Aston Martin and Zagato’s latest supercar is the peak of automotive partnerships
Some automotive collaborations stand above the rest. Ford and Shelby come to mind, or the long-standing romance between Ferrari and Pininfarina.
Aston Martin and Zagato’s latest supercar is the peak of automotive partnerships
Some automotive collaborations stand above the rest. Ford and Shelby come to mind, or the long-standing romance between Ferrari and Pininfarina.
What it is: The newest sign that the end is nigh? Also, “nigh”? In what other context would one use that word? What were we saying? Oh, right, DBX. Well, it’s part of Aston Martin’s plan for long-term survival. And we all know what that means these days: a crossover/SUV-type thingamabob. We saw it first in concept form at the 2015 Geneva motor show.
Short of buying a football team or a private island, the motion of the ocean is what really separates the men from the boys. Russian coal and fertiliser big shot Andrey Melnichenko recently decided that, despite its magnificent Philippe Starck design, helipad and bombproof glazing, the 390ft Motor Yacht A wasn’t really cutting the mustard.
We didn’t think the Brits had it in ’em. Just as we thought their recent Aston Martin GT12 hit the peak of the ballistic scale, along came this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed to introduce us to the special scalebreaking Vantage GT12 Roadster.
ASTON is currently revelling in the ail success of its new DB11; order books are bursting and a drop-top version is also on the horizon. But the brand’s new GT is causing a small problem, because it treads lightly on the toes of the ageing Vanquish. This pumped-up and jewellery clad second-generation Vanquish S has been brought in to help give one of Aston’s most established models a bit of breathing space alongside its younger brother. Continue reading “Aston Martin Vanquish S”
Aston Martin has ramped up the performance and specification of its flagship grand tourer to produce the new Vanquish S. The new model is available to order now, priced from £199,950, with first deliveries due next month. The Vanquish S produces 595bhp from a reworked 5.9-litre V12 engine, marking an improvement of 27bhp over the Vanquish, which it replaces. Torque remains the same at 465lb ft, but the added power helps the new carto reach 62mph from rest in 3.5sec -0.3sec faster than before. The gains are the result of a new, freer-breathing stainless steel exhaust system and larger-volume inlet manifolds.
Aston Martin has retuned the car’s rear-mounted eight-speed Tiptronic III gearbox to provide faster shifts. The dampers, spring rates and anti-roll bar bushes have also been adjusted to make the car sharper in its firmest settings. Aesthetically, the Vanquish S is largely unchanged from its predecessor, but it does have new carbonfibre aerodynamic features, such as a revised front splitter and rear diffuser. The car’s exhaust system now features a quad-exit design, as opposed to the twin exits of the outgoing Vanquish.
Buyers can specify additional carbonfibre parts, such as door mirror caps, bonnet louvres and door releases. Optional five-spoke, diamond-turned 20in wheels can be fitted instead of the standard-fit 20in cast ones, too. The cabin is largely unchanged from the old car’s. It can be had with a choice of leather trims, as well as a selection of new materials, such as a satin chopped carbonfibre finish for the centre console.
Available in both coupe and convertible Volante bodystyles, the new Vanquish S has a starting price that’s £6995 more than its predecessor’s. However, the new price is more than £41,000 cheaper than its nearest rival, the Ferrari F12.
Zagato’s products are famed for their double-bubble roofs. Well, here’s one that eschew that, using a folding fabric top instead. Following the sell-out run of 99 Aston Martin Vanquish Zagatos (despite the car’s £500,000 pricetag), the companies have linked up to extend the run by another 99 cars, this second lot significantly more open-air.
Like the hard top, the Volante uses a592hp 6.0-liter V12 engine, firmly from Aston’s old-school rather than its renaissance, led by the new turbo-charged DB11. This Zagato is good for a 3.7-second 0-100kph time, while its top speed should be a whisker shy of 322kph.
Beyond the tin-opener treatment, the styling is unchanged. Red paint job and gold detailing remain, opinion- splitting wheels included, while the bonnet vent and Polo-mint-like running lights are intact, too.
Thanks to its sill and rear-splitter treatment, the Vanquish’s body appears to rise from a carbon base, which is quite cool. And there are plenty of lavish little details: note the wee Zs carved out around the rear lights. All told, it’s not an Aston in the finest, subtlest traditions. You might like that about it.
