a driving hazard in the failing light that Aston Martin drivers would not usually be conditioned to encounter on the roads of England (or most other places for that matter).”

A long queue at the port of Turkmenbashi for a ferry across the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan meant the pair had to sleep in the car, soon discovering their Vantage did not make a comfortable hotel. “Despite all the electronic leverage of angles and adjustments,” wrote Richard, “my conclusion was that it was after all, a seat designed for driving and not for sleeping.”

They finally crossed the Caspian Sea and after docking at Baku they drove another 608km (378 miles) to Tbilisi in Georgia where the journey nearly came to an end. After arriving at their hotel, the handbrake failed, causing the car to roll down a hill, only stopping when it sideswiped a sturdy Toyota Land Cruiser that had been parked partially across the car park entrance. Although the damage was superficial, there was still a gaping wound in the driver’s door and damage to the rear wing. Thankfully, with help from the understanding Land Cruiser owner, the car was patched up locally, well enough for the journey to continue on to Turkey.

At 4.32pm on 5 August, 12,089km (7,512 miles) after leaving Tokyo, they finally reached Istanbul’s Bosphorus Bridge, the point where Asia meets Europe. “After 42 days of one of the more significant journeys of modern day motoring,” wrote Richard, “we were able to say that we had completed the first official crossing of the new Asian Highway road system with all its important implications for the future of global travel and trade.”

With the surfaces now much improved, the pair could finally relax. “Some smooth roads and motorway driving allowed our so-versatile Aston Martin V8 Vantage to purr along, in such contrast to so much of what had gone before.”

The run through Europe passed without incident, and the pair easily travelled 800km (500 miles) in a day. After crossing through 18 countries, Richard and Phil finally reached London on August 14, finishing at the Intercontinental Hotel in Park Lane. They were met by amongst others Ulrich Bez, who had flown into the capital especially to meet them.

According to Richard, when Aston’s CEO climbed into the cockpit of his former car, he checked the odometer and joked, “Yes, I think we can say that the engine is run-in now.” It was a remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime trip that faced many hazards and dangers yet other than the incident with the Land Cruiser in Tbilisi, the Vantage never missed a beat. “We have followed Richard and Phil’s ups and downs all the way, and admired their determination,” said Bez. “The car, too, has been more than up to the demanding task they asked of it, and we are very proud of its unfailing reliability. This journey has been the V8 Vantage’s toughest test to date and reiterates that the Vantage is a truly usable and durable sports car.”

Following some publicity events, the Vantage – still wearing its Asian Highway livery and now with 185,000km (115k miles) on the clock – was sold by Aston Martin at auction on Monday 3 December 2007 for £34k with all proceeds going to UNICEF China.

The new owner initially used it for the occasional European amateur rally – the odometer reaching 200,000km (124,274 miles) in 2013 – but by 2021 and after being largely unused for several years, the car was for sale through Duke of London, a dealer of prestigious cars based in Brentford, where it caught the attention of Phil Churchill.

After reading several motoring adventure books during the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020, he’d been considering doing something similar with his now 17-year-old son, William, for some time, initially with a Porsche since he’d owned several examples of the German marque. But since it had already been prepared by Aston for the Asian Highway journey and had left-hand-drive, the Vantage seemed perfect for whatever they planned. “I also loved the car’s history,” Phil tells me when I visit him at his Surrey home.

Although he bought the Aston for a mere £20k, it needed an immediate seven grand recommissioning because it had not been used for some time. With the car as ready as it will ever be, Phil started looking at his own adventure.

Instead of one long journey circumnavigating the globe, Phil plans to explore the world one continent at a time over several years. He initially wanted to start by going east but the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 put a stop to this.

And so, he decided to go in the opposite direction instead and in late 2022 booked the car on to a container ship sailing between Liverpool and New York in early March 2023. Phil and William will then fly to America during the Easter holidays and after collecting the Vantage, drive across the States, visiting Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis and Houston before passing into Mexico. Phil then plans to leave the car in storage in Canc.n on the north-east coast. Since it’s within the 22-mile-deep Mexico Free Border Zone, the car doesn’t need an import permit and can be kept there indefinitely.

The father and son team will then go back to Mexico at the end of 2023 to head further into central America including Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica before finishing at the Panama Canal, leaving the Vantage at a so-far unorganised safe location. The following year will see them drive through South America to Tierra del Fuego on the southern tip of the continent.

Beyond that, Phil has no exact plans, but is considering transporting the car to New Zealand and then Australia before potentially heading to Malaysia, Thailand and maybe China, picking up some of the Asian Highway to bring the car home. “It could be four or five years before it’s back.”

When Phil shows me around the Vantage, I’m surprised at its condition. Still wearing the same stickers as on its 2007 Asian Highway adventure (plus a few new ones added by Phil for his) as well as the green accents from the 30k miles in 30 days project, it looks to have barely changed since that time. Admittedly, the filler used to hastily repair the damage the rear panel picked up in Tbilisi is starting to crack, but otherwise the paint looks remarkably sharp for an 18-year-old coupe with 215,000km (133,600 miles) under its tyres. And although Phil tells me the suspension remains slightly raised, it must be by millimetres since the car’s stance looks little different from a standard model.

The interior is equally clean, but Phil reckons the seats are from a DB9. Offering more comfort, it’s not known whether they were fitted for the 30k miles in 30 days attempt or the Asian Highway journey, but they do have a minor glitch, something Phil only discovered after he’d bought the Vantage.

“The first time I sat in the car, I couldn’t fit and despite fiddling with the seat, I kept going forwards. Meanwhile, William – who’s more level-headed – found a cheat sheet for the car that says if you want to move the seats backwards, you have to move them all the way forward and then down, almost like a reset.”

When I open the boot, I’m faced by a fullsize spare wheel and two red jerrycans fixed into place, leaving little room for luggage. Admittedly, there’s a narrow shelf behind the seats (which hides the small, lockable safe fitted by Aston’s engineers), but Richard and Phil must have packed extremely lightly for their 42-day journey across Asia as Phil and William will have to for their trip.

It might be a standard (if early) 2005 V8 Vantage 4.3 but due to its unique history, I’m still excited when Phil graciously offers me a drive. It doesn’t take many miles for me to realise that despite the high figure in the odometer, the Vantage still has the tightness of a car that’s covered half of that. The 380bhp 4.3-litre V8 delivers its power the moment I squeeze the throttle, resulting in a strong and instant surge of acceleration. The steering remains accurate and perfectly weighted allowing me to take corners quickly despite the wet and greasy conditions of the roads. As we swoop around the quiet Surrey country roads that surround Phil’s home, I can’t imagine it would have felt any different from when Richard Meredith was navigating the slightly more desolate high plains of China.

A V8 Vantage might still be an unusual choice for crossing Asia yet not only did this car survive but it handled the many hazards it faced along the way with ease. And thanks to its adventurous current owner recognising these abilities, it’s clear the car’s travelling days aren’t over yet.

● Thanks to: Phil and William Churchill (

Phil Colley (left) and Richard Meredith (right) with Ulrich Bez outside the Intercontinental Hotel, London, at the end of their mammoth journey.

The car still has the green accents added for the 30k miles in 30 days project.

The Vantage with some of the employees (including CEO Ulrich Bez in the dark suit) that took part in the 30k miles in 30 days project in 2006. The Make Roads Safe stickers from the 2007 Asian Highway trip are still on the car.

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