The car windscreen was pioneered in the first decade of the 20th century and immediately went to the top of most buyers' lists of must-have features. The clue was in the name: rushing air is cold, loud and able to carry rain and road debris at painful velocities. A transparent shield offered a much more user-friendly solution to the previous combination of Biggles goggles and a leather flying cap.
Yet more than 110 years later I'm in the prototype version of a car with a three-quarters-of-a-million quid pricetag wearing Dick Dastardly eyewear and being blasted by an untamed slipstream. I'm also glancing anxiously at leaden skies glowering above Northamptonshire as I leave Aston's engineering centre in Silverstone for a two-hour drive. The V12 Speedster also lacks a roof or any other meaningful weather protection beyond that provided by whatever clothing you are wearing.
So it's not hard to pick holes in the V12 Speedster's usability. But that would miss the point. This is not a car so much as a spectacular bit of automotive sculpture, one that would look as exotic and otherworldly at the snootier end of the Cote d' Azur in high summer as it does on the B4525 in late spring, although the latter location comes with a much higher risk of being drenched.
Inspiration for the V12 Speedster came from the DBR1 that must be high in the running for the best-looking race car of the late 1950s, and with a glittering competition history that included overall victory in the 1959 Le Mans 24 Hours. But the Speedster also owes a fair bit to the similarly screenless CC100 that Aston built as a one-off to celebrate its centenary in 2013. (Design director Miles Nurnberger also admits to some One-77 details.) Underneath the new car sits on a heavily reworked Vantage Roadster chassis, with this having been grafted to most of the DBS's front end to accommodate a 690-hp version of Aston's twin-turbocharged 5.2-litre V12.
This engine doesn't fit in the current Vantage, which is why Nurnberger's team came up with the bonnet's raised intake to liberate an extra 80mm of space for it. Bodywork is carbon fibre and it looks jaw-dropping from every angle I could find, with the rear incorporating a raised spoiler and individual storage pods behind each seat, these hiding the roll-over protection system and giving just enough room to accommodate a pair of helmets in glazed compartments. Together with the fitted leather bag that replaces the glove compartment, these are the only stowage space.
So not a car for a trip to Ikea, then. But while the exterior is pure show, the interior will be more familiar to anyone who has sat in a recent Aston. Switchgear and componentry has been reshuffled slightly when compared to the Vantage, with the Speedster's infotainment screen moved down to make way for the spar that runs between the seats. There are some millionaire-grade features too, including milled metal air vent surrounds. But much is shared, and the big surprise in this production-close prototype version is that the heating and ventilation system have made the transition, as has the audio system.
It doesn't take longer than joining the A43 to realise how superfluous both those features will be for anything other than low speed trundling. Even with the climate set to hot and the fan on full the heat it produces is sucked instantly into the chilly slipstream, and I can't hear the radio even with the volume all the way up.
More surprising is that it is also hard to listen to the engine. The V12 purrs and rasps as it should at low speeds, and it doubtless throwing out some fruity harmonics as velocity increases. But once travelling at more than a mile a minute the noise is almost entirely lost to the driver, with only a real assault on the red part of the rev counter producing an exhaust note capable of penetrating the noise of rushing air and helmet padding.
Performance is huge, but never savage. The V12 Speedster has a much more laid-back power delivery than the rest of the company's sportscar range. Aston claims a 3.5-second 0-62mph time, which the Speedster could doubtless achieve. But even pushing the prototype hard produced little sense of the oversteery handling balance common to the company's more potent rear-drivers.
That is down to both more relaxed chassis settings, but also the fact the Speedster is the first car to get a retuned version of the twin-turbocharged V12. This is the engine that new CEO Tobias Moers described as being close to undriveable when he first experienced its abrupt power delivery, and it has been retuned to make less torque and so that boost no longer arrives with the suddenness of a police raid. Now there are a couple of beats of pause after a big throttle application as torque builds, and from then on the prototype just seems to grip and go. Traction stayed near-total even on damp surfaces, and the Speedster felt much less back-endy than the rest of the range, even with its stability control switched to its more permissive Sport mode.
Not that the Speedster will ever be a relaxed motorway cruiser. Even with ambient air temperature just in double digits the 70mph battering started to feel cold and painful after a few minutes. Aston hasn't tried to do something similar to the McLaren Elva's clever flap-and-duct 'active air management system.' It has a small motorsport type aero 'flip' to divert the flow upwards, but this does little to diminish the slipstream. The reaction of other road users on seeing what must look like an escaped motorshow concept is worth the discomfort, but if I was going to drive the Speedster again I'd definitely pick a full-face helmet instead of the retro one I had on the day.
It's on slower and quieter roads that the Speedster starts to make sense. Think of it as a muscular naked motorbike and you've pretty much got it: it can go fast, but only in short blasts. On roads with corners tight and frequent enough to keep speeds down the lack of protection definitely increases the sensation of velocity and the sense of connection. The prototype's chassis was impressively pliant, even with the adaptive dampers turned to their firmest setting. It stayed disciplined over some properly challenging high-speed bumps, including one near Gaydon I know from previous experience that the DBS doesn't like. Carbon-ceramic brakes might seem like overkill for something unlikely to be driven flat-out for long periods, but they bit hard and tirelessly and didn't grumble when applied from cold or used gently.
It didn't take long for the absence of protection from the elements to become a game. The Speedster's lack of pillars or a windscreen rail creates a far greater sense of all-round visibility than you would get in even a roof-folded roadster, this giving a perspective that made it easy to track approaching rainclouds, and then alter my course to try and dodge them. A misjudgement saw me catch the edge of a heavy shower near Kineton. But after realising that parking under an overhanging tree didn't offer any discernible shelter I opted to retreat the way I'd come and actually managed to outrun the downpour. The feeling of slightly damp smugness lasted nearly as far as Silverstone when, within sight of the circuit, the heavens opened in an unavoidable deluge and both the Speedster and I got absolutely soaked.
I returned to Aston's engineering centre as sodden proof that the V12 Speedster stands at the outer edge of English eccentricity, especially when driven outside its comfort zone of somewhere warm and dry. Yet this doesn't actually diminish the appeal of such an unashamed indulgence. For almost all buyers, the Speedster will sit alongside numerous windscreen-equipped alternatives. And on the days it does get to go out it will offer a different experience to almost anything else. Unless they also have a Ferrari Monza SP2 or a McLaren Elva in the collection, of course. But to introduce a jarring sensible note, the V12 Speedster is cheaper and more exclusive than either of those alternatives, with Aston saying almost all of the limited 88 production run is now spoken for.
The Speedster is utterly mad, but also hugely desirable.
SPECIFICATION | ASTON MARTIN V12 SPEEDSTER
Engine: 5204cc V12, twin-turbocharged
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 700 @ 6500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 555 @ TBC rpm
Top speed: 186mph
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