Aston Martin Works – the heritage home of the great British automotive marque – is this month marking an important anniversary for one of the supercars created at its historic site, the original V12 Vanquish, which was revealed publicly 20 years ago.
When it was presented before an eager audience at the 2001 Geneva Motor Show the V12 Vanquish was nothing less than the most sophisticated and technologically advanced new model yet designed, developed and built by Aston Martin.
Incorporating what were, at the time, cutting edge technologies such as drive-by-wire throttle control and F1©-style finger-tip controlled gearshift paddles, the Newport Pagnell-built V12 Vanquish instantly became Aston Martin’s flagship model.
Lauded for its sublime design, exceptional power and brutish performance, V12 Vanquish quickly secured positive reviews from the expert media of the day. Motortrend in the United States said: “Aston Martin’s new Vanquish is one of the most superbly designed front-engine GTs of all time.” British magazine evo were moved to say: “It devours the straight bits with relish, but it also has a ravenous appetite for corners,” while The Sunday Times later called it “an automotive masterpiece”.
Today, Paul Spires, President of Aston Martin Works said: “The original V12 Vanquish represented an important and timely development for our marque. It was, and is, a great super GT with all the character, style and power that is rightly expected of an Aston Martin sports car.
“20 years on from that debut, the V12 Vanquish remains a proud part of the marque’s heritage which we celebrate here at Newport Pagnell. It is an exceptional piece of our history, and a car that we can rightly look back on with considerable pride.”
Origin of the species
The V12 Vanquish story actually begins some years before its triumphant 2001 Geneva Motor Show debut, with a concept sports car named ‘Project Vantage’.
Developed by Aston Martin through the mid-90s, and exhibited for the first time at the 1998 Detroit Motor Show, Project Vantage was an apparently almost production-ready supercar designed by then styling chief Ian Callum.
The car featured a new 6.0-litre V12 engine with an output of 460 bhp, mated to an F1©-inspired paddle shift gearbox. It used a cutting-edge aluminum tub and composite body panels, and at the time represented a major leap in both design and technology for the luxury marque.
Development work continued on the programme and, in the autumn of 2000, a selection of key media was given the opportunity to see a pre-production V12 Vanquish, which clearly owed much to the Project Vantage.
V12 Vanquish design and body engineering
Ian Callum’s elegant, classic body design for the two-door sports car – which was offered in 2+0 or 2+2 configurations – was shaped to reflect the pedigree, heritage and tradition of Aston Martin. It was seen as both bold and dynamic, with finely detailed features for the interior and the exterior.
Carefully considered design elements were incorporated to provide graphic evidence of the marque’s painstaking craftsmanship and quality.
Key features include a distinctive radiator grille and lower air intake, both hallmarks of the brand’s design language at the time, flanked by equally bold and distinctive auxiliary driving lamps and front direction turn indicators. The front wings and bonnet panels incorporate a series of finely detailed compound curves which sweep back to the steeply raked windscreen pillars and low curving roof line.
Deeply sculptured sill and door panels added visual appeal, while the prominent rear wheel arches with the short tail section and rear spoiler incorporated in the boot lid complement the classic overall proportions of the V12 Vanquish.
All the exterior body panels were constructed from aluminium, with each individual panel hand tailored to the central structure.
The car’s body structure, including the floor and the front and rear bulkheads, was formed from extruded aluminium sections bonded and riveted around the central transmission tunnel which was constructed entirely from carbon fibre.
Single piece composite inner body side sections with carbon fibre windscreen pillars were also bonded to the central structure to create a high strength safety cell.
Precise, computer controlled, manufacturing processes were required to create the structures, a huge manufacturing leap for Aston Martin at the time, and these were developed in Cupertino, in California’s Silicon Valley, and at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.
Immediately ahead of the driver and passenger compartment a steel, aluminium and carbon fibre subframe carried the engine, transmission and front suspension and this was bolted directly to the front bulkhead. There’s a further deformable composite structure which employs the distinctive Aston Martin mesh air intake grille as a stressed member located ahead of the engine and front suspension to provide additional crash protection and accommodate the engine, transmission and air conditioning radiators and intercoolers.
A completely flat surface was developed for the underbody enabling air to be channelled into a Venturi section at the rear to assist high speed aerodynamics.
At the rear the composite floor, parcel shelf and side rails of the luggage compartment were also carefully designed to provide additional deformable crash protection together with the extruded aluminium side impact beams located in the doors.
All of the exterior panels, including the roof, bonnet, boot lid, front and rear wings and doors were produced from “super-plastic-formed” and pressed aluminium, and each individual panel was then tailored and bonded to the central structure by hand at the marque’s then factory in Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire, to ensure a perfect fit and finish.
In all, it took eight full weeks to build each V12 Vanquish, and the business initially set out to create around 300 of the cars each year. As demand soared, however, and waiting lists ran into years, that build figure grew closer to 500 cars per year.
In total 2,589 V12 Vanquish, of all versions, were constructed during the six years that the car was in production.
V12 Vanquish engine and gearbox
An all-alloy twin overhead camshaft 48 valve 6.0-litre V12 engine capable of generating 460 bhp at 6,500 rpm, and 556 Nm of torque at 5,000 rpm, sits at the heart of this 190 mph British brute. Engineering enhancements over the V12 seen in the DB7 of the same era included new design inlet manifolds, camshafts, valve gear, crankshaft and a new exhaust system which together bumped up power by a handy seven per cent.
