Parting shot cover story: V12 Vantage V600. With a 592bhp version of the V12, the Bez-era Vantage goes out on a high Codenamed Dreadnought, the V600 is a final salvo for the original Gaydon-era V12 Vantage. Talk about all guns blazing. Richard Meaden. Photography Matthew Howe.
ROAD TEST V12 VANTAGE V600 £1.2 MILLION 592BHP V12 VANTAGE! WE DRIVE OUTRAGEOUS 200MPH-PLUS V600
Dreadnought. Quite the codename, isn’t it? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a dreadnought is ‘a type of battleship introduced in the early 20th century, larger and faster than its predecessors and equipped entirely with large-calibre guns’. It also describes ‘a fearless person’.
‘THERE’S NO QUESTION THE V600 REQUIRES A SERIOUS LEVEL OF DRIVING ABILITY TO MASTER’
Both interpretations of this codename are entirely apt, for not only is the V12 Vantage V600 the biggest of big guns, harking back to Aston’s greatest heavyweight of the late-20th century, it would never have come to be were it not for the singular vision of a brave and bold Aston Martin customer.
For privacy reasons he shall remain nameless, but we – and the thirteen other V600 customers – have a lot to thank him for. Why? Well, for starters it’s highly unlikely that Aston Martin would have created this car of its own volition. Largely because the factory’s attention was on launching the all-new turbocharged Vantage and not creating one last hurrah for the venerable model that was about to cease production.
Of course, that’s the beauty of Q – the factory’s bespoke commissions department – but it’s also the wonder of Aston’s most dedicated customers, for it is they who not only make these projects viable, but often conceive the idea in the first place. Dreadnought is just such a car.
Originally the dream of our aforementioned friend, when the full scope of his concept was revealed, Aston liked it so much they proposed making a limited run. The client agreed, even suggesting a Roadster version as well as the coupe he had commissioned. Total production? Seven of each.
The premise for the V600 is part-nostalgic and part-purist. Analogue is perhaps an adjective too far for a car with three-stage adaptive damping and stability control, but in an age when turbocharging and paddle-shift transmissions have almost entirely taken over, the prospect of a large- capacity naturally aspirated V12 engine mated to a manual transmission and shoehorned into a compact and devilishly handsome two-seater is more compelling than ever.
Perhaps the most concise way to describe the V600 is to say it’s a manual and wingless Vantage GT12. That car was very much designed to ape the V12 Vantage GT3 racer – something it does very successfully in looks, but a little less so in deeds. The V600 may share much of its hardware, but its mission was not to be some track-inspired wannabe. Rather its aim was to work brilliantly as a road car, focus less on chasing lap times or outright point-to-point pace and instead offer an experience that immerses the driver completely in the process of operating the machine.
It’s a formula inspired by Porsche’s 991-generation 911 R – a car the V600’s commissioning customer used as his blueprint – and an idea that resonates strongly with those who have become disillusioned by or disengaged from the relentless pursuit of performance, especially when it comes at the expense of road relevance. It also explains why many enthusiasts look to classic cars for their kicks.
This story should have happened last autumn, when the commissioning customer offered us the chance to drive with him at the Nurburgring during a pre-sign-off test. Diary clashes meant that didn’t happen, then Christmas got in the way. We’d hoped to reconvene with him for this test, but we were thwarted yet again. Thankfully, while V600 owners are an elite bunch, they are far from elitist. So, thanks to the combined efforts of AML and supplying dealer HWM, we instead managed to secure this beautiful silver-blue V600, which just so happens to be chassis #01.
We’re heading for Helmsley in North Yorkshire. It’s an old haunt for Vantage and the quintessential English market town, positioned on the edge of the North York Moors and blessed with breathtaking scenery and a network of fabulous roads that drape themselves across the sprawling landscape and could have been tailor-made for the V600.
Delivered in a covered trailer by the ever-helpful Hugh Hadland, by the time photographer Matt Howell and I arrive for our morning rendezvous the mighty machine has been unloaded and stands waiting us. It’s a moment I’ve been waiting a long time for, and it doesn’t disappoint.
Astons always have that knack of drawing in strangers like magnets, but I’m pretty certain the passing locals don’t fully appreciate what they’re looking at. Namely the absolute last hurrah for the original Gaydon-era Vantage, one of the rarest Aston Martin road cars ever made and, priced at £1.2 million, also one of the most expensive.
