Vulcan a taster for Red Bull-fuelled racer

Will anyone dare tell Tony Quinn the exotic Aston Martin supercar he’s just bought might soon be yesterday’s news?

Nothing like staking a claim: And, in theory, there’s more than one hook onto which the Aston Martin Vulcan that has been the centre of New Zealand media attention these past few days could hang a hat upon.

Incredible performance, amazing technology, exotic construction techniques and build materials, craftsmanship and a low-volume build count … Tony Quinn’s new toy has all this. Plus, of course, the factor media have pinned prime consideration to, a truly eye-watering price.

Four-point-five mill for a snarly two-seater that’s immediately on the wrong side of the law as soon as puts so much as one low-profile Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 on public pavement is quite something to get your head around.

It’s not the most valuable car here per se – there are several in the Southward Collection that are worth way more – yet is clearly in the mansion money league. Is that really the price of buying the best from a British premium performance marque?

In the here and now, yes. In the future? History might ultimately regard the best that Aston Martin can offer being a car confirmed in Melbourne in the lead-up to the Australian F1 Grand Prix. It’ll be significantly faster, more dynamic and more amazing than the Vulcan. And, quite potentially, it’ll be at least as expensive.

 That’s not to say Vulcan won’t be ignored after time. A car designed for a very select cognoscenti, the very wealthiest gearheads, is worthy of celebration, as the above video - shot by Britain's Top Gear magazine - definitely shows.

It’s no small feat for Quinn, a Scot turned Australian resident turned NZ resident saviour of motor-racing circuits (and perhaps motor-racing itself), to achieve ownership. In doing so he has joined a 24-member owner club that is otherwise basically Middle East-based. Clearly there’s a lot to be made out of chocolates and tinned kangaroo – and even more from selling a petfood empire.

So what is a Vulcan? Named after the iconic 1950s delta-winged British nuclear bomber and based on the One-77 hypercar (they share a platform and core drivetrain), it’s  an exclusive, track-only supercar designed to be, as Aston Martin chief executive officer Andy Palmer puts it at last year’s reveal, “a sportscar for true sportscar lovers”.

It’s so feral that part of the buy-in is a driver-training experience. The factory offers a free programme of intensive track work – that’s after a turn in the factory’s Vulcan simulator - led by factory drivers including Aston Martin Racing’s Le Mans winning Darren Turner. How much benefit this will be for Quinn is debatable, as he’s already an experienced GT racer already, with seat time in Astons, Porsches as well as McLarens. He returned to Highlands last weekend from Queensland, where he’s been testing the madcap Ford Focus-based mountain climb beast he intends to throw at this year’s annual Pikes Peak event in Colorado.

Anyway, the theoretical and practical tuition includes successive training in high-performance models, starting with the V12 Vantage S and rising through the One-77 to the Vantage GT4.

Because? Well, because the Vulcan is a race car. Or, at least, a car built to racing standard. Though what it could ever race in is a moot point. While not homologated or approved for road use, neither does it conform to any specific GT race regulations. What it does meet are all the relevant FIA race safety requirements, in large from being built as a monocoque from carbon-fibre. This is manufactured by Multimatic, the same company recently awarded the contract to build the Ford GT supercar that Scott Dixon will race at Le Mans this year.

Mechanically, it features an integral limited-slip differential with a magnesium torque tube and a carbon-fibre propeller shaft. The brakes are Brembo carbon composite rotors measuring 380mm at the front and 360mm at the back.

Drive is through an Xtrac six-speed sequential gearbox. The suspension is by pushrods with anti-dive geometry and Multimatic’s spool valve adjustable dampers. The exhausts are wrapped in the finest heat-reflective material known to man – gold – which aims to keep the heat within the titanium tubing.

Fast? The 600kW 7.0-litre V12 has enough heft to hurl this 1350kg car to 100kmh in 2.9 seconds and onto a top speed of 360kmh. Aston reckons Vulcan now has the outright lap record at the Nardo test track, because while thumping through 10,000kms’ pre-release testing (Turner’s job), it posted a two minute 7second lap time, which Aston says is 9s faster than a McLaren P1 road car. The Vulcan also stands as a celebration of this being the last special Aston Martin with a true AM engine. From now on Astons come with powerplants from another specialist … Mercedes’ AMG (Mercedes' parent Daimler has a five percent stake in Aston).

So the Vulcan is cool. But don’t hit me for suggesting it is already, if not outright toast like its namesame from aviation, then yesterday’s bread.

Aston is on a product roll. It plans to follow the recently unveiled DB11 with a minimum of five all-new models in the next four years. They will span three distinct model lines and form part of a plan to sell around 7000 cars a year, double its 2015 total, by 2020. 

The DB11, a GT, revealed at the recent Geneva motor show will be joined next year by an all-new Vantage sports car heavily inspired by the DB10 created for the James Bond film Spectre and by a replacement for the Vanquish in 2018. Both models will be built on versions of the DB11’s all-new aluminium architecture in Aston’s core sports and GT model line.

By the end of the decade, Aston will also have on sale two models with no direct predecessors in new, separate model lines: the DBX crossover and an all-new Lagonda saloon. Also en route are an electric version of the Rapide.

