It’s 2 p.m. on Tuesday, June 27, and in precisely 43 hours, Aston Martin will release the new “AMR Pro” package for its wild, track-only Vulcan hypercar at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. And yet the team is all smiles as I fold myself into the one and only Vulcan AMR Pro, tighten the harnesses and then press the big red “Start” button on the extraordinary steering wheel. “Enjoy,” they mouth with thumbs raised. I think it’s safe to say that won’t be a problem.
You remember the Vulcan, Aston Martin’s $2.3-million track-only hypercar fitted with an 820-horsepower, 7.0-liter V-12 and the most dramatic, sinister and yet beautiful carbon-fiber bodywork? Just 24 were built (three made it to the U.S.) and now the lucky owners will be offered the new AMR Pro package to take their track toy to the next level. The upgrade consists of a radically overhauled aerodynamic package and much shorter gearing to make the most of that incredible engine. Aston Martin is being coy on the pricing but there are whispers of around $200,000, plus taxes. The conversions will be carried out by Q by Aston Martin Advanced Operations.
Today it’s a simple pre-Festival shakedown for the Vulcan AMR Pro at a quiet airfield in Northamptonshire, England. Race-car driver Peter Dumbreck has already ripped up and down the strip and performed some high-speed lane changes (not to mention a few spectacular launches) and all seems well. Now it’s my turn.
So what am I in for? Downforce, and lots of it. The AMR Pro kit is mostly aero-focussed. Up front there is a pair of prominent new dive planes per side, plus large louvers over the front wheels to extract air, reducing high pressure and hence lift. The front splitter is also revised and has turning vanes fitted to its underside, which should improve steering response. This was a key objective of the AMR Pro package as professional drivers like Dumbreck and three-time Le Mans champion Darren Turner have always felt the Vulcan needed “more front end.” So as well as increasing absolute down force, the car’s center of pressure has also shifted forward.
That seems hard to believe when you stand in the shadow of the vast new twin-plane rear wing, though. It is huge and makes the original single plane wing — itself pretty outrageous — look a bit undernourished. At the trailing edge of the upper plane is a 0.78-inch (20-millimeter) vertical Gurney flap, and the new slotted wing end-plates have a 0.59-inch (15-millimeter) Gurney to maximize down force. The combined result of these upgrades is considerable. Total down force at just 98 mph is up to 890 pounds from 701 in the standard Vulcan. For reference, the Vantage GTE racer that just won its class at Le Mans has 694 pounds of downforce at a similar speed.
Of course, judging how these numbers affect the driving experience is next to impossible on an airfield. However, the much shorter gearing should be more immediately obvious. Adam Barnie, engineer for the Vulcan, explains that even at the iconic Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium the standard Vulcan doesn’t quite get into sixth gear, and it is setup to sail past 200 mph. The AMR Pro is probably only good for 185 mph, but that’s fast enough for most circuits and it’ll get there much, much quicker now.
The Vulcan is an extraordinary car to sit in. The tiny three-sided steering wheel is part race-car, part sculpture, part meticulously crafted jewellery. It feels fabulous to hold. The seat has huge protective wings that seem to hem you in but they’re superbly supportive and are mercifully adjustable so I can get nice and close to the pedals. The six-speed Xtrac gearbox is paddle-operated but requires the clutch pedal to pull away, making for a slightly cramped foot-well and very slim clutch and brake pedals. It’s a little added piece of intimidation that I could do without. The sheer scale of the car, the fact you feel like you’re sitting over the rear axle and about a quarter mile from the front wheels, and the invasive, fast-paced beat of the V-12 already has me feeling a little, er, self-conscious. I’ve driven the Vulcan a couple of times before and I know it’s incredibly stable and quickly allows you to feel comfortable, but I think you could drive it every day for 10 years and still have to swallow your nerves when the engine is pulsating and your left leg is trembling on the heavy clutch.
The landing strip is bumpy and the Vulcan feels pretty wild as it rips across the surface, that incredible V-12 shrieking, the shift lights on the dash blazing from left to right and then all flashing as one when another ratio is required. It seems to happen every second. I’m fortunate enough to have driven the Vulcan just a month or so ago, and the AMR Pro gearing makes it feel so much angrier. Now the 7.0-liter engine is always right in it sweetest, most violent spot, and the intensity of the whole experience is elevated to new heights.
It’s cold and there’s moisture in the air, so the Vulcan is running on some old Michelin Cup 2 tires, but weaving at high speed reveals incredible steering response and huge amounts of grip. The amazing thing about the Vulcan is that it feels so big initially but pretty soon you feel happy just throwing steering inputs at it, knowing the car will react quickly and consistently from front to rear. The way it changes direction is completely addictive and has the feel of a scaled-up GT3 competition car. The weighty steering, the sheer force you need to put into the brakes, and the howling noise adds up to an almost overwhelming experience. No wonder the 24 Vulcan owners have been asking Aston Martin for even more of what this car offers.
Can I detect the extra downforce compared to the “normal” Vulcan? Not here. Not today. But the gearing alone is a worthwhile upgrade, and I don’t doubt that on a circuit the AMR Pro package will up the ante in spectacular fashion. These are still early days in this package’s development. After Goodwood, the team will head to the Nardo proving ground in Italy to work on setup. It plans to lower the car up to another three-quarters of an inch or so, and to look at spring rates, dampers, and geometry. Effectively Aston wants to maximize the Vulcan’s potential.
Judging by the enthusiasm of the team on hand, though this project is officially “customer driven,” it is obviously fueled by the passion of the people who have been involved with the Vulcan since day one. That passion is contagious, too. So much so that I leave the airfield almost believing that some new aero bits and pieces, shorter gearing, and suspension changes sound like a good return for more than $200,000 …