Aston Martin V12 Speedster vs. Aston Martin Victor
If the days of petrol-fuelled Aston Martins are numbered, then the arrival of not one but two monstrously powerful new models – the limited-edition V12 Speedster and one-of-one Victor – should be cause for celebration. We drive them both.
ASTON MARTIN V12 SPEEDSTER
690bhp, 198mph, and no roof. Richard Meaden prays for sun as he samples Aston Martin’s new £765,000 special edition
Here’s a look-at-me element to most sports and supercars. We can all stroke our chins or beat our chests in protest and claim it’s all about the driving but, like it or not, the cars we choose to own are an extension of ourselves and an expression of who we are. They make a statement on our behalves. So, what to make of Aston Martin’s V12 Speedster?
In principle a car with almost 700bhp and an open cockpit, built by one of the sexiest and more storied marques, should be sensational. In reality the Speedster, just like the McLaren Elva and Ferrari SP1/SP2 Monza, stands accused of being a rather pointless car. One that exists solely to serve a superheated collector market. A market that doesn’t seem so hot on the genre, at least if McLaren’s ever-reducing build run of £1.4m Elvas (now dropped to 149 cars, from an already revised-down 249 and an original proposed total of 399) is anything to go by.
‘THE SPEEDSTER IS A MUCH BETTER CAR THAN I’D IMAGINED IT TO BE ’
Sorry. Perhaps I’m being harsh. There’s certainly nothing new in high-end car companies finding ever more extravagant and extrovert ways of relieving colossally wealthy people of enormous amounts of money. Still, there’s something uneasy about cars that are entirely reliant on the weather, force you to wear a crash helmet, and look like a Yeezy trainer on wheels. Oh, and in the case of the V12 Speedster, cost £765,000. Which, to be fair given production is limited to just 88 cars, is something of a bargain in this admittedly warped niche.
I wouldn’t normally start a drive feature in such negative or challenging terms, but I don’t recall ever having such conflicting feelings ahead of driving a new car. Especially driving a new Aston Martin, which is a dream for many people, and rightly so. It doesn’t help that our slot to drive the Speedster comes in the middle of the wettest and most miserable May on record, conditions that only serve to underline the inherent daftness of these roofless, screenless cars, at least in the UK or indeed much of northern Europe.
When first proposed, the Speedster was to be ostensibly based upon the Vantage. But as the programme progressed it borrowed from the DBS, which donates the front-end structure, engine, suspension and brakes, and also the DB11 Roadster, which provides the pop-up rollover protection system. As for the rest, well pretty much everything aft of the A-pillars is Vantage. Aston doesn’t talk about VH any more, but the smart principles of that engineering philosophy remain.
Looks are subjective, so I won’t waste time painstakingly detailing the Speedster’s styling. What I will say is the height and bulk of modern cars – especially those that are front-engined – doesn’t lend itself to evoking the exquisite lines of, say, an Aston Martin DBR1. Even when painted in a colour scheme that mimics that of Aston’s iconic 1959 Le Mans winner. Midway through the day, it strikes me that in profile the Speedster looks like someone who spends a lot of time in the gym working on their arms and chest, but never gets round to leg day. It’s a mental image I have since been unable to forget.
The cockpit is more successful. The central spar takes a little getting used to but sets the tone for what is an undeniably dramatic driver’s eye view. You feel just exposed enough while still feeling nicely hunkered into the car, the only lingering issue being that it’s hard to judge how far away the front wheels are. Design-wise, really neat touches include details such as the one-piece moulded door panels, which incorporate perforations for the hi-fi speakers. There’s the usual mix of modern and classic materials, with pleasing use of saddle leather for the door straps. It’s sometimes hard to see the point of handmade craft in modern cars, but the Speedster offers a satisfying blend without the old-school elements feeling like token gestures. It’s a generally cleaner, less busy environment than the Vantage, and a pointer to what we can expect to see in future series-production Astons.
One of the main highlights of the car is the V12 engine. There’d be something wrong if a twin-turbo 690bhp motor didn’t make an impression, but in this case it’s more about the Speedster-specific changes to this DBS-sourced motor’s character than the appeal and drama of the basic hardware.