However, what stands to age the Vulcan, and quickly, are ventures designed to provide some of the capital that’ll fuel the road car programme.

First of all, Aston has another ‘Vulcan’ coming. Actually, more than one.

It has determined to create low-volume cars of this nature on a regular, almost annual basis, and not just with one car. The plan is to deliver two celebration specials a year: What’s a guy like TQ to do; stick to the one example and hope against depreciation (so far, there’s no chance: One of the three Vulcans allocated the US is already for sale, the vender seeking a cool $US1 mill over list) or continue collecting the while set for an indeterminate future period?

And that’s only the half of it. Aston Martin is also engaged in a project with Red Bull Racing – yeah, the guys who operate a Formula One team - to create a real hypercar.

The companies announced the partnership on March 18 at the championship-opening Australian Grand Prix where Aston Martin's logo appeared on the Red Bull's RB12 cars as part of a season-long deal. Red Bull's Adrian Newey, the sport's most acclaimed and successful designer, will work with Aston Martin's design boss Marek Reichman on the car, codenamed Project AM-RB-001. They already created a full-sized model.

Reichman is promising it’s this machine that will be the true piece de resistance. “It's something emotional. It's a very dynamic product. Even as a piece of sculpture it's going to be very dramatic.”

Aston's foray into mid-engined cars and expected to be able to lap a circuit as fast as a current F1 car. 

Is that possible? Even if it doesn’t prove to be, with a 1:1 power to weight ratio, the Aston will at least equal the Koenigsegg One:1's achievement, which managed one horsepower for each of its 1340 kilograms and was the first production car to crack the magic one megawatt (1000kW). It is not known what kerb weight Aston Martin is aiming for.

Meantime, Vulcan is said to stand as the most expensive new supercar ever in New Zealand – assuming, of course, that designation is acceptable.

Some might argue that a supercar should be eligible for road use: The Vulcan emphatically is not. And while it’s not a race car either, the circuit is obviously it’s only real home, so it’s just as well Quinn owns two.

Regardless, don’t imagine that Vulcan won’t lack for special breed company. Despite our tiny population size and geographic isolation, NZ has a surprisingly strong supercar scene.

Here are some of the known performance icons also holding local residency.

Ferrari LaFerrari

Ferrari’s first hybrid supercar is also packed with track-tested technology. The La Ferrari is capable of a combined 708kW, when taking into account its 6.3-litre, V12 engine that produces 588kWand a 120kW electric motor; all of this amounts to a 40 percent decrease in fuel consumption. Ferrari says the car has a top speed exceeding 350kmh, reaching 100kmh in less than three seconds. Most went to the Middle East and China, but two reside here.

Aston Martin One-77

Arguably one of the most beautiful cars of all time, only 77 copies of the supercar were ever built (hence the name), the award-winning One-77 features a naturally aspirated 7.3-litre V12 engine that produces 559kW. The top speed is estimated to be around 320kmh and it’s capable of going from zero to 100 kmh in about 3.5 seconds. One was imported to NZ.

Porsche 918

Drawing technically if not stylistically from the 919 World Endurance Championship racer - as driven by Kiwis Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber to, respectively, a WEC title and Le Mans win in 2015 – Stuttgart’s menacing missile runs a 453kW 4.6-litre V8 petrol derived from the mill in Porsche RS Spyder racer, revving to 9150rpm and running through a seven-speed automated manual.

This alone would provide quite a thrill, but the urgency is enhanced significantly by it being in marriage to a pair of electric motors, one per axle – for the 918 is four-wheel-drive – that produce a combined 210kW.

The resultant overall output of 661kW and 1280Nm has massive effect on a car that, while roughly taking up about the same road space as a Ford Mondeo weighs, as result of a severe kilo-saving regime sacrificed tilt adjustment for the steering column (because the 600g it would have added was determined to be unjustifiable), a touch less than a Fiesta.

Such power, such a light weight adds up to something quite astounding: Porsche quotes a top speed of around 340kmh and says it will take care of 0-100kmh in 2.6 seconds, 0-200kmh in 7.2s and 0-300kmh in 19.9s. All for just $1.4m. There’s one here.

McLaren P1

The McLaren P1 is the epitome of hybrid insanity. Powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre V8 engine paired to an electric motor, the P1 pumps out a whopping 673kW. Out of a total of 375 McLaren P1s produced, two have come to the birthplace of the firm’s founder. When it comes to sheer hybridized power, the P1 may very well stand in a class all its own for a while to come.

McLaren F1

It’s a grand-dad now and yet still, in so many ways, the Big Daddy. Incredible to think that the super sports car many still regard as the benchmark was presented to the public in May 1992, and the first cars delivered in October 1993. Gordon Murray’s three-seater, which places the driver in the middle and the passengers either side of a large-capacity, normally aspirated BMW-supplied V12 engine wowed the world for its shape, fully rendered from carbon fibre, and performance. Even though it neglects power steering and ABS, the F1 is still regarded as a driver’s delight.

And so far it still shows a clean pair of heels to everything else here in respect to value. Any F1 hitting the market today is guaranteed to fetch at least 10 times the original $1.5 million pricetag. Incredibly, at one time there were two F1s here; the very sought-after pre-production example went back overseas but another, exquisite and early-build example still apparently resides in the lower North Island.