You’re with a group of gearheads, maybe at a track day or you’ve just naturally gravitated towards each other at some party or another, and inevitably you’re shot the question, “What do you drive?” Without a pause you reply with a casual shrug, “Just picked up a 2016 Aston Martin Vulcan.” You are now Master of the Universe. Aston Martin Vulcan, part James Bond, part delta-winged nuclear bomber, no car name has ever conjured up quite so many ice-cool associations as this. In actuality, it’s a hypercar limited to just 24 units and powered by a 7.0-liter V-12 with about 820 hp. Like I said, Master of the Universe.
We’re at the Snetterton race circuit near Norwich, England, to see, hear, and experience the Vulcan from the passenger seat on an early shakedown test. It’s a typical British summer’s day, meaning the sky is gray and the team behind Vulcan are wrapped up in fleeces, buzzing around the car, which is on a lift. The smell of hot oil and brakes, the shrill shriek of wheelguns, and the methodical work carried out at double speed all feels like a scene straight out of an endurance racing pit garage. The Vulcan isn’t homologated for any racing series and instead inhabits that strange track-only hypercar hinterland with the Ferrari FXX K and McLaren P1 GTR. But this test feels for all the world like the shakedown of a proper racing car. When the Vulcan howls out of the pit garage and then stutters against a pit lane speed limiter, each member of the team instinctively reaches for their phone and opens the stopwatch menu.
When factory Aston Martin driver Darren Turner returns (having turned in several laps in the 1:52s, which is a decent race pace for a GT3 category racer), he seems pretty happy. “It’s the fundamentals we’re looking at today,” he explains. “The downshift, the upshift — they’re not quite on par with the race car’s, but they’re getting close. And that’s me being really picky.” It might be the early days, but Vulcan’s potential pace is clear to see, according to Turner: “It has more horsepower than a GT3 car, it’s stronger due to the carbon monocoque, and we’re running more downforce. Everything is here for this car to be significantly quicker than the best GT3 car out there. You can see it on the stopwatch. Already we’re there or thereabouts, and we’re running on old tires.”
Throughout the day the car gets quicker, and problems are ironed out. Some of the Vulcan’s future owners buzz in on helicopters — of course — and have their minds blown by Turner’s smooth style and the Vulcan’s vast corner speed. They want to know they’ve spent their $2.34 million (plus local taxes) wisely, and they all seem to go away pretty damn happy. Here’s what you need to know about the Vulcan should you be thinking about putting down a deposit. There are a few left, but you’d better be quick.
1. The Aston Martin Vulcan was born out of a ‘One-77 R’ programme.
“I’d been kicking around idea with a colleague Fraser Dunn (who went on to become chief engineer on the project) for a little while,” explains David King, Aston Martin’s director of special projects and motorsport. “The concept was to take what we’d learned with One-77 and with racing the V-12 engine … to create something with a new dimension in terms of performance. Something much lighter, with greater aerodynamic efficiency and more power. The vision was to make a car that is faster than the cars we race in GT3 and GTE, but finished to a concours standard. So a race car in terms of safety and integrity but finished to the very highest standard. We felt it needed to be a collectible work of art as well as a devastatingly fast track car.”
2. It had the best mission statement you’ll ever hear.
“Basically we devised what we’d end up with if we were going to make a track-only car that didn’t comply to a given racing class but did comply to FIA safety standards,” says chief engineer Fraser Dunn. Freed from restrictive racing regulations and the mundanities of road homologation, the Aston Martin Vulcan is an engineer’s dream project. “So we sat down working around a One-77 tub with a V-12 engine with a similar installation and looked at what the targets would be. … We came up with 1,300 kilograms [2,866 pounds], 800-plus hp, 590 lb-ft of torque, and GT3 to GT1 levels of downforce.”
3. It’s so much more than a re-bodied One-77.
Although the carbon tub and inboard suspension borrows heavily from the beautiful One-77 road car, almost nothing is shared. The Multimatic-supplied tub is heavily modified, the front pushrod suspension runs fore and aft rather than laterally to save weight and improve cooling to the engine, there are new Spool dampers (also from Multimatic), and a newly developed carbon-ceramic racing brake from Brembo. The Vulcan weighs around 2,866 pounds as compared to the 3,593 pounds of One-77.