Where the DBS Superleggera pummels you down the road with a monolithic 664lb ft slab of torque, the Speedster feels more intense because it has to work a bit harder, thanks to a reduction of more than 100lb ft in peak torque, with the new 555lb ft peak now arriving at 5000rpm, rather than 1800rpm as in the DBS. It’s a major change in philosophy, and one suggested by Aston’s new CEO, Tobias Moers – a man who knows a thing or two about torque after his 20-plus years at Mercedes-AMG. It’s also necessary to prevent the Vantage-sourced ZF automatic from devouring itself (it’s not rated to take the full force of the DBS-spec motor).While it might be a pragmatic solution, it brings a welcome change in character, too.
The effect is impressive, for instead of the DBS’s gravitational and almost entirely linear pull, which eventually tails off some way before the red line, the Speedster’s in-gear acceleration has a more vibrant sensation of building to a crescendo, reaching its peak at a point in the rev range where the DBS begins to fade, then holding that peak for a further 1500rpm. It also has the effect of not immediately overstretching the limits of traction, so while there’s still a ton of grunt at low revs, it’s not delivered in a torrent.
Combined with the slick-shifting paddleshift auto, the Speedster absolutely romps along twisty A- and B-roads, squirming gently against its stability control as each corner opens out and steaming down even the shortest of straights. It’s still a very different sensation to that of a naturally aspirated V12, but there’s a nuanced and welcome difference between the DBS’s one-dimensional delivery and the increasingly tight bear hug you get from the Speedster the harder you work it.
Your enjoyment of the soundtrack is intermittent to say the least, for much of it gets drowned out by the slipstream beyond 60mph, let alone at the claimed top speed of 198mph. What you do get to enjoy is the muted howl when accelerating in the lower gears, and a drum roll of crackles and pops under braking. It’s nothing like the aria you’d get from working a Ferrari or Lamborghini through the gears (or indeed a Vanquish or V12 Vantage), but it’s a sound packed with potency. I doubt the novelty of pointing and squirting the Speedster down a windy road would ever truly wane, and once you get beyond the immediate shock and awe of uncorking all that propulsion you find there’s plenty to enjoy about the way it tackles corners.
I’m sure there’s some psychological effects at play when driving this sort of car, but there’s an impression of reduced mass about the Speedster in the way it changes direction and can be aimed at an apex. There’s a brightness to the dynamics and a welcome sense of agility that quickly makes the Speedster shrink around you. It’s easy to place it accurately, even though your sight-lines are less than conventional, with no A-pillars to gauge your positioning on the road.
You can completely disable the stability control, but there’s really no need. Toggling through the dynamic modes reveals Sport+ to offer enough latitude for the rear wheels to just over-rotate under hard acceleration, but enough control to ensure they don’t spin up like Catherine wheels. You still need you wits about you, especially on tarmac still slick from an earlier downpour, but this V12 bobsled isn’t the skittish monster you might expect.
Any steering corrections you might need to apply are quick flicks and nudges, both because the breakaway is quite sharp, and because the rear comes back into line equally swiftly. And since the stability control isn’t too domineering there’s just enough squirm to make you feel the effect of each and every one of the 555lb ft, but with the reassurance that it will catch itself before things get silly. Commit to the Speedster and it connects you to the action.
The end result is a well resolved car. One that’s a credit to the development team, whose Covid-restricted efforts required them to complete the hard miles through a foul British winter. That effort shows in how well the car copes in tricky conditions, and how complete it feels whether you’re tickling along through town or enjoying the performance on fast open roads.
What you quickly come to realise is that the Speedster is as much for others to enjoy as the driver. It certainly makes for a crazy sight amongst everyday traffic, especially when the skies suggest a downpour is imminent. You might start out driving with a high degree of self-consciousness, but after a few hours you’re not sunk quite so low in the seat and more than happy to make eye contact with those gawping at you. No doubt some of those are calling you all kinds of names (fortunately your crash helmet and the engine swamp pretty much any extraneous noise), but the majority are clearly consumed by a degree of childish glee at what they’re seeing.
The only real downside is that you need to allow at least half an hour for each fuel stop. Not because the Speedster has a colossal tank, but because everyone wants to stop and talk to you, or take a selfie. With the car, I hasten to add. If there was a car perfectly suited to the Instagram Generation, it is this.
