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The Aston Martin DB7 GT Reminds Us Why it’s the Best Forgotten V-12 Coupe of the Early 2000s

A sublime V-12 Aston Martin, for less than a new Corvette

Conner GoldenWriterBrandon LimPhotographer

Raise your hand if you remember the last time you thought of the Aston Martin DB7. I'll give you a moment.

Hmm, no takers? I'm not surprised. But I like to pace around and think about automotive esoterica. The car-geek timeline is littered with plenty of vehicular Ozymandias, after all: Dusty, rotting concepts that almost made it to production; flash-in-the-pan entrepreneurs; and century-old dead marques that fill automotive almanacs. There's also the rare instance of landmark cars that made it, defined a segment (or brand), and then faded quickly from memory.

The Aston Martin DB7? Unless you own one, are an Aston devotee, or have a neighbor roaring around your cove in one, you almost certainly haven't thought about the super-svelte grand tourer in quite a long time.

Overshadowed by the bigger, faster, James Bond-endorsed first-gen Vanquish and the sharper, more dramatic DB9 that followed, the DB7—the car that saved Aston Martin from total dissolution—languishes in relative obscurity. It is the forgotten Aston some say looks more like a Jaguar XK8 than something worthy of David Brown's initials. It is also the same car that saved the automaker's bacon, and ushered the marque it into the future.

The DB7's genesis is convoluted and strangely well-documented, and it begins with a pair of cancelled Jaguar sports cars. In the early 1980s, Jaguar considered its XJ-S coupe too fat and too soft to be considered the true successor to the earlier E-Type, so it began development of the "F-Type" sports car that would be lighter, faster, and more focused than the cushy XJ-S, while still using XJ-S underpinnings.

Following a decade of strong development and a near-finalized design, Jaguar—under its new Ford-ownership regime—dumped the XJ41 coupe/XJ42 roadster project. Financial austerity was the name of the game at that point; when Ford saw how much investment was required for production of the gestating XJ, it nixed the program in favor of developing the X300-generation of Jaguar XJ sedan.

Enter Tom Walkinshaw Racing. Ford tasked TWR with developing a more affordable Aston Martin model, based on a styling concept penned by fledgling TWR designer Ian Callum. Hence the Project XX took up where the XJ41/XJ42 left off, developed after rummaging through the British automaker's trash and finding the stillborn F-Type.

After all of this work, Jaguar wasn't happy enough with Project XX to push it toward production, so Ford stepped in and steered TWR toward Aston Martin. The study was quickly adapted into a sleek new grand tourer fit for production under a ludicrously tiny budget of $30 million. When the DB7 landed for the 1994 model year, it was an immediate sales success, inspiring Jaguar to cry, "Hey, wait a minute!" No surprise, Jaguar developed a version of the same XJ-S platform into the visually similar XK in 1996.

The DB7's power came initially from a 3.2-liter supercharged inline-six developed from the older Jaguar AJ6 engine. It produced a healthy 335 horsepower and 361 lb-ft of torque through either a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic.

Five years later, the DB7 had the auspicious honor of receiving the first-ever production Aston Martin V-12 powerplant, starting with the 1999 DB7 Vantage. With extensive engineering help from Ford and famed performance firm Cosworth, Aston Martin slid a 5.9-liter V-12 into the new Vantage, upping the engine's output to 414 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque through an updated set of transmissions, now either a five-speed auto or a six-speed Tremec T-56 manual.

The car was a total sales darling. The 12-cylinder proved so popular, Aston discontinued the six-cylinder in favor of an all-V-12 lineup, offering the Vantage coupe and Vantage Volante roadster as the core models; a heft of special editions, trims, and packages pushed it further. By the end of its life in 2004, the company had sold a whopping 7,000 DB7s, meaning it made up nearly one-third of Aston Martin's total production of 22,000 cars since 1914.

Of these aforementioned special editions, the DB7 GT sat at the top of the heap, at least in outright performance. Positioned as the curtain call for the DB7 family and a bridge between the more powerful and more expensive Vanquish, the GT incorporated extensive performance upgrades over the regular Vantage.

The GT's biggest upgrade was the chassis. Aston revised its damper settings, along with suspension mounts and front lower wishbones. The DB7 GT also received stiffer bushings, a reworked front subframe, bump stops, and an additional rear brace. Its steering rack is sharper, brakes are bigger, and the brake booster is sourced from the bigger, badder Vanquish.

There's extra juice from that 5.9-liter V-12 as well, increased by 21 hp and 10 lb-ft to a total of 435 hp and 410 lb-ft. Not the biggest jump, but coupled with a revised final-drive ratio and a new set of wheels and high-performance tires, the 0-60 mph time sneaks beneath the 5.0-second mark.

Small aerodynamic upgrades include additional undertray sweeps and wheel-arch liner extensions, which allegedly improve downforce and reduce lift by 50 percent. GT-specific grille, lower air intake, hood vents, and a slight ducktail on the rear decklid provide a more aggressive visual aesthetic.

