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RE: Aston Martin V12 Vanquish S manual: PH Heroes

RE: Aston Martin V12 Vanquish S manual: PH Heroes

Wednesday 9th August

Aston Martin V12 Vanquish S manual: PH Heroes

Can a gearlever turn the original Vanquish into a proper icon?



Ideas are contagious in the motor industry, the bad as well as the good. That's why we suffered through a spate of ungainly, obese retractable hard-top cabrios a few years ago, and why the market is now filled with 'me too' compact crossovers. But it's also the group think that gave us the automated single clutch gearbox, one of the worst things to happen to performance cars in the last two decades.

Fortunately the era of the single-clutch 'auto' 'box is almost at an end. Maserati has killed it in the GranTurismo, leaving the soon-to-die Aston V8 Vantage as its last significant performance car application. (Peugeot and Citroen buyers still have to suffer PSA's lurchy ETC robo-box on its cheaper clutchless models.)

And that Vanquish concept came out in 1998!
And that Vanquish concept came out in 1998!
But it's the other end of Aston's association with single clutchers that brings us here, to the original Vanquish. A car that was almost ruined by a gearbox that could charitably be described as 'under developed'. Fortunately, there is an alternative.

Where it began
The Vanquish was, arguably, the first modern Aston, building on the success of the company-saving DB7 and becoming the archetype for pretty much everything that has followed.

Launched in 2001, it debuted both the bonded aluminium construction that would become the company's ultra-flexible 'VH' architecture, but also the 'muscles under a tuxedo' look that still defines the brand's styling 16 years later. Even now it's a desperately handsome car, one of the conspicuous highlights on the hit-filled CV of Ian Callum, Aston's then design director. It even got to be a Bond car, a suitably be-weaponed version being the conspicuous highlight of the mostly dreadful Die Another Day.

What it didn't get was a clutch pedal, Aston having decided that early 21st century sports car buyers wanted paddles. An automated Tremec gearbox with electro-mechanical actuators was the only transmission choice.

Glorious V12 is left untouched...
Glorious V12 is left untouched...
Stirred and shaken
As personal anti-climaxes go, my first experience of the Vanquish was right up there with the ending of Lost. As a young journo I'd been charged with taking one of the early press demonstrators from the central London office of the magazine I worked for to a photoshoot in Wales. The muscular design looked gorgeous, even the surprisingly low-rent interior wasn't too much of a let-down, and the V12 engine fired into life with exactly the sort of creamy lion-in-a-dairy snarl I'd been expecting.

But the gearbox was, for want of a better word, terrible. I remember bunny-hopping down the Marylebone Road as the automated clutch struggled to deal with low-speed progress and the system put a yawning chasm into every upshift. Things were no better on location; the clutch pack overheated under the gentle stress of manoeuvring for pictures and an enthusiastic launch filled the cabin with smoke. I got off lightly, though - a colleague ended up beaching a Vanquish on an Armco barrier after a particularly violent upshift broke traction on a wet road.

Changing gears
It improved over time. Software tweaks calmed the gearbox down, and most of the Vanquish's well-heeled buyers got used to the transmission's foibles, and the occasional expense of new clutches. But others demanded an alternative and, Aston being Aston, they eventually got one - albeit delivered through the company's Works subsidiary - in the form of a proper manual conversion. This was a non-trivial bit of re-engineering, involving removing the actuation gubbins from the gearbox, installing a mechanism to manually operate the selector forks and a conventional clutch. Then finding space in the cabin for both a gearshifter (donated by the Vantage) and a third pedal. The dashboard also needed a hefty redesign to lose the PRND buttons that commanded the old gearbox, and the steering wheel got a paddlectomy.

... here's where the change is
... here's where the change is
While we've tested the company's demonstrator before, but this is the first time I've got to experience it; does it tip the balance into justifying hero status?

Still gorgeous
Time has been exceptionally kind to the Vanquish's design; it's hard to think of anything else from the era that still looks so fresh, its tightly-wrapped contours radiating well-bred purpose. Details have grown old - round halogen lights inside the headlamps where you'd expect to see intricate projector units and door mirrors clearly donated by something more humble. But overall, it's still a stunner.

The cabin impresses less; the later Vanquish S had a far higher-rent interior than the early cars, but although it's entirely hand-built the standard of fit and finish is nothing like you'd find in a DB11. The Works demonstrator is an early prototype that's been turned into a Trigger's Broom by successive upgrades, one of which was a fairly major entertainment system overhaul about a decade ago. Ironically the fold-out screen from the once state-of-the-art head unit now feels more dated than anything else in the car.

