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Eyes widen to carbonfibre bonnet vents and splitters, nose inhales the musky aroma of finest leather and, most important, ears prick to the bark of a V12.
This is just a warm-up for the senses, however, and soon you’re opening the floodgates to an onslaught of rushing Tarmac and howling cylinders.
It’s the result of an intoxicating blend of ingredients combining outright performance with tactile thrills: a naturally aspirated V12 boasting well over 500bhp, hydraulic power assistance for the steering, a strong but relatively light aluminium structure and a manual gearbox.
It’s a formidable application into the exclusive club of vehicles from the first decade of the 21st century considered by some to be a peak of driving pleasure, along with the likes of the Porsche 997, Ferrari 458 and Lotus Evora.
This narrow band of time caught Aston Martin well into the stride of its renaissance.
After the hugely successful DB7 had turned the company’s fortunes around, the new-generation DB9 and its baby brother, the V8 Vantage, were bright stars of a new era for the company that had, since 1991, been entirely under Ford’s control.
Mass production was finally on the table, and the opportunity to satisfy the power-hungry demands of devoted Aston fans was more ripe than it had been in recent memory.
Ford had been pinning grand hopes on the marque that, by 1999, was the glamorous flagship of its Premier Automotive Group, joining Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo and its own historic Mercury and Lincoln brands.
It was also armed with German industry heavyweights of the highest order: at the head of PAG, the uncompromising Wolfgang Reitzle, who had made his name at BMW; and, leading Aston Martin from 2000, Ulrich Bez, the ambitious product-design wizard formerly of Porsche and BMW.
To deliver the sort of broad product range that the Ford Motor Company’s accountants expected, Bez went all-in on an all-new aluminium chassis that could serve a variety of models with a bespoke, high-performance platform – seeing off at least one major threat of the dreaded parts bin.
The new cars were made at a fresh facility in Gaydon – production at the Newport Pagnell base ended with the last Vanquish in 2007 – but the creative spirit to hot-rod its cars was not left behind, and it wasn’t long before ideas to fit the DB9’s V12 into the smaller Vantage body found their way to reality.
The shared ‘VH’ architecture brought the project within the realm of possibility, but detailed packaging work was still required to the front structure and the engine itself, with 15mm shaved off the sump and the oil filter relocated to the right-hand side.
The V12, an evolution of the unit first seen in later DB7s, was around 70kg heavier than the Jaguar-sourced V8, shifting the Vantage’s weight distribution forward by 2%, to 51:49 front-to-rear, but lightweight fixtures including forged aluminium wheels and carbon-ceramic brakes knocked 30kg off what would have otherwise been on a par with the DB9.
But while the new V12 Vantage wasn’t much lighter than its bigger sibling, it was shorter – by 338mm overall, and by some 140mm in the wheelbase – and given a much more aggressive character.
Spring rates were increased by 80% at the front, 45% to the rear, joining new suspension castings, and there was a raft of aerodynamic upgrades including lower skirts, splitters and spoilers derived from the N24 race programme, as well as a rear wing creating more than double the usual downforce at 150mph.
And yet, despite the particularly racy grilles in the carbonfibre bonnet to keep the motor cool, the V12 Vantage could almost be mistaken for the V8 version.
Its relatively quiet sense of purpose is elevated only slightly for the Vantage S, an even more aggressive set-up of the V12-powered recipe, this time with an additional 55bhp and 37lb ft of torque, plus quicker steering, adaptive Bilstein dampers, lighter-still wheels and an automated manual gearbox.
Many customers took to ordering the flashy strips of contrasting detail finish – here yellow – on the grille, the brake calipers and often the door mirrors, to add a visual clue that this was no ordinary, £85,000 junior Aston Martin; this was a £138,000, 205mph high-performance weapon.
Inside, the V12 is clearly a top-of-the-range experience, with a wall of high-quality hide scent hitting you as you enter the swoopy, modern cabin.
There’s some evidence of Ford architecture in the switchgear if you go looking for it, but the dominant features are the jewel-like dials, sculpted carbon bucket seats, and the delicate Bang & Olufsen tweeters rising out of a luxuriously hand-stitched, leather-covered dash.
The subtlety of it all is almost shattered when you thumb the ignition: release the push-key starter in the centre of the dash and the metallic rasp from the exhausts immediately claims a leading role.
Technicalities aside, that sense of a huge engine in a small car is secured in the mind from those first, theatrical revs.
Trundling through the genteel English villages of south Warwickshire, the V12 Vantage feels conspicuously loud.
It burbles and blats against stone walls and cottages, no matter how conservatively and neatly you short-shift, and each brush of the brake pedal lets loose the shrill squealing of its carbon-ceramic brake discs.
If it doesn’t feel quite your traditional, suave Aston Martin cruiser, it is still a beguiling, beautiful shape that endears itself to most people who behold it, and hopefully inspires in them a fair amount of patriotic forgiveness.
It will be needed when village turns to open road and that inviting aluminium gearlever is pulled back into second gear.
The throttle is perfectly weighted to meter out the bursting energy of the V12, and it’s remarkable how closely you can balance the urgent forward trajectory against the battle for grip of the Pirelli P Zero Corsas on the cold surface.
You can lean into full throttle with more confidence in third, and that close connection with the rear axle only gets better as the suspension finds its rhythm on the textured Tarmac of B-road Britain.
Once you’ve acclimatised to the blistering performance, particularly at the top end, and reassured yourself with the near-infallible brakes, you can begin to appreciate that the V12 Vantage has a rather sweet chassis and controls that offer plenty of feedback.
