By David Burgess-Wise
| Apr 22, 2015
Special thanks to Aston Martin Heritage specialist Nicholas Mee & Company for the loan of the V8 Vantage Volante PoW edition for our shoot www.nicholasmee.co.uk
The V8 Vantage Volante Prince of Wales remains one the most striking of all Aston Martins and was the unwitting precursor to the Q by Aston Martin programme, as David Burgess-Wise Reveals.
Its a well-known fact that all Aston Martins are special, but to paraphrase Animal Farm some are more special than others. When it comes to the V8 range (1969-1999), none is more special than the Vantage Volante Prince of Wales. The origin of this model was a remarkable act of generosity by the Emir of the Gulf State of Bahrain, Sheikh Isa Bin Sulman Al-Khalifa. During a state visit to his country by HRH Prince Charles in November 1986, the Emir sought permission to offer the Prince a new Aston Martin. The Prince, a long-term Aston Martin owner, who still treasures the DB6 Mk II Volante that the Queen gave to him for his 21st birthday in 1969, was understandably keen to have the most powerful convertible version of the V8 range, with one proviso that it had a manual gear change. Mechanically, the V8 Vantage Volante certainly fitted the Royal specification, but Prince Charles found its styling a deep chin valance, prominent side skirting and a boot-lid spoiler too extreme; he preferred the subtler lines of the original William Towns-penned design.
Discussing the project with the Princes office, Kingsley Riding-Felce, manager of Aston Martins Service, Parts Operations, Technical Operations and Warrant Department (which subsequently morphed into Aston Works Service) agreed that the answer was a car that looked like a standard Volante, but used the more potent Vantage running gear a true Q-car that contained its iron fist within an immaculately tailored velvet glove.
Few compromises were made to the Volantes appearance to compensate for the power increase: a special chin valance and slightly flared wheel arches to accommodate the larger 16-inch wheels and tyres of the Vantage were the only external differences. The car retained the open-mesh grille of the Vantage and its distinctive power bulge on the bonnet. The choice of colours was provided by the Princes office British Racing Green with mushroom leather trim, no contrast stitching, green carpet and dark green hood while Riding-Felces own intimate knowledge of Prince Charless DB6 saw some very personal features incorporated in to the cars passenger compartment.
During the years that the Prince had owned the DB6, Riding-Felce recalls, I had always noticed a jar of sugar lumps for the polo ponies in its glove box. Additionally, we were advised that the Prince could never find a suitable place for his sunglasses. We therefore designed the centre armrest to accommodate a leather trimmed sugar-lump jar and music cassettes, as well as converting the ashtray into a storage area with a lid to hold sunglasses. Other special characteristics of the Princes car were a Nardi steering wheel and gear knob in matching wood.
I had the privilege of handing over this very special V8 Vantage Volante to the Prince at Highgrove on 17 July 1987, says Riding-Felce. Shortly after the Prince had taken delivery, he honoured the company which now had his Royal Warrant with an approved visit and it was then that the company presented him with a Volante Junior, built to the same specification for his sons William and Harry. We used a smaller jar in the centre console and filled it with Smarties instead of sugar lumps.
In 1992, the young Princes started using the Junior in earnest at Balmoral and some years later we had the car back for refurbishment. It is now in the Sandringham Motor Museum.
The subtler lines of the Princes car caught the eye of Aston Martin chairman Victor Gauntlett, who was instantly smitten. Gosh, Ill have one of those! he exclaimed to Riding-Felce, who noted in his order book Build to PoW specification and an exclusive model designation was born.
Other customers followed Gauntletts lead and Aston Martin began offering the new derivative, which became known as the V8 Vantage Volante Prince of Wales or PoW for short as a production option. Each subsequent car had its own unique features and no two were exactly alike.
Typically, these cars shared with the Princes Aston Martin the storage compartment in the central armrest sugar-lump jar not included and the conversion of the ashtray to a walnut-lidded oddments box, matching wood-rimmed Nardi steering wheel and gear knob, and recessed switchgear.
Eventually, 22 PoW Vantages were built in total, all but one with manual transmissions. To underline the bespoke nature of the model, two PoW specification Vantages were built to customer choice with the boot lid spoiler. Prince Charles was not the only Royal customer for the model; his cousin HRH Prince Michael of Kent also owned a PoW Vantage.
Then there was the all-important American market, where the natural desire to have an Aston Martin like that of British Royalty was tempered by the countrys restrictive construction and use regulations; an additional five PoW Aston Martins were built to US-specification. They shared most of the cosmetic features of Prince Charless car, but had less-powerful fuel-injected engines and rubber bumpers.
During the summer months, Prince Charles made extensive use of his V8 Vantage Volante to take the pressure off his cherished Old Lady DB6 Volante, covering some 46,000 miles in the process, but early in 1993 Aston Martin loaned him a Virage Volante converted to 6.3-litre specification by Works Service. This boasted an engine uprated to 500bhp, with matching upgrades to suspension and brakes, a combination chosen because the standard Virage Volante didnt offer the same high levels of performance as his V8 Vantage Volante. After he had used the 6.3-litre Virage Volante for a few days, the Prince ordered a similar car with a colour specification to match his V8 Vantage Volante. He took delivery of this very special fully-upgraded 6.3-litre Virage Volante in the spring of 1994 and, after consulting with the Emir of Bahrain, took the decision to auction his beloved V8 Vantage Volante for charity. It was sold by Sothebys at the Hendon Royal Air Force Museum in December 1995, realising £111,500, all of which was handed to The Prince of Wales Charities Trust for distribution to various good causes.
The PoW programme was the precursor of todays Q by Aston Martin personalisation service introduced in 2012, whose declared aim is to make the impossible become possible by allowing customers to tailor their own Aston Martin right down to the finest detail. Says Aston Martin: Bespoke colourings, deeply personal representations or unique trim and material patterns, all can be produced to your personal specification. Even, should you so desire, the fitting of a sugar-lump jar
This article has been taken from the Spring 2015 issue of Aston Martin's official AM Magazine. Available now in Print and App format.