Feature As the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it; and if there was one car that didn't need fixing it was Aston Martin's glorious V8 Vantage.
V12 changes the perspective on this Vantage
As the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it; and if there was one car that didn't need fixing it was Aston Martin's glorious V8 Vantage. The great thing about companies like Aston Martin, however, is that they're run by enthusiasts who also happen to be switched on when it comes to business. So it was only ever a matter of time before someone looked at a Vantage and thought: "What if we managed to squeeze the V12 from a DBS into that engine bay?"
Aston's V12 is one of the world's truly great engines. It feels like it belongs in a freight train and sounds like every pleasure known to man distilled into one glorious cacophony. But surely, the diminutive, playful V8 Vantage is a delicacy best left alone, not tinkered with, not turned into some schizophrenic monster. The factory obviously thought otherwise and set about shoehorning the 517hp, 6.0L V12 masterpiece into a space that no doubt required a huge dollop of Vaseline and plenty of head-scratching to fit it into. It worked too, crucially, without the need for any significant reworking of the chassis and without changing the looks of the car.
The resulting prototype was called the Vantage RS and initial media reports were that it was a car that Aston really had to put into production. And here it is. My mission now, gloriously, is to drive one back to the UK from Aston's Test Centre at the Nürburgring in Germany - a 1,000km dash across Europe. With the engine weighing a not inconsiderable 100kg more than the V8, there was a real danger of disturbing the handling. But with the use of lightweight seats, carbon fibre addenda inside the cabin and even thinner carpets, it tips the scales at only 50kg more than its eight-cylinder sibling. Weight distribution has altered from the V8's 49/51 front/rear ideal to just 51/49.
On the track, the day before I pick up my car, the V12 proves its worth by taking the SP8 Class win at the Nürburgring 24 Hour race, finishing 21st overall. Only slightly modified from road spec, this car shows the world that fragile, unreliable engineering is a thing of the past. My sense of anticipation is palpable. Initial impressions? The achingly pretty looks of the regular Vantage have given way to a more aggressive appearance. The bonnet has been louvred with four carbon fibre vents - essential to keep cooling under control. There are low side skirts to improve downforce, as well as front and rear splitters and diffusers as well as a kicked-up rear spoiler. New, diamond-turned alloy wheels and track-focused Pirelli P-Zero Corsa tyres complete the bad-boy transformation.
The seats are supremely comfortable and the interior remains largely unaltered - no bad thing - apart from the DBS's silly-looking gear lever, and now there's grippy Alcantara wrapped around the steering wheel. Firing up the V12 results in a welcome bark and, without further ado, I'm heading for the hedonistic delights of unrestricted German roads. At low speeds, the V12 feels very much like the V8: nicely weighted steering, stiff clutch and an ease of operation that makes it genuinely usable as an everyday sports car. Once the road clears, however, its unique character becomes immediately apparent. Dropping into third with the Sport button depressed (this remaps the accelerator response and makes the exhaust system louder), I mash the throttle and the Vantage startles me with its formidable, relentless acceleration. As I quickly get up to 280kph, there's traffic ahead and I back off, but the car feels like it has so much more to give. My heart is thumping, this thing is positively brutal.
The carbon ceramic disc brakes - also carried over from the DBS - are fantastically effective at bringing the Vantage down from warp speed to a walking pace in what seems like a split second. They have a progressive feel that inspires total confidence and, when stamped on, give you plenty of feedback - you can actually feel the roughness of the pad-to-disc action through your right foot. Every opportunity I get, I open the taps and revel in the sheer pace of this thing. At huge speeds, it feels rock solid, planted, unstoppable. It's stiffly sprung and there's more tyre noise than in the V8, but it's still civilised and capable as a long-distance charger.
As I cross north-west Germany, I'm reminded of how fantastically green this place is. The motorways carve their paths through mile after glorious mile of lush forestry - there's never a dull moment. Belgium is not so great. Flat, rather boring - the towns and villages in this country may be picture postcard-pretty but the main road arteries that I need to take are terminally dull. And after experiencing the full fury of the V12, this is taking some getting used to.
Just before I cross the border into France, the car is kind enough to warn me that there's a dire shortage of fuel in its tank. As I fill up, a well-dressed businessman approaches me and proceeds to tell me that he's a brain surgeon. He's smitten with the Vantage and reckons that once his patents come through he'll be a wealthy man, and he will be placing his order for one of these. Despite the £135,000 price (no prices yet for the UAE), who can blame him? firstname.lastname@example.org