Inside, things deviate a little from the hard top, with a new tan color scheme to complement the herringbone carbon fiber and anodized bronze detailing. Of course, the malleability of Aston Martin’s Q division ensures yourwildest (or, indeed, most sedate) paint and trim fantasies can come to fruition. Don’t like the colors you see here? Don’t fret. If you can afford the half a million quid or so you’ll need to buy one, you’ll be able to go a little frivolous with the personalization.
Revealed at Monterey Car Week last August, all 99 will roll off Aston’s Gaydon production line in time for 2017 deliveries. But with buyers unsated by the coupe’s run to take care of, you’ll have to be quick if you want one.
THE new DB11 is a crucial car for Aston Martin: crucial in terms of revenue for the sometimes struggling British brand, and crucial for the new leadership team put in place two years ago by president and CEO Andy Palmer. So there’s a lot riding on the DB11’s beautifully sculpted shoulders – and beautiful they certainly are. A good start. In our eyes, few modern cars are quite as stunning – just as an Aston Martin should be.
The combination of svelte curves and sharp edges blends perfectly, while innovative aerodynamic tricks (such as the intake in the C-pillar that sucks air in, then channels it out of the bootlid) add to the excitement of the whole package. As is befitting of a new era at Aston, this car has a 5.2-litre V12 under that long bonnet, but this time the new unit features twin turbochargers, boosting power and (whisper it) efficiency.
Hard as it may seem, it’s the engine, rather than the exterior style, that steals the show. Turbo power doesn’t necessarily mean turbo lag – at least as not as far as Aston is concerned. The 600bhp is delivered swiftly and smoothly through the eight-speed auto box, with a whopping 700Nm of torque to play with between just 1,500 and 5,500rpm.
It’s quick, for sure (200mph, 0-60mph in 3.7 seconds), but in keeping with a British GT, it never feels brutal – unless you switch from GT to Sport+ (via Sport) mode, which stiffens what you want to be stiffened (adaptive dampers, throttle response, steering) and relaxes what you want relaxed (traction and stability control). Even in the most extreme settings, there’s a surprising degree of comfort -yes, even on British roads. Leave it in GT mode and it glides over potholes in a way Astons haven’t done in the past.
You even go looking for bumps just to confirm that this is a supremely comfortable car to drive – and to drive quickly. You do get a very British squeak of leather on leather over the very worst of the bumps on odd occasions – German rivals simply wouldn’t allow that – but we’re told this is still a pre-production model and tolerances will be tightened for customer production cars.
There’s nothing to complain about with the steering, though – not super sharp, but linear in its feedback and reaction to inputs, helping you place this big car with a degree of accuracy you wouldn’t expect. Bearing in mind our test model’s pre-production nature, we were still a little disappointed with the quality of some of the interior fittings.
We’re told that the switches operating the air-con are painted metal, but they feel a bit plastic – as do the air vent controls (although they’re due to be improved on production cars).
Likewise the electric seat controls feel a bit cheap, while on the doors, there are different metal treatments for the door pulls and handles, the handle surrounds and the speaker grilles. Oh, and the single Mercedes indicator/wiper stalk is just not good enough on an Aston Martin. Mercedes switchgear is better in a cheaper S-Class, but at least the Mercedes nav system and controller work well and fit into the DB11, while the Bang & Olufsen sound system is very tasty. Would our minor quality queries put us off this GT, even with this launch edition’s near-£182,000 price tag? No. The car’s combination of sheer beauty and stunning pace, with exactly the sort of comfort you want from a luxury GT, is enough for us.
From the first turn of the wheel, this feels like a different Aston Martin. The knurled rim is familiar as I go clockwise for ‘N’, then anticlockwise for ‘E’ before heading back through the rotational clicks like a navigational safe-cracker for ‘W’. It’s just so much easier to use than any Aston before.
“I haven’t even started the engine yet and the DB11 already feels like it is going to be good company”
Of course, I’m not talking about the steering wheel here (we’ll get to that in a bit), but rather the much smaller, more circular item perched on the transmission tunnel between the seats. Peel away the beautiful brogue leather and you’ll now find a Mercedes system underneath much of the switchgear in this new Aston, but any thoughts that this imported technology might demean the ambience of an Aston couldn’t be farther from the truth. I haven’t even started the engine yet and the DB11 already feels like it is going to be good company over the next two days.