Perhaps because of the attention you get whenever you stop or drive through towns or villages, the solitude you experience once out on the open road is especially satisfying. The hi-fi makes as much sense as one of those Honda Goldwings with speakers and a tow bar, but the heater and heated seat mean you are toasty, even as rain flecks your helmet visor. I’d hesitate to suggest the Speedster makes every journey feel like an adventure, but there’s certainly an added dimension to driving it. Probably a little of what it is to ride a fast motorbike, and certainly akin to driving something like an Ariel Atom or Caterham Seven.
There is an added bonus to the V12 Speedster. One that’s not officially confirmed but makes total sense: a new V12 Vantage, based upon the Speedster’s underpinnings. It would certainly explain the thoroughness with which this strictly limited-run machine has been engineered, while some of the design detailing – such as the full-width bonnet bulge/scoop – hint at clever ways extra headroom has been made for the V12.
If build volumes were kept in line with the original V12 Vantage (circa 1000 units) then Aston could avoid the need for space consuming crush zones in the bonnet – something that makes the project that bit more viable. It might just be (educated) speculation at this stage, but we’d all love to see a return to Aston shoehorning its most potent engine into its most compact platform.
Until then, the blend of Vantage and DBS characteristics makes for an interesting machine. One with truly bombastic performance, but one that suits being threaded along entertaining roads. There’s also a pliancy to the car that works very well with the UK’s increasingly flaky road surfaces, so although this means the chassis hasn’t been given needle-sharp responses, it strikes a smart balance that means the car feels more than sporty enough without becoming too busy.
Consequently, it’s a car you can relax into and just make progress in, or show some commitment and hustle along nicely. Either way, it doesn’t rely on McLaren or Porsche 911 GT3 levels of attack to feel like you’re doing the car justice.
As for that feeling of less mass I mentioned earlier, well, it’s something of an illusion. Aston has been pretty cagey about the weight of the Speedster, but it is certainly in the region of 1750kg, maybe a bit more. That’s hardly in line with the pared-back ethos of this car and the ’50s racer that inspired it, but it is a reflection of the series production cars on which it is based.
Truth be told, Astons have never been light cars, so it stands to reason the Speedster isn’t either, despite the carbon bodywork and lack of a lid. Does it matter? Instinctively, yes, it does, but in reality once you settle into the Speedster’s groove, your expectations shift accordingly. It’s not the last word in anything in particular, except perhaps indulgence on the part of the owners, but focus on how you feel when you’re driving it and there’s less to get hung-up about. If my opening gambit was essentially a somewhat snarky ‘Why?’ then I suppose the inevitably glib retort from Speedster supporters has to be ‘Why not?’ They’ve got a point. I have no idea who buys these cars and no clue as to what they do with them, though I will happily concede that the V12 Speedster is a much better car than I’d imagined it to be.
I’ll even confess to being amused by the novelty of the driving experience, but despite the craziness and the genuine depth of its development, the Speedster still has the dubious honour of being the first Aston I’ve ever driven that I have no desire to own. I doubt this revelation will cause anyone at Aston Martin to lose much sleep. Nor will it trouble those customers destined to add a V12 Speedster to their collections. This simply isn’t a car for someone like me. And maybe that’s the point.
Aston Martin V12 Speedster
- Engine V12, 5204cc, twin-turbo
- Max Power 690bhp @ 6500rpm
- Max Torque 555lb ft @ 5000-6500rpm
- Weight c1700kg (est)
- Power-to-weight c410bhp/ton (est)
- 0-62mph 3.4sec
- Top speed 198mph
- Basic price £765,000
- Drives rating 5/5
‘COMM IT TO THE SPE EDSTER AND IT CONNECTS YOU TO THE ACTION’
Far left: unexpectedly compliant suspension means the Speedster feels every bit as at home on the road as it would on a trackday. Above: body clearly related to Vantage; thorough development programme means Speedster could lead to a new V12-engined Vantage in the future.
‘THE SPEEDSTER ABSOLUTE LY ROMPS ALONG TWISTY A- AND B-ROADS’
ASTON MARTIN VICTOR
Based on a One-77, but styled as an homage to Aston’s ’70s and ’80s bruisers, the Victor is a truly bespoke, one-off hypercar like no other. Richard Meaden gets behind its yoke.