This particular car—owned and operated by Aston Martin product planner Daniel Sherman—is one of just 64 DB7 GTs to make it to the U.S. It is also a one-of-one in this lovely shade of Rolls-Royce Balmoral Green.

Originally purchased by The Dean Martin Show producer and noted Ferrari collector Greg Garrison, Sherman is the third owner, buying the DB7 GT in 2017.

"People still really like this car, even if it's not as well-remembered as the Vanquish" he says. "All DB7s are ridiculously good buys right now, especially the GTs."

You can see why. In person, the DB7 has aged tremendously well, in GT-spec or otherwise. It's not as dramatic as the succeeding DB9, but where the DB9 might be a touch dated, the DB7 remains one of the most handsome and understated designs of the 1990s: It escaped successfully from the decade without any of the undue body cladding and adornment that commonly accompanied cars of its era. Its curvaceous, swept-back organic lines are a welcome sight in this day of overly styled hyper-wedges and swollen, fat-ass luxury coupes.

Inside? I expected little from the DB7's cockpit, given its age. This is, after all, the first Aston developed under the Blue Oval's purview; I prepared myself for some egregious off-the-shelf componentry pulled from other Ford models. Surprisingly, it's not nearly as bad as some commenters would have you believe. Yes, much of the switchgear is indeed pilfered from down-market Fords from across the world of the time, but Aston is hardly the only boutique automaker from this era to rely on such tactics. Besides, Aston did its best to gussy-up these parts; on Sherman's GT, all of the climate-control knobs are rendered in beautiful aluminum.

The cockpit is a lovely place in which to spend a few hours. Thick, plush leather covers the majority of the interior's surfaces, interrupted only by beautiful, tight stitching and this DB7's factory-restored Light Oak wood trim. Admittedly, the overly thick Ford-sourced steering wheel is a little out of place—but like the rest of the cockpit, it is appointed with some of the finest leather and wood trim available at the time. On a granular level, you'll find neat little touches like the aluminum shift-knob, bright red starter button, analog clock—and the old-school traction control button featuring a graphic of a wheel mid-burnout, as opposed to today's ubiquitous "fish-tail" marking for the same button on just about all modern cars.

After I finished admiring this car's restored wood trim, I pointed the nose toward the wide, straight roads of Newport Beach, California. The V-12s merits are obvious immediately, with a muscle-car-thick torque curve that never, ever leaves you in a dead zone. Its 435 hp and 410 lb-ft might not, somehow, seem rather impressive in these days of 460-hp Mustang GTs, but this car is from the same era when the equivalent Mustang GT delivered 260 hp. Think about that for a second. Even the hottest-of-hot Corvettes could "only" muster 405 hp; the regular Dodge Viper was stuck at 415 hp. Hell, if you wanted to out-muscle the DB7 GT, you had to spend considerably more on the Vanquish version—or something even more unobtainable wearing either the cavallino rampante or a raging bull badge.

In the DB7 GT, it seems like no matter the gear, no matter the speed, there is enough twist to carry you well into jail-time speeds. Famously, this is the same model in which Top Gear demonstrated how it's capable of starting from a dead stop in fourth gear to a top gear speed of 135 mph—and it was no camera trick. No, the Aston Martin DB7 GT is not explosive like many modern supercars and GTs, but it offers a bottomless pool of smooth forward momentum without the omnipresent threat of big power-on oversteer that plagues hi-power, forced-induction offerings from the past few years.

This is to say nothing of the other inputs. Steering isn't sharp, but it's as well-weighted and on-center as you'd want in a car that pulls double-duty as both canyon carver and long-distance cruiser. Its clutch isn't overly heavy or difficult to modulate, and the GT's factory short-shifter does an admirable job refining the T-56's muscle-car roots. When you need to haul yourself down from low-altitude flight, the brakes are immediately intuitive and strong—a welcome surprise. Above all, the car sounds fantastic with a mellifluous V-12 wail; it's a byproduct of the GT-specific exhaust system that turns the soundtrack a bit more Vanquish than DB7.

What a treat this was. If you're the type of enthusiast with both extra space in your garage and some cash you don't quite know what to do with, you would do well to pick a DB7 before the rest of the market realizes how affordable these cars are.

I'm not exaggerating; these things are relatively cheap - really cheap. If you're happy with a supercharged inline-six and not picky with colors, a DB7 coupe of some variety can easily be had below the $30,000-mark, a shockingly good deal for a bona-fide Aston Martin that never stickered for less than $140,000 when new. If you must have the V-12, expect to pay in the high-$30s or more for a clean, well-kept example.

Hold out long enough, and you might find one of these rare GTs come up for sale, but you'll likely pay more than $50,000 for the privilege. Still, it's a (again, relatively) small price to pay for a beautiful, fast, historically important car that saved Aston Martin.