Richard Meaden makes an emo­tional jour­ney in the very first mk1 Van­quish


Can it be a decade since the first-gen­er­a­tion Van­quish ceased pro­duc­tion? Seems hard to be­lieve, if you ask me. Still, if it is true, that makes it 16 years since a small band of mo­tor­ing writ­ers (my­self in­cluded) were in­vited to Newport Pag­nell for a de­li­ciously low-key in­tro­duc­tion to As­ton Martin’s all-new flag­ship.

Van­quish was sig­nif­i­cant for all kinds of rea­sons. Though we didn’t know it back in the sum­mer of 2001, it would be the last new model pro­duced at the Tick­ford Street fac­tory. It would also be some­thing of an en­gi­neer­ing cul-de-sac, thanks to the clever and more cost­ef­fec­tive mod­u­lar VH plat­form that would soon shape As­ton’s fu­ture at Gay­don.

How­ever, in that mo­ment, all I knew was this: stand­ing in the quaint con­fines of As­ton’s pre-facelift Works show­room, wait­ing to be handed the keys to one of the first hand­ful of Van­quish pro­duc­tion cars built, this hand­some, chis­elled ma­chine seemed very much like the fu­ture. And an ex­cit­ing one at that.

We – that’s to say Van­tage’s sis­ter mag­a­zine, evo – had a plan to take the Van­quish on a drive be­fit­ting its stature. One that would truly test its GT cre­den­tials and squeeze our strict three-day loan un­til the pips squeaked. We would head for the Scot­tish High­lands, putting big miles on it be­fore en­joy­ing some of the finest roads and scenery any­where in the world. Nat­u­rally, be­ing Scot­land, it rained (hard) but the trip was epic. And the Van­quish? Well, let’s just say it rose to the chal­lenge.

Six­teen years later and I’m once again head­ing to Scot­land. Only this time in the deckchair-like seat of a well-known bud­get air­line. My mis­sion? To re­visit the High­lands in Van­quish no.1. As in chas­sis 00001 – the first pro­duc­tion car built – and one of the orig­i­nal press launch fleet, though sadly not the one I drove. Ap­pro­pri­ately, no.1 has been sup­plied by As­ton Martin Works, though this time it has been trans­ported from Newport Pag­nell to Glas­gow to spare it wasted mo­tor­way miles.

I’ve driven early Van­quish and Van­quish S many times since that first foray north of the bor­der, but this trip al­ready feels like it’s go­ing to be some­thing spe­cial. That much is con­firmed when pho­tog­ra­pher Matt How­ell and I emerge from air­port ar­rivals, meet Hugh Had­land (Works‘ trusted de­liv­ery man) and head for a nearby car park to un­load the Van­quish from its dis­creet cov­ered trailer.

You’d think the nov­elty of see­ing and

hear­ing a Van­quish would have worn off by now, but when Hugh opens the trailer, low­ers the ramps, fires up no.1 and lets it slowly nudge out into the sun­shine, it’s a proper goose­bumps mo­ment. The un­adorned sim­plic­ity of the shape is fab­u­lous, the ex­haust bur­ble at idle full of prom­ise. Its star qual­ity re­mains undimmed.

Af­ter agree­ing to meet back in the same place in a lit­tle un­der 30 hours, we pack overnight bags and Matt’s cam­era equip­ment into the car. It’s the first test of the Van­quish’s GT cre­den­tials, and one it passes with fly­ing colours. Largely be­cause no.1 was built to 2+0 spec, which means the all-but-use­less rear seats are swapped for a much hand­ier deck on which to stow ad­di­tional bags. I sus­pect 2+2 was the pop­u­lar choice – and one ad­vised by deal­ers at the time – but I like the pu­rity and func­tion­al­ity of the two-seat con­fig­u­ra­tion, and the fact that As­ton of­fered the choice.

We brim the tank with 98 oc­tane at the near­est fill­ing sta­tion, en­joy­ing the look and feel of the big, bright petrol cap as it clicks back into place. So, all set then. Ex­cept I’d for­got­ten that the Van­quish is a car from the tale-end of the Flat­nav era, so we re­turn to buy a ‘map’, what­ever that is.