I’m currently sitting in the car park outside Aston HQ at Gaydon. Daniel Ricciardo was the first person I saw on arrival (he really does seem to smile all the time) and I’ve just seen Max Verstappen head out in a Lagonda because The Future was unveiled this afternoon in the slinky shape of the AM-RB 001. Clearly the two FI drivers are happy about the association. But while Adrian Newey’s vision for science fact isn’t due until 2018, the DB11 is very much ready now and its big international launch is due to start in a few days’ time down in Tuscany. This example needs to be there too, and we have the key, so we’re going to do a bit of a grand tour, firstly because this is a new Aston, and secondly because if the ’ll lives up to its GT credentials, a road-trip should be a walk in the park.
I add in a ‘P’ and then select Newport Pagnell from the list. They say every journey starts with a single step and the 80km to Aston Martin’s traditional home certainly seem like a small hop when set against the 1850km we need to cover by Thursday evening. However, as well as giving the DB11 a brief history lesson, these first few kilometres will give me the chance to try the car on a couple of familiar roads.
The Emotion Control Unit has been consigned to Aston history and there is now just a large keyless key that you can keep in your pocket. On the dash is a row of five glass buttons labelled P, R, Start, N and D, and the middle one glows red as I stretch a finger towards it. What it summons is a new allalloy, quad-overhead-cam, 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12. Developed by Aston Martin itself, it has 447kW and 700Nm and is more powerful than any previous Aston road-car engine apart from the One-77’s naturally aspirated 7.3-litre V12. Yes, it should be very good company.
The really good stretches of bumpy B-road on the way to Newport Pagnell aren’t long, but they do reveal some interesting facets of the DB11. For a start, there is a surprising length to the suspension travel. This means the DB11 cushions the lumps but sacrifices a little bit of instant precision as it moves through that travel on turn-in. Over bigger hits, even in its firmest setting, the damping doesn’t always control the car completely on the rebound, so it can take a couple of movements to settle. However, the other thing that’s very obvious is that the balance of the DB11 is spot on. Despite a certain remoteness, you still feel in touch with the road, too. Interesting.
I park the DB11 on Tickford Street while the photographer and I decide how to blend traditional Aston with 21st-century Aston. It’s fun watching the few workers leaving the Aston Martin Lagonda Works building do a double-take as they walk past. There’s lots of the One-77 in the DBll’s design and I love the way the waist of the car seems to nip in and then the rear arches flare out. The rear of the car in particular is very distinctive and the C-pillar, with its integrated AeroBlade intake, has a little bit of BMW i8 about it. Lift up the beautiful clamshell bonnet and you can see the slatted wheelarch covers that relieve the high- pressure area arou|nd the wheels, the air escaping through a facsimile of the Vulcan’s bold side-strake.
We spot a ’70s Vantage wearing a brown paintjob called Cardigan Metallic (seriously) and our old-meets-new vision is captured, so the photographer and I head off for the Eurotunnel terminal where we consume some Burger King, see a lot of excited Welsh football fans and finally board a train at about 10pm. Once on the other side we head for Lille, as Brussels is always best avoided, and eventually find a glamorous Ibis Budget hotel that looks as though it was modelled on an uncomfortable open prison.
We reconvene at 6am and set the satnav for our first stop of the day, just north of Stuttgart. Belgian motorways are poor, but the DB11 shows its ability to cosset on this leg of the journey. The attractive, slightly square steering wheel has a button on its right-hand spar that changes the engine and gearbox characteristics, while mirroring it on the left-hand spar is a button for the suspension. Three modes can be cycled through with each button – GT, Sport and Sport Plus – and this morning is very much a GT sort of morning. You can really feel that relaxed, long-travel suspension breathing with the road through the bigger dips. There’s something quite Rolls-Royce about it.
The seats deserve real praise, too. Their shape is slim and the padding doesn’t look like the sort that will overly mollycoddle a posterior, but they definitely work. Even the photographer, a man who seems to have a spine more delicate than a daisy chain, is full of praise.
We clear Belgium, then Luxembourg, and finally, mid-morning, the DB11 has a chance to stretch its legs in Germany. Unsurprisingly, at this time of day there’s never a clear enough stretch of autobahn to get near the Aston’s claimed top speed of 322km/h, but frequent forays in the region of 275km/h are easy. Just moseying along, covering ground at 160km/h feels good, and the DB11 feels reassuringly stable, never tense or twitchy.
One thing that bugs a little are the brakes. The big steel discs feel great when you’re stopping hard, but when you want to just brush the middle pedal, you have to go through quite a bit of pedal travel before you get a reaction, as though the pads are set some way from the discs. Odd.
