Life is a blast – especially when you’re in a $4.3-million Aston Martin, says Damien O’Carroll.
While not a lot of people can say they have been for a ride in a car worth NZ$4.3-million, even fewer can say they own one.
While I can’t say I will ever be one of the latter, I can lay claim to being one of the former, following a blast in the passenger’s seat of an Aston Martin Vulcan, one of only 24 built, and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere.
And the man who can lay claim to owning the beast is none other than Tony Quinn, former pet food magnate and owner of the Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell, Central Otago, and Hampton Downs, south of Auckland.
The 600kW 7-litre V12-propelled carbon fibre monster is a track-only special created by Aston Martin to signal the design language of the next generation of Aston Martins, bid a fond farewell to naturally-aspirated Aston engines, and celebrate the marque’s success in the Le Mans 24 Hour race over the years – hence limiting the number to 24.
Effectively a front mid-engined car, due to the monster V12 being located entirely behind the front axle, the Vulcan utilises techniques of motor sport engineering, and is built to meet FIA GT3 specifications, although it has not been homologated for the series.
Construction of the Vulcan draws heavily on Aston Martin’s successful GT racing campaign, and the car features a carbon fibre monocoque and body, an integral limited-slip differential, a magnesium torque tube with a carbon fibre propeller shaft, and 380mm carbon ceramic racing disc brakes (360mm at the rear) with Brembo racing callipers.
The Vulcan has a race-derived pushrod suspension system with anti-dive geometry, adjustable dampers and anti-roll bars front and rear, driver-adjustable ABS and a variable traction control system.
Watching the Vulcan rumble out of its garage in the pit lane of Highlands for the first time, and then bash around the Highlands track in ever increasing speeds, is a slightly surreal experience. The car looks utterly outrageous and thoroughly dramatic, and the big 600kW V12 is impressively loud, but weirdly turbine-smooth.
In fact, it would be fair to say that the Vulcan is easily the most undramatic dramatic car on the planet. It idles with a sound that is barely below “ear-splitting” level, yet sounds very cultured and refined. It howls like a banshee at higher revs, but remains almost insanely smooth at all times.
A single flat boom punctuates each down shift – no dramatic barrage of bangs and crackles – while the nearest it comes to sounding dramatic is when Quinn lifts off the throttle and coasts into pit lane. Then it lets out an anguished roar as the revs drop off, like it is pained by the very idea of slowing down.
The sound is all-encompassing and deeply impressive, but strikingly undramatic. Much like the way it accelerates.
Make no mistake, the Vulcan is brutally fast, even set on “only” 675hp mode (sadly, it’s turned out the tyres it was shipped on were “unsuitable” for running on full 800hp mode), but the inherent smoothness of the V12 belies its savage acceleration. Although the pounding your neck takes on a lap testifies to its truly brutal nature.
As impressive and all-pervading as the sound is outside the car, it is even better inside it. The massive wall of V12 smoothness and the thick, sonorous howl of the exhaust, envelopes you entirely inside the cabin, with very little of the mechanical gnashing usually present in stripped-out racing cars. Gear shifts are stunningly quick and the brakes are deeply impressive.
While I have both driven and ridden in a number of racing cars, the only car that ever caused my neck to give out was a ferocious Juno track car powered by the fantastic NZ-developed 2.4-litre Synergy V8 (effectively two 1.2-litre Kawasaki four-cylinder bike engines joined together) and driven by Jono Lester (who took great delight when my neck did go...).
The Vulcan came closer than anything else ever has though, with its serious grip and remarkably linear acceleration. It simply goes extraordinary fast everywhere.
When asked the obvious question – why the Vulcan and not something like a McLaren P1 – Tony Quinn laughs and says “Everybody asks that!”
“I looked at a P1, I looked at a few things, but the Vulcan just appealed to me. I loved the Aston Martin GT3 – it’s my favourite race car – and I had sold my Vantage GT3 a couple of years ago to drive my McLaren last year, and I missed it. So I decided to go back to an Aston Martin and during that process the Vulcan came up.
“It’s something unique for Highlands, and later on for the relaunch of Hampton Downs. So it’s all very, very cool. There’s not some burning, long ambition to house an Aston Martin. None of that. It’s just a cool car.
“You can kid yourself there’s an element of commercial investment, but the other thing was they absolutely intend to have a bunch of guys who travel the world with their Vulcans racing at Laguna Seca, Yas Marina, Shanghai... Hampton Downs... whatever.”