It’s an un­ex­pected re­minder that although the Van­quish is a 21st cen­tury car, it’s still from a by­gone age. One in which As­ton had only just stopped mak­ing cars en­tirely by hand, the 5.9-litre V12 was still a nov­elty, and pad­dleshift gear­boxes were rather avant- garde. Ah yes, the gear­box. It’s the one area of the Van­quish I al­ways worry will sour the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, but if age has done any­thing it is to in­crease my tol­er­ance level. Yes it was be­low par from the get-go, but so long as you make al­lowances and drive with me­chan­i­cal sym­pa­thy, it’s not that big a deal.

We bur­ble away from Glas­gow, cross­ing the Ersk­ine Bridge, head­ing for Loch Lomond. The traf­fic is busy but find­ing a rea­son­able flow, the Van­quish swim­ming among the shoals of or­di­nary metal like a shim­mer­ing tuna or mar­lin, all mus­cle and me­nace. It ac­tu­ally feels pretty com­pact and nicely sup­ple, the lumps and bumps that would trans­mit sharp jolts through a more ag­gres­sively sus­pended car nicely ab­sorbed.

The V12 is equally re­laxed, mur­mur­ing away in the back­ground and of­fer­ing the slight­est rum­ble when asked to push us into a gap in the traf­fic. It has an effortless, elas­tic feel that en­cour­ages you to flex a tall gear rather than bat up and down the ’box.

As the road opens out, the Van­quish feels even more at home. Still lop­ing along, but en­joy­ing the space and scale of the ev­er­ex­pand­ing scenery. If some peo­ple have the charisma to fill a room just by walk­ing into it, so the Van­quish nat­u­rally takes own­er­ship of the road around it. It’s one of those cars.

As we skirt around its shore, the loch looks mag­nif­i­cent, the glassy sur­face shim­mer­ing as though stud­ded with a mil­lion jewels. It’s now I’m re­minded how won­der­ful it is just to


be in the Van­quish. Calm and com­fort­able, it’s a mas­ter­ful mile-eater, rolling along with min­i­mal ef­fort yet en­gag­ing enough to make you feel part of the jour­ney. The in­te­rior is a strange mix of time-hon­oured tra­di­tion­al­ism and awk­ward-look­ing modernism. The seats are re­ally comfy and the di­a­mond-quilted Al­can­tara looks fab, but the slabby dash is still, er, chal­leng­ing. Es­pe­cially the round black plas­tic switches. The cream-faced di­als seem at odds with the ef­forts at con­tem­po­rary de­sign, as though As­ton’s de­sign team was afraid to let go of the past com­pletely. Or maybe they just didn’t have the bud­get for snazz­ier di­als.

Af­ter we leave Loch Lomond be­hind, the A82 goes up an­other gear. The grandeur of the Trossachs Na­tional Park fills the view ahead, the huge, rolling peaks ver­dant green against the bright blue sky. Even the Van­quish be­gins to feel dwarfed by our sur­round­ings, never more so than when we cross the ex­posed plateau of Ran­noch Moor. This and the ap­proach­ing run through Glen Coe are among my most favourite stretches of road – a re­minder that driv­ing can some­times feel like an ad­ven­ture.

Head­ing up here in hol­i­day sea­son isn’t ideal, but we find some space to let the Van­quish loose. Not reck­lessly so – it’s not the time or the place for that – but enough to feel the 460bhp V12 get on top of its in­ter­me­di­ate gears and let its bat­tle-cry echo out across the wilder­ness.

By to­day’s GT stan­dards, the Van­quish isn’t es­pe­cially po­tent, at least on pa­per. The DB11 boasts 600bhp, Fer­rari’s 812 Su­per­fast a scarcely be­liev­able 789bhp. And yet, when you squeeze its throt­tle to the car­pet, it still feels quick. Not ex­plo­sively so, but plenty quick enough to make your heart beat faster. Quick enough to surge past a string of car­a­vans and mo­torhomes. Quick enough to crease your face with a broad, slightly giddy grin. Same as it ever was.

I’ve al­ways thought As­tons feel at home up here. Maybe that’s why I al­ways feel drawn to the place when I’ve got the key to one in my pocket. It’s an urge felt long be­fore the James Bond film Sky­fall made this area a des­ti­na­tion for 007 fans. For­tu­itously, How­ell shot the Sky­fall DB5 up here when the film was re­leased, on the very roads Bond and M tra­versed in the movie. It would seem daft not to swing by, so we turn left off the A82 and head to­wards Glen Etive. It’s a dead-end, but well worth a look.

