VUL­CAN AMR

The Vul­can hy­per­car is now fiercer than ever. We get an ex­clu­sive drive

VANTAGE - - Contents - WORDS JETHRO BOVINGDON PHO­TOG­RA­PHY MAX EAREY

FOR A LIT­TLE WHILE it felt like we’d be writ­ing about lim­ited-edi­tion Van­tages for­ever, didn’t it? An ex­tra few horse­power here, some stick­ers there, maybe a sprin­kling of ex­tra car­bon­fi­bre or a ti­ta­nium ex­haust… But now? Now it’s hard to keep up with ev­ery­thing that’s go­ing on. New fac­to­ries, new ar­chi­tec­tures, new en­gines, new ev­ery­thing.

I’m glad to re­port that some things stay very much the same, though. Take the ar­range­ments for my frankly scarcely be­liev­able chance to drive the new Vul­can AMR Pro just 48 hours be­fore it makes its global de­but at the Good­wood Fes­ti­val of Speed. There’s no fan­fare, no cer­e­mony. Just a text mes­sage: ‘Be there for 1pm. Should be fun.’

If this were a Ger­man man­u­fac­turer, I’d have to reg­is­ter on­line, high­light any di­etary re­quire­ments or al­ler­gies, sign sev­eral forms agree­ing to death by ston­ing should I break the em­bargo, and heaven knows what else. But this is still the As­ton Martin we know and love. So I get ‘there’ – an air­field in Northamp­ton­shire – for 1pm, pop to the café to meet the guys and grab a cof­fee, then we am­ble down to find the Vul­can, com­plete with new AMR Pro up­grade pack­age. Sim­ple.

Be­fore we delve too deeply into the AMR Pro up­grade, which fo­cuses on aero­dy­nam­ics but also sees per­for­mance gains through a shorter gear-set, let’s ex­am­ine where this model sits in the new ‘AMR’ per­for­mance di­vi­sion. The broad con­cept, as you prob­a­bly know by now, is that AMR acts for As­ton Martin as AMG does for Mercedes. There will be AMR it­er­a­tions for each As­ton Martin model, from the Van­tage to the Vul­can via Rapide, DB11 and even the DBX.

How­ever, it’s not quite that sim­ple be­cause

there will be two tiers of AMR. The first is easy to un­der­stand and does fol­low the AMG model – se­ries pro­duc­tion cars (al­beit built in lim­ited num­bers) with sharper per­for­mance and more fo­cused dy­nam­ics. The re­cently an­nounced V8 and V12 Van­tage AMR mod­els typ­ify this ap­proach (the V8 Van­tage AMR is fea­tured on page 62 of this is­sue).

Then there are the more ex­treme AMR Pro mod­els, which will be de­vel­oped and built by the rather in­el­e­gantly named Q by As­ton Martin Ad­vanced Op­er­a­tions. The track-only, Le Mans­derived Van­tage AMR Pro (also fea­tured in this is­sue, page 70) and now this Vul­can AMR Pro set the tem­plate. Clear? Okay, so let’s now talk about that rear wing…

There’s more to this up­grade pack­age than the rear wing. Of course there is. But I sus­pect that, for the 24 Vul­can own­ers whose cars are now el­i­gi­ble for up­grad­ing, it’s this vast, two­plane car­bon­fi­bre sculp­ture that will make the AMR Pro op­tion al­most in­evitable. Even at some­where around £150,000 plus lo­cal taxes. It’s part of a de­tailed aero­dy­namic re­think that mas­sively in­creases the Vul­can’s down­force. Oh, and it looks ridicu­lously, fab­u­lously, ab­surdly OTT. In a word… ir­re­sistible.

The world is to get its first view of the wing and the rest of the aero ad­denda at Good­wood. To­day is a sim­ple shake­down test. Race driver Peter Dum­breck is on hand to make sure all is well and, once he’s ripped up and down the run­way a few times, it’ll be my turn to ex­pe­ri­ence the Vul­can AMR Pro. Will I no­tice the mas­sive gains in down­force? Erm, prob­a­bly not. Do I care a jot? Not at this pre­cise mo­ment. With its sear­ing green body­work cov­ered in pro­tec­tive film and tape, the Vul­can looks as ex­cit­ing as any­thing with four wheels ever has.