A lovely static object...
A lovely static object...
Manual labour
The gearbox is good enough to feel like original equipment. The selector is exactly where it should be - a cup holder had to be sacrificed to give it a home - and although there's little space for the unintended clutch pedal there's still more room in the footwell than you'd find in a Caterham or Morgan. The clutch has a hefty weight and is nicely progressive, and letting it up proves the Vanquish is happy to burble along on nothing more than idle torque.

The selector itself isn't the slickest, with a long fore-and-aft travel but tight tolerances between its planes. Getting the right gear means being steady and unrushed, although the engine's willingness to pull from the basement to the penthouse means you don't actually need to change gear that often. A fumbled shift proves it will start off in third without complaining, too. The throttle and brake pedals are too far apart for confident heel-and-toeing, but the big engine still responds well to a manual blip to smooth downchanges.

The new gearbox also removes distraction from the glory that is the V12. Not wanting to get too misty-eyed here, but this is one of the earliest incarnations of an engine that - in substantially developed form - is still with us in the V12 Vantage and current Vanquish. And which will almost certainly be remembered as one of the finest-sounding powerplants of all time. This Vanquish hasn't got quite the same hard-edged top end as some of the harder-cored variants, but revving it out still produces the sort of angry, tuneful noises you'd normally have to taser a tenor to experience.

... and even lovlier on the move. A true manual Hero!
... and even lovlier on the move. A true manual Hero!
Would you?
The new gearbox also suits the character of the car almost perfectly. The automated transmission always felt like a digital addition to an analogue driving experience, and the tactile challenge of slotting gears and matching revs is perfectly suited to the other ways the Vanquish keeps you busy. The steering is precise and, by modern standards, bristling with feedback, but the car moves around on rougher roads and faster progress requires beady-eyed attention. The ride is firm and bumps caught at speed can catch the Vanquish out, creating both chassis heave and some fairly substantial creaks from the interior trim. But it's still a hell of a thing.

There aren't many Vanquish manuals out there, certainly not as many as there probably should be. This is a bit of the market where originality is still prized and the combination of rising values, the limited miles covered by an average Vanquish and the full acknowledged fact that owners may well have grown to accept or even like the automated gearbox means few want to put their pride and joy through intrusive surgery.

But for a relatively small percentage of the value of even the cheapest Vanquish - around £15,000 depending on the exact spec of the car - it's a change that transforms the car. In the unlikely event I ever buy a Vanquish it will definitely have a gearstick.


ASTON MARTIN V12 VANQUISH S MANUAL
Engine
: 5,935cc V12
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 520@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 425@5,800rpm
0-62mph: 4.8 seconds (est.)
Top speed: 200mph+
Weight: 1,875kg (est)
MPG: 16.9 (est.)
CO2: 396g/km (est)
Price new: £174,000 + c.£15,000 for manual conversion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author
Discussion

ammark

Original Poster:

31 posts

76 months

Wednesday 9th August
quotequote all
You're right the plastics look pretty crappy inside. Still a good looking machine though.

Little typo I think here, "a non-trivial but of re-engineering"

Krikkit

10,343 posts

101 months

Wednesday 9th August
quotequote all
Fabulous machine, definitely worthy of hero status (perhaps that should be extended to the current V12V-S manual as well?).

That said, you guys didn't criticise the single-clutch in the current V12 that harshly in your review: https://www.pistonheads.com/news/ph-driven/aston-m...

Syndrome280

30 posts

31 months

Wednesday 9th August
quotequote all
I know the SMG box in the E46 M3 was always regarded as being a bit sh*t as were the early autos in the V8 Vantage, but the 7 speed graziano automated manual gearbox that was installed from 2011-ish onward was quite good from what I've heard, probably the same one mentioned in the V12 review.

TNH

464 posts

67 months

Wednesday 9th August
quotequote all
Still a stunning looking thing. I remember lusting after one of these as a teenager.

The Surveyor

4,642 posts

157 months

Wednesday 9th August
quotequote all
Regardless of the gearbox, that is absolutely stunning.
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aaron_2000

203 posts

3 months

Wednesday 9th August
quotequote all
I remember the article on here a while ago of the guy who swapped his Vanquish with a manual box, my thoughts haven't changed, this is still an awesome swap. The interior is quite dated as would be expected, but you could buy it on those looks alone.