One-of-one. When it comes to collector cars, there’s no greater statement than a true one-off commission. And when it comes to true one-offs, few if any can compete with the sensational Aston Martin Victor.
A celebration of the Vantage nameplate’s 70th anniversary and styled to evoke the bruising Vantage flagships of the 1970s and ’80s, Victor is both a glorious throwback and a contemporary hypercar. Best of all, there’s quite literally nothing else like it. We’ve grown used to Aston’s ability to create very special cars for very wealthy clients, but even projects such as the recent Vantage V600 (tested) evolved from the vision of an individual into a very limited run – primarily to a mortise the prodigious cost of designing, engineering, building and developing a unique car.
No such compromise for the owner of Victor, who was prepared to bear the full brunt of the cost in order for it to be a true unicorn. Quite how much they’ve spent remains confidential, but it wouldn’t surprise us if the number is somewhere near the £5millionmark, or maybe even more. Like all money-no-object projects, it’s a mind-blowing sum, but as Ferris Bueller once said, ‘You can never go too far.’
Few marques have the appetite or in-house skillset to fulfil this type of commission, but not only were Aston’s design and Special Vehicle Operations departments very much up for the challenge, but past projects gave them an enviable parts bin to rummage in. Carbon chassis? Check! Mighty, naturally aspirated V12 engine? Check! Track honed suspension and braking systems?
Check-check! Consequently the Victor is a glorious mash-up of major One-77 and Vulcan components, with a ton of bespoke work on top to create the exterior and interior. Of all Aston’s special-series cars, the One-77 remains the greatest enigma. This is largely due to a policy of not letting the motoring media drive it, but also because it was a difficult car to pigeonhole thanks to the juxtaposition of its couture styling and rampant, Cosworth-developed V12. Not to mention the Automated Sequential Manual transmission that fell awkwardly between the purity and engagement of a traditional manual and the immediacy of the best paddleshift ’boxes. By contrast, the track-only Vulcan – which was itself an extreme evolution of the One-77 – was better resolved for its intended purpose, more accessible to the media and more clearly understood by all of us as a result.
The Victor is built around a One-77. That’s to say the carbonfibre Multimatic-built tub, the rear end, 7.3-litre engine and six-speed transmission. Starting life as a One-77 means the Victor has the identity of a road-legal car – something the owner was insistent upon – and is already fitted with items such as E-marked glass, which would be ferociously costly and time-consuming to make and certify for a one-off car. Other smart adoptions of existing components include the use of Valkyrie tail-lights.
For Victor the One-77’s V12 has benefited from extensive reworking by original builders Cosworth. Now developing 836bhp and 599lb ft – up from 750bhp and 553lb ft – the Victor is the most powerful naturally aspirated Aston Martin we’ve yet driven. Aston also retained the One-77’s six-speed Graziano transmission but, instead of sticking with the ASM version, the gearbox has been ‘manualised’ by removing the automated paddleshift system.
Aston then got more creative with the inboard suspension and carbon braking systems developed for the Vulcan. Likewise, the Victor features Vulcan-style side-exit exhausts, rather than the rear-exit system fitted to the One-77, to allow for a more extensive and effective rear diffuser. Together with the lantern-jawed front splitter this means the Victor’s upper body surfaces (which are all carbonfibre) can remain clean, in the spirit of those ’70s Vantages. The final flourish is the exaggerated and frankly wonderful upswept boot spoiler.
The interior is very special indeed, mixing the modern race car vibe of the Vulcan with the bespoke, crafted feel of an old-school Aston. As you’d expect, there’s lots of exposed carbonfibre, especially in the footwells, where the high-gloss tub is there for all to see and admire. There’s also acres of lovely supple leather wrapping the seats and ridiculously deep dashboard, which extends for what seems like a good metre ahead of you towards the base of the vast windscreen. However, the highlight for me is the solid ‘crown-cut’ walnut, which has a beautiful oiled finish and looks absolutely fantastic. Especially when used to form the round and wonderfully tactile gearknob.
The whole project reeks of the kind of design and engineering adventure few can hope to experience in their careers. That is unless you’re Amerpal Singh, not just lead vehicle engineer on Victor, but also on the V12 Speedster and DBS Zagato. Before working at Aston he was at Jaguar working on the Project 8. Special projects are his bread and butter, but even he’s somewhat smitten by Victor.