We branch off north of Stuttgart and head out into the countryside to a small town with a big industrial estate. The last time I came to Affalterbach, home of AMG, the company had only recently been bought-out by Mercedes, and it seems to have expanded almost beyond recognition since then. Smart, angular new buildings litter Benzstrasse and Maybachstrasse and I keep catching glimpses of the DBll’s sleek profile in big, mirrored windows. We spot a new E63 wagon in camouflage and a white GT R looking like the ideal wheels for a stormtrooper. There’s also someone’s Porsche 928 ‘RS’ project car, resplendent in what looks like Nogaro Blue.
In addition to Mercedes’ contributions to the DB11’s interior, the next Vantage will be getting the 4.0-litre turbo V8 developed here at AMG. At first I was uneasy at the thought of the tie-up, as the two marques seemed unlikely bedfellows, but I’m a big fan of the AMG V8 and I’m now just intrigued to see how Aston will put it to use.
Amazingly, no one shoos us away when we park outside the main AMG entrance, but we can’t linger for long and we’re soon pushing on for the Swiss border. We hit Zurich at rush hour but that reveals two very different aural delights. The first is a white GT3 RS that treats us to all of first gear and a bit of second. Lovely. The second is from the Aston and happens at every set of traffic lights. As well as cylinder deactivation, the DB11 also has stop/start, and every time the big V12 spins back into life it does so with a wonderfully theatrical high- pitched flourish from the starter motor that reminds me of a Lamborghini Aventador.
We’re racing the light as we reach Andermatt and the base of two passes. The way to Italy is over the Gotthard, but we’re taking a detour and instead heading up the Furka. The reason can be found about halfway up on the eastern side, where a small green sign marks the spot of possibly the most famous Aston Martin photograph of all time. The road has changed a little since 1964, so a replica of the shot isn’t possible today. Also, I look nothing like as insouciantly cool as Sean Connery did in Goldfinger, but the DB11 would make a very stylish modern stand-in for a DB5. As it’s a final pre-production car, it’s even got a big red ejector seat (alright, engine kill switch) button hidden in the centre storage area.
The real reason for coming here is that the Furka is fantastic to drive. It’s narrow and bumpy at first, which doesn’t really suit this Aston. It copes, but it just doesn’t feel very settled. As we race higher, chasing the sinking sun, however, the road becomes much more DB11-friendly. As the tarmac gets wider and smoother, so the DB11 begins to really flow. With the road allowing the car to sit more calmly onto its suspension, you’re free to enjoy the beautiful balance that the chassis has.
Ever since we left Gaydon I’ve been wondering where the button for the ESC is. And one last search through the menus finally reveals tha|t if you select Settings, then Assistance, then ESC in the screen to the right of the rev-counter, you have three options to choose from – On, Off or Track. The big, wide hairpins of the Furka are crying out for a bit of sideways fun and the DB11 is happy to oblige. You need to wait until late in the corner, when the road is flattening away from the apex, otherwise the LSD will still allow the inside wheel to spin too much, but be patient and DB11 slides beautifully. It feels very smooth over the limit and you seem to have plenty of time in the slides.
The ZF eight-speed ’box is occasionally a little petulant on our pre-production car. Especially on part or light throttle openings it sometimes thumps or jolts, but at speed it’s faultless and given we’ve never had any issues with the usually silky-smooth gearbox in any other application, we’ll put that down to pre-production calibration issues for now.
With alpenglow spreading over the distant peaks and the temperature plummeting, we head back up to the summit of the pass and past the Belvedere Hotel (which looks like something out of a Wes Anderson movie) before stopping to make the most of the view and the light. Part of me wonders whether we should push on over the Gotthard towards Milan tonight, but in the end we head into Andermatt and find a bar and hotel attached to a petrol station. Despite the late hour, they even serve us two huge bowls of spaghetti and a couple of large Weissbier. In the background a television is showing Wales sadly losing to Portugal. It seems a long time ago that we saw the fans at the tunnel.
“I’m glad we waited for the light, because the Gotthard is a truly spectacular pass”
At 6:30 the following morning, with perfect blue skies above, we open up the swan doors once more and head for the Gotthard. I’m glad we waited for the light, because it is a truly spectacular pass and one I’ve never driven before. The road is even wider and faster than anything on the Furka, but it also feels a bit more mainstream. The original road is still visible in the shade off to the side, and looks like it was zigzagged onto the mountain by a giant Mr Whippy machine, so we drop down to investigate. Apart from a lone marmot, it’s deserted, but there’s a reason – the whole thing is cobbled. Deciding that it’s better viewed from afar, we head back to the main road in the sunshine and secend through a couple of open-sided avalanche tunnels, past a military barracks, and on towards the next border.
