The history of Aston Martin is nothing if not eventful. In just the past 30 years we've had the Ford takeover, the DB7 rescuing it from the brink (1995 was a record year of 700 sales), the VH architecture of the early 2000s, the construction of the Gaydon factory, the consortium buyout in 2007, the closure of Newport Pagnell, the Rapide, Investindustrial, the Andy Palmer era, the Second Century plan, St Athan... and the IPO. And that's before saying anything about Mercedes' recent involvement.
With the next few years and the push towards electrification crucial for survival, access to a repository of Mercedes hybrid bits and bobs will surely prove invaluable. Or rather, worth about 20 per cent equity. Let's call it a vital agreement. But Aston is certainly going to have to change with it. Expect some things to fall by the wayside as it plots a way back to profitability.
With that in mind, what better time to pause and consider the highlights of Aston's recent past. Goodness knows there's plenty of them! Obviously Mercedes deeper involvement doesn't preclude the introduction of many more - indeed, we're counting on it being a regular occurrence - but there is something wonderfully nonconformist about the way Aston has gone about its business in the last decade. Let's hope some newfound and much needed stability doesn't stamp that out completely.
There's not loads in the Aston back catalogue which really gets me swooning, but the the Vantages of the 1990s are a different matter. Brutishly handsome, monstrously powerful and obscenely profligate, it's a proper guilty pleasure. That something so heavy could keep up (in a straight line, at least) with vehicles so much lighter and so much more ostensibly focused always made me smile, the Vantage's speed both incongruous and immensely entertaining to witness. Then again, twin-supercharging an enormous V8 will tend to benefit performance...
Given this is Buy Hard, I'm not choosing just any old Vantage, either - it's a V600 Le Mans. The farewell salute for an Aston icon, the Vantage departed as the 21st century loomed in the only way it possibly could: with even more power, and even more attitude. 40 were commissioned in 1999 to mark 40 years since Aston's Le Mans win, marked out a new grille and side vents to evoke the DBR1. Oh yes, and 600 horsepower. Plus the necessary braking and suspension tweaks to keep some kind of a lid on that rampant V8 hellfire.
This V600 is number 11, painted in Aston Racing Green and with 18,000 miles recorded since its first registration in 2000. The paint is complemented by Magnolia leather and Burr Walnut, plus the notable original equipment - a torch and a Michelin map with the route marked out to Le Mans - is still there. It is, in a word, sensational, the pinnacle of a caddish, charming era for the brand and a car I've loved dearly for 20 years. Which is probably why you'll now need £400,000 for one...
Since Matt's gone for a ludicrously expensive V600, I've gone for something much more attainable. A £300k GT12. As just one of 100, it's got the rarity thing going for it, but they could have made a million and my pulse would still rocket at the prospect of the last-gen Vantage chassis and 5.9-litre V12 combined. Even when it's as ostentatiously dressed as this. The GT12 was a mix of GT3 know-how and last-gen Aston physicality; speed and character squished into one OTT package. I loved it then and love it even more now.
Ok, so the inclusion of a robotised manual gearbox meant it could never be perfect. But somehow, thanks to the growing excitement of an orchestral twelve-cylinder that begs to be revved, this somewhat clunky transmission goes with the old school charm of the GT12 experience. And it's all honest; none of the character has been 'tuned in'. The GT12 goes about its business organically.
I shan't ignore the fact the car has a certain rose tint to it now, what with it using Gaydon's old 5.9-litre block - which in the GT12 produced its 600hp at 7,000rpm. This was felt like a 'sod it, let's go to eleven' project as part of the engine's planned retirement, as well as an excuse to pinch chassis hardware and settings from the brand's successful GT3 machinery. The finished, 185mph product was launched in the final year before AMG hardware went into Astons, starting with the 2016 DB11, too. So it's the culmination of many things.
But most of all, it's just brutish, hairs-on-your-chest Aston Martin. They don't make 'em like this anymore because they can't; that chapter is very much closed. Which is why when it comes to the barely drive example I've picked from the classifieds, I'd recommend catapulting it into regular use. This is an era of Aston Martin very much worth celebrating, over and over again.
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