Unique Aston Martin DB7 Vantage - the only 6 speed auto in the world.- V12

Due to changing commitments this unique car is for sale.

Please note: This page began as general information about this very special DB7. It has been adapted and modified now that the car is for sale, but may still not read like a "normal" advert. However, I have left most of it the same to give as much background information as possible.

Price is only £21,950. Read on to see why this is such a bargain!or Sale
The car is being sold with its original "52" registration number.

For details contact: website@ukzero.com

Please note that the bonnet vents above are not standard or available as an option.

 

Please note that the boot spoiler above and below is not standard and is unique to this vehicle.

 

Please note that the gear lever and surround below is not standard and unique to this vehicle.

 

 

~Why did I buy a DB7? (General background reading not specific to this car)

In 2015 decided that I would put some of my savings into another "weekend classic car".

I have always tinkered with cars and even performed an engine and gearbox transplant in my time (V8 into Lotus Elite & much easier in the days before ECUs and CAN bus). I have owned a string of British sporty cars such as a Triumph GT6 and small volume cars from Marcos, Lotus and Reliant (the Scimitar, not the Robin!) and had no delusions about cars of that era. Cars really are so much better than they used to be in pretty much every way. I remember BL brand new cars rusting visibly on the forecourt and by the time I could afford to buy any car there were usually holes (one reason I chose a number of GRP bodied models). I regularly find myself bemused by the high prices being commanded by certain classics which were pretty poor in their day and no better now (other than being elevated by the rose tint of age and rarity). I also remember the all too frequent reports of fatalities in car crashes that today would have left the driver no more than a bit shaken up. I saw first hand how nasty it could get. So I like things such as ABS, airbags and passenger protection - not to mention comforts like modern climate control. For this reason I was considering a "modern classic".
I tried to be open minded, but obviously the lure of the Aston Martin brand is bound to be on one's radar.

Older Astons can be fabulously expensive to buy and own. They have been a gold standard of high end classic car investment and some are heritage pieces and it is almost as though you are a custodian rather than an owner.
Newer Astons are aggressively styled complex machines with numerous variants aimed at competing in a rapidly evolving market and consequently look and feel less "classic". Actually I struggle to tell the more modern variants apart and they no longer turn heads as older models do due to being more numerous.

The Newport Pagnell Vanquish certainly has the right mix of classic and modern, but I am in that tiny minority which feels that the rear wheel arch overhang is slightly too much for the wheels and the lower rear corners are too angular. Not to mention that despite using more exotic materials the VQ is heavier than the DB7 and yes, they do suffer from corrosion - sometimes bad corrosion. Then there is that early semi-auto gearbox. There. I said it. My taste in automotive beauty is forever called into question (I do like the rear of the Callum Vanquish 25, but not for £500,000). Almost worse, when I looked at the obligatory Jaguar E-Type several years ago while still affordable, that didn't quite do it for me either.

Then there is the DB7.
The DB7 has a conventional steel monocoque body, with subframes for the front and rear suspension and drivetrain. It has a number of Ford and Jaguar components incorporated and is often cruelly described as a “Jag in drag".
I noted motoring journalists chorusing the notion that it was, to paraphrase, simply a tarted up raid on obsolete parts bins and used a couple of Mondeo engines stuck together. Worse, there were numerous stories of
reported issues of poor build quality, rust, fragility and questionable reliability. Wary, I paid too much attention to the doom mongers and I long steered clear of the DB7. Even recent reviews appear to have had it in for the DB7 with the aim appearing to be "let's get hold of the worst possible examples we can find and then act suitably disappointed when they don't impress".

So I looked at a range of other possible contenders. I rather fancied a Mercedes SL55 and despite their still falling prices (at the time) was considering seeking out a good one as a "sleeper".
I also tried the XKR, considered a Porsche 928 GTS and others. I had already owned a BMW E31 8 series for 9 years so that was out as well.

However, one thing kept drawing me back to the DB7. Photos look good, but whenever I saw one in the metal I was blown away by the sheer beauty of this car; from any angle. What is more, when moving they look even better. A view shared by the ever-controversial Jeremy Clarkson.

I realised that before I made a final choice I should still go and test drive a DB7 - to rule it out once and for all you understand.

I finally went to see a DB7. The car was a Vantage. I have owned 3 cylinder cars, 4 cylinder, V6, straight 6 and V8 cars, but never a V12, so decided to go for a V12 if I was to buy a DB7.
The road test had me hooked. It felt sort of old fashioned, but in a good way. Sure, there are faster, more hard core, more planted cars out there, but for me this was perfect. It just felt right.