As the Vul­can’s 7-litre V12 shrieks and gar­gles on its warm-up cy­cle, Adam Barnie, Vul­can en­gi­neer, takes me through all the changes that make up the AMR Pro kit. At the front is a pair of new dive-planes on each side, ahead of the front wheels. Hid­den be­neath the huge front split­ter are new turn­ing vanes fixed to its un­der­side, while the re­vised en­gine cover fea­tures new lou­vres carved above the front

wheels to re­duce high pres­sure and lift. A use­ful ex­tra ben­e­fit is a 5kg weight re­duc­tion. In com­bi­na­tion with the twin-plane rear wing, down­force is in­creased from 318kg at 98mph to 404kg. For ref­er­ence, the V8 Van­tage GTE that won its class at Le Mans has around 315kg of down­force at a sim­i­lar speed.

Per­haps more rel­e­vant to me to­day will be the much shorter fi­nal drive. The Vul­can is a se­ri­ously fast car in a straight line al­ready but it isn’t quite as fast as it sounds, nor as the head­line 820bhp fig­ure would lead you to ex­pect. Part of the rea­son for that is that it’s geared for well over 200mph. Nice in the­ory but not much use on any cir­cuit save maybe Paul Ri­card. ‘Even at Spa you don’t ac­tu­ally need 6th gear,’ says Barnie. ‘I think the top speed will be more like 185mph now, but that should make a huge dif­fer­ence to ac­cel­er­a­tion and lap times.’

As well as th­ese hard­ware dif­fer­ences, the AMR Pro will also ben­e­fit from a much more ag­gres­sive chas­sis set-up. ‘Af­ter Good­wood we’re go­ing to Nardo to look at max­imis­ing its po­ten­tial. We want to set it up more like a race­car,’ ex­plains Barnie.

This is a philo­soph­i­cal shift from the orig­i­nal ‘gen­tle­man driver’ em­pha­sis of the Vul­can pro­gramme. As own­ers have been coached up to a higher level, so they’ve started to ask for a more un­com­pro­mis­ing, more chal­leng­ing and even faster driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. With this feed­back in mind, the aero bal­ance of the AMR Pro up­grade shifts the cen­tre of pres­sure for­ward, while the dive-planes and turn­ing vanes should cre­ate a much pointier, more agile and more neu­tral chas­sis bal­ance.

Dum­breck is re­port­ing good things when he comes back from his ini­tial runs. ‘Ob­vi­ously we’ll dis­cover much more about the aero when we get it on a cir­cuit and we’re able to drive on the limit,’ he be­gins, ‘but this is ab­so­lutely the right di­rec­tion for the Vul­can. It is a bril­liant car, but I’ve al­ways felt it needs a bit more front-end. It de­serves to be de­vel­oped in this way and have its po­ten­tial fully re­alised.’ Can he sense an im­prove­ment al­ready? ‘Not re­ally. But I look

‘The rapid pulse and hard blare of the V12 has the vol­ume and in­ten­sity of two or three nor­mal race-cars rolled into one’

for­ward to Nardo,’ he says with a big grin and at suf­fi­cient vol­ume that Barnie hears and reg­is­ters his in­ter­est! They’re dis­cussing dates when I’m given the thumbs-up to jump in and ven­ture out onto the run­way.

The first mo­ments in a Vul­can are al­ways over­whelm­ing. It feels so big, so pre­cious and so an­gry. The view out over the wide, flat bon­net is in­cred­i­bly in­tim­i­dat­ing and the rapid pulse and hard blare of the V12 en­gine has the vol­ume and in­ten­sity of two or three nor­mal race-cars rolled into one. The gor­geous three-sided steer­ing wheel feels per­fectly moulded to your hands, though. And while the six-speed pad­dle­op­er­ated Xtrac transaxle gear­box re­quires the use of the clutch to get off the line, such is the torque of the mo­tor and the pro­gres­sion of the throt­tle that the Vul­can rolls away pretty calmly. Once you’re mov­ing, up­shifts and down­shifts re­quire noth­ing more than a flick of a pad­dle, and you have a row of shift-lights on the dash for guid­ance.

