Review: As driving experiences go, the Aston Martin Vulcan is right up there

A savage-looking thing, but very approachable once you get to know it
by Ollie Marriage | Jun 6, 2021
PHOTO: TopGear.com

The Vulcan is Aston Martin’s track-only, One-77-based answer to McLaren’s GTR and Ferrari’s FXX cars. It’s got 820hp, and above 305kph, it delivers more kilos of downforce than it weighs. Only 24 were made, each costing £1.8 million (P121.6 million), and several owners then spent a rumoured £300,000 (P20.3 million) converting them to road use.

The back story runs something like this: In 2014, Fraser Dunn, then chief engineer of the brand’s Q Advanced Engineering division, and David King, director of advanced operations and motorsport, got chatting about some old One-77 development prototypes that were kicking around. Unsurprisingly, their first thought was to make a faster one. They envisioned a One-77 R.

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The trouble was that the project that interested and excited them also bought out the small boys in almost every other department at Aston Martin. Design wanted a piece of the pie, and when they got the go-ahead to make some sweeping changes, including shaping the bodywork in carbon instead of aluminum, every other department started pushing to make equally significant changes.

So, the plan to use the existing 7.3-litre V12 was abandoned. Aston Martin Racing pointed out that it had a very potent 6.0-liter V12 running in the Vantage GT3 racer that, with a significant amount of modification—including gaining a liter of capacity—would deliver on one of the key parameters of over 800hp. The 6,949cc nat-asp V12 motor ended up with 820hp at 7,750rpm and 779Nm of torque at 6,500rpm. That all goes to the rear wheels via a six-speed Xtrac sequential racing paddle-shift and magnesium torque tube. The carbon chassis is from the One-77, as are the sub-frames and the basic suspension layout.

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The aero package is obviously very different. The rear wing is mighty, but it doesn’t develop as much downforce as the underbody diffuser. And because the Vulcan is front-engined, the diffuser can be opened out earlier, generating more suck further forwards. An AMR upgrade pack (as fitted to the maroon car in these images) added front dive planes, pressure-reducing vents over the front wheels, and a second element to the rear wing, presumably because Aston felt that 1,350kg of downforce at 300kph+ wasn’t enough.

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Carbon Brembos lurk behind the 305-width front wheels—wheels that are clad in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber. A set of full slicks is optional and will cost you £5,000 (P338,000). The difference they make isn’t as pronounced as you might expect: During prototype testing at Nardo, the Vulcan was only 4sec slower around the handling circuit on the treaded tires. The time on slicks, 2min 7sec, was the track’s outright lap record, Aston Martin claimed at the time.

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And then there’s the way it looks. Visually, it’s so compelling. Like most racing cars, it’s better from the back than the front—there’s just more going on. The low rear three-quarter angle—where the view is mostly wing, the carbon bazooka that passes for a side exit exhaust, and those lollypop-stick rear lights—is sensational.

With the Valkyrie soon to arrive it might seem that the Vulcan has had its day, but this is one of those cars that adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Around a track, I wouldn’t be surprised if some rivals (like the McLaren Senna GTR) are faster, but as an event, a spectacle, an experience, the Vulcan takes a lot of beating.

On the road

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Let’s pick up where we left off. The Vulcan landed in 2016, and since then, other track-only hypercars such as the Brabham BT-62 and the Senna GTR have appeared—and because they’re newer, have their engines more fashionably in the middle, maybe have faster lap times, the temptation is to think they’re automatically better. But these are not racing cars. For the most part, they’re not eligible for any race series. They’re experience cars, designed to give their drivers an almighty kick of adrenaline. And for that, we’re not sure anything beats the Vulcan.

The feeling of energy at idle is colossal: The whole car trembles, and if you blip the revs, they scream to the limiter and back in an instant. Vap, vap, vap—proper motorsport stuff. It’s hard-core: massive seats inside that bracket your vision, F1-style steering wheel (a work of art), juddery clutch when pulling away, gear whine, squeaky brakes, and all the rest. It has three power modes, selectable via chunky rotary controller on the dash: 550hp, 675hp, and the full whack of 820hp. You’ll think twice before engaging maximum force.