To be absolutely certain, I also road tested a six cylinder DB7 (i6) and a DB9, the DB7 replacement and a similar price for an early example. The press reviews all urge towards the "superior" DB9. The exterior is indeed appealing; less beautiful, but more aggressively modern. So far so good. Now, it’s a very personal thing, but the plastic looking centre console panel, silver plastic-looking dial surrounds, slab-like seats and tall door panels didn’t appeal. The high waistline is modern, but left me having to peer out (I am 6ft) and after a comparative test drive the DB7 felt more cosy, more comfortable with better visibility and had what I was increasingly appreciating, a wonderfully retro interior (remember, this is a personal viewpoint). In fact, it felt like a “classic car”, but as mentioned, with more modern safety and comfort.
The DB7 is the kind of car which prompts people to wave and give you a thumbs up as opposed to the alternative gestures you may see if you drive a more modern Aston or other expensive car. The DB7 is immediately recognisable to the person in the street as a "classic car".
My heart was now firmly with the DB7.

I began the search and after seeing enough cars to get a very good feel for what was out there bought my car. Seeing a range of cars and comparing them was definitely THE best way to be able to judge what was good and what was not.

Still in the back of my mind were the worries mentioned above - even after buying the car, my concerns continued. However, I can now report that as ownership progressed and I have spent more time driving the car and working on, in and under the car, my concerns have now pretty much evaporated. This car needs servicing properly without shortcuts. Given that, it is better built than I expected and better designed than I expected and I became happier and happier with my choice as time went on. The YouTube guides and doom mongers may be right for some examples, but I clearly got lucky!

 

~Improvements and Additions to my DB7 - including the 6 speed auto conversion.

Introduction:

I didn't plan from the outset to modify my DB7. However, as I became more and more familiar with it I did find things that I felt could be improved. Quite a few of these are known "quirks" of the DB7 which people normally just put up with.

Making changes to a standard classic car (even if enhancements) is usually seen as a potentially bad idea. That's true for many models, but of the few thousand DB7s produced most were bought as second cars, most are still in the road, most are in reasonable condition and as "weekend cars" many have low mileage. So at any one time there are always plenty of decent (and not so decent!) DB7s for sale and that means plenty of choice and hence affordable prices. In fact, the DB7 represents exceptional value for money in this market. With all these standard cars available the case for something different begins to stack up.

Modifying a car just to make it different could so easily make it less desirable than a standard car (we have all seen cars that fall in to this category). So with this in mind I have tested every single planned change against the following strict criteria:
a. Does it enhance function and/or convenience?
b. Is any visual change subtle and sympathetic?
c. Would it pass for factory produced?
To pass my test it has to be a "Yes" for a. or b. and must ALWAYS be a "Yes" for c. Basically an observer not very familiar with DB7s should assume everything is as it came from the factory.
This has meant meticulous attention to detail, both in execution and for future care (for example, mods involving any wiring changes mean fully detailed updates to the wiring diagrams in my workshop manuals).

At various car shows this approach has so far been widely vindicated by the comments made. The consensus of all those who have seen the car is that the desirability has increased rather than decreased - even at specialist Aston gatherings.

I didn't originally plan to make any modifications to the car's powertrain, brakes or suspension, but did intend to overhaul and renew as required. The only mechanical change that has been made is a big one however, the 6-speed auto gearbox (see later).

Standard options fitted to the car include:
Optional Sports Exhaust System.
Front Mesh Grill.
Front and Rear Parking Sensors.

1. Full respray (these are in no particular order).

The paintwork was fine, but had minor imperfections inevitable on a car from 2002. This included a questionable colour match on the nose cone following a pre-purchase stone chip removal respray. There was also a slight patch of bubbling on each of the front and rear screen frames and the same inside the O/S rear wheel arch lip. None of these were bad and very easily missed, but I didn't want to live with "fine", only "A1" would do.
The car was taken to a local paint shop where the owner was happy for me to work alongside his team for about a month which allowed me to get an excellent feel for the bodywork, how to dismantle it, reassemble it and be able to do those extra things that normally wouldn't be done during a "normal" respray. The fact that the owner was OK with this unusual arrangement should again reassure others that I take such things seriously and was able to be productive in this setting.
The car was fully stripped, including removal of front and rear sections, side skirts, lights, handles, both front and rear screens.
Once stripped down, the state of the bodywork could be properly assessed.
During reassembly I swapped many of the "hard to get at" nuts and bolts with stainless items.

