Welcome to the £360k world of modding a V12 Aston for Instagram likes...
This is emphatically not James Bond’s Aston Martin. I’m not even quite sure if it’s an Aston at all, any more. So, here goes. An attempt to quantify one of the least rational, sensible, justifable machines ever to wear numberplates. Welcome to a world-exclusive drive of the enigma that is ‘The Vengeance by Kahn Design’.
Words: Ollie Kew / Photography: Rowan Horncastle
No arguments please (yet) – Vengeance is a bloody cool name. It belongs to the flagship, labour-of-love project from Afzal Kahn, the entrepreneur behind Kahn Design. His company more usually deals with the modification of Land Rovers and Range Rovers, offering don’t-mess-sunshine bodykits, enormous wheels and more quilted upholstery than the Titanic’s first class smoking lounge.
More recently, it’s created punchy halo projects like the ‘Flying Huntsman’ 6x6 Defender. After all, Britain has a proud history of luxury coachbuilding.
The Vengeance is the result of Kahn’s desire to create his own take on the Aston Martin DB9. We saw sketches back in 2015. Then, some renderings. And at 2015’s Geneva motor show, the Vengeance was revealed. It’s fair to say that it provoked a love it/hate it reaction, both on the show floor, and in the TopGear.com comments panel. I suspect that was exactly the point.
Anyway, roll on almost three years and Kahn’s business of giving raffish British SUVs the demeanor of a nightclub bouncer is doing a roaring trade in London, which has more billionaires per head than any other city in Europe.
So, a new showroom’s popped up on Kensington High Street, opposite the old Bristol Cars base (could you imagine two more opposite car companies?) to work in tandem with Kahn’s premises on the King’s Road in Chelsea, and its northern Bradford home.
Now, this new Kensington outpost – complete with a Range Rover Sport in BMW M Division Yas Marinas Blue, a rainbow of thread samples and ceiling pillars wrapped in quilted brown leather – is a matter of miles from the Top Gear office. It’s also contained in a terribly posh apartment block with an underground car park festooned with hashtag Cars of Instagram. If location is everything, Kahn has got this one spot on the money.
That purple-wrapped ‘Tron’ Aventador you’ve seen shooting flames down Knightsbridge? Chrome-gold Ferrari 458s? Slammed, air-ride Audi RS7s and Hamaan-tuned Porsche Panameras? This is their lair. And now, they share it with the Vengeance. “So”, said Kahn, “would you be interested in popping over and having a go?”
Well, what else were we going to say? It’s an intriguing thing, the Vengeance, partly for the bits of it that are shrouded in mystery, and partly because it generates such a split reaction.
Kahn ordered five DB9 chassis from Aston Martin towards the end of that car’s life. So far, four Vengeances have been built. This black car is actually built on the short-lived Virage (a facelifted, 490bhp DB9 in all but name), and is the original, 14,000-mile prototype. To date, one coupe has been sold to a customer, while two drop-top Volantes have also been completed. One of them has been brought over for us to have a look at, but it’s not road-registered, so we won’t be driving it. Ogle it in the gallery if you like.
Kahn’s allocated chassis become Vengeances upon the same production line that Aston Martin built the One-77 supercar. Every panel is swapped for a new hand-beaten hammer-formed aluminium piece – except the roof, which has its new double-bubble bonded to the standard roof panel, to maintain the original structure’s integrity. Can’t imagine that does much good for the centre of gravity.
Moving on. Starting at the front, the Vengeance’s signature detail is the enormous Hannibal’s toast rack grille, milled from a solid aluminium block. It lives amid a new front bumper and a bonnet with simply the biggest tumescent power dome I’ve ever seen. The front wings, carrying bespoke badging, are flared and blistered, but dwarfed by the hugely swelled rear fenders.
The doors are inflated to match, and the phatboy look is completed by 20/21-inch rims. They’re 16-spoke at the front, and 18-spoke out back, rolling on intergalactically wide 365-section tyres. At the rear there’s a steeper ducktail bootlid, a carbon diffuser, four semi-stacked exhausts with what look like sniper sights in the tubes, and Alfa Romeo 4C light clusters, which gives the car’s rump a hint of DB7 Zagato.
