Vanquish Shooting Brake at the limit. The union of Aston and Zagato has produced some remarkable cars over the last 60 years, and none more enticing than the Vanquish Shooting Brake. We find out if it lives up to the promise. Words Richard Meaden. Photography Dean Smith.
ROAD TEST VANQUISH ZAGATO SHOOTING BRAKE
Kicking off our Aston Zagato special, a drive in the fabulous Vanquish ‘Brake
What’s in a name? If it happens to be Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brake, rather a lot. If there’s a moniker that packs greater class, dynamism, quirkiness and exoticism into six words, I’ve yet to hear it.
As you’ll recall, the Shooting Brake was the final instalment of a Vanquish-based Zagato tetralogy that saw a limited run of 99 Vanquish Zagato Coupes joined in turn by 99 Volantes, 28 Speedsters and a further 99 Shooting Brakes.
Of the quartet it was the £650,000 (plus options!) Shooting Brake that drew most attention. Largely because it was the least expected and the most outrageous, but also because it tapped into the collective fascination that surrounds the shooting brake as a breed. Sometimes handsome, often ungainly, but always deeply individual and irrationally desirable, it’s this cult appeal that the Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brake tapped so brilliantly.
It’s also why I’ve been aching to drive one ever since I first saw the tantalising promo renderings. As you can imagine, these almost mythical beasts are not easy to come by, though, while aimed at collectors, fortunately they have also attracted proper enthusiasts. Some of whom have a rare generosity of the sort that leads them to volunteer access to their cars.
‘It’s a bona fide super-GT. One of the last Astons to be powered by the much-loved 5.9-litre V12’
As luck would have it, when long-standing friend of Vantage Paul Gerring dropped me an email to see if we would be interested in driving his wife Jan’s Zagato ‘Brake, we were in the midst of planning a special package of content dedicated to the legendary Italian carrozzeria’s centenary. The timing couldn’t have been better.
Having pored over countless photographs, then had a nose around one or two examples at Gaydon, I’m not expecting the Shooting Brake to have sustained that same level of first-glimpse shock and awe. But on arriving at our rendezvous point on Salisbury Plain I’m pleased and a little surprised to have that same sense of glee as I catch sight of it in the lay-by.
It’s physically smaller than you expect, but its presence is super-sized thanks to its riotous proportions and rakish stance. Of the four Vanquish Zagatos it’s always been the most concept-car-like, but it’s not until you see it in the wild, with natural light dancing over its surfaces, and with normal cars to give it some context, that you fully appreciate it’s a true flight of fantasy made real.
Of course, some recognisable elements of Vanquish remain – the point surely would be lost if it strayed too far from the base car – but the extra wheelbase (more of which later) gives the lines more time to build and converge. In profile, the shape swells like a building wave, reaching its peak at the A-pillar before breaking to send all the accumulated visual energy down the remaining length of the car, culminating in the spectacularly pinched tail.
You might expect it to be a 2+2, but the SB retains a 2+0 configuration, with a flat load area filling the space behind the seats. In the regular Vanquish (and indeed the Zagato Coupe, Volante and Speedster) the fuel tank sits over the rear axle, but clever use of Aston’s VH platform led to the Shooting Brake’s structure being a combination of Vanquish front and Rapide rear, the latter providing an expedient solution to the problematic fuel tank location.
Pop the tailgate and you appreciate the luggage space this has created, but any thoughts of weekend tip runs or dog walking trips quickly evaporate when you learn that the high- gloss carbonfibre load deck is a £15,000 option. Paul and Jan have a Union Jack blanket, which they unfurl across the surface whenever they put suitcases in the boot, much as you’d throw a protective tablecloth over an antique refectory table before laying it for Sunday lunch.
Inside or out, there are countless things to draw your gaze and make you smile. The 3D front grille is formed from a repeating sine wave of ‘Z’s that send you slightly cross-eyed if you look at them for too long. The circular, bladed tail lights have to be among the best ever to reach production. Indeed the whole rear end is an absolute triumph: the exhaust pipes that poke from the carbon diffuser like a matched pair of side-by-side shotguns, the fat rear tyres that emphasise the Vanquish’s inherent potency, and the falling roofline, rising bumper and inclined tailgate that are extended to a point, almost as though they are being left behind in the Shooting Brake’s slipstream.