‘It’s pretty epic!’ he beams, before continuing in more engineer-y terms. ‘The Victor project had already been started when I joined AML from JLR, but only so far as refining the customer’s vision, which was for a more focused One-77 with a manual transmission and a look that captured the ’70s Vantage. I came on board when the engineering began.Of course it’s a big challenge, but the beauty with these customer commissions is you’ve got that singular vision. We quickly established it would be based upon a One-77 tub, engine and transmission [albeit evolved and adapted] but use the Vulcan suspension system and brakes. So it actually refines very quickly what the car should be, which means there’s nothing done by committee.’
Perhaps the only conformist aspect of the Victor is its name. The latest in Aston Martin’s long-established ‘V car’ naming protocol, the Victor moniker doesn’t pack the punch of Vantage, Vanquish or Vulcan. Especially if you’re old enough to remember the boxy ’70s Vauxhall saloon, or had a great uncle Victor. Better to make the link to the Cold War strategic bomber designed to dropA-bombs on the commies, or the former chairman of Aston Martin, the ebullient Victor Gauntlett. Funnily enough, AML used a rather more evocative internal codename for the car during its development: Muncher. This was borrowed from a remarkable privateer Aston Martin, the RHAM 1, which was owned and run by Robin Hamilton. The original Muncher raced at Le Mans in 1977 (where it finished 17th overall and 3rd in class) and again in 1979, this time sporting an outlandish aerokit and a twin-turbocharged V8 boasting very similar power to the Victor.
This later iteration was a valiant failure, retiring after less than three hours due to engine woes, but both versions of the car attained cult status amongst race fans and Aston Martin enthusiasts. As for its nickname? Well, that was given to it by Hamilton and his team on account of its voracious appetite for brake discs! Different times for sure, but it’s rather wonderful that something of The Muncher’s maverick spirit lives on in another glorious one-off Aston project.
Unsurprisingly, it’s quite a moment when you finally get to drive the Victor. I’ve been fortunate to get behind the wheel of many extremely valuable cars over the years. There’s a certain responsibility, but I’ve always managed to calm myself by silently repeating ‘It’s just a car’ in my head. In Victor, my mental mantra is ‘the only one’. If there’s a car you don’t want to damage, it is this.
Like so many Astons before it, you enter the Victor having pulled on the flush-fit ‘lollypop’ door handle. The door itself swings light on its strut-assisted arc, leaving the wide sill (containing the exhaust pipe through which the left bank of the V12 exhales) to navigate before dropping down into the low seat.
Settle yourself into the Forest Green leather, press the Engine Start button on the steering wheel, and after a short, frantic spin of the starter motor the raucous V12 fires into life. The noise isn’t ear-splitting, but it has the immersive nature of the best surround-sound systems, deep bass notes mixed with the brittle timbre of a dozen pistons busily scurrying up and down within their bores. Unlike in the Vulcan there’s no clatter and chatter of a straight-cut racing transmission, nor the sharp hiss and crack of a pneumatic shifter. It’s noisier than mainstream exotics, but remains a very tolerable place to find yourself.
Weirdly my right fingers instinctively reach for a paddle with which to select first gear. Pretty dumb, I know, but it shows how we’re becoming conditioned not to expect a manual gearbox. Mildly embarrassed at my gaff, I depress the clutch (weighty, but not a calf-buster) and palm the lovely ball of machined walnut across the gate. The clutch is far easier than I’m expecting, at least so long as you resist the temptation to introduce too many revs and instead feed the clutch in with a minimum of fuss. It might be a dying art, but shifting gears manually will always be an integral part of the definitive driving experience, even the bit where you pray you won’t stall the car in front of a crowd.
The yoke-like steering ‘wheel’ is a fine piece of sculpture and feels great in your hands, initially at least: anything over half a turn of lock feels a bit awkward, if only because when you get to three-quarters of a turn you’re either reaching for the flat bottom, or pushing the wheel round using the tip of the yoke. Either way it focuses you on how little lock there is to play with, and confirms that if you’re exploring the outer reaches of the rack you’re either doing a three-point turn or in the middle of a spin.