Now, bespoke panels do not come cheap. Neither does entirely re-upholstering a leather-smothered cabin in individual-spec hide. Kahn originally decided the Vengeance would cost from around £360,000, but each car’s final sticker would depend on customer options. The company said it couldn’t disclose how much this prototype’s spec would cost if we’d ordered it there and then. But, we were politely asked to insure it for £600,000.
I’ll write that again in full English so you’re sure it’s not a typo. Six hundred grand.
Allow me to point out that however much you shell out for your Vengeance, should you desire one, the only mechanical alteration made by Kahn is the fitment of a baffle-free, outrageously loud steel exhaust. The suspension geometry and set-up, the steering and the powertrain are all standard Aston Martin Virage. Or DB9.
This is quite some exhaust system, mind you… presuming that what you want from an exhaust system is quite simply the loudest noise internal combustion can possibly develop. The Vengeance’s stock 490bhp, 5.9-litre Aston V12 is breathing out through an unsilenced church organ that’s deafening in the standard mode and screams like the emo tent at Download Festival if you select Sport.
I thought the Lamborghini Huracan Performante, or perhaps the Williams-developed Jaguar C-X75 Bond car would remain the loudest cars I’d ever driven. But no. The Vengeance builds walls of noise. It doesn’t have the burble of the original Aston V12 – it’s raspier, angrier and harsher. More Italian. Upon its arrival in the Top Gear office car park, it systematically triggered every other car’s break-in alarm with a single yelp of revs.
This is where the Kahn will either win you over or appal you to your core. The only reason it’s got an exhaust that’ll be outlawed in Switzerland for potentially triggering avalanches is to make everyone within five miles wheel around to see what’s creating the din. Which, if you’ve spend several hundred thousand pounds on new body panels for an old Aston Martin, is exactly the point. The sound, like the bodywork (coated in more glitter flake than a nursery arts’n’crafts project), and that dicey grille, are here for one simple purpose.
Oi, you there. Look. At. Me. This is a modified supercar for the Instagram generation.
As a driver’s car, or some kind of rational purchase, the Kahn makes no sense. It isn’t supposed to. The ride is choppy on the massively overendowed tyres, the gearbox feels way past its sell-by date, and the steering’s now mired in inertia and kickback that’s inevitable when you bugger about with the round bits that touch the road but don’t tweak anything else.
The Vengeance systematically set off every other car’s break-in alarm with a single yelp of revs
This isn’t a sports car. It’s a billboard, a beacon, a giant neon arrow with fireworks, circus acrobats and pyrotechnics pointed directly at your forehead.
Aston Martins have a superpower: everyone loves them. Even in a city as cynical as London, where wealth basically drips from the oligarch villages on one street while dilapidated poverty lurks around a corner, Astons tend to evade the nouveau-riche tastelessness than can afflict Lambos, Ferraris, AMGs and Bentleys that patrol the same streets.
Partly it’s the Bond connection. Often it’s because they’re beautiful. Astons command a warmth and respect, an effortless coolness that few other exotic cars capture.
The Kahn confounds these folks. It’s an Aston, but not as they know it, exaggerated of haunch, brash of grille and wailing like a 1980s F1 car stuck in a fishtank. It’s too sinister to be a Bond car, too extrovert to be a classic British sports GT. And as a result, it has now pipped any supercar I’ve ever been lucky enough to drive as the single most successful head turner.
You spot people, slack-jawed, frozen mid-word, tailing off a conversation that’ll never be completed. Viewed from a cocoon of creaking leather, your audience stands agog: eyebrows furrowed, expression quizzical.
The Kahn leaves a wake of dazed and confused onlookers as it parades along, trumpeting and skittering though London, while its driver basks in the pinprick glow of a thousand smartphone flashes and desperately hopes his iPhone doesn’t navigate him down a road containing a width restrictor. Can you put a price on that?
This is one of those machines, like the David Brown Speedback GT, which offends plenty of people as a concept, and doesn’t financially add up. But there will be a select audience out there, a handful of folks who’ve had five or fifteen Astons already, who might look at the Kahn’s swagger and the balls needed to think you can make a DB9 better looking, and desire it. I wonder if any of you will dare pipe up in the comments…
If you do, be aware there are several hundred Londoners quite keen to hear you explain that banshee which roared past them on Kensington High Street the other week.