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