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British but Brutish

As my wife and I traverse Highway 17 over the mountains from Los Gatos toward Santa Cruz and the Northern California coastline, I make a mental note: After we hit the lottery, we have got to get an Aston Martin.

That brilliant revelation occurs as I am literally driving into the sunset behind the wheel of the new Aston Martin DB7 Vantage convertible (called the Volante in company literature), a vehicle of truly extraordinary sensuality and sensibility. The top is down, the radio turned up loud, the sounds and smells of the night magical.

The DB7 Vantage combines old-world English craftsmanship—fine Connolly leather bucket seats, rich burr-walnut wood trim on the dash and a discreet and seductive shape—with a brutish V-12 engine that rumbles and throbs like a racecar motor. Together, these elements make for a heady blend of open-air fun. On one hand, you have Aston Martin's inherent elegance, understated but rich just the same, mated to twelve cylinders' worth of raw power and mechanical anarchy. Throw in the convertible top and you have a full 420 horses' worth of totally topless frolic, a shamelessly indulgent way to enjoy yourself. If this isn't heaven, it'll be a great ride until you get there.

You needn't worry about passing a slew of other DB7 Vantages on the way. Since its inception in 1914, the British auto-maker has built only about 19,000 cars. Exclusivity is part and parcel of the Aston Martin experience—hardly surprising given the cars' prices and the craftsmanship that goes into them. The DB7 Vantage Coupe starts at $145,500, while the convertible top adds another $10,000.

Because these cars are built in such low volume, you can add an almost limitless selection of trim options. The standard burr-walnut trim on the dash can be replaced with optional burr-oak, burr-maple or burr-elm trim, or even carbon fiber for those who prefer a high-tech polish. Aston Martin will even custom match any exterior paint color or leather trim for the seats. Still not enough for you?How about a five-piece set of color-keyed luggage, lamb's-wool floor mats or a golf umbrella?(If you're headed for the links, there's room in the trunk for two sets of sticks.) All it takes is a little imagination and a lot of net worth. In fact, you'll run the tab close to $200,000 if you check enough boxes on the options list.

The DB7 Vantage is unique in its blend of performance and luxury. It starts with the push of a button, just like the British sports cars of yesteryear. Once fired, it roars like any angry tiger, the menace of twelve cylinders furious but controlled. This convertible will shoot from zero to 62 m.p.h. (zero to 100 kilometers per hour) in just 5.2 seconds, which puts it in a performance class with Corvette and Porsche. Yet unlike those two speedsters, the DB7 Vantage is also a true luxury car. Though large and relatively heavy, it feels superbly balanced on tight, twisty roads, making it a great choice for spirited driving. There's more cowl shake over bumps than you'd find in a Mercedes SL, but the grip levels are impressively high, making it too easy to engage in sprints through tortuous turns at speeds far beyond what God and the authorities intended.

The DB7 Vantage is best enjoyed alfresco, since headroom is tight with the top up, even for normal-size drivers. Then again, if you can afford craftsmanship like this, chances are you can buy something else to drive on rainy days.

Scorecard: Aston Martin DB7 Vantage
BASE PRICE/AS TESTED: $155,500/$157,385 MPG: 11/18
ENGINE: 6.0-liter V-12
HORSEPOWER: 420
TORQUE: 400 lbs. per ft.
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed automatic
ZERO TO 62 MPH: 5.2 seconds

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