FN2TypeR

3,324 posts

13 months

Wednesday 9th August
quotequote all
I got off lightly, though - a colleague ended up beaching a Vanquish on an Armco barrier after a particularly violent upshift broke traction on a wet road.

That old chesnut hehe

markcoznottz

3,926 posts

144 months

Wednesday 9th August
quotequote all
What gearbox did they use?

MarkM3Evoplus

204 posts

120 months

Wednesday 9th August
quotequote all
Gearbox is a Tremec T56 unit from memory.

The conversion is to add a clutch pedal & stick, as the car already has a clutch, the conversion just removes the paddles & automation.

I have driven a manual (stick) and one with paddles, and actually thought the paddles suited the car better.

The manual change had such a tight gate & short shift, it didn't feel right in a big GT, more suited to a little Caterham!

Whilst the single clutch paddle shift will never give instant changes like a current twin clutch, when properly set up (apparently AM struggled, hence the poor rep) it is quite sweet and you still feel involved, as a small lift off the throttle smooths the change.

Cheers,

Lowtimer

3,383 posts

88 months

Wednesday 9th August
quotequote all
Krikkit said:
F
That said, you guys didn't criticise the single-clutch in the current V12 that harshly in your review: https://www.pistonheads.com/news/ph-driven/aston-m...
Seems reasonable to assume that 12 years of software development since the Vanquish came out have had at least some benefits.

Still, a clutch pedal for me, please.

Filibuster

695 posts

135 months

Wednesday 9th August
quotequote all
I must be the only one who prefers the early dashboard design it seems.





The interior of the PH driven Vanquish seems to be neither of both tough confused
Oh, and the car is an absolut beast!! Surely one of my absolute dream cars and my favorite Aston after the DB4!!!

Alex Gurr

408 posts

167 months

Wednesday 9th August
quotequote all
MarkM3Evoplus said:
Gearbox is a Tremec T56 unit from memory.

The conversion is to add a clutch pedal & stick, as the car already has a clutch, the conversion just removes the paddles & automation.

I have driven a manual (stick) and one with paddles, and actually thought the paddles suited the car better.

The manual change had such a tight gate & short shift, it didn't feel right in a big GT, more suited to a little Caterham!

Whilst the single clutch paddle shift will never give instant changes like a current twin clutch, when properly set up (apparently AM struggled, hence the poor rep) it is quite sweet and you still feel involved, as a small lift off the throttle smooths the change.

Cheers,
I have driven this particular car and genuinely prefer the original gearbox. My car has had a new clutch and has been upgraded to the Vanquish S spec, but is absolutely fine once you learn to drive it properly. I don't enjoy it much in traffic and hill starts are still tricky, but learning to drive it properly is part of the joy.

In terms of all the other observations on the car, I couldn't agree more. It isn't a sports car, but it is a fantastic GT with huge character.

markcoznottz

3,926 posts

144 months

Wednesday 9th August
quotequote all
Alex Gurr said:
MarkM3Evoplus said:
Gearbox is a Tremec T56 unit from memory.

The conversion is to add a clutch pedal & stick, as the car already has a clutch, the conversion just removes the paddles & automation.

I have driven a manual (stick) and one with paddles, and actually thought the paddles suited the car better.

The manual change had such a tight gate & short shift, it didn't feel right in a big GT, more suited to a little Caterham!

Whilst the single clutch paddle shift will never give instant changes like a current twin clutch, when properly set up (apparently AM struggled, hence the poor rep) it is quite sweet and you still feel involved, as a small lift off the throttle smooths the change.

Cheers,
I have driven this particular car and genuinely prefer the original gearbox. My car has had a new clutch and has been upgraded to the Vanquish S spec, but is absolutely fine once you learn to drive it properly. I don't enjoy it much in traffic and hill starts are still tricky, but learning to drive it properly is part of the joy.

In terms of all the other observations on the car, I couldn't agree more. It isn't a sports car, but it is a fantastic GT with huge character.
+1. The way that fifth gear and top gear drove it was like a gt3/scuderia. Totally inappropriate. Average age of buyer when new must have been 50+, and no doubt they had a track tool at home in the garage.

V8LM

4,045 posts

129 months

Wednesday 9th August
quotequote all
Filibuster said:
I must be the only one who prefers the early dashboard design it seems.





