There are some cars that should never see the tarmac of a public highway., but someone forgot to tell a handful of Aston Martin Vulcan owners that. Step inside the workshop ofRML, the firm that is making the trackday monster street-legal.
It’s a fact of life that if you tell someone they can’t have something, that something is immediately what they want more than anything in the whole world. If you happen to be one of the 24 lucky souls who mana ged to secure one of Aston Martin’s £1.8mill ion and very definitely track-only Vulcans, that ‘something’ is the possibility to drive it on the road.
You’d think threading the 820bhp, slick-shod, downforce-drenched monster into Eau Rouge, or howling round the floodlit fantasy world of Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit would be more than enough fun, but we should never underestimate the importance of being able to drive to the pub and impress your mates.
And so, by popular demand, and despite never being designed with road use in mind, the Vulcan is being made road legal by RML Group, based in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. If you’re into your racing you’ll know RML is steeped in motorsport history, but there’s another side to the company: a lesser-known but no less impressive skill set for making apparently impossible one-off cars for a select band of brilliantly nuts customers. Perhaps the best known of these is the Juke-R – Nissan’s noble project to turn its plug-ugly crossover into a thug-tastic 200mph beast that concealed the drivetrain of a GT-R.
Two were built for Nissan as promotional vehicles, and that was supposed to be the end of it. At least until three people with £300,000 to blow wouldn’t take no for an answer, at which point Nissan bent some rules and allowed RML to build them. The Vulcan project is a little different in that its starting point is one of the world’s most expensive and exciting hypercars, but the goal is one and the same, namely making the impossible possible.
Putting registration plates on track cars is nothing new, whether it’s a Porsche 917, a McLaren F1 GTR, or today’s track-only McLaren P1 GTR. One of the fundamental differences between RML’s Vulcan project and Lanzante’s recent road conversion for the P1 GTR is that the Vulcan was never designed to be a road car, whereas the ‘regular’ P1 was, That might sound like semantics when describing any of these too-cxtremc-for-the-road hypercars, but there really is a whole world of difference, as RML discovered. Basically, the more they looked, the more things they found that would need to be changed.
For a start there are the obvious things, such as headlights. The Vulcan’s beady eyes are set low, hooded beneath the leading edge of the frowning bonnet. Because Aston never intended the Vulcan to be a road car, positioning the lights above the mandated minimum legal height was never a requirement. Such freedom meant Aston’s designers could really go mad with the look of the thing, but it means RML has had to design a new front clam to accommodate ‘proper headlights.
Similarly, those glorious, luminous lollypop-stick tail lights are the stuff of legislative nightmare. Like us, RML love them, but concede they might have to create some kind of clear lens and enclose them to satisfy the rules. Then there’s the glass. All of it, including the windscreen, is actually made from Plexiglas in the track Vulcan, which means all the glazing needed to be remade in E-mark glass to be road-legal. As anyone who’s watched Grand Designs will tell you, windows always cause problems. Fortunately the boys at RML are obviously keen students of Kevin McCloud, for the glass wTas one of the first things to be signed-off and ordered.
A glass screen and road use mean mundane stuff such as windscreen wipers have to be fitted (the Vulcan relies on speed and Rain-X to clear the screen), and this means more wiring, plus a reservoir for the washer fluid. And then you need to fit a switch to control the wipers. Everywhere you look there are things that need changing to comply with rules, many of which are related to pedestrian safety. With only 24 Vulcans made in total, you’d have to be the luckiest unlucky person on the planet to have the honour of being run over by one of the handful currently in line to be converted, yet every exposed edge or curve has to have a radius no more acute than 2.5mm.
Guess what most of the Vulcan’s are? Yep, 2.0mm. That means the trailing edges of the rear diffuser have to be shortened, the rear wing changed and even some of the body panels sanded and reprofiled to meet the dreaded 2.5mm radius. It seems absurd, but rules are rules. Other changes include the seats, which need to be swapped as the HANS ‘wings’ obscure lateral vision. Naturally the road seats will be trimmed to match the interior.
RML describe the conversion as a ‘compliance pack’, but you only have to read the list of hardware changes to appreciate it’s still all significantly more than simply making a track car road-legal. Much of the hardware has been re-engineered, including the front uprights and wishbones, which have been redesigned to ensure sufficient clearance and extra lock. The front wheels are narrower to help with this and, of course, are shod with treaded road tyres instead of slicks. The static ride height has been raised by 30 to 40mm and there’s a lifting system to help with speed humps and awkward ramp angles. The front splitter has also been shortened to help with approach and departure angles, but this needs to be balanced by fine- tuning of Lite rear ride height and alterations to the rear diffuser in order to maintain aerodynamic balance. Spring and damper rates are yet to be finalised, but there are no prizes for guessing these will be much more compliant to allow for a greater range of bump and droop travel.
As you’ve probably gathered, each change made by RML then has a series of knock-on effects, So, for example, the front splitter affecting the aero balance, changes to the front uprights and front wheels leading to brake duct alterations, or the requirement for a handbrake leading to changes to the rear uprights and brake ducts.
“Passing emissions tests is no mean feat when you’re talking about a 7-litre, 820bhp V12”
With the car operating at such a high level, it’s inevitable thatany change has a ripple effect, but each change can only be signed off in the knowledge it won’t compromise performance or safety. Each step is critical and painstaking.
One of the biggest legislative challenges is the need to pass emissions tests – no mean feat when you’re talking about a 7-Iitre, 820bhp V12. As you’d expect, this entails an ECU remap, which uses Stage 1 of the three-stage power settings as the ‘road’ map and keeps Stages 2 and 3 as track maps (whether you can sneakily access these on the road is unclear), but RML has also designed a new exhaust system complete with catalytic converters. Cooling is also an issue, because the likelihood is that when they arc driven on the road, these cars will be sat in traffic, quite possibly in some scorching Middle Eastern city.
Legislation is not the only driver for change. Many of the hardware (and software) mods are made simply to make the Vulcan a nicer machine to drive away from the binary world of the track. The remap will also soften throttle response and drop the fierce 2000rpm idle speed, while alterations to the brake pedal ratio and pad material will reduce effort and improve response and refinement ai lower temperatures. Gear ratios have also been changed, along with a softer-acting clutch, which also means a different starter motor. That’s the ripple effect again.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is creating a Vulcan that retains just enough of the raw aggression and explosive performance owners will have come to know and love, but with sufficient manners that it won’t immediately overheat, shake their teeth loose, smash its underbelly to pieces or fire them off the road. Knowing RML, that’s a balance that will be struck, but itrs a fine line between doing just enough to stick some registration plates on a race car and neutering it to such a degree that the whole point of the exercise – namely driving a ridiculously hardcore track car on the Queen’s highway – is lost.
There’s no question making the Vulcan into a road car is a remarkable project and a huge achievement, but it has dearly been a hellishly complex process requiring as much time buried in legislative paperwork as in front of a CAD screen or on the shop floor fabricating beautiful components. It’s a bizarre and, dare I say, pointlessly brilliant exercise. Months and months (and months) of fastidious development work followed by approximately three weeks of conversion work on each car (plus the small matter of a bill for £354,000) is a lot of pain and expense to go to get your Vulcan on the road. Especially as owners will probably do only a handful of miles then want to refit at least some of the track kit when they take their toy to a race circuit. Still, if you could, you would.
RML predict the first car will be completed in November, and well be doing our level best to drive it. Rest assured, much like those who commissioned the road conversions, we won’t be taking no for an answer.