This post has been brought to you buy a bottle(s) of Sexual Chocolate red wine from SLO Down wines. They don't sponsor me, though I'd love it if they did. I just drink a lot of their wine. Skip down to Project Cars and Project Plans for the car stuff.
I have to say that I've found myself in an incredibly fortunate position. I've got two project cars, and both are Aston Martins. Shortly after buying the red one, Clare and I were talking about going out and I wanted to drive my grey one. At that point, the car was on jack stands and it hadn't quite sunk into my subconscious mind that we had the red one. When we decided to go out to dinner, I immediately focused on my grey Vantage and found myself uttering the words:
I'm fairly certain at least half our neighbors think we're selling drugs. I know we live in a pretty nice area because none of them have asked to buy any. Truth be told, my family didn't have much money when I was a kid. My childhood was fairly tragic as far as childhoods go. I mentioned in a [half-drunk] blog post not too long ago that I was in the Marine Corps. I actually signed up when I was 16 years old and went to boot camp when I was 17. I didn't go to college because I didn't have the money for tuition or the grades for scholarships. (Dirty little secret: I still don't have a degree, even after a few attempts.) I had several jobs in junior high and high school, including plumbing (construction and remodeling, not service side), but I knew I didn't want to do that for the rest of my life. The problem was that I didn't know what I wanted to do at all, save one thing. I wanted to be a pilot.
I was in the Civil Air Patrol in high school. It was like the Boy Scouts for the US Air Force. I enjoyed it, generally, but the main reason I was there was to learn how to fly. They provided Ground School and three flight lessons for free, all I had to do was buy the books. My dad, ever supportive (and, looking back, holy crap was he supportive), bought the books for me, and I did great in class. By the third flight lesson, I could walk up to a Cessna 182, do all the pre-flight checks, turn everything on, taxi the plane, and take off all on my own - and I was only 16 years old. I didn't get a drivers license until I was 17.
So the time came to figure out what I'd be doing for the rest of my life. Because, you know, that's a great decision for a 16-year-old to make. Not having money or grades for college meant I was either staying in the trades or joining the military. I walked my 16-year-old self into the Air Force recruiting office and said I wanted to be a fighter pilot. Too much Top Gun as a kid. (Yes, I understand the irony here... Top Gun was about the Navy.) I was - and still am - an addrenaline junky, so it was fighter pilot or not a pilot. The gist of their response was that I had to be an officer to be a pilot, and to be an officer I needed a degree. That damn college thing again. And even if I did get to be a pilot, I couldn't pick what I flew unless I was in the top 5% of my class. That was too risky for me since I couldn't see myself as a cargo plane pilot, so I walked down the hall to the Marine Corps recruiting office and said I wanted to sign up. Too much History Channel as a kid.
As I said previously, my enlistment was what led to me building a career that has afforded me to be in the position I find myself. Working too much and being able to keep driving forward is a big benefit of my military experience, but it's the actual jobs I've had since leaving the service. They've progressed into a career that has afforded me luxuries I'd only dreamed of during my childhood. And now I'm sitting here writing a blog post about what I'm doing with my two Aston Martins. Oh, how things have changed.
Project Cars and Project Plans
To me, the Vantage is something of a compromise car. It tries to be both a sports car and a grand tourer, but succeeds at neither because of concessions made for each. It's small, nimble-ish, has fantastic brakes and a great engine, and sounds like boyhood fantasies turned up to 11. But it's so, so heavy and has a sluggish engine that's held back from being the giggle-factory it should be. The Vantage is underpinned by a race car, but you'd never know it when driving a standard Vantage (especially one with the 4.3L engine). That does contribute to the weight - the car is over-built (in a good way). But I truly think the car would be so much better if Aston Martin had relegated the grand touring duties to the DB9 and make the Vantage a true sports car. To explore the compromise, I'm building my pair of 2007 V8 Vantages in two completely different directions.
The Grey One
My goal for my grey car has been to bring out the sports car qualities of the Vantage and make it more track-focused, but without compromising driving enjoyment on the street. Driving enjoyment is important to keep in mind because there is such thing as too modified. Suspension can be made too harsh for public roads for the sake of better handling on a glass-smooth track. Exhaust noise can be amplified to unbearable levels by straight pipes that may net a few extra horsepower. A racing seat that's fantastic during a track day is often a pain to deal with on a Tuesday.