What looks like rough welding at the front of the sill box section in the photo above is in fact mastic. Both sides were the same. No damage and no rust, other than some surface staining around the front jacking point. Remarkable and unusual!

Having been warned about potentially bad rust on these cars I was very pleased to find that there was no evidence of rust at all other than minor surface blemishes on some edges under the car. In this case the scaremongers had it wrong (for my car at least), in fact, while at the paint shop several mainstream vehicles of similar age came in with far more serious MOT-failing rust.

The bubbling in two places around the screens turned out to be caused by clumsy previous glass replacement and not more serious inherent rot. The bubbling was purely a surface blemish (Note – I was present for glass refit and great care was taken to ensure no repeat). Likewise, the bubbling in the rear wheel arch was also surface deep.
The tray below the scuttle in front of the windscreen was totally rust free.

As you can see we stripped the car pretty comprehensively. I made patterns for the bonnet vent cutouts and it was definitely a case of measure ten times, cut once! The headlights were dismantled and cleaned. Again, no rust was found, just some flaking of the rubbish paint AML applied to the nosecone brackets. While the receiver drier was so accessible I had it swapped and a full A/C service carried out.

Just before reassembly I went mad with the Waxoyl. The lack of rust was again very encouraging!

The respray involved extra thick lacquer and subsequent flatting and polishing over several days to achieve the desired finish.
A real advantage of working with the paint team was that I was able to do things not normally included, so when reassembling the car I decided for longevity to use copious amounts of Waxoyl on “under” surfaces rather than aim for a concours paint finish in areas which only a "concours judge" would ever look.

2. Bonnet vents

The large V12 engine in an engine bay originally designed for a straight six can lead to a very warm engine bay indeed. Later V12 Astons have vents in the bonnet to allow excess heat to escape, including the DB7 GT/GTA, but one of these bonnets was not an option for me because I didn't want to make a GT/GTA "copy".
I chose vents from a Jaguar XK, so the DNA fits given the car's underpinnings.
The GRP units needed fettling to fit and placement was critical for clearance (very tight) and minimal bonnet structure cutting. I used GRP pattern vents rather than OEM ABS because they were easier to adapt to this install (in the GT/GTA the vents had to be put in raised humps). I also didn't want to fit the OEM Jaguar vents because they feature "supercharged" lettering and my car isn't supercharged - details like this mattered to me.
The amount of heat coming out of these when parked up is amazing. I think they look rather good as well (only those who know the DB7 notice they aren't standard).

 

 

 

 

The mesh keeps out debris and strengthens the delicate lips of the vent openings.
The picture was taken before the post spray-job polishing was completed and before I cleaned up all the inevitable mess this makes.

 

3. Wiper update

The above pictures of the bonnet vents and the picture below clearly show the wipers. If you haven't spent some time in a DB7 you wouldn't know about these.
The later i6 and all Vantage wipers feature a pantograph arrangement for the driver's side to ensure maximum screen wiped area. This is quite delicate, unsightly, wears (and so can "clunk") and is expensive to replace. What is more, to accommodate the pantograph arm the wiper sits higher than is ideal on the spindle.
The fixing on the driver's side also means that modern low profile blades won't fit. So, the wipers sit very high spoiling the looks of the car and virtually obscuring the view of the passenger. Add to this the old fashioned on-arm washer jets and you have
, in my eyes, an unsatisfactory set up.

If you study the above pictures the wipers look utterly unremarkable, but this was much more difficult to achieve than you might think and is not a simple "parts swap". You won't see any others.

The wiper blades are standard low profile items for a Fiat Doblo.

At the same time I decided to go to more conventional washer jets - visible on the scuttle. This modification sums up the attention to detail which I feel compelled to achieve.

4. Rear boot spoiler.

The later GT and GTA DB7 cars have a different boot lid with a duck tail type flick at the rear.
Used boot lids like these are very hard to find, but also, because the built-in spoiler has to blend from nothing to full height within the width of the boot lid they visually make the rear end of the car look too narrow in my view.
So, I decided the make a stick-on spoiler which could be visually wider than a GT/GTA version. I found a GRP item originally made for a Mercedes CLK. It didn’t fit of course and was completely the wrong shape, but had potential.
The spoiler needed cutting apart, rejoining and then reshaping and twisting to follow the DB7’s lines. I achieved this by making a jig which allowed me to apply force accurately to get the shape right. The core of the spoiler was then filled with chopped strand glass mat and resin to make sure it held the new shape once released from the jig. Then the base of the spoiler had to be shaped to suit the car.