Yes, you read that correctly. £1.2 million. Closer to £1.4m if you wanted the Roadster. It’s an extraordinary amount of money for a car that looks – at least to the casual observer – much like any other Vantage. That the GT12 sold for a starting price of £250,000 (probably closer to £300k with all the lightweight options) and was built in a strictly limited run of 100 cars only serves to further highlight the premium.
Objectively, then, the V600 is a very hard car to justify. Impossible, actually, if judged on price alone. It really is a money-no-object choice, but it’s also a car that has a very particular appeal. And far from shouting about the owner’s wealth, it is the epitome of Roosevelt’s famous advice to ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’. That also describes most of Aston’s big bruisers and instinctively sits very well with us.
Standing very much in the subjective realm of Helmsley’s market square, the V600 looks knee-knockingly fabulous. It’s as familiar as an old friend, but in this guise it’s perhaps that mate you haven’t seen for a while who clearly discovered the gymnasium in your absence. The stance is broad and low, the absence of protruding wings and jutting splitters somehow accentuating the muscularity of the bodywork. Some 50mm wider than a regular Vantage, those GT12-derived panels are perfectly pumped, while the cinched sills and crisp crease along the flanks add further definition.
Get beyond the V600’s physique and it’s the details that draw you in. One of the nicest being the vent in the front wings, which nods to both the classic Aston side-strake and the scalloped vent that replaced it on the all- new Vantage. The bonnet perforations are another unique flourish and were taken from the DB10 Bond car, while the grille formed from hexagonal mesh that ripples like a sine-wave has a wonderfully mesmeric quality.
The rear-end is a little busier, but the functional stack of diffuser, quad exhausts and exposed carbon tailgate all add drama and give subtle clues to the V600’s broader haunches. The centre-lock wheels are of a design unique to the V600, with the set fitted to this particular example further personalised with diamond-turned rims and spokes.
They are shod with Michelin Pilot Super Sports. A fine, fine tyre for high-powered sports cars, but not ideally suited to the wintry ambient temperatures and wet roads that Yorkshire is serving up today. All of which is food for thought as I depress the clutch, push the starter and wait for the lightly silenced 592bhp V12 to clear its throat. What’s that saying about great power coming with great responsibility’?
The drive from Helmsley towards Hutton-le-Hole is tentative, but still wonderful. The compactness of the Vantage never fails to make an impression. Likewise the interior, which is simple and unfussy but coolly stylish. The large expanses of satin carbonfibre and additional leather trim embellished with decorative broguing to match the bonnet perforations create a perfect ambience.
The seven-speed manual transmission famously has a dog-leg first gear. This appeals to the old nostalgic in me, but I’m not a great fan of the shift pattern, as the double-H gate is ever-so-slightly skewed. Coupled with first not being where you expect it to be means you have to think your way around the ‘box and be a little more deliberate than you’d wish. The shift quality itself is slick and nicely weighted, and with so much torque (461lb ft) you don’t actually need all those gears. In fact, unless executing a hill-start, I find I can avoid 1st and pull away in 2nd, effectively turning the ‘box into a conventional six-speed. Adapt and overcome.
Once up onto the moors, the V600 and I form a closer bond. There’s a sense of latent energy that’s intoxicating from the moment you squeeze the throttle, and it’s this sense of what lies in reserve that comes to define the V600 experience. There’s plenty to savour in everything it does – the satisfying weight to the controls, pliant-yet-controlled damping and potent but beautifully progressive brakes to name but three. It all gels brilliantly well.
For me, what’s most compelling is the nuanced manner in which you can deploy the performance. Open the taps and it possesses a level of through-the-gears performance that genuinely widens your eyes and dries your mouth, but simply staying in a tall gear and stretching the elastic performance of this fabulously expressive engine delivers a different but no less enjoyable experience.
Unlike the car from which it takes its name, the 21st century V600 shines when you extend it. You need your wits about you – that’s the point of this car after all – but it doesn’t have the runaway-train sensation of the old twin-supercharged monster. It works with you and the road, upping its game as you dig deeper, but it comes with a deliciously giddy feeling of knowing there’s a bit more performance than the car can use at any given moment. You squeeze the speed from it, rather than hammer it.
By investing in the driving experience, it somehow transcends the wild pace, pinpoint accuracy and unerring consistency of cars controlled by technology. There’s no question the V600 requires a serious level of driving ability to master, but it doesn’t rely on being driven to its – or your own – limit to deliver something truly special.