It’s often the case that much of the sense of occasion that surrounds cars with such an extrovert exterior is somehow lost, or at least diluted when you get behind the wheel. Though the interior architecture, fixtures and fittings are very obviously Vanquish, the ‘Brake’s overall look, feel and ambience are hugely impressive. Central to this – quite literally – is the tapering glass panel that runs like a transparent spine down the length of the roof. Glazed in special photochromic glass, it can darken its tint at the press of a button, reducing glare while adding definition to the sky like a Polaroid filter. It’s a functional novelty you’d surely never tire of.
On the move there’s a unique feeling of intimacy and space. The cockpit and glasshouse wrap around you, but it never feels cramped. You quickly settle into the supportive yet yielding embrace of the driver’s seat, gearshift paddles at your fingertips, ‘square’ steering wheel feeling far better than you think it will. Glance in the mirror and you’re treated to one of the great interior views, the exquisitely finished load area perfectly lit by the glass roof, reflections dancing across the mirror-finish carbon.
Such is the novelty of being in and around the Shooting Brake, it’s easy to overlook the fact that it’s also a bona fide super-GT. One of the last Astons to be powered by the much-loved 5.9-litre naturally aspirated V12, this near-600bhp machine will get within a stone’s throw of 200mph and dash to 60mph in 3.5sec.
More impressive than the stats is the manner in which the Shooting Brake makes progress. In the milder of its powertrain and chassis settings it has a supple, loping gait that immediately tells you this is a car in which you’d happily cover big distances. Indeed that’s exactly what the Gerrings did shortly after taking delivery, when they joined the Zagato centenary celebrations on this year’s Mille Miglia (see next page). No wonder the odometer proudly shows more than 5000 miles. Clearly – and thankfully! – J007 ZAG is not destined for a pampered life in an air-conditioned storage facility.
You don’t so much notice the Shooting Brake’s extra length in the way it steers or tackles corners, but there is a pleasing stability and resolve to the way it rides. On the firm side but nicely controlled, it inspires confidence and connects you to the road without transmitting too many of the surface imperfections. The steering has a directness that means the car changes direction keenly, but it’s measured enough to feel natural so you don’t have to think about placing the car in a corner.
Work a bit more attitude and aggression into the car via its dynamic modes and an altogether feistier side emerges, most notably in its exhaust note, which switches from subdued / purposeful to a full-on war cry. One unexpected side-effect of the Shooting Brake’s open load area is that it acts rather like the resonating chamber of a hi-fi speaker, filling the interior with a richer, fuller volume of exhaust noise when Sport mode is engaged. It really is a cinematic surround-sound experience when you gun it through the gears, though I should stress that it doesn’t have the same effect in normal use, as the source is more subdued. Probably just as well!
‘The ability to shine as an all-out sports car remains firmly bolstered until you decide to up the ante’
As you’d expect, there’s a ton of grip and traction to work with, together with a really satisfying blend of just enough agility matched with emphatic poise. Across the rolling terrain of Salisbury Plain, the Shooting Brake loves the long corners and sweeping undulations, striking out for the horizon with the kind of generous, long-legged assurance that only comes from cars with proper power. Preferably courtesy of a charismatic V12 in the nose.
The beauty of the Vanquish S was its ability to switch between big-hearted GT and balls-out sports car. Zagatos have always managed to step things up a notch or two, adding a sharper dynamic edge to complement the exotic wrapping, so it’s fabulous to find the Shooting Brake is more than willing to be hustled.
The roads that cross the Plain aren’t noted for being sinuous – quite the opposite in fact – but a bit of local knowledge leads us to a wicked and welcome left-right sequence that allows the Zag to zig. Free from the restraining actions of the traction control system and with the engine, transmission and suspension in their most aggressive settings, the Shooting Brake can be driven fast and loose. It’s not quite Jim Clark four-wheel-drifting 2 VEV through Madgwick, but it feels pretty bloomin’ good to me.
I’m not sure why, but this talent always surprised me in the Vanquish S. For the most part its behaviour would mirror its suave, muscular looks, but when you egged it on it would acquire a precision and urgency that was truly impressive to behold. That the Shooting Brake maintains this dynamic duality only serves to deepen your appreciation of that multi-mode, multi-mood versatility, the ability to shine as an all-out sports car remaining firmly holstered until you decide to up the ante.