In first gear, they rip from left to right and then flash in uni­son in what feels like about a tenth of a sec­ond. I can’t keep up and the big V12 stut­ters and strains against its lim­iter. Into sec­ond. Same thing again: to­tal trac­tion and in­cred­i­ble en­ergy as the en­gine revs like it’s push­ing 500kg rather than the 1345kg of this mas­sive car­bon­fi­bre mis­sile. The side-exit ex­hausts emit a fusil­lade of pops and fierce claps of thun­der as the lim­iter rudely in­ter­rupts again. The pat­tern is re­peated in 3rd and 4th and, at 250kph (155mph) in 5th, I jump on the slen­der brake pedal and breathe again. Then I re­alise the six-pis­ton calipers are clamp­ing onto stone-cold car­bon-ce­ramic discs, mo­men­tar­ily panic, and a split-sec­ond later qui­etly give praise to a higher power when they ac­ti­vate prop­erly and pull me to a stand­still well be­fore the piles of tyres that mark the end of the road.

One thing is im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous: the new gear­ing makes 820bhp feel like 820bhp. Maybe more. The way the Vul­can now in­gests ra­tios is quite in­cred­i­ble and it brings a new­found in­ten­sity to the whole ex­pe­ri­ence. The sheer

force matches the shriek of that V12 and it en­hances the feel­ing that the Vul­can will ex­e­cute any­thing you ask of it. Im­me­di­ately.

On the re­turn run, I go for a few lane-changes and the car re­acts so quickly and in such a bal­anced, con­fi­dence-in­spir­ing way. That long wheel­base, wide track and aero sta­bil­ity cre­ate a sense of in­vin­ci­bil­ity and ev­ery steer­ing in­put is met with a pre­cise re­ac­tion with what feels like zero lag. In road cars, even the very best of them, you feel and fac­tor-in the tyres tak­ing the load, the sus­pen­sion set­tling and the move­ment of the body dur­ing cor­ner­ing or brak­ing. In the Vul­can, there’s no wait­ing, seem­ingly no in­er­tia to over­come. It’s eerie but so em­pow­er­ing. No won­der own­ers love th­ese cars so much that they’ve been ask­ing for the essence of Vul­can to be pu­ri­fied still fur­ther.

Dum­breck is right, of course. There’s not too much else to learn on a bumpy but ar­row­straight airstrip. Even so, I run up and down as many times as I think I can get away with. This might be the last time I drive a Vul­can and I want to savour ev­ery last mo­ment and com­mit to mem­ory the feel­ing of the ’box when it punches through an­other shift, the sound and fe­roc­ity of that soar­ing 7-litre V12 and take in the ex­tra­or­di­nary view, the feel of that ex­quis­ite steer­ing wheel. Th­ese are pre­cious sec­onds.

I sense that for the team be­hind the Vul­can and the new AMR Pro pack­age ev­ery sec­ond counts, too. This might be a ‘cus­tomer driven’ pro­gramme but I get the im­pres­sion that each owner may have re­ceived a daily email en­ti­tled ‘Do you want us to make your Vul­can even faster?’… the font get­ting big­ger and the tone more ur­gent with ev­ery pass­ing week. Maybe in the end they said yes just for a bit of peace and quiet. Now they have a cheque to write. A big one. But they get one hell of a rear wing in re­turn – and a new lease of life for their beloved Vul­can. Should tide them over very nicely un­til the Valkyrie ar­rives…

V

‘I run up and down as many times as I think I can get away with. This might be the last time I drive a Vul­can and I want to savour ev­ery last mo­ment’

Be­low and right Main fo­cus of the AMR Pro up­grade is the Vul­can’s aero­dy­nam­ics: as well as the vast bi-plane rear wing (be­low), the ad­di­tional el­e­ments in­clude the twin dive-planes ahead of each of the front wheels (bot­tom). Fe­ro­cious 7-litre V12 en­gine (far right) hasn’t been mod­i­fied, but shorter over­all gear­ing means it now feels ev­ery one of its 820bhp

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