To ensure that heat from the engine and exhaust system was insulated from the body structure the entire exhaust system and the front bulkhead is clad in a heat resistant material first developed for the aerospace industry.
A unique engine oil to water heat exchanger accelerated and assisted operating efficiency, together with an ionised gas misfire detection system which provided continuous monitoring of each of the engine’s 12 cylinders.
The six-speed close ratio manual transmission in the V12 Vanquish is linked to the car’s electronic drive-by-wire throttle and controlled through twin paddles mounted on the steering column.
Famously dubbed “flappy paddles” by leading writer and automotive journalist Jeremy Clarkson, the cutting edge F1©-inspired gearbox debuted in the V12 Vanquish incorporated electronics matched to hydraulics to facilitate faster gear changes. Sophisticated electronics also permitted the manual transmission to operate automatically with the additional facility of a programme for winter driving conditions.
More recently, a manual conversion package has been engineered by Aston Martin and offered to owners via the brand’s in-house heritage centre and new car dealership: Aston Martin Works.
So far, around 130 original Vanquish models have been converted to manual transmission, with an average of around ten cars per year making their way to Works for the process to be carried out.
Brakes, suspension and steering
Anti-lock ventilated and drilled 355 mm (front) and 330 mm (rear) diameter Brembo disc brakes were fitted to the aluminium alloy road wheels together with variable ratio power steering and independent front and rear suspension systems which incorporated forged aluminium wishbones and cast aluminium front suspension uprights.
The rear axle was equipped with a limited slip differential in tandem with electronic traction control which sensed potential wheel slippage and automatically reduced engine power and, if necessary, applied the rear braking system. The Yokohama 255/40 ZR 19 front and 285/40 ZR 19 rear tyres, which were designed exclusively for the V12 Vanquish and carried the AML initials, were mounted on 19-inch diameter wheels with 9-inch width rims at the front and 10-inch width rims at the rear. Individual tyre pressures and temperatures were monitored through an automatic electronic sensing system.
V12 Vanquish S – Aston Martin’s fastest production sports car yet
At the time the fastest production model yet built by Aston Martin, the V12 Vanquish S made its world debut at the Paris Motor Show in September, 2004.
With a maximum speed in excess of 200 mph (321 km/h) and a 6.0-litre V12 engine now developing 520 horsepower, the V12 Vanquish S was designed to deliver even greater performance, complemented by subtle suspension and steering changes and a number of interior and external style revisions.
At its launch the then Aston Martin Chairman and CEO, Dr Ulrich Bez, said, simply, of the more muscular V12 Vanquish S: “It is the ultimate high-performance Aston Martin”.
The V12 Vanquish S received subtle but effective changes to complement its elegant muscular body. The famous Aston Martin grille gained a rounded and more open appearance for better cooling, with an aerodynamic splitter to improve high-speed stability. At the rear, the boot lid was redesigned to improve aerodynamics, reducing lift and improving balance and stability while also incorporating a high mounted stop lamp. These changes helped the V12 Vanquish S to achieve an impressive Cd figure of 0.32.
Dynamic enhancements included stiffer springs and dampers and shorter steering arms. Revised steering geometry provided a 20% quicker response versus the ‘standard’ Vanquish, allowing a reduced input for required steering response.
Upgraded brakes incorporated larger six piston calipers and larger grooved and ventilated front discs. The rear discs grew by 2mm for improved heat dissipation. The use of floating discs ensured the driver has consistent pedal feel under heavy braking whilst a revised brake pedal assembly reduced travel and enhanced pedal feel.
Further development of Aston Martin’s all alloy, quad-overhead camshaft, 48 valve, 6.0-litre V12 engine generated a healthy increase in power from 460 bhp to 520 bhp (388kW) @ 7000 rpm and torque was boosted to 425 lb ft (577 Nm) @ 5800rpm.
Engine enhancements included new cylinder heads with fully machined inlet ports and combustion chambers to improve airflow, revised engine mapping and new fuel injectors.
V12 Vanquish S Ultimate marked the end of an era
In February 2007, Aston Martin announced what was – until the development of the marque’s successful and much imitated Continuation programme in 2017 – the end of new car production at Newport Pagnell.
This emotional ‘moment in time’ was celebrated through the creation of a strictly limited number of V12 Vanquish S Ultimate Edition sports cars.
Each of the 40 cars was made available by special request to customers wishing to celebrate the last iteration of a clearly highly significant car in Aston Martin’s history.
A specific colour and trim combination marked out these hugely desirable cars. The coachwork was painted a unique metallic shade called ‘Ultimate Black’ while, inside, the cars were all trimmed in a semi-aniline leather with coarse stitching, leather headlining and black chrome finish interior fittings. Each car was also fitted with personalised sill plaques denoting its limited edition number.
Alongside the European market Ultimate, Aston Martin also produced a small number of white V12 Vanquish for the Middle East.
Paul Spires, added: “Here at Newport we rightly celebrate the heritage of this great British sports car marque, with particular emphasis on icons such as the DB5 which were almost all built in this seemingly sometimes sleepy corner of Buckinghamshire.
“However, to also be able to lay claim to a ‘modern classic’ such as the original V12 Vanquish is a great honour for us, and I’m sure that in time people will come to view these cars with the same reverence that is afforded to the early DB cars.”