At school there was always a sense of relief when the bell went for the end of a lesson with a particularly strict teacher, and I always get the same sensation when I leave the draconian road rules of Switzerland behind and cross into Italy. To celebrate, we stop at a service station and hand over a paltry amount of money for two deliciously thick espressos. Italian petrol stations might be some of the grottiest in Europe, but without fail they always do some of the best coffee you’ll taste anywhere. It’s as Italian as Ferrari. Talking of which…
We couldn’t not drop into Maranello. The place gets more touristy with every visit, yet you can’t help but love it. We cruise up to the back gates on Via Musso in case anything wearing a ‘Prova’ plate is about to leave, but it’s all quiet on the testing front. We do get lucky on Via Marsala though. This small street backs onto the Fiorano circuit and although Ferrari has tried to stop people watching through the fence, it’s still possible. No one’s there when we arrive but 30 seconds later we hear an amazing sound and soon people are flocking. I’ve never really understood the Corse Clienti programme, but seeing an ex-Gerhard Berger 412 T2 from 1995, I ache to have a go. It was Ferrari’s last F1 V12 and the 3.0-litre engine sends all sorts of emotions fizzing into the hairs on the back of your neck.
Over a pizza later (go to Pizzeria Mirage on Via Claudia, a little bit away from the factory), the photographer and I ponder what the Ferrari rival to a DB11 would be. At $428K the Aston is, relatively speaking, cheap, but the interior feels right up there with anything Ferrari has. It’s much more of a GT than an F12 and not as thrilling as a result, but it’s more enjoyably driveable than a GTC4 Lusso (although the rear seats in the Aston are merely token efforts, albeit with Isofix).
Stupefyingly full of mozzarella, we restore some sort of metabolic balance with another espresso and set off on the last stretch to Tuscany. A couple of hours later we’re amongst stereotypical cypress trees and rolling farmland north of Siena, and my opinion of the DB11 is crystallising. We go through three different sizes of road in relatively quick succession and its obvious where the Aston is happiest. The smallest, bumpiest roads with corners coming thick and fast are not the right hunting ground, with the big Aston never really recovering composure between each bump and change of direction. The big engine never has a chance to get into its stride, either.
Step up to something smoother with a white line down the middle and the DB11 is surprisingly adept. You can lean on the front end in tighter corners to the point where you hear the tyres chirrup and yet it never washes out. The big punch of torque, which feels at its most potent around 4000rpm, allows you to work the rear wheels through corners easily, too. Track mode for the ESC also works very well, giving you plenty of slip before it intervenes, and when you throw in surprisingly quick steering and brake-based torque vectoring to help on turn-in, it means this big, 1770kg car can really be hustled.
Where the DB11 feels at its absolute best, however, is in quick, smooth corners. The final run to our destination has long straights linked with fast bends that can be lined up with perfect sight lines. Down the straights the DB11 hauls as well as you’d expect, piling on speed in great, thrilling strides. Although there’s no denying that the turbocharged engine isn’t the sort of V12 where you feel the need to hang on for the limiter, under load the raucous exhaust note still sounds unmistakably Aston. In the fast corners you really get to enjoy the manner in which the DB11 works its chassis and the beautiful way you can feel the car move as you get on the throttle from early in the corner. Even at speed it’s so nicely balanced that a little bit of oversteer feels very natural.
“This is meant to be the GT in Aston’s new-generation range and it fulfils that role extremely well”
Aston wants its new generation of cars (of which the DB11 is the first) to be distinct from each other. This is meant to be the GT in the range and it fulfils that role extremely well. It means it suffers in some areas, but that doesn’t matter so much because it’s got clarity of purpose. And if you want proof of what a good GT car it is, as we arrive at the launch venue, the photographer and I genuinely talk about just turning around and driving the 1850km straight back to Gaydon instead of flying. I still rather wish we had.
Aston Martin DB11
Engine: 5204cc V12, dohc, 48v, twin-turbo
Power: 447kW @ 6500rpm
Torque: 700Nm @ 1500-5000rpm (in seventh gear)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential, ESC
Front suspension: Double wishbones, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension: Multi-link, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
Brakes: Ventilated discs, 400mm front, 360mm rear, ABS, EBD, torque vectoring
Wheels: 20 x 9.0-inch front, 20 x 11.0-inch rear
Tyres: 225/40 ZR20 front, 295/35 ZR20 rear
0-100km/h: 3.9sec (claimed)
Top speed: 322km/h (claimed)
Basic price: $428,032
On sale: Now
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.
