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Exclusive: Top Gear drives all *four* Aston Martin Vanquish Zagatos
Beauty and madness, Aston Martin calls it. It’s a brilliant juxtaposition, but they’re not the only ones that can push that envelope. As all four members of the latest Aston Zagato family are gently decanted, the sky above us simultaneously darkens and seems to get bigger. There’s a bleakness exacerbated by the presence of two monolithic nuclear power stations. This is Dungeness, a spit of land jutting out of the Kent coast, a shingle desert, but a place that’s fiercely protected by its inhabitants and beloved of anyone who can see beyond the conventionally beautiful…
The same could be said of Zagato. In 2019, this most defiantly original of Italian carrozzeria will celebrate its centenary. Ugo Zagato applied aerospace techniques to car manufacture; he worked on Savoia-Pomilio biplanes in WWI. Zagato-bodied cars contested every Mille Miglia, from 1927 to the event’s blood-soaked demise in 1957, and the original incarnation of Scuderia Ferrari raced Zagato-bodied Alfa Romeos. Indeed, many of the greatest Alfas and Lancias wore Zagato-designed bodies. The 1964 Alfa TZ2 could actually be the most beautiful car ever made; others wilfully bucked trends.
Aston Martin first collaborated with Zagato in 1960, when designer Ercole Spada, just 23 at the time, rebodied the DB4 GT to spectacular effect, following a call from Aston’s then racing director, John Wyer, frustrated by the standard car’s lack of pace in GT racing. Clothed in wafer-thin aluminium, Zagato made it lighter, faster, and even more beautiful. Only 19 were created, and they couldn’t sell them all in period. In July 2018, one was sold at auction for Rs 91.6 crore.
So this is a rich seam. Aston has reprised its relationship with Zagato various times since then, always in low numbers, not always with crowd-pleasing results: 1986’s ultra-wedgy V8 Vantage Zagato remains undervalued despite its rarity, and 2003’s DB7 GT Z co-pro is waiting for its moment. One owner only ever registered his so he had something interesting to go to lunch with Sir Michael Caine in.
We’re not acquainted with the gentleman who owns the cars you see here, but we are indebted to him. A Scottish property magnate, he dodged the hideous dilemma of having to choose which of the latest Aston Vanquish Zagato collaboration to go for by plumping for all of them. When Aston announced the new programme back in 2016 at Villa d’Este, a rebodied Vanquish S coupe served as the opening volley. It was lava red with anodised bronze accents on the air vents, alloys and inside, and did the trick for our man up north.
He only took delivery of his new carbon-fibre-bodied family the day before, and yet here we are in Dungeness, all four V12s warming up, almost 2,400bhp between them and costing Rs 24.3 crore in total. Rarely have kid gloves been more necessary, although having been joined by a pair of machine-gun-toting officers from the CNC (that’s Civil Nuclear Constabulary), we’re on our best behaviour anyway.
Well, I say that. Although the Shooting Brake is the newest and most intriguing of the quartet, it’s the Speedster that draws me in first, despite or possibly because of the sub-zero wind chill and absence of weather protection. Theoretically a problem for the famous Zagato ‘double bubble’ roof, the Speedster gets around that by having a pair of what Aston dubs Speed Humps, streamlined cowls. While the other three members of the family – Coupe, Volante and Shooting Brake – number 99 in production, only 28 Speedsters are being made, for reasons no one at Aston can quite explain.
It’s also the most expensive, at Rs 8.7 crore, a fact I put firmly to the back of my mind as I head out of Dungeness and hook up the road to Lydd. With the DBS Superleggera and Vantage Aston’s headline acts these days, it’s easy to forget what a sublime piece of work the outgoing Vanquish S – on which these specials are based – still is. Retuned dampers, a thicker rear anti-roll bar, revised steering, all accompanied by the bark of a 5.9-litre V12 ingesting fuel and air as nature intended: the Zagato Speedster flows down the road with ease. Today of all days, this fluency is a treasured commodity, not wishing to shower myself in someone else’s shattered carbon splitter.
We don’t have a lot of time, but somehow I manage to get behind the wheel of all four, something I’m not sure anyone else on the planet has yet managed. Obviously, there’s a commonality, but they also all have their own traits. The Coupe is the most classically exact, its roof and visor-like glasshouse the elements that tie it explicitly into the Zagato narrative. The Volante feels phenomenally solid, with only the merest shimmy betraying its convertible roof. The Speedster is the loudest and most aggressive.
But it’s the Shooting Brake that’s the most intriguing. Quite why an estate car incarnation of a gob-smacking coupe should exert such an allure is a mystery, but maybe it’s because we’re a nation of dog-lovers, and you can imagine one inside. Apparently this has been mooted with the Zagato, but given that the whole of the rear deck is made of carbon fibre I would hesitate to stick a can of beans in there. This is the most overtly concepty of the four cars, the one that makes onlookers gape.
Having decided to create a family with Zagato, Miles continues, the original plan was to do three cars. Then three became four. “Zagatos are often polarising, but the Coupe sold out before we’d even shown it. The rear lamps are probably the most extreme thing – they’re like splintered blades. Our supplier laughed when we first discussed them. That’s a sign you’re doing something right when it comes to a special project car.”
The Shooting Brake turned out to be tricky as a whole. The Vanquish’s fuel tank is located behind the seats, which would have made it the world’s most useless estate. Having reworked the VH platform and moved the tank on the Rapide super-saloon, the engineering team realised they could use its rear end on the SB. It sits on a longer wheelbase than the others, and though it looks lower it’s actually taller. The whole upper structure is new, and the side section towards the rear is made of a single piece of carbon fibre. The roof is an equally impressive feat, and features a reinterpretation of the double bubble with a huge photochromic glass panel that darkens that brooding Dungeness sky at the touch of a button on the centre console.
As in the others, the interior combines herringbone carbon fibre with aniline leather, and there’s a Z quilt pattern on the seats and door sections. Then you look over your shoulder into the most artful luggage bay ever, and up – and through – that glorious roof. Dynamically, it’s every bit as good as the other three, but its elongated form somehow best channels a century of beautiful Italian madness.
“This is the one of the four I’d steal,” Nurnberger says. But he might find the key already gone.
(Photography: Lee Brimble)