This Is What It’s Like To Drive The Callum Aston Martin Vanquish
Photography by Will Broadhead
Never go back is an adage as old as the hills. It applies to past loves, jobs, and can be especially pertinent when attached to films and television—how many terrible remakes and late sequels have we seen over the years? But what about with cars? It seems in the automotive sphere we spend an awful lot of time looking back, and with the seemingly endless ranks of continuation models and restomods, history is in fashion.
One man who has nothing to prove and no real need to revisit anything is Ian Callum CBE, the Scottish designer’s skill with a pencil has touched many a classic over the years for the likes of Ford, TWR, Aston Martin, and Jaguar, I’m sure many of us would jump at the chance to have a Callum car of some description “hanging” in our garage. But as anyone in an automaker’s design department will tell you, the money men mean that concepts are rarely fully realized, and so it was that news broke last year that Callum, the eponymous company formed after the designer left his post at Jaguar Land Rover, would be redesigning the Aston Martin Vanquish from the ground up.
A year since I last reported on the car, there is now a version that’s ready to drive; I was more than a little excited to see if the car that I had spent so much time photographing during development was greater than the sum of its parts.
The new version of the machine is even more visually stunning than the version that I’d shot last year. The exotic and unabashedly red paintwork is anything but gentle on the eyes, it grabs your attention and although it’s easy to describe as ostentatious, it’s not at all offensive. Instead it makes you look, forces your eyes to follow over the form of this exceptionally beautiful piece of reimagined 2000s GT greatness. The original was a looker in its own right, but the Callum with its wider track and more aggressive stance, comes across as far more purposeful.
Up close there are still the little details that set this car apart, the grill inlays and engraved filler cap for example, as well as those magical exhaust tips fashioned from Inconel and mated to the single-piece exhaust box and diffuser that is its own integrated unit, minus the faff and fuss of the usual plastic undertrays clumsily attached to extra-curricular lumps of plastic and faux carbon that add confusion when simplicity looks and works better.
There is also less chrome on this, with a more subtle grill that actually establishes a greater and more distinct presence despite the more outwardly understated finish. Get close though and you can tell that, just like the rest of the car, it’s manufactured to a very high standard.
There is of course carbon fiber in abundance, including internally with a trim made from a one-piece moulding instead of the usual mass of rubber and plastic components. As this is a modern reinterpretation, 3D printing is employed for the brake ducts, solid aluminum air intakes feature on the fueling system, and there is a carbon fiber airbox to boot. Indeed, the aesthetic improvements are too numerous to list, and often spill over into technical enhancements as well—its fair to say that this is a car that will constantly surprise you with something new to look at even if it presents as something familiar.
Performance-wise, the team at Callum set about making a car that was as close to perfectly balanced as possible, with a huge amount of effort spent on tuning the Bilstein dampers to provide the perfect ride for a grand tourer (rather than a ‘Ring tune), extensive engine work that yields an increase of 60 horses over stock, and time spent getting the carbon ceramic brakes to work comfortably for the road—all in all, this was no mean feat in the mechanical department.
But how do these impressive specs and upgrades translate to the experience of driving it? As soon as you slide into the driver’s bucket, it feels special. Thumbing the reduced profile steering wheel as I set my driving position, I felt instantly comfortable, something I often struggle with in other cars being long in the leg and short in the arm! Pressing the starter button reinforces the feeling that driving this car is an event, as the V12 spins to life with a certain—but not invasive—hum of potential.
When designing the exhaust system for this car, the team worked with an acoustic specialist to allow them to achieve an aural profile that would vary in pitch and volume as the revs increased, meaning there was no need for the addition of any valves to attenuate the noise at tick over. It is clever stuff, and, as I was soon to find out, it works to a tee.
As I depressed the clutch and engaged first, before long I was out on the open but rather tight road. I had a route to follow, but I know the roads around Warwick well, so I headed off piste to try the car on some of England’s notoriously undulating and pothole-ridden C-roads. And I was instantly impressed, especially considering this is a prototype and that only 25 will be built. Confidence on high from the outset, inspired by the altogether easygoing nature of this car.
Don’t be fooled though, just because it’s a peach to drive, doesn’t mean that it’s dull or uninspiring, far from it. As I left the factory, design engineer Adam Donfrancesco had told me to enjoy it and not worry about pushing on. “Use the car,” he says, and I don’t need asking twice. First and second are relatively short gears, and as the power feeds in through third the Aston is up and running at a good clip, and for the rest of the day I rarely found myself out of third or fourth gear around these tight roads and narrower lanes. The noise as the revs rise is stunning and compels probably more gear changes than would be efficient. Maximum volume is there when you look for it, but when you’re cruising it melts into the background, with just enough burble to remind you of what’s waiting on the right side of the tach.
I’ve driven plenty of quick bits of kit, though, and with this car it’s the handling that really impressed me. I had to recalibrate how I approached the corners at speed to match the precise steering and incredible levels of grip offered by the tuned chassis and suspension. There are simply no dead spots to be found in the rack, and try as I might in the limited space available out here, I cannot get the front to push or the rear to slip, even with the obligatory (and somewhat juvenile) rapid circulation of a roundabout, the car just seems to be driving on flypaper. The damping is mighty good, too. These old backroads are awful, but the car has a way of smoothing the surface without floating over it, regardless of the surprise undulations and abrupt bumps and ledges. I find myself wincing in anticipation as I crown the crests and see the pocked road waiting for me, but the car never gives best to the tarmac, dealing with every change in pitch and camber with a gymnast’s balance.
All too soon it’s time to hand the car back, and I was still effusive with praise and bubbling with leftover excitement. I’m desperately trying to remain objective as I give my feedback to Adam and the team (and of course to you), but the entire drive just felt like a phenomenal privilege. The Vanquish is dead, long live the Vanquish.