The Bez-era Vantage has been a pivotal player in Aston Martin’s modern transformation. Not to mention one of the most consistently enjoyable, enduringly handsome and truly engaging drivers’ cars we’ve seen so far this century. It deserved a proper farewell. In the shape of the V600, it received a veritable 21-gun salute.
Specification 2018 Aston-Martin V12 Vantage V600
ENGINE V12, 5935cc
MAX POWER 592bhp @ 7000rpm
MAX TORQUE 461lb ft @ 5500rpm
TRANSMISSION Seven-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip diff, TC, DSC
SUSPENSION Front and rear: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
STEERING Rack-and-pinion, power- assisted
BRAKES Vented carbon-ceramic discs, 398mm front, 360mm rear, ABS, EBD
WHEELS 9.5 x 19in front, 11.5 x 19in rear
TYRES 265/35 ZR19 front, 325/30 ZR19 rear, Michelin Pilot Super Sport
TOP SPEED c205mph
PRICE £1.2 million
From the top: Further bespoke touches include saddle-stitched leather satchels behind the seats; stability control can be deactivated if you’re feeling brave; Unleashed on the North York Moors, the V600 proves a spectacular last hurrah for the Bez-era Vantage and very much to the liking of editor Meaden (right). Left and above right: Tricky to explore the V600’s full potential in these conditions – its Michelin Pilot Sports would prefer warmer, drier tarmac – but there’s much to savour in its communicative chassis and wonderfully expressive V12 engine. Wing vent (above) makes visual connection to new-gen Vantage. From the top: Unique carbonfibre bodywork includes prominent bonnet bulge; lightweight seats have unique perforations echoing those in the bonnet (right), which were in turn inspired by the DB10 created for James Bond. Whole car is full of bespoke touches, including carbon-faced instrument pack.
LOOKING BACK – VANTAGE BEGINNINGS
Where it all began
The same moorland roads also saw an early test of the original V8 Vantage, as the editor recalls
I came to North Yorkshire the very first time I drove the then- all-new V8 Vantage. It was an assignment for Vantage’s sister magazine, evo, and I can still recall the fizz of anticipation and excitement.
Its tight, chiselled shape was so good. And then there was the novelty of a new ‘affordable’ Aston. With a starting price of £79,995, not only was it the hottest thing Aston had offered in a generation but it brought the brand within reach of those who previously could but dream.
Naturally the evo test team wasted no time in putting the new baby Aston through its paces, with a 1000-mile, 36-hour, three-driver relay. Jethro Bovingdon collected the Vantage from Gaydon and drove it to Black Rock Sands in North Wales; then John Barker drove it through the night and over the Snake Pass to Helmsley, where I picked up the story with a 911 to provide a benchmark.
It still ranks as one of the best tests of an all-new car I’ve ever been a part of. And, as with the car, the verdict stands the test of time: ‘What they’re after [911 customers] is prestige and quality, big league performance and everyday usability: something the Porsche combines in one finely honed, competitively priced package. The reason 23,000 people end up buying a 911 every year is because, frankly, there’s never been a viable alternative.
‘It’s these customers that Aston Martin has had in its crosshairs for the past four years, and it’s these customers who will love the V8 Vantage. Love it for its exclusivity. Love it for its beautiful, sculptural shape. Love it for its potency, spirited voice and egalitarian handling. And, with some relief, love it for simply being the car we all hoped it would be.’
It tells you all you need to know about the relative might of Porsche and Aston Martin that after those heady days of reinvention and revival at Gaydon, while the former surged on to become one of the world’s most admired, diversified and well-resourced sporting marques, Aston suffered badly during the recession. Thankfully a gradual upturn in the economy kept the lights on long enough for new CEO Andy Palmer to attract much- needed funding, which meant that the process of reinventing the product range was able to begin all over again.
Remarkably, throughout this time, the Vantage stood firm. Not just surviving but defiantly maturing into a car that ultimately turned ageing into an art form. As rivals (including the 911) became bigger and more reliant upon technology, the old-school purity of the Vantage saw it attain modern-classic status long before it went out of production.
The succession of late-life special series cars such as the GT8, GT12, AMR Pro and, yes, the V600 has seen Aston’s ‘affordable’ baby become by far the most expensive car in the range, but this should not distract from the model’s achievements. That by far the most successful model in the company’s history should also be one of the very best is testament to what was happening at Gaydon during that brilliantly creative period, and the evergreen appeal of a car that was oh-so-right straight out of the box.