 

A very cheap damaged bootlid was used as a perfect pattern and jig base for the spoiler fitment.

 

I spent many hours finishing the spoiler shape.
Being a stick on item, after applying the foam tape, but before “peeling and sticking” I tried the spoiler on and off and on and off and on……….
The real decider was that when removing the spoiler the rear looked too "droopy". This was highlighted at a recent car meet where the comparison could be made instantly between two DB7s, one with spoiler and one without. The consensus was that the spoiler was a definite enhancement and I had numerous enquiries from other DB7 owners about making some more.
I never did make any more so this is yet another totally unique feature of this car.
If you don't like it, the spoiler can be removed (it's stuck on) and sold for a premium as a unique item.

 

 

5. Ultra discrete traffic camera install.

With the standard of driving falling in direct proportion to the number of cars on the road I decided to add the peace of mind accessory of a traffic camera/recorder. There was no way I could live with the standard arrangement obscuring part of the screen and trailing wires. I bought a very small camera (small because it has no screen) and before the front screen was put in following the respray, I extended the black area below the mirror mount. This was to avoid seeing the unsightly adhesive pad of the camera mount. The wiring was quite tricky. I had a +12V and Earth wires for the interior lights, but also needed a 12V ignition feed to activate the camera automatically whenever driving. I eventually managed to route a cable through the headlining and down the C pillar to the boot area. The supply has its own fuse and the appropriate wiring schematic added to the correct page of the workshop manual.

 

 

6. Daytime running lights.

As all exterior bulbs are now LED (apart from HID dipped beams) and the front side lights much brighter and whiter than the originals I decided these would make excellent daytime running lights (DRL) and better still look OEM rather than the usual obvious add-on.

The front sidelights operate with the following function (wiring diagrams updated in manual):
IGN on - front sidelights operate as DRL powered from IGN feed. The rest of the lighting circuit is isolated.
Sidelights on - the sidelight feed triggers the relay to changeover the front sidelight supply to the lighting circuit, isolated from the IGN supply.

7. Sound system upgrade.

I wanted very good sound, but an also wanted an installation that looks as understated as possible.

The first dilemma is the head unit. The Becker single DIN variants blend in well visually, but are now just too out of date - including the Becker NAV upgrade.
I first fitted an Alpine unit which looked OK, but eventually bought a higher end Kenwood DAB unit which has a relatively plain facia and is able to display any colour and brightness and blends in perfectly. Another example of my obsessive nature to get things just so..

The head unit now fitted has DAB and so a new twin cable aerial was needed capable of good DAB reception in weak signal areas.

I also had an Aux input and 2 X USB inputs which I threaded through to the cubby beneath the arm rest.
Luckily my centre console mod meant that the gear gaitor unclips to gain access to guide the cable through.

The microphone for the phone connectivity was simple to press behind the A pillar trim for a neat (no wires visible) install at the top corner of the screen.

The sound was already much improved apart from weedy and thin bass.
Ninety percent of an amp's power is used kicking out bass - large mass, large movement. I didn't need a multi-channel amplifier, just a decent single unit to drive a subwoofer which would need to be added.
Out went the CD changer (one of the USB inputs holds a flash drive with hundreds of high bit rate tracks, so CD changer would not be missed).
In its place went an Alpine mono subwoofer amp. This was a doddle to wire up as the power aerial lead turns it on and the battery is just next door to hook up the fat power cables (through a fuse of course!).

The physical mounting was tricky to fit in the space and necessitated a fabricated bracket at an angle to get clearance and access to the controls.

The DB7 is an awkward car to fit a sub into because the fuel tank is in the way. This proved quite a challenge.
Step one was to cut a hole in the rear deck above the fuel tank (only really possible/safe with the rear screen removed (mine was during its respray).

Step two is to cut a hole in the nice expensive leather and fit a new grille above the new hole.


Step 3 is to get hold of a shallow 10” sub in a shallow enclosure and find a way to mount it.

My car didn't come with the factory premium sound system - but this was no big loss as the one I heard was nothing special despite the big amp in the boot, but the big amp mounting brackets were still there in my car. This allowed me to make a custom ply faceplate, some angled sides to allow clearance and construct the sound "duct" and bolt the sub enclosure in place just clear of the boot floor.

You can see how shallow the enclosure is by the amount of space still left.

Best of all, because the sub is attached to the rear of the tank and not the boot floor the cover still lifts out to get access to the boot “basement”.