And don't get me started on removing things like air conditioning to reduce parasitic draw on the engine. I'll never take the air conditioning out of a car again. Never again.
Even leaving all the creature comforts in place - the A/C, sound deadening, Premium Audio system, etc etc - I've dropped around 170 lbs from the car. That, in addition to the extra 50-some-odd horsepower make a massive difference in how the car performs. It's still perfectly civil to drive, but it's a completely different animal when you push it. Every aspect of performance is noticeably better. I've had the car for several years now, so most of the work is already done, but it'll still be seeing more track-oriented development. I'll be testing my upcoming coilovers on the car over the next few months, including the upcoming AMOC track day at Lime Rock, and then swapping them out for another set of more aggressive coilovers that I'll be offering once they're done with development and testing.
Another big plan (and the only one that really detracts from driving comfort) is installing racing seats into the car. Those are quite the project, one I started some time ago but haven't gotten around to finishing, and I've got a ton of work to do with them to make sure they're perfect. They'll have a direct effect on safety, so there's no room for error! To support the use of racing seats, I'll also be installing a half-cage and harnesses in the car.
I've made a Project Car page for my grey car that will detail all the modifications to the car (as of this posting, it's still a work in progress). I'll give a few thoughts on each of the modifications to help you understand what the modification is, why I did it, and what you should know if you're thinking of doing it to your own car.
The Red One
Initial plans for the red car are quite simple: Get it back in shape. I bought the car sight-unseen and it's been a bit of a story ever since. After a drama-filled transport, I finally collected the car only to find it had a number of undisclosed issues. As soon as I first turned on the car, a god-awful squeal came from the engine and wouldn't stop until I'd parked the car at home. It turns out it had the wrong FEAD belt on it and rather than swap it out for the correct one, the previous owner had covered the crank pulley in anti-squeal. Not only did that not work, but it also accelerated the destruction of the belt. Here's how bad it was:
The leather on the dash panels is also pulled pretty badly in a few areas, and the brake pads and rotors all need to be replaced. The Bluetooth switcher kit needed to be replaced, the stereo seems to have an odd freezing issue where it stops accepting inputs and has to be turned off then back on to get it working again, and the tires were bald. The car wasn't quite in the condition I was led to believe it was in, but that's why it's so important to go through the proper buying process. I like to share my actual experiences to help all you guys out, and this is one of them! Based on what I've seen so far, I know I've got my work cut out for me. I'll be doing a full maintenance job on it this weekend, minus the brake rotors (I'm saving up for a set of Wilwoods lol), to get it back in shape.
Before any modifications begin on the car, I'll be using it as a benchmark for testing my grey one. I'll be weighing both cars and then putting both on a dyno. Same day, same scales, same dyno. I'll be discussing dynos in another blog post when the time comes, but the important thing to know is that dyno readings are useless without some kind of comparison. By having both cars tested on the same equipment, back to back, the readings will be as accurate as possible so we know exactly how a heavily modified car (the grey one) compares to a totally stock one (the red one).
After that testing is complete comes the fun! We'll be putting our upcoming coilovers on the car, as well as a full exhaust system, our air box delete brackets, our high-flow air filters, the black BC Forged RZ05 wheels you see on my grey car in the pic above, and the aforementioned Wilwood 2-piece brake rotors.
And that's just for starters.
As with my grey car, I've made a Project Car page for the red one as well. It'll be pretty dry for the next few weeks, but once work begins after the red-vs-grey testing is complete, the page will get a lot more interesting!
I've added an AMR section to the online store!
The AMR twin-plate clutch and lightweight flywheel is going to be a huge hit for V8 Vantage owners. No more Achilles heel!
There's also an AMR lightweight mesh grille, which is similar to the actual racing part I have on my grey car.
Then there's the AMR titanium exhaust system, which is as cool as it is expensive.
I've got more to list, but those are the ones I've done so far.
Lastly, I had a long chat with the guys at BC Racing about the coilovers I mentioned in my last blog post. The video lacked a few key pieces of information. One, the roads he was driving on were incredibly torn up, so a bumpy ride was inevitable. But even more important, the setup being tested on that car was a baseline using off-the-shelf components. BC Forged will be making a basic setup based on the one in the video at an incredibly good price (around $1600) which I'll be offering alongside my upgraded 'Redpants' setup. So all is well, it was just a matter of missing information to tie everything together.