I still remember when Aston Martin presented the “Project Vantage” in 1998. Back then Ian Callum was the head of design of the British brand, his pencil drawing the shapes of the DB7 it shares many traits with. But on that occasion, Callum also drew from the brand’s heritage and took his inspiration clearly from one of the icons of the Newport Pagnell factory: the DB4 Zagato. And the truth is he transferred all the dramatics and emotion from the Italian body shop into a prototype that became an immediate sensation.
The “Project Vantage” furthermore set the basis for the 21st Century Aston Martin as those designed by Henrik Fisker and the more recent ones designed by Marek Reichman share the same DNA.
The awesome combination of elegance and sportiness and good criticism received, drove the management of the British firm (which had recently been absorbed by Ford) to develop a production model based on “Project Vantage”, seeing the first Vanquish emerge in 2001 with a powerful V12 6-litre engine producing 450 BHP.
The final result was very close to the original prototype and only received some criticism of its interior, which unfortunately shared some parts with other utility cars in the group. A shame, as the interior of the prototype was at the same level as the exterior but we all know that most important aspect in production is for the numbers to add up. However, its body was considered by specialised press and the general public as sublime. A design of exquisite brutality that a mere 20 years later has become a cult object for all those who love cars.
Nevertheless, aesthetics is one thing and another very different thing is the sensation given by a vehicle when behind the wheel. As already mentioned, I was a great fan of Project Vantage and the Vanquish when they came out. Back then, I was starting a Masters course in car design and my five senses focused on absorbing and analysing all inputs emerging from the automotive industry and its designs. I thought of studying at the Royal College of London but in the end I chose a Masters that started in Barcelona as some of the tutors I had the luck of having were great professionals that later become major references in car design such as Walter de Silva or Flavio Manzoni (current head of design at Ferrari). It was a period of much creativity and infinite experiences that have not only left me with unforgettable memories, but also designs that are etched in my brain forever. Hence, the desires to drive a Vantage go back in time and obviously, my expectations were high, very high.
The first impression at the wheel was more than positive. Ergonomics were perfect, because many sports cars are “small” due to my size. The Vanquish is more than a Grand Turismo and its interior space is very good. On starting the motor, music from the powerful V12 under the bonnet starts to bellow. And as is to be expected, enjoyment is proportional to engine rpm. I started slowly in order to savour the moment and immediately I realised that the expectations, regardless how large, had been exceeded. It is clearly difficult to be objective when one is in love, but at my age I can also be critical and that is what I will try in these lines.
On the road and accelerating I immediately noticed the engine power, which responds at any regime. The concerns about the gearbox also vanished. The Tremec T56 six-speed gearbox controlled by an electrohydraulic paddle lever system on the steering wheel by Magnetti Marelli is far more sophisticated and effective than that found originally on the 360 Modena. Although it does not have a pedal, the car has a conventional clutch, which means it is a manual gearbox with paddle levers on the wheel. And the truth is that both the tact and speed changing from one speed to another is enviable; however if not compared with current technology, which as you know has improved considerably in recent years. The feeling is 100% Aston Martin. Sporty but without hindering comfort. It has a rigid chassis thanks to the use of carbon fibre in various parts of its construction, while suspension rating makes for a balanced setup overall.
I continued to cover kilometres to have a more complete perception of the car, although I was conservative during this first contact as it was not the time to find its limits or even get close to them. I loved the power from its engine, its acceleration together with its gorgeous sound track from its V12 engine and above all, its aesthetics.
And because I want to feel like James Bond again, I will try to test the Vanquish S to find out if the latest advances of this fantastic model turn it into the definitive classic of the future.