In a mag­a­zine ex­clu­sive, we drive what is – for now at least – the world’s only road-le­gal Vul­can

VANTAGE - - Contents - Words richard meaden PHO­TOG­RA­PHY gus gre­gory

Ex­clu­sive test of the one and only road ver­sion of As­ton’s 820bhp hy­per­car

As mo­ments of jeop­ardy go, this one is right up there with the Ital­ian Job cliffhanger. I’m peer­ing out of an As­ton Martin Vul­can on a cold, wet win­ter’s day. Lucky so-and-so, you’re no doubt think­ing. Well yes, there are worse places to find your­self. Ex­cept that this is the world’s only road-le­gal Vul­can and I’m at­tempt­ing to turn right out of a small side-road onto a busy A-road, thread­ing the needle across a stream of fast-mov­ing traf­fic.

To make mat­ters worse, there’s a slight in­cline and the sum to­tal of my seat-time in this pre­cious uni­corn (in­sured for £2.2m) is the five min­utes the en­gine has taken to warm up af­ter the car was un­loaded at our pre-ar­ranged and, in hind­sight, some­what sub-op­ti­mal ren­dezvous point. Still, noth­ing for it now but to wait for a gap and go for it. Gods of clutch con­trol, please don’t desert me now...

The lit­eral jour­ney to this point may have taken only a mat­ter of min­utes, but the metaphor­i­cal one has been more than a year and a half since RML boss Michael Mallock tipped me off that they were work­ing on some­thing rather spe­cial. Ex­actly how spe­cial be­came clear when he gave me a peek at some con­fi­den­tial CAD draw­ings of what was un­mis­tak­ably a Vul­can. With head­lights. Items you only need if you in­tend to drive said track-only mon­ster on the road. Blimey.

What fol­lowed was a phe­nom­e­nal and phe­nom­e­nally tor­tu­ous project. One rooted in the kind of metic­u­lous en­gi­neer­ing for which RML is renowned, but one hog-tied in the kind of leg­isla­tive red tape that could only be gen­er­ated by a gov­ern­ment agency. In this case the UK Driver & Ve­hi­cle Stan­dards Agency and its In­di­vid­ual Ve­hi­cle Ap­proval, or IVA as it’s known to haunted-look­ing au­to­mo­tive en­gi­neers fa­mil­iar with its ar­cane and un­wa­ver­ing pro­to­cols.

Ready­ing a Vul­can for the road is a process far re­moved from the good old days when race cars were lit­tle more than highly de­vel­oped road cars. Back then they of­ten wore regis­tra­tion plates and, in the case of As­ton Martin’s Le Mans con­tenders of the 1950s and ’60s, were driven to the cir­cuit from the team’s base at the Ho­tel de France.

The Vul­can wasn’t con­ceived to race, but nor was it ever in­tended for the road. In­stead it was cre­ated to en­ter­tain ul­tra­wealthy en­thu­si­asts with the looks of a con­cept car and the heart of a com­pe­ti­tion car. This gave As­ton’s de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing teams the lat­i­tude to make it a true flight of fan­tasy. The re­sult is a car as suited to the street as a Eurofighter Ty­phoon is to drop­ping in at your lo­cal aero club.

With de­vel­op­ment funds (and an all-im­por­tant Vul­can) pro­vided by an ex­tremely en­thu­si­as­tic As­ton Martin cus­tomer, RML set to work. It must have felt like an in­sur­mount­able chal­lenge, es­pe­cially with the re­al­i­sa­tion that the com­bined ef­fect of the IVA and the Law of Un­in­tended Con­se­quences meant that vir­tu­ally ev­ery pri­mary mod­i­fi­ca­tion led to a chain of sec­ondary changes that had to be chased around the car.

This nose-to-tail ap­proach might have added many months and con­sid­er­able cost to the project (the road con­ver­sion now re­tails at £295,000 + taxes), but it’s such at­ten­tion to de­tail and a re­luc­tance to com­pro­mise that makes the dif­fer­ence be­tween a project that sim­ply makes a track car road-le­gal and one that

aims to cre­ate a car that’s use­able and en­joy­able on the road.