As I bolted through the speaker enclosure I had to add extra bracing to prevent the cabinet being distorted/damaged when the bolts/studs were tightened. This extra bracing working against the tension in the bolts greatly increases the enclosure's rigidity - greatly improving its sound performance over a standard unit.

The difference in sound quality is incredible with wonderful rich (but not overpowering) bass.
Couple that with the multiple inputs, crystal clear DAB and phone interface and we have a proper entertainment/communication system. Well worth the trouble.

 

8. Touchtronic retrofit / upgrade.

One thing missing from my car was the Touchtronic option. I have owned BMWs with this system (Steptronic) and really thought it made the DB7 more pleasurable to drive on the examples I test drove.
I had originally had Touchtronic on my “must have” list when searching for a car, but as it happened the overall package of the car I bought justified its omission temporarily.
The good news is that this is a more of an "enable" job as opposed to a "retrofit" because all the later cars already have the correct transmission controller, with wires in the loom ready to accept manual shift switching, be it by using the shift lever or buttons on the steering wheel.

The simple solution would have been to buy new or second hand AML parts, but having discovered that the DB7 Touchtronic gear selector was simply an ancient BMW variant I felt more comfortable looking for a newer and better alternative.

I also discovered at the same time (2016) that Chiltern Aston were selling off old stock of genuine Touchtronic steering wheels (including air bag) which I bought. This is a very simple plug and play.

I have always thought that the DB7’s gear surround looked cheap and nasty and spoiled the nicely finished interior (a view shared by many). The Touchtronic version is no better and was ripe for improvement. I tried several variants but finally settled on a surround from an Audi TT. Luckily I have trimming experience and had some matching blue leather from a planned headrest upgrade.
The “S” on the display now comes on with the +/- when you select “Sport” by moving the gear lever sideways.

When a used Touchtronic instrument cluster came up shortly after I bought the car I snapped it up (clusters on auction sites are rare and can be £2000+ !).
One problem was the odometer reading. I didn’t want to jump from 41,000 to 65,000 miles on the display. Luckily, the circuit boards are identical on both variants. This meant I could dismantle both units and make up one which shows my correct miles and has the Touchtronic display window.

As for all my mods I updated my printed workshop manual with the new wiring so that any competent service agent can see what’s what.

So, what does this look like installed and should I have gone for a genuine DB7 gear surround?

First a couple of pictures to compare the Aston version and the my version of the gear surround.

And here is the finished install.....

The above picture also shows the Touchtronic instrument cluster and steering wheel - and the later turn indicator LEDs added to the cluster. The paddle shifters and updated dot matrix gear display were not fitted at this stage.

A note of caution to anyone else considering using the Audi TT surround - the lever throw just fits into the smaller opening and please note that I used a later BMW shorter throw selector. So I doubt this would work with the standard older type selector - meaning copies of this idea are unlikely.

Although not standard in some minor detailing ways, this retrofit functions identically to the standard Touchtronic car in that it uses the same gearbox, and gearbox ECU and main loom wiring.

I have yet to find anyone who does not prefer the look of my gear surround over the original.

9. Head rest pads in matching leather.

The head rests in the DB7 are not really head rests because you need to tilt your head back at an uncomfortable angle to make contact. They are head restraints. I do like to occasionally rest my head on a head rest while driving. For one crazy moment I considered buying and recolouring a pair of used sports seats (standard in the GT/GTA) but was put off for three reasons; huge cost, when I sat in them they actually felt less comfortable than the standard seats and the head rest area was actually worse and finally I don't think they look quite right in this grand tourer.

SO, I decided to keep the seats as they were but modify the head rests.

The result had to look like OEM (but not OEM from the 1970-80's ruling out an "old-school" strapped-on bolster pad). Also, unhelpfully the head rests don't lift out of the seat. This was going to be a real challenge to get right. Anyway, not deterred I pressed on and achieved the following result. This is another one of those mods where the unfamiliar often won't accept that they aren't original, let alone unique!

A reminder of the standard head rest arrangement.

10. Tail pipe aperture sealing.

A very small modification, but visually makes quite a difference. Usually the exhaust silencer and boot floor are visible through the aperture. I have fixed 5mm thick black silicone sheet around the tail pipe. The silicone is heat resistant and very flexible. Next will be splash guards for the rear of the rear wheel arches as these are very exposed and make the car look open and hollow at the rear as opposed to being carved from solid rock...