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A racing experience? It’s all here, all the time. But as is the case with other cars with a similar remit, it’s been cleverly set up. Confidence builds quickly because the Vulcan does your bidding precisely and immediately, the controls reflecting your inputs exactly. So you go faster, fast enough to be working the chassis harder than you expected, and when you do, you discover it’s approachable, that it doesn’t do anything nasty at the limit. A little bit of push through the nose when you turn in, but that’s about it. Unless the corners are very tight, the combination of slicks and wings means you can deploy all 820hp with alarming ease. So you test it further, brake all the way to the apex to keep the pressure on the front tires, then bury it on the way out.

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If the curves are tight, or you’re on the treaded Cup 2 rubber, you just need to be a bit more circumspect. You don’t quite get the communication and immediacy you do from the slicks, but it’s not far off, and the overriding impression is of a real calmness under pressure. All movements are smooth and well-telegraphed. It doesn’t snap or twitch, but moves progressively, calmly. And even when the back end does let go, it’s more likely to be because you’ve overdone under braking than under power.

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The brakes. You can absolutely hammer the carbon Brembos, give the super-firm pedal absolutely everything at high speed, and not lock them up. Trying to release the pressure gradually as the aero grip bleeds away and the car lightens, carrying braking all the way to the apex to keep the nose locked on line—it’s an addictive business. The ABS is adjustable via a rotary controller on the wheel; so, too, is the traction. You can turn that down if you want. The Vulcan has such predictable chassis balance and a relatively wide operating window within which to save face if you overdo it, that you find yourself taking liberties, hurling it about.

And all the time, the thunder of a full-blooded 820hp V12 giving its all, punctuated by whipcrack gearshifts. Naturally aspirated, ultra-responsive, wondrous, strident, and sonically magnificent.

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It howls. Shrieks, almost. Like an old V10-era F1 car, but slightly less shrill. The sound pulses pile on top of each other, the detonations are more densely packed than in a V8, coming faster and harder and more urgently, each forcing speed from the car.

The noise is colossal, the sense of fury intimidating, and you sit at the center of this storm fearing you’re not fully in control, that the onslaught could sweep you away—but in fact, this mighty orchestra obeys its conductor intimately. As driving experiences go, it’s right up there. Downshifts shock the car, flames flash and lick about, the side pipes pop, rumble and crash, shift lights flash, gears whine, the V12 soars and shrieks—it’s a mashing, roaring mechanical melee. So yeah, just a bit special.

On the inside

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Front-engined cars sit you higher and farther back, so you’re less exposed to the visceral track sensations of having your eyes on stalks and your heels grinding on the road, but in the Vulcan, that’s replaced by a feeling you’re snug deep into the belly of the beast. It’s dark in here: The wings of the seats bracket your face, the steering yoke juts back at you, you’re consumed by the noise and drama and violence, engine by your feet, driven wheels by your buttocks, and exhaust exiting by your thighs.

Before you give yourself over to that, you’ll have admired the quality of the fit and finish. I don’t know why that should surprise me quite so much, but the door closure is precise, the hood rises on gas struts to reveal that glorious V12 sat so low, it looks almost as if it’s been hammered into the tarmac, the precise feel and click of the paddles, the power of the aircon blower, the leather, the toggle switches...this cabin’s design and execution are stunning.

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One of the few optional extras you can choose for your Vulcan is a machined carbon panel set. It costs £16,000 (P1.08 million), and includes strakes for the vents behind the front wheels, plus badges and interior air-vent surrounds. Each is made from a solid block of laid-up carbon, machined down, which gives it an almost wood-like look and texture.

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And the Vulcan is logical to operate. The steering wheel is a work of art, both visually and ergonomically, the power dial is easily grasped and twisted, the instrument screen easily is read, the toggles are simply, satisfyingly flicked. It works, it feels complete and robust and safe in here. And so you trust it to look after you.

Final thoughts

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In the long term, it’s likely the Vulcan will play a subservient role to the Valkyrie. That car, with its Newey/F1 pedigree will define the ultimate in road/track ability. But the Vulcan can still hold its head high, not because of its outright speed (which is nothing short of dazzling), but because of the drama, excitement, and thunder of the driving experience.

With its naturally aspirated, sensationally responsive V12 and surprisingly forgiving track manners, this is a car that, although initially being fabulously intimidating, soon reveals itself to be a much more open, less savage machine than you expect. Which means you relax and give yourself over to sitting at the center of this maelstrom.

Yes, it’s a huge amount of money. Yes, unless you pay hundreds of thousands more to an outside company, it can only be used on a track. But just look at it. What a thing.

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NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.

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PHOTO: TopGear.com
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