Those looking for all the engagement of a high-performance car with a manual gearbox will certainly be satisfied, but they will also soon become aware of the heavy-shifting reality of swapping cogs against 420lb ft of torque, juxtaposed with the sometimes incongruently light flywheel.
There are no such considerations for the V12 Vantage S, which adopted an automated manual transmission when it replaced the V12 Vantage in 2013.
Ditching the manual clutch assembly saved 25kg – which, for this sharper, more powerful successor, was judged to be an important matter. Whether or not that disqualifies it from consideration by those fixated on analogue control today is another.
Manual operation for the ’box did arrive in 2016, in a seven-speed dogleg format, but only 100 were made for the North American market.
The external flashes of yellow continue into the cabin, where a set of considerably more lean sports seats trimmed in Alcantara speak of this car’s more serious intent.
Then the exhaust erupts with a sharp-edged growl, its rawness far less subdued than the relatively cultured tones of the earlier car.
With the awkward slurring and slow engagement of the automated gearbox at lower speeds, you’re constantly reminded that the V12 S is not a car for posing in.
Equipped with the latest iteration of Aston Martin’s V12, the S is ready, at any moment, to deploy sledgehammer acceleration.
It’s not just at the top end, either, because new variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust resulted in 374lb ft of torque at just 1000rpm, an increase of 50lb ft over the other car that continues through the rev range.
The sense of connection felt in the V12 is also amplified in the S.
From a lower-set seat you feel more of the road through a firmer ride, and the quicker-rate steering adds valuable sharpness without being too excitable.
It’s a savage slug of performance, but the sound of the V12 is so deep, rich and stirring at the top end that you just can’t help using all the tools in front of you to wind it out to the fullest.
The titanium manifolds and sports exhaust available with the optional Performance Pack would be an exhilarating sound, as close as you can get on the road to that heard at the 2009 Nürburgring 24 Hours, where a works example took a class win.
The noise of the standard system is haunting enough, but the fact that the steering is superb and the chassis is so finely tied down expands the experience from the joys of a glorious engine to something far more complete.
The gearbox is satisfyingly quick when used in anger, and more manageable than the heavy and oddly sprung gate of the manual.
There’s no uncertainty over dropping to second or holding on to third here, just a flick of a wheel-mounted paddle, and yet the throttle response is not dimmed, as it might be in a conventional auto.
It’s clear that some soundproofing has been removed from the S, too, and the faint sound of stones flicking up into the wheelarches from the warmed Pirellis just adds to the drama.
Why you would necessarily want to hear the vulgarities of the road in your Aston Martin is a question more easily answered today than in 2013.
When the landscape of sports and supercars was bright, almost entirely naturally aspirated, steered with hydraulic assistance and designed with enough freedom to set enjoyment as the ultimate goal, a little concession to refinement or technological advancement was to be expected to make ‘better cars’.
In this context, the V12 S might have been considered a bit of an anomaly: a track car that isn’t a track car, something only understood in the niche view of marque loyalists.
The V12 always had a broader appeal, as a sort of Q-car within the Vantage range, outwardly acting the traditional GT but containing some seriously exciting ingredients.
Chief among them was the manual gearbox that, as others around it abandoned levers and pedals, gained halo status as something lost to a past era.
To drive either car today reminds you just how far, or how lost, we have come in only a handful of years.
It’s those diehards who have followed and worked within Aston Martin who we must thank for these hot rods, which deliberately eschewed mainstream trends to capture a last gasp of analogue automotive thrills.
Standard V12 too common for you?
Continuing a relationship dating back more than 50 years, Aston Martin enlisted Zagato to create a version of the V12 Vantage originally intended as a long-distance racer.
Using computer-modelling techniques while still retaining some hand-sculpted clay in the process, Zagato’s design was broadly similar around the nose but gained its own character in profile.
A ‘double bubble’ roof pointed to a lower-set body line, and fins in the front wings brought the brake cooling required for competition.
At the rear, a 120-litre fuel tank was packaged below a fixed rear wing and trademark exposed tail-lights.
Presented at the 2011 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, the car’s reception was good enough to convince Aston Martin to produce 150 roadgoing examples for the public, but in the end only 61 were made.
The two factory competition cars were painted green and red, and among the drivers at the Nürburgring 24 Hours and VLN four-hour events was CEO Ulrich Bez himself.
Images: Will Williams/Max Earey
Thanks to: Aston Martin
Aston Martin V12 Vantage [V12 Vantage S]
- Sold/number built 2009-’13/1308 [2013-’18/1604]
- Construction bonded aluminium chassis, aluminium body
- Engine all-alloy, dohc-per-bank 5935cc V12, electronic fuel injection
- Max power 510bhp @ 6500rpm [565bhp @ 6750rpm]
- Max torque 420lb ft @ 5750rpm [457lb ft @ 5750rpm]
- Transmission six-speed manual [seven-speed automated manual], RWD
- Suspension independent, by double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar f/r
- Steering rack and pinion
- Brakes carbon-ceramic discs, with servo and anti-lock
- Length 14ft 4½in (4380mm)
- Width 6ft 1½in (1865mm)
- Height 4ft ⅞in (1241mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft 6⅜in (2600mm)
- Weight 3704lb (1680kg) [3671lb (1665kg)]
- 0-60mph 4.1 secs [3.7 secs]
- Top speed 190mph [204mph]
- Mpg 20
- Price new £135,000 [£138,000]
- Price now £80-140,000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication
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