A near two-ton Goliath powered by an outrageous handmade 5.3-liter engine, the DBS V8 was meant to be Aston’s money-earner for the 1970s. Based on the six-cylinder DBS of 1967, the V8 did not appear until April 1970. With a thundering 160 mph (257 km/h) top speed and incredible sub seven second 0–60 time, Aston’s new bulldog instantly earned a place on every millionaire’s shopping list.
The debut of the DB4 in 1958 heralded the beginning of the Aston Martin glory years, ushering in the breed of classic six-cylinder DB Astons that propelled Aston Martin onto the world stage. Earlier postwar Astons were fine sports enthusiasts’ road cars, but with the DB4 Astons acquired a new grace, sophistication, and refinement that was, for many, the ultimate flowering of the grand tourer theme.
When the Bulldog was unveiled in early 1980, it was intended as the first of a limited-edition run of 25, but it turned out to be so far-fetched that it never made it into production. Styled by William Towns, of Lagonda fame, the Bulldog takes the concept of wedge-shaped design onto a whole new plane.
The Vanquish was the grandest of grand tourers when it went on sale, after first appearing as the Project Vantage GT concept car at the North American International Auto Show in 1998. This super-refined machine designed by Ian Callum sat proudly at the top of the Aston Martin totem pole from 2001 and remained there for six good years, helped by an appearance as 007’s wheels in the twentieth Bond film, Die Another Day, in 2002.
Following the demise of the Vanquish S, Aston Martin’s new leader of the pack was the DBS V12. Proudly reviving the iconic DBS designation of earlier years, this superb machine made a show-stopping inaugural appearance at the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance in 2007. The DBS V12 prototype was certainly an eye-catcher, shaped by the aerodynamic requirements of stable high-speed driving, flaunting impressive 10-spoke alloy wheels and finished in the striking new Casino Ice colour (graphite with a hint of blue). The interior was hand-crafted using the finest materials. Continue reading “Aston Martin DBS V12 – 2008”
The words ‘entry level’ and ‘Aston Martin’ don’t seem instantly compatible, but all things are relative. Following Ford’s takeover, the DB7 represented the company’s first real effort to produce a model that would confer Aston Martin status on a wider buying public. This ambitious policy was a success, with around 7,000 DB7s sold over the production run, a number far in excess of anything achieved by any previous Aston Martin. Continue reading “Aston Martin DB7 – 1994”
The lightning of inspiration can indeed strike twice. Twenty years after collaborating on one of motoring history’s most desirable cars, the DB4 GT Zagato, Aston Martin and Zagato hatched a new plot to raise the bar on their competitors’ supercars. The new car would obviously be about stunning looks and rarity — but in fact it’s a story about naked, street-legal horsepower. Continue reading “Aston Martin V8 Zagato – 1986”
It was quite a responsibility to be named as ‘Britain’s First Supercar’, but the 1977 Vantage V8 was up for it with the ability to beat a Ferrari Daytona to 60 mph (97 km/h) from a standing start and stratospheric top speed. Aston Martin had used the Vantage name before, usually to indicate a high-performance version of an existing model, and the Vantage V8 was is souped-up version of the regular Aston Martin V8 — itself effectively the DBS V8 relaunched in 1972.
The Virage of 1988 was Aston Martin’s first new production car for eighteen years, and it still used the trusty V8 engine that had powered so many of its extended family. As a new flagship, it was fresh, modern, and understated; clearly a heavyweight supercar but, in contrast with a succession of increasingly flamboyant competitors from different manufacturers, it still embodied a gentlemanly elegance forever associated with Aston Martin. Some critics called it ‘lacklustre’. Continue reading “Aston Martin Virage – 1988”
Possibly the most successful ever example of car product placement, the DB5 achieved film star status in its own right in the hands of Sean Connery as James Bond’s over-the-top set of wheels in the film Goldfinger.
Sliding into the car that carries the registration plate XSK 497 is to sit in (and hopefully drive) the most valuable Aston Martin in the world — the DBR1/2, which still participates in classic road races. The ‘R’ stands for Racing, and the DBR wasn’t remotely like the company’s production models, though experience gained in building them did contribute to Aston Martin’s custom-built 1950s racers, the DB3S and the DBR1.