I won’t lie, it does make your mouth go a bit dry in the moments immediately prior to smoking someone’s precious car through a corner, but not only do I trust in the Shooting Brake’s handling, I reckon that Paul and Jan will think it’s worth a millimetre or two of rear tyre tread to capture the most desirable of all the Vanquish Zagatos in tyre-smoking repose.
‘Glance in the mirror and you’re treated to one of the great interior views’
A few passes later, photographer Dean Smith is wearing a rare smile, which is an achievement, I can tell you. When he shows me the back of his Sony camera I can see why. If the statics and details portray the Shooting Brake as Dr Jekyll, the rear cornering shot is very definitely demonstrating the Mr Hyde that lives within.
I didn’t need to drive it to know it would be impossible to come away from a day with the Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brake and not yearn to own one. Initially I wasn’t sure about this car’s restrained green paintwork, but as the hours passed I became smitten by its juxtaposition of hue and hubris. Judging by the number of people who stop and comment on the car, I’m not alone.
What is the Shooting Brake’s place in the pantheon of Zagato Astons? Only time will truly tell – though we’ve had a go at creating our own rankings in the pages that follow – but there’s no question that it is one of the most intriguing and spectacular efforts. The days are long gone when Zagato-bodied cars existed to find a competitive advantage on the racetrack. Instead they are created to explore the limits of creative expression. In the Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brake we have one of the boldest and best-resolved cars to wear the wings and Z badges. That it is as exciting to drive as it is to look at makes it all the more appealing.
Right – Detailing is simply exquisite, though high-gloss carbonfibre load deck might rule out throwing the dogs in the back.
Zagato road show on the Mille Miglia
Back in May, we took delivery of our Zagato Shooting Brake from our local dealership, Aston Martin Bristol. That alone would be special enough, but what was to follow was beyond our wildest imaginations. The previous week we’d attended a presentation by Marek Reichman on the new Vantage and, after the formalities, found ourselves chatting with Marek about Historic motorsport. He told us he was taking part in the coming week’s Mille Miglia in an Aston Zagato, as the iconic design house was the featured marque.
Marek asked what were we doing that week and would we like to take part too? He stepped outside, made a call to the Zagato team and, before we knew it, we were in! Entering such an event normally commences six months earlier, with all the paperwork, medical checks, licences to be applied for, and travel arrangements to be made. We had six days. Oh, and we still had to take delivery of one Shooting Brake!
The Mille Miglia ran as a road race from 1927 to 1957. Many years later it was resurrected into the event it’s become today: a 1000-mile road rally around Italy with timed stages. This year’s route began as always from Brescia, on to Cervia Milano Marittama, down to Rome, up to Bologna and back to Brescia. It’s known as the most beautiful race in the world and with good reason.
After collecting the Shooting Brake, we had one day of familiarisation on local roads and then we loaded up for the drive to Brescia and the road trip of a lifetime. The passion of the Italian crowds was truly amazing and, where traffic was particularly heavy, police motorcyclists appeared and created ‘space’ for us, often at quite high speeds! A particular highlight was driving right into the centre of Rome with all normal traffic being held at the intersections by more police, culminating with circuits of the Colosseum on the cobbles with huge crowds lining the streets. To have the engine bay signed by Andrea Zagato was the icing on the cake. Tuly unforgettable.
Paul & Jan Gerring
ENGINE V12, 5935cc
MAX POWER 595bhp @ 7000rpm
MAX TORQUE 465lb ft @ 5500rpm
TRANSMISSION Eight-speed automatic with paddleshift, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip diff, DSC
SUSPENSION Front and rear: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
STEERING Rack-and-pinion, hydraulically power-assisted
BRAKES Vented carbon-ceramic discs, 398mm front, 360mm rear, ABS, EBD
WHEELS 9 x 20in front, 11.5 x 20in rear
TYRES 255/35 ZR20 front 305/30 ZR20 rear, Pirelli P Zero
POWER TO WEIGHT 336bhp/ton
0-60MPH 3.5sec (claimed)
TOP SPEED 199mph (claimed)
PRICE From £650,000