 

11. Rear Wheel Arch Protection.

The rear of the rear wheel arches are completely open alowing all kinds of crud to splatter over the exhaust, exhaust mounts and the vulnerable rear bumper moulding supports. Another very small modification which meant shaping a suitable piece of black plastic sheet and mounting in the wheel arch. It also visually makes the car look more solid in this area (it isn't, but looks it).

12. Lighting upgrades.

Dipped beam bulbs are HID.

All other exterior bulbs are LED. This meant new electronic flasher units to avoid fast flashing of indictors (one bonus is that I can now hear the indicators ticking) and load resistors in the brake light circuit to prevent brake lights glowing when side lights turned on.

As part of the LED makeover the amber repeaters were swapped to clear versions.

Interior lights remain as standard as warm white suits the ambience.

13. Trickle charger upgrade.

The AML charger is certainly expensive, but not that special. The three pin connector is purely to ensure correct polarity as only two are connected. I tend to leave my car plugged in whenever not in use and not just when left for long periods. This practice with a good CTEK charger over several years has meant I have never had to replace a battery in decades years of owning "weekend" cars.

Plugging the AML charger in regularly is a pain as it means leaving the boot open and lifting the boot floor. To make life easier I have added a second charge connector under the fuel filler flap. This has a silicone rubber sealing cap and is completely waterproof. I have a hanging power lead which means simply lifting the filler flap and plugging in.

14. Rear badging

While removing the rather cheap looking plastic DB7 and Vantage badging in preparation for respraying some of the location pegs broke off despite great care being taken. I decided to abandon originality in favour of what I regard as a more subtle and aesthetically pleasing result. We filled in the locator holes and when all done, used a small discrete V12 badge from a V12 Vantage - so you could almost say it was made for the job!

15. Indicator tell-tale light modification.

The steering wheel totally obscures the indicator tell-tale lights above the instrument cluster. This means that if the car doesn't auto cancel and the driver doesn't cancel and doesn't hear the quiet ticking of the flasher relay he/she will drive down the road confusing and annoying others.

The solution was simple in principle, but fiddly to get right in practice if it was to look OEM.

In the picture you CAN see the original tell-tale light, but only because the camera was resting on the steering wheel centre.

 

17. Paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

The standard buttons are an excellent example of poor ergonomics. They just don't feel nice to use and so I didn't use them.
All later Astons have paddle shifters but using a later wheel takes you down a rabbit hole of other complexities (air bags are not mix and match!) and I really wanted to keep the DB7 interior looking like a DB7 despite my other improvements.

I sourced some JLR shifters and grafted them onto the back of the steering wheel by cutting away the foam and drilling and tapping the steel spoke beneath. This all sounds simple enough, but the shifter bodies needed careful reshaping and getting the location, profile and angles just right was far from easy! They work very well and again have been assumed to be OEM. Again I have been asked to convert other steering wheels, but as yet this remains the only one.

 

18. 6 Speed automatic gearbox conversion.

* How did it come about?
I began to notice the original ZF 5HP30 auto box to occasionally shift slightly less smoothly, particularly the 3-2 downshift off load - something many owners wouldn't even notice and most would ignore (those not used to the car would almost certainly miss this). However, I am super fussy and this was something I wouldn't tolerate. It took a while and visits to more than one specialist for the proper diagnosis to finally be made, but it was a bad day when the problem and required work to fix it was finally revealed. A total rebuild was probably going to be needed!

It appears that coolant had seeped into the gearbox ATF. The only place this could have happened is in the main radiator where there is also an ATF heat exchanger. We think that a corrosion pinhole was the most likely culprit. Coolant would only get into the ATF (not the other way round) and only in tiny amounts when the coolant was pressurised.
You can’t see the leak, the loss from the coolant can be too small to notice and you can’t see it in the ATF (a bit like water in brake fluid), but water in the system is very bad news.
This is a very serious cautionary tale to any owners of these cars. I would be very wary of any DB7 still fitted with its original radiator as even the youngest will be approaching twenty years old now. The newer replacement radiators can be distinguished by being all metal, with no plastic end caps..

The fix would begin with a brand new radiator. I fitted a genuine AML unit from Chiltern Aston (the latest version is all aluminium without the plastic end caps). Let me tell you, it's a tight fit!
Then it would need a full transmission rebuild.

Having shared my experience with Aston Martin Owners' Club members, Richard Furse of Gearbox Developments and responsible for the auto option in the half million pound Callum Vanquish 25 approached me with a proposition.
He offered to use my car as the trial for the installation of a 6 speed auto gearbox and control system as a more modern upgrade for the DB7.

