‘mul­hol­land twists and turns into the hills. on th­ese roads, there’s no better as­ton’

VANTAGE - - Road Trip V12 Vantage S Roadster -

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

Above and right What better way to see the sights of LA, from the scenic Pacific Coast High­way, to the vast Port of Los Angeles, to the iconic con­crete river bed, fa­mil­iar from count­less TV and movie scenes

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