Both steering and gearshift require a proper amount of effort, at least in the context of other 21st century hypercars. The steering weight is the bigger surprise, but the heft is welcome and entirely appropriate given the look and character of the Victor. You also need to apply significant pedal pressure on the carbon brakes (380mmfront, 360mm rear), but the overall effort levels are nicely matched to the resulting response, so the effect is one of satisfying physicality.
As you’d hope, the engine is an absolute force of nature. There’s terrific throttle response and an ever-swelling sense of propulsion, with plenty of torque and a feral appetite for revs. Very few cars can match it for drama, with the process of wringing it out through the gears leaving your mouth dry and your palms moist. Aston hasn’t released any performance figures, nor an official kerb weight, but if you assume it sits somewhere between the 1350kg Vulcan and 1650kg One-77 – let’s say 1500kg – then we’re talking somewhere in the region of 560bhp/ton, which is serious shove by any standards. We reckon it’d be good for 220mph and with a decent launch should crack 0-60mph in around 3sec, but it’s the almighty in-gear punch and satisfaction of nailing a clean upshift or heel-toeing down the ’box while heaving against the shoulder harnesses under heavy braking that’s the essence of the Victor driving experience.
The view from the driver’s seat is extraordinary and a little intimidating, for you sit so far back from the base of the screen that the front wheels could be in another county (a distinct possibility at Silverstone, which straddles Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire), but you soon learn that the Victor can be placed neatly at the apex of any corner if you learn to look that little bit further ahead.
On Michelin Pilot Cup 2s there’s plenty of grip (at least when the track’s dry),which is supported by a multi-stage traction control system that can be adjusted via a neat rotary barrel switch on the right spoke of the steering wheel. It’s not stability control as you’d know from a road car, so respect is still due – especially on a damp or wet track – but the way it intervenes, even when relaxed to a very lenient setting, gives you plenty of warning the V12 is winning out against the rear tyres.
Even so, when powering along Stowe’s straights on wet tarmac (I was lucky to drive it on a couple of occasions) I’m mindful of every flair in revs, just in case the V12 gets away from the traction control and the Victor flicks sideways. It doesn’t, but that’s not to say it wouldn’t, and I’d much rather not be the one to find out.
With useful but far from Vulcan-esque levels of downforce, you get plenty of confidence that the Victor will scribe your chosen line. Out on the ultra-fast sweeps of Silverstone’s GP circuit this impression would doubtless increase, but within the tight confines of Stowe the Victor is relying more on its contact patches than its aerodynamics.
Encouragingly, it’s a car that actually feels alive and engaging at any speed. You also have a little bit of warning before the front begins to push wide or the tail starts to slip, so once you’ve tuned in to its behaviour the Victor is a car you are ahead of and can predict, rather than a car that’s always forcing you to react.
This bodes very well indeed for the Victor’s owner, should they stay true to their intention of driving it on the road. A non-circuit environment would certainly add another dimension to enjoying the Victor. With trees, road furniture and narrower stretches of tarmac, the impression of speed – already intense – will be magnified.
The focus and aggression Victor has inherited from the Vulcan will give it the thrill of a road racer, but there’s also a sense that it possesses some of the One-77’s Super GT capabilities, so it’s a car you’d want to take on a proper trip. Oh, and switching from the sub-par ASM system to a satisfying manual-shift transmission is a stroke of genius. One I’d definitely investigate if I owned a One-77.
We all have lottery-win fantasies. Victor is mine.
Aston Martin Victor
- Engine V12, 7312cc
- Max Power 836bhp @ 7800rpm
- Max Torque 599lb ft @ 6500rpm
- Weight c1500kg (est)
- Power-to-weight c560bhp/ton (est)
- 0-62mph c3.0sec (est)
- Top speed c220mph
- Basic price £5million (est)
- Drives rating 5/5
Opposite page, clockwise from bottom: Victor blitzes the short straights of Silverstone’s Stowe circuit; Cosworth managed to squeeze even more power and torque from the One-77’s epic naturally aspirated V12, peak power rising to a staggering 836bhp; side-exit exhausts not only look cool but allow for a much cleaner rear venturi; steering ‘yoke’ not terribly practical should you find yourself needing more than half a turn of lock.
Left and above: unique bodyshell was designed to summon up the feeling of the classic Aston V8s of the ’70s and ’80s but turned right up to 11.
‘AS YOU’D HOPE, THE ENGINE IS AN ABSOLUTE FORCE OF NATURE’