* Why did I agree?
Well, apart from the fact that I would eventually need a total gearbox rebuild anyway, from day one of ownership it became apparent to me that the gearing of the V12 DB7 felt slightly compromised. It felt like the overall ratios (gearbox and diff) were not making the most of the engine’s potential. If you’ve driven one of these you will have noticed that revs at cruising speed are much higher than you would expect from a 5.9 litre V12 and fuel economy notoriously poor. Changing the diff ratio would improve this, but at the expense of acceleration. It’s not awful by any means. I just felt it could have been an awful lot better.

So it was not much of a surprise when I was told by AML factory insiders at the DB7 25th anniversary event that the original gearbox had been a question of what they could get hold of rather than what would be ideal and so they had to use an "off the shelf" 5HP30 with ratios not optimised for this V12 installation. The 5HP30 was a decent unit at the time, but was very near its limit in the DB7 (which is why the GTA did not have even the modest power boost given to the GT).
As well as a 6 speed being better to drive, my car would be unique and always be super rare among DB7s worldwide (given the likely cost of any retail version, which is still not available, this car may well remain as number one of one).

However, by being unique I absolutely did not want it to also be dificult to maintain or fix should any issues arise! Luckily the gearbox Richard would use is a standard GM unit which can be rebuilt for less (last time I checked in the UK) than the cost of the original. Obviously there would be a unique bell housing, but unlike the ZF unit this is separate to the gearbox, again allowing for a totally standard gearbox body to be used. The new custom gearbox controller would plug into the existing DB7 connector/wiring which does not need changing. One point definitely worth emphasising is that the new gearbox and torque converter being fitted are NEW, that is brand new from the factory and not reconditioned, so any rebuilds should be a very long way off! Anyway, the whole thing would have a warranty from GBD Ltd and they tend to offer a collect and return service in many instances.


* The plan.
Richard would adapt his work on the Newport Pagnell Vanquish and the Callum Vanquish 25 to fit the DB7.

See the magazine review of the Vanquish conversion (note the retail price of the conversion [same gearbox] at £22,200 inc VAT back in 2016): Click to view Vanquish Conversion Review.
He would use the same gearbox (GM 6L80). The choice of a GM box rather than the seemingly obvious ZF unit as fitted to the DB9 is because GM allow some third party transmission specialists access to the gearbox control software and ZF don’t allow anyone other than manufacturers such access.
Proper full access to control software along with a deep understanding of its function and experience in setting it up is crucial and why custom auto gearbox installs are super rare. The mechanicals are doable by many workshops, the computer control systems and the successful marriage bewteen engine and gearbox parameters are definitely a much more complex issue best left to the tiny handful of companies which specialise in this. The good news is that once sorted, the software "map" can be saved for potential future reuse if required.

The first and arguably the most important question was, would the GM gearbox fit? We had measured things repeatedly and we knew it would be close.

The chassis/body tunnel edges can be seen marked in red - it's a tight fit in there with the original 5HP30!

Photo courtesy of R.Furse.

One of those Eureka moments - Using a spare empty casing (much lighter!) to see if it fits - and it does!


From then the full conversion process took its painstaking course. There was a lot of bespoke work needed as well as the custom transmission control module developed in the USA.

Gearbox swap V1.0 (not the finished version) made its debut at the DB7 25th Anniversary event (September 2019) where it sat in pride of place beside another prototype - the original TWR DB7 prototype.

 

Having shown the conversion worked in principle, Richard was keen for it to be refined further and because I like things to be as good as they possibly can be, I agreed to him keeping the car to produce version V2.0.

Gearbox swap V2.0 arrived back on my drive in April 2021 - yes, over a year later, but these have been far from ordinary times.

It looks like this:

The car had already been driven several hundred miles with an engineer from the Callum Vanquish 25 project for initial calibration, but I then also drove the car for several more hundred miles to Beta Test and feedback for further calibration tweaks (occasionally with an engineer sat beside me with a laptop). Even before these final adjustments it was immediately clear that the extra gear had transformed the car. Driving at anything above 45mph was now much more relaxed and I had the distinct impression that this was how the car should have been built in the first place if Aston had had access to a 6 speed auto at the time (which I now know they didn't). Going back now would be like going from colour TV back to black and white!

Fuel economy was now regularly above 20mpg. Obviously, "spirited" driving would reduce this considerably, but either way, a huge improvement.