The interior of the PH driven Vanquish seems to be neither of both tough confused
Oh, and the car is an absolut beast!! Surely one of my absolute dream cars and my favorite Aston after the DB4!!!
The older dash suits the manual conversion better as there is more room, less fiddling required.


Armen

245 posts

68 months

Wednesday 9th August
quotequote all
The Best thumbup

One thing I don't understand is that the engine bay picture shows a Vanquish (2001-2004 with 460 bhp) engine (the black cover on it) and not the S version (2004-2007 with 520 bhp).

The engine of the 2004-2007 Vanquish S is this one :




Then I remembered this video filmed by Aston Martin Works (Newport Pagnell, where the Vanquish was built between 2001 and 2007) :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFZ163jnIhY

I can confirm here that this car is NOT a Vanquish S but a Vanquish "460 bhp" upgraded to S specifications as the wheels (those were black in the video 2 years ago), the sport seats (except if it was an original Sport Dynamic Pack car), and certainly the suspension. Plus, esthetically the car gets the S specific front bumper with 6 horizontal strips (instead of 9 on the 460 bhp non-S) and the front splitter. At the rear, it also gets the S version trunk which has the 3rd stop light integrated (on the 460 bhp Vanquish it was behind the rear windscreen).

So, it is an original 2001-2004 460 bhp Vanquish upgraded to Vanquish S except for the engine.

I confirm that once the original gearbox is well set-up, it suits the car very well and is an absolute joy to drive (better in manual mode as the ASM automatic mode wears the clutch too quickly and is not pleasant).

A stunning beast... you should hear that Beast in a tunnel... still unbelievable especially with opened exhaust valves.

fph

14 posts

37 months

Wednesday 9th August
quotequote all
A conversion to a six speed torque converter gearbox is also available. A demo car was test driven in Vantage magazine.

There was a manual conversion car at Castle Coombe recently, the gear lever seemed very close to the centre console and the clutch pedle very tight in the foot well.

V8LM

4,045 posts

129 months

Wednesday 9th August
quotequote all
Armen said:
So, it is an original 2001-2004 460 bhp Vanquish upgraded to Vanquish S except for the engine.
I believe it one of the very first V12 Vanquish, now used by Works as a demonstrator and test bed.

Armen

245 posts

68 months

Wednesday 9th August
quotequote all
V8LM said:
I believe it one of the very first V12 Vanquish, now used by Works as a demonstrator and test bed.
Yes, curious to know the VIN...

By the way, Aston Martin Works offers the #0001 Vanquish for sale at £140,000 : http://www.astonmartinworks.com/approved-sales/ast...

38 000 miles - Skye Silver (the exterior color of the James Bond car in Die Another Day)





They also offer a MY2007 Vanquish S with 20 000 miles at £180,000 : http://www.astonmartinworks.com/approved-sales/ast...



... and a gorgeous MY2005 Vanquish S with only 7300 miles... beautiful Chiltern Green at £170,000 : http://www.astonmartinworks.com/approved-sales/ast...


DP33

108 posts

46 months

Wednesday 9th August
quotequote all
Lovely looking thing and hand built too: 0001 @ £140k feels like inordinate good value.

Would still want to tack on the manual box though - given that it's an Aston Works effort that wouldn't feel too much like an act of vandalism.

hondansx

2,556 posts

145 months

Wednesday 9th August
quotequote all
Yes, if i had another - and I'd like one - it would be off to Works for a manual conversion.

The gearbox is absolutely dire. You have to give it a big lift before an upshift and yet it still feels enormously crude, like you've sent a little hamster off to change gear for you. It disrupts what is otherwise fun driving experience; it belies it's weight and feels quite pointy. I used to enjoy drifting the S with it's long first gear. I mentioned in another thread that mine created loads of trouble and, fortunately under warranty, the gearbox was replaced under warranty but remained problematic.

They originally refused to do manual conversions as it involved cutting the carbon tub. Eventually they relented however. As described, it is relatively simply given it is a robotized manual to begin with.

I'm not sure if it was a different gearbox, but also had a DB7 V12 Vantage and the manual in that was great. I remember the demo car driven was a bit stodgy, but mine was fantastically short and direct.

Anyway, back to the Vanquish, they are incredibly good looking cars. You only appreciate they are the ultimate expression of the modern Aston 'look' when in the flesh. The modern cars pale in comparison, in my opinion. It also looks way more bespoke than the Ferrari 550 and it's iffy looking Supra-esque bonnet.