In my orig­i­nal drive we headed for Fort Wil­liam. We re-trace that route now, but then head back to­wards Bal­la­c­ul­ish, where we’re to stay the night. The weather is just spec­tac­u­lar, the tem­per­a­ture still in the 20s as the sun be­gins to set. We line the Van­quish up with Loch Leven be­hind and stand mes­merised as the scenery – and the As­ton – look bet­ter and bet­ter with ev­ery pass­ing minute. Money shot bagged, we wan­der back to our ho­tel for a beer.


Next day, with qui­eter roads all around us, we de­cide to go where the wind blows us, fol­low­ing the coast road for mile af­ter fab­u­lous mile. Miles made all the bet­ter by the Van­quish, which just seems un­can­nily suited to th­ese roads. It strikes me that this is be­cause it makes no pre­tence at be­ing any­thing other than the con­sum­mate GT. No mis­placed ath­leti­cism to make it shine on a race­track, no com­plex elec­tron­ics to fil­ter you out of the process. Just an am­ple spread of per­for­mance, read­ily ac­cessed, gen­er­ously de­liv­ered and a plea­sure to ex­ploit.

Yes, you can sense the brakes aren’t overly en­dowed with stop­ping power – some­thing the S ad­dressed, to­gether with a sharper but still sup­ple chas­sis set-up and some added grunt to make progress even more im­pe­ri­ous – but it doesn’t mat­ter so much be­cause the fo­cus isn’t on all-out point-to-point pace.

You can’t ex­plore the High­lands with­out skip­ping onto a few of the is­lands that pep­per the coast­line. Some are joined by bridges, oth­ers re­quire a ferry cross­ing. More by ac­ci­dent than de­sign, we drive across ‘The Bridge Over the At­lantic’ to the Isle of Seil and then find the ferry that takes you the 200m or so to the ad­ja­cent Isle of Lu­ing. The water is gun­metal grey and swirling with treacherous cur­rents, but the ferry butts its way con­fi­dently across the Cuan Sound. I’m not sure how many, if any, As­ton Martins have driven onto the MV Bel­nahua’s tiny deck, but the Van­quish ne­go­ti­ates the ramp with­out graz­ing its belly and raises an ap­pre­cia­tive smile from the friendly crew. Ev­ery­one loves an As­ton.

Once on Lu­ing, we wind our way along the nar­row roads, paus­ing to take in the view across the rest of the Slate Is­lands, and be­yond to Scarba and Ker­rera, be­fore stum­bling upon the aban­doned ticket of­fice and pier at Black­mill Bay. Parked out on the crum­bling rem­nants of the jetty, the Van­quish looks mag­nif­i­cent, its ful­some body­work shin­ing bright against the steel-grey sky. By rights it should have dated long ago, but there’s some­thing defiant about it. It’s al­most con­cept-car-like in its con­fi­dence and pu­rity, as strik­ing now as it was all those years ago.

The driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence has stay­ing power, too, but not for the rea­sons you might ex­pect. Where once it felt like a fierce crea­ture – the quick­est and most ex­ploitable car As­ton had ever built – the Van­quish has mel­lowed into a role that ar­guably suits it bet­ter. I can think of few cars I would rather drive on th­ese roads, or that would strike a bet­ter bal­ance be­tween pace, poise and pres­ence. Fun­nily enough, a DB11 prob­a­bly comes clos­est, but even that lacks the ku­dos that comes of be­ing a flag­ship model.

As we head back south to­wards Glas­gow, I’m on a bit of a high. Drunk on scenery and com­pletely di­alled in to the Van­quish, it’s been the per­fect trip. One that has un­der­lined my love for an in­creas­ingly fab­u­lous As­ton and re­minded me that, when done well, there’s no finer road car than a great GT.


Op­po­site, top As­ton Martin’s 5.9-litre V12 is com­ing to the end of its life now, but 16 years ago it was still some­thing of a nov­elty. Hav­ing made its de­but in the DB7 Van­tage two years ear­lier, it was ex­ten­sively re­worked for the Van­quish, lift­ing...

Be­low and right Plaque con­firms this was the first pro­duc­tion Van­quish, hand-built at Newport Pag­nell, where the car is cur­rently for sale in the Works show­room. Ed­i­tor Meaden bor­rowed it for a cou­ple of days to re­live the epic drive he did for evo...

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