The original Aston Martin Vanquish is 20 years old
So good Callum did it again. So good it starred in a bad Bond movie. Still so, so good
Nobody Does It Better, Carly Simon once opined, and she sorta has a point: earlier this year, the awfully serious Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders declared Britain as the top banana in building specialist, low-volume excellence.
And TopGear.com has a theory as to why these fair isles have received this accolade (again): Britain builds cars with names like ‘Vanquish’. As nomenclature goes, it’s right up there with Phantom. (One suspects McLaren missed the memo but really, nobody’s complaining. And anyway, Ariel certainly got the fax.)
This long-winded opening is because the Aston Martin Vanquish – the original one that sounds like the rapture and once starred in a really bad Bond movie – has turned 20 years old. Twenty years since Aston revealed a car Ian Callum loved so much, he designed it again.
“The Vanquish was nothing less than the most sophisticated and technologically advanced new model yet designed, developed and built by Aston Martin,” says, well, Aston Martin.
It arrived with one of the great V12s, if not the most potent. What a fabulous, earth-shatteringly sonorous unit. It started out life as a 6.0-litre V12 with just 460bhp – the same as a triple-cylinder supermini these days, amirite – but made a noise the Dragon of Mordiford would have found upsetting. Entirely fictitious contemporary accounts report full throttle Vanquish accelerations that happened back in 2001 still sending out shockwaves today.
It also arrived with an aluminium tub and composite body panels, along with an ‘F1-inspired paddle shift gearbox’ which was so good, Aston now offers a manual gearbox conversion that has ensnared the attention of 130 original Vanquish owners.
“What I chiefly recall is that the brakes weren’t up to much and that aggressive use of the sequential manual gearbox caused neckache. It wasn’t the smoothest or most sophisticated system, even back then,” TG’s Ollie Marriage recalled about driving the first Vanquish.
"But you didn’t mind about that because you could leave the gearbox in third and use the 6.0-litre V12 to strut its stuff. Great noise and response, good flexibility, and 460bhp was enough to tax the chassis. It gripped well, a little light at the front end, but confidence boosted by lovely steering.”
Just three years later, the Vanquish would be treated to an ‘S’ model, featuring a healthy power bump to 520bhp and a top speed of 200mph+ (the first one did 190mph). There were a few chassis tweaks to make it pointier, bigger brakes and more torque.
Fun fact: Aston codenamed the original Vanquish ‘Project Vantage’, and each car took two months to build. We’re told that while Aston originally only wanted to sell 300 Vanquish models a year, it ended up knocking out closer to 500 a year because everyone wanted a piece. All in, the company shifted 2,589 cars over six years of production.
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“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,” explains Aston Martin Works boss Paul Spires.
“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,” he added.
Indeed, designer Ian Callum cites the Vanquish has one of his very favourite designs. “It had the purest line of thought and execution of any car I’ve ever worked on before and since,” he once told TopGear.com. Turns out Carly was right.