Chat to RML’S project leader Adam Airey and you quickly be­come ac­quainted with the phrase ‘ra­dius re­quire­ment’. No, it’s not the sex­i­est phrase in the au­to­mo­tive lex­i­con, but it lit­er­ally shaped the road-go­ing Vul­can. How so? Be­cause en­sur­ing that the Vul­can’s nu­mer­ous sharp-edged wings, spoil­ers, split­ters and other pro­tu­ber­ances could be made to sat­isfy the pedes­trian-friendly ra­dius re­quire­ments of the IVA was one of the project’s big­gest tasks.

Per­versely, the aes­thetic suc­cess of the end prod­uct lies in the fact that RML’S Her­culean ef­fort to blunt the track car’s po­ten­tially in­ju­ri­ous body ad­denda goes largely un­no­ticed: un­less you parked this street-le­gal Vul­can next to a track-only ver­sion, you’d be hard pushed to spot the dif­fer­ences.

When RML first re­vealed its plans, the most con­tentious area was very clearly the head­lights. Orig­i­nally de­signed only with low-set driv­ing lights, any Vul­can road con­ver­sion was go­ing to have to in­te­grate head­lights into that colos­sal front clamshell. Given that As­ton Martin’s de­sign team sweat blood over the sur­fac­ing of their cars, smack­ing a pair of head­lights on it could have re­sulted in some­thing akin to the Mona Lisa wear­ing a pair of those nov­elty eye­balls-on-springs spec­ta­cles. Thank­fully RML’S solution is rather more el­e­gant.

Some of the other fixes re­quired a lit­tle more lat­eral think­ing. For in­stance, the trade­mark ‘blade’ tail-lights sim­ply have a clear moulded cover over them. The new rear spoiler in­cor­po­rates di­rec­tion sig­nals – nick­named ‘Wingdi­ca­tors’ by the RML team – in the end­plates. The track-only car’s rear win­dow has been blanked out to negate the need for a rearview mir­ror and saves on the need to re­place it with E-marked glass. It’s no great loss to all-round vis­i­bil­ity as the gi­gan­tic rear spoiler al­ways blocked your view any­way.

Which brings us neatly onto the Vul­can’s aero­dy­nam­ics. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the track-only car has lit­er­ally had its wings

clipped: at the rear to avoid de­cap­i­tat­ing un­for­tu­nate pedes­tri­ans (though, to be fair, what a way to go!) and at the front to stop the split­ter from chop­ping by­standers off at the an­kles – and to im­prove the Vul­can’s ap­proach an­gle. Short­en­ing the split­ter also re­duces frontal down­force in pro­por­tion to the diminu­tion in rear down­force, so the car re­tains its high-speed han­dling bal­ance.

There are just as many changes in­side, but, as with the ex­te­rior, they’re nicely in­te­grated. The seats are new, as the track items had ex­tended ‘ears’ to pre­vent neck in­jury in event of a lat­eral im­pact. Fin­ish­ers were needed around all the switchgear to meet the dreaded ra­dius re­quire­ments. An im­mo­biliser and cen­tral lock­ing were also retro-fit­ted.

Get­ting the Vul­can go­ing is not the work of a mo­ment. Be­fore you can fire the en­gine into life, you have to turn it over on the starter with­out the fuel sys­tem run­ning to bring the oil pres­sure up. House­keep­ing done, you can then turn the ro­tary ig­ni­tion switch to po­si­tion 2 and start it with a push of the red but­ton. It fires in­stantly, set­tling into a brassy, el­e­vated idle. Curls of vapour rise from the side-exit ex­hausts, and as heat gets into the en­gine the whole car is shrouded in mist. A few more min­utes and it’s ready to do bat­tle with the traf­fic. Which is where we came in…

Fi­nally pluck­ing up the courage to pull out into the flow, I’m not sure who’s more in­tim­i­dated, me or the other driv­ers find­ing them­selves in the com­pany of what is surely the most ex­tra­or­di­nary car they’ve ever seen. Some drop right back; oth­ers at­tempt to dock with the rear-end, smart­phones held to their wind­screens in an ef­fort to video us, as you would a UFO sight­ing. So this is what it’s like to be an A-list celebrity.

Just go­ing with the flow should be in­cred­i­bly frus­trat­ing, but sim­ply be­ing in the Vul­can amongst ev­ery­day traf­fic is one of the most en­joy­able driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ences I can re­mem­ber. It’s this mad­ness – the feel­ing of do­ing some­thing that shouldn’t be

al­lowed – that’s a huge part of the ap­peal of the con­ver­sion.

