For the 10 or so days while I was in the UK there were more than a couple of times when I had to pinch myself to see whether I was dreaming – most of those were related to my three days in the Aston Martin Vanquish Volante.
I wasn’t expecting much of a response following the emails I sent to various car manufacturers in regards to my trip to London. Naturally I was pretty excited when Aston Martin responded with an invitation to visit the factory. In the following email I was asked if I’d like to take a car for the weekend and if so which one. Not too often you get asked a question like that!
I knew what I wanted to drive, but I also knew, no matter what I got, it would be epic. So following a couple of bottles of wine and a serious deliberation with the gents over a steak bernaise at Bistro Moncur I composed my reply which in short read, “Vanquish please”. The response was immediate, and to the disbelief of myself and the boys at the table, the car I had asked for would be mine for three and a half days.
So after 5 weeks of childish excitement the wait was over and I boarded a train from London Paddington to Leamington Spa, en route to Gaydon where the Aston Martin factory was located. I was lost for words when we pulled into the car park. I’d never seen so many Astons in the one place at the one time. There had to be around 50 in the carpark and then at least another 100 in the factory, somewhere between a chassis and a final inspection vehicle. My tour of the factory (post and images to come) was unbelievable, not only did I get to view some of Aston’s rarest vehicles I was lucky enough to catch the marriage of a finished chassis to the running gear, a minute long process that only happens around 10 times a day.
When the time came to hand over the keys to the car I was in complete awe of the machine I was about to drive. Looking back on it now the factory tour made me appreciate the car so much more than I could have imagined. I apologise about the lack of shots outside the factory, I’d planned to take some but once the key was put in my hand and I was sitting in the drivers seat I completely forgot about everything. I just sat there looking at the leather interior stitched by a woman I’d met 15 minutes earlier, admiring the elongated steering wheel and a speedometer reaching 220mph.
Cradling the crystal key in my hand I leant forward and pushed it into the dash and listened to the V12 roar to life. People are a little overzealous with the ‘roar to life’ phrase, but there was honestly no description more appropriate with the Vanquish. I don’t know how to explain the legendary sound to people who haven’t heard it, the V12 is so throaty and frighteningly loud for those not prepared. At one point in a quiet street of South Kensington I’m sure a child was crying as I pulled away from the kerb. You can’t help but chuckle, it’s possibly the most fantastic noise in the world of motorcars.
For the next three days I drove around the city of London and surrounding country side never far from a keen Brit passionate about the Aston Martin brand. Glide it through Knightsbridge and punters jostle to get a look, park it outside a hotel and people mill around eager to take photos and discuss the car. Hotel valet parkers rejoice as you pull up and no one thinks twice when you ask if you can ‘leave it here for a moment’, ‘of course sir we’d be happy to look after it.’ In a city over run by obnoxious supercars sporting unreadable number plates the stunning Vanquish Volante is the like the Prince Charles of menswear: prestigious, traditional, refined and unashamedly British. Everyone loves the Vanquish.
So what does half a millions dollars plus on roads get you? A 568bhp V12 wrapped in a gorgeous full carbon body featuring the finest leather trim in the world and a 0-100km sprint of just 4.0 seconds – all of which can be enjoyed with the top down. It is the ultimate GT car, capable of sitting comfortably in London traffic, capable of long trips and more than capable at (immense) speed. Initiate Sport mode and set the adaptive dampers to Track and you’ve got a hungry beast at your disposal, ready to eat every corner and every straight you steer it in to. Even with its 1800kg curb weight and lack of roof the Vanquish Volante is as poised as anything I’ve driven with superb stopping power from its carbon ceramic brakes.
I had well over a dozen awesome moments in the Vanquish Volante but I can’t help recalling one in particular. After checking out of Stoke Park Country Club I decided to take a drive through the countryside in search of some lunch. The drive was incredible, exactly what the doctor ordered after sitting in traffic for 2 hours the day before however just before I got to my destination I found myself sitting behind a string of cars anxious to get past. As we rounded a corner the road opened up and the small single lane turned into a runway sized lane. As I prepared to overtake the cars in front of me motorbike shot past and my decision to go after him was arguably the highlight of my driving life. Never have I been so exhilarated, top down, foot to the floor, hot on the wheel of a flying motorbike.
And then you brake. Effortlessly. And before you know it the Vanquish is settled back into Comfort mode, crawling through a small country town while you shift through the gears via the paddles on the steering wheel listening to Andre Rieu and the exhaust orchestra and you can’t decide which aspect of driving the car makes you the happiest.
I guess that’s what makes it an Aston Martin, it’s that type of experience that allows people to justify half a million dollars on a car. You can’t decide what you like the most about it but you know it’s about as fantastic as driving a motor car will ever be.