To be completely fair, the gear changes will never be as slick as say a modern ZF 8 speed unit in a BMW (or Aston), partly because these are even newer generation and partly because engine management systems have come a long way and don't rely on the bowden throttle cables as are found in cars of the DB7's vintage.

 

19. Gear display update.

One last job I needed to do was to replace the original crude 7 segment LED gear display with one compatible with the new controller. This was fiddly, but the result looks like this....

Because this display always shows which gear you are in even in regular "D", I added another LED to act as a tell-tale for the Sport mode light. The original Sport mode light is so well hidden by the steering wheel rim that I didn't even know it was there. The new tell-tale looks like this....



~Publications in AM Quarterly (Aston Martin Owbers Club glossy sent around the world)

Vol 50 No 212 -
"DB7 Coil pack replacement" -
Click to View content

Vol 51 No 217 -
"Revealed - The DB7 Facelift model"
(tongue in cheek title for description of modifications to date) -
Click to View article (PDF file).

 

~Records of Servicing and Maintenance of my DB7


Up to my purchase in 2015 this car had a mix of Aston Martin and independent specialist servicing.

From 2015 until the car went to Gearbox Developments I have serviced the car myself. Why?

The car is my pride and joy, so I care about the work done.
I know that should I ever sell the car, some potential buyers will run a mile, but I know others others would spend time to look more closely and make a more informed decision.

One piece of evidence to support my DIY servicing and maintenance credentials is the publishing of my detailed "coil pack replacement" guide in the international owners' club magazine. For those unfamiliar with this job it is much more involved than you might think and the set of 12 genuine new coils are about £1,000!
DB7 Vantage Spark Plug/Coil Pack replacement write-up: Click to View write-up.

I have a good sized double garage with a clean tiled floor, a hydraulic scissor lift and plenty of tools (5 torque wrenches for example), a commercial OBD reader and many years of experience working on cars. Also, very importantly, I will be working on my own car - so I will care about what I do. I also have the full set of printed workshop manuals, including maintenance and repair, service, OBD and parts.

My garage. Spot the special charger system.

 

The ramps give clearance for the scissor lift. I have also made special jacking point adapters.
Spot the dehumidier which runs over the Winter to keep low humidity and prevent rust.

Spot the removed set of coil packs.


I keep full records in two sections as evidence of the work done and the quality of the work done.

First is a record of non-scheduled maintenance/repair/upgrade. By this I mean things that the garage does NOT do as part of routine maintenance, so these are all extras. Some are modifications, but some (like replacing the entire and expensive PCV system) go well above and beyond what would normally be done.
Non-scheduled Repair and Upgrade Record: Click to View Repair and Upgrade Record.

Scheduled service sheets are for my own services are here:
2016 Click to View Service Record.

2017 Click to View Service Record.

2018 Click to View Service Record.

2019 Click to View Service Record.

From 2019 until this year (apart from a period of testing in 2021) the car has been with Gearbox Developments and has only covered nominal miles.

If the car is sold it will come with the following:

So how much of an issue would maintenance and repair work be with this unique DB7?

This car can be maintained just like any other DB7.

What about insurance? The car is currently insured with all modifications declared for similar money to a standard DB7.

~And Finally

So if it's so good, why am I selling it?!

Covid and supply chain issues meant that the whole thing has taken too long (four and a half years so far).
My situation and priorites have changed in that time and a "weekend car", any such car, is no longer going to feature in my life.
With this in mind, I have decided to let it go.

This car will not be for everybody.

Not least because at this moment it is back in the workshop having some further software updates on the gearbox controller and I can't give a definite date for completion.
If you just want a very good example of a standard DB7 this is not for you.
There are always plenty of good (and not so good) original cars (in fact they are all original by and large) for sale at any one time and you will have a wide choice to be able to compare several before buying.
This DB7 will suit a buyer who appreciates the unique nature of this car and would not mind the attention it can attract. Cars as rare as this don't come up for sale that often.
True, this isn't a factory special, but in reality neither is the Callum Vanquish 25 (offering the same gearbox by the same people), but this is very a significant DB7. Its status can be demonstrated by the fact that it was placed right next to the original DB7 prototype at the
official 25th Anniversary DB7 celebration. I would argue that some of the official "one of one" unique cars which qualify by having a particular trim colour, seat piping colour and other option combination are far less significant.

If you are genuinely interested and in a position to buy then I will be happy to spend as much time with you as you need.


I am happy to answer any questions and if you would like a longer conversation by phone please email for my phone contact details.

 

Contact: website@ukzero.com