‘mulholland twists and turns into the hills. on these roads, there’s no better aston’
about this place, the most powerful production Aston was the V8 Vantage with around 375bhp. It seemed like a hell of a lot at the time, but the V12 Vantage S has a frankly astonishing 565bhp on tap and it’s high time we enjoyed it. Mulholland twists and turns into the hills, but turn off onto the tortuously twisty Decker Road and you can loop back down to the Pacific Coast Highway. So that’s where we head, at a considerable lick.
On these roads, there’s no better Aston. The V12 Vantage S Roadster is the sportiest, the least civilised and the most sheer fun of all of the current production cars. One look under the bonnet tells you why: the compact Vantage was originally built around the 4.2-litre V8 but, as you know, the engineers later squeezed in the rather larger V12, which in ‘S’ tune makes that faintly ridiculous 565bhp.
The results are hilarious. Just down the road from The Rock Store, the view opens up, so I boot the accelerator, the back end squats down and scrabbles around a bit, the traction control light flashes frantically, the exhaust bellows and we head for the next corner rather more rapidly than we expected, thumping through the sevenspeed automated-manual transmission on the paddles in Sport mode (it’s appallingly clunky left in fully auto). Brake, the huge carbon composite discs squealing a little, turn in with not a trace of body roll, a lighter touch on the accelerator this time but not light enough to avoid another little squirm from the rear tyres, and we’re off again for more (much, much more) of the same. I love this car.
We’re not the only ones out to play. There’s a layby on Mulholland, about four miles on from the Rock Store, where the local bikers and car guys tend to pull up to gaze over the mountains. As we stop for a few pictures, two early 911s park behind us. I’m not sure there’s anywhere better in the world to own a classic car.
We chat for a while, take a few more pictures and head for the coast. On the last stretch, Decker Road, there’s a wonderful view of the road ahead, twisting and turning down to the Pacific Ocean. Amazing.
Evan can’t resist showing me his favourite stretch of beach, so it’s just a quick blast along the legendary Highway 1, known on this stretch as the Pacific Coast Highway, and a quick right turn into Point Dume, where the beach road is already lined with RVS and day-vans, and the beautiful people are wearing bikinis or togging-up in wetsuits, despite the chill in the air.
It’s quite a place, a rocky promontory sticking out into the Pacific. We take in the view, and allow others to take in the Aston Martin; even in the car capital of the world it attracts attention wherever it goes.
Back to PCH, past Cher’s house, and a brief stop-off for another cup of tea (coffee for Evan) at the Malibu Country Mart, where not one but two wonderfully ratty Series 1 Land Rovers are parked up outside. Over drinks, Evan tells me all about our next destination, the Port of Los Angeles, then it’s down past Malibu beach, a crawl through the late-morning traffic into Santa Monica and onto Highways 405 and 110 towards Long Beach.
Traffic is heavy and chaotic, as ever, without the etiquette of ‘slow’ or ‘fast’ lanes. All lanes are fast here. The concrete surface is bumpy, inducing a heavy, rhythmic ‘thump thump thump’ through the low-profile Pirellis wrapped around the Vantage’s sexy black 19in wheels. It’s a little wearing but there are worse things than driving an opentop Aston round LA. Having the top down on the freeway does expose you to a fair bit of noise and dust, but it also makes for much better all-round vision, all the better to see which particular mini truck is on a collision course for the Aston’s sculpted flanks.
As for the port, it’s simply huge. Over a billion dollar’s worth of cargo goes in and out every day, and on top of that there are the passenger liners docked in the World Cruise Center. We rumble over the majestic Vincent Thomas bridge for a birdseye view of the whole lot. Nearby San Pedro is becoming quite a desirable place to live, but down in the docks it’s as gritty as ever.
We hit the road again, headed for downtown, which is what counts for the centre of this sprawling city. From the freeway we see some of the less salubrious areas, like Compton, and pass over the LA River for a brief crawl around the skyscraper-heavy financial districts before
nipping back over the bridge on East 1st Street and into the once-dangerous and derelict area between the river and the railway shunting yards. Today the old railway buildings are home to the Southern California Institute of Architecture, trendy apartments and a plethora of hipster bars and restaurants. Useful, because somehow it’s now early afternoon, and we’re tired and thirsty. We might not have beers and tattoos, but a local café beckons.
Now, the next bit is rather exciting. We’re going down onto the bed of the LA River, which, if you’re not familiar with it, is actually a huge concrete channel that usually has little more than a stream flowing along the centre. You’ll recognise it from numerous movies, including Grease, Terminator2, and Thegumballrally.
I can’t help thinking that we’re doing something highly illegal and risking imminent arrest at gunpoint. In fact, it’s not entirely legal but no-one seems too worried. There’s a long, narrow access tunnel from the road, with a steep ramp down onto the floor of the river. As we rumble through the tunnel, we’re followed in by two motorcycles, their headlights glaring in my mirrors. Cops? No, just more sightseers. The transition from the ramp to the river bed is painfully sudden, and we have to creep on at an angle to avoid pranging that vulnerable front splitter (which, incidentally, also limits exits down sloped kerbs to such an extent that I wasn’t able to leave the car in my hotel car park).
But now we’re in, and a wave of exhilaration floods over me as I steer the Vantage along this so-famous river bed. How many times have I seen this location on TV or at the cinema? Wow! What’s really odd, though, is that there are so many other people here, too – the bikers photographing their machines, a film crew setting up for an advertising shoot and a class of amateur photographers traipsing through, pointing their SLRS rather half-heartedly. Evan and assistant Brian switch their focus to the interior next. It’s a very special place, no question. I’m not the greatest fan of those funny glass gear selector buttons high on the centre console, but the wonderful quilted leather, the simple steering wheel, pleasingly free of clutter, and the brilliantly techy instrument faces all make a driving environment quite unlike anything else on the market.
How do we top this location? Well, it has to be Hollywood, doesn’t it? It takes 45 minutes to drive there but 15 of those are spent nursing the car back up the ramp without scraping the splitter, followed by a quick blast along the 101, taking a brief detour to a vantage point that overlooks the famous Capitol Records and Broadway Hollywood buildings.
First stop? The Musso & Frank Grill, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood, opened in 1919 and second home over the years to the film and literary worlds’ greatest, from F Scott Fitzgerald (who proof-read his work in here) to Chaplin, Steinbeck, Bogart, Monroe, Bacall, Mcqueen et al. We have a nose around the leather-seated booths, the long tables and the famous mahogany bar in the wood-panelled room. It’s as atmospheric as you’d hope, and we only wish we could stay longer.
No chance of that; time is pressing. It’s a slow crawl along Hollywood Boulevard, where a motley assortment