Even the engine, which was already pretty good, is completely different. The One-77 ran a 7.3-liter V-12 with variable valve timing developed by Cosworth. The Vulcan sticks to the fixed cam engine used by Aston Martin in their GT3 racing programme. Capacity is up from 6.0-liter to 7.0-liters and, without the restrictors used to balance performance in GT3 and GTE racing, it’s good for “around 820 to 830 hp.” The engine drives through an Xtrac six-speed racing gearbox, again shared with the GT3 car. Torque is limited in first and second gears.
4. The Aston Martin Vulcan produces more downforce than a GT3 racing car.
Aston Martin set aggressive targets for Vulcan but claims to have exceeded them all. It’s clear there was some tension between the engineering and design teams, but the finished shape has more than satisfied both. “At 200 mph it makes 1,360 kg [3,000 pounds] of downforce, so technically at Vmax you could drive it upside down,” says Dunn.
5. Anyone could drive it.
OK, maybe not everyone, as there’s the small matter of the $2.34 million asking price. But the Aston Martin Vulcan is designed to be easy to drive. That mighty engine, which revs to 8,000 rpm, will have three power settings so owners can ease themselves in to the experience. The lowest will produce around 550 hp, the next around 650 hp, and then the full 820 to 830 hp. There is also an 11-stage traction control system and seven-stage ABS program.
However, the real key to the Vulcan’s supposedly “benign” character is the aerodynamics. Graham Humphries, who formerly developed the Bentley Continental GT3 racer, explains: “For me, the aim was very, very similar to the Bentley in that the customers will be gentlemen racers. That means the car needs to be benign. Aerodynamically you do that by keeping the center of pressure shift to a minimum to make the car so that it isn’t pitch sensitive or ride-height sensitive. That’s where the gentlemen driver might be a bit less adept. They might come into a corner and upset the car, so it needs to be tolerant of mistakes.”
6. It’s built by a division called Q Advanced Engineering team. Really.
The Vulcan won’t be built at Aston Martin’s Gaydon Headquarters but at a new Q Advanced Engineering facility in Wellesbourne, which is around 7.5 miles away. “There will be 20 guys building them,” explains Fraser Dunn. “From receiving the tub and body from Multimatic, we’re working on a three-week build, and they’ll be batch built. So one of the things that will be awesome is that when we shake down the cars at Silverstone, we’ll do whole batches of four or five cars at a time. It should sound pretty good!”
7. The Aston Martin Vulcan looks destined to race.
“I’d say there’s a good probability it’ll race,” says David King. “More than one customer would like to do it, so I think we’ll find a way.” The only problem is where to do it and how to ensure the Vulcan doesn’t get mugged by a BMW Z4 or Audi R8. Expect to see the Vulcan at the Nurburgring some time in 2016.
8. Even if you can’t afford an Aston Martin Vulcan, you should really get a ride in one.
The noises and smells swirling around the outside of the Vulcan might be redolent of endurance racers, but climbing inside it’s something very different. You have to fold yourself up and squeeze past a rollcage, but once you’ve slumped into the carbon-shelled seat, you find extraordinary design, materials, and finish. The sills are bare carbon with a beautifully uniform weave, the sculptural dash is trimmed with exquisite skill, and the steering wheel is busy with various controls just like a racer’s but is a vision of carbon and Alcantara perfection.
Out on the track, we’re blown away by the sheer reach of the engine and the spooky grip through the high-speed corners. Turner is smooth as silk and clearly not pushing for the last tenth, but the pace still feels up there with a GT3 racer, and the Vulcan displays incredible poise. There’s a little spike of oversteer through the slower turns, but rock solid stability when it’s poured into third- or fourth-gear corners. The brakes are, of course, immensely powerful. There are teething issues — heavy juddering through the steering in left-handers and crazy heat soak through the carbon sills that house the side exit exhausts — but the basics are very impressive. I think customers are going to like driving the 2016 Aston Martin Vulcans at least as much as they’ll enjoy saying, “I own a 2016 Aston Martin Vulcan.”