Is the Vul­can an easy car to drive on the road? Yes and no. Of course it’s an in­tim­i­dat­ing ma­chine. The sheer size of it means you have to be cir­cum­spect, as it lit­er­ally fills your side of the road. Vis­i­bil­ity is bet­ter than you might imag­ine, though I never man­age to shake the urge to glance up at where the rear-view mir­ror would be in a reg­u­lar street car. Like­wise, by any nor­mal stan­dard it’s very noisy: the gear­box whines and chunters, com­pres­sors whir, the brakes squeal and con­sid­er­able road noise is trans­mit­ted though the car­bon­fi­bre tub.

Andthev12? Well,of­course,it’smag­nif­i­cent.anom­nipresent force that en­velopes you from the mo­ment you push the red starter but­ton, it’s truly one of the great en­gines – sav­age but smooth, with the kind of tractabil­ity that only comes from big­ca­pac­ity en­gines. The three-stage power set­tings are re­tained, the low­est of which is 550bhp and makes the Vul­can an un­likely pussy­cat. Of course, if you wind the power up, it read­ily over­whelms the rear Miche­lin Pilot Cup tyres, but the mul­ti­ad­justable trac­tion con­trol sys­tem is in­cred­i­bly ef­fec­tive. In low-grip con­di­tions it in­ter­venes early but with real fi­nesse, so you can lean on its in­vis­i­ble sup­port with con­fi­dence.

You might ex­pect that such a ma­chine would feel numb at mod­est road speeds, but there’s a gen­uine sense of con­nec­tion. The car­bon brakes protest at the lack of tem­per­a­ture, but they work fine and have far more pro­gres­sion than I’m ex­pect­ing. Like­wise, the steer­ing is power-as­sisted but still has some meat to it and isn’t ex­ces­sively re­spon­sive. This makes the Vul­can easy to guide and in­tu­itive to place on the road, even though you sit low with a lim­ited view of its ex­trem­i­ties. I’m pretty cer­tain that ne­go­ti­at­ing the mar­ket square in the quaint town of Ol­ney wasn’t a de­sign con­sid­er­a­tion, but it trun­dled round with­out complaint. Or a stall, much to my re­lief!

Once you’ve got be­yond the ini­tial shock of the size, sounds and sheer ab­sur­dity that de­fine the Vul­can driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, the ac­tual process of mak­ing progress is sur­pris­ingly pol­ished. The clutch should be an ab­so­lute pig when pulling away, but it’s pro­gres­sive if you show it some sen­si­tiv­ity – doubt­less helped by the shorter gear ra­tios. The gear­box shifts cleanly even at low speeds and small throt­tle open­ings, which is just as well, for op­por­tu­ni­ties to give up to 820bhp-worth of V12 its head on a wet and win­try road are slim to say the least.

Does This Mat­ter? Not re­ally. Cer­tainly no more than with any other road-go­ing hy­per­car. I have no doubt that in warm, dry con­di­tions you could make en­thu­si­as­tic use of the Vul­can’s epic reach. What­ever the weather, there’s some­thing won­der­ful about hav­ing so much per­for­mance at your dis­posal, even if you rarely do more than scratch the sur­face. The one time I do let the bung out (on a long up­hill stretch of dual-car­riage­way) it takes my heart a good five min­utes to stop pound­ing.

rml’s Vul­can is road-le­gal, but it re­mains a wild, wild ma­chine in any con­text and by any bench­mark. That it has the man­ners to cope with stop-start driv­ing and is gen­uinely en­joy­able to drive is tes­ta­ment to the in­tegrity of the orig­i­nal car and the ex­per­tise that re­sides within RML. It’s a mad project, but it’s also a bril­liant one.


From the top Vul­can’s dis­tinc­tive lolly-stick rear lights are re­tained, but now un­der clear cov­ers – just one of the myr­iad of de­tail changes to meet IVA regs for road use; changes in the cock­pit in­clude slightly less ex­treme seats, but race-car vibe re­mains

Above A cer­tain amount of con­tor­tion re­quired to get past the roll-cage. Once in, you sit low, with a lim­ited view of the car’s ex­trem­i­ties

Above Mon­strous 7-litre V12 has three se­lectable power lev­els: 550bhp (pre­sum­ably for shop­ping), 675bhp or the full 820bhp

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