The top end of the British motor industry can be a very small place. It's a point made just after I turn south onto the B4100 at Gaydon. This is the well-sighted road that runs parallel to the M40 and is therefore normally pretty quiet. It's an obvious location to test this 21st century Vanquish given both the proximity to CALLUM's base in Warwick and the road's often challenging combinations of crests and bumps.
But its proximity to Aston's HQ and JLR's vast engineering and design centre means I'm never going to be short of company. First come a string of three new Defenders heading north, disguise suggesting they are an unseen new variant. Then, as I'm approaching a set of rising undulations near Kineton I know make most cars feel underdamped, a DBS Superleggera sweeps into view from the other direction, likely on the same sort of assessment mission that I am. There's just time to acknowledge a headlight flash and the glimpse of a waved hand before it blasts past, its engine inaudible over the muscular note of the CALLUM's V12. It's Vanquishing Point.
Beyond the warm glow from meeting a special car, the sight of the DBS raises another relevant question - the one of cold, hard cash. Neglect to haggle and you can get a brand new Superleggera coupe for £225,000. A CALLUM Vanquish 25 is £450,000, but that's before the cost of a donor car or VAT. Factor both of those in and you're looking at something over £600,000 - for a car that went out of production 13 years ago. Even by the irrational standards of the senior sports car segment that makes it an emotion-led purchase.
Yet even for those of us who don't have 'nice house' piles of cash set aside for our indulgent automotive splurges, it's impossible not to see the appeal of the reimagined Vanquish. This is the car that proved Ian Callum, then Aston's youngish design boss, was one of the leading talents of his generation of automotive pen-squigglers; one subsequently proved by a career that includes many exceptionally handsome cars. Vanquish values have been increasing for several years and it looks likely that history will view it as one of the most significant Astons and, ultimately, price it accordingly. So why wouldn't you want one that has been reimagined and updated by the man himself?
CALLUM engineering boss Adam Donfrancesco makes another interesting point when I go to pick the car up. "For many of the buyers it's not a case of 'either-or'," he explains, "they are getting one in addition to an existing Vanquish. They love the original car, but they want something a bit more special and more modern as well."
Indeed, that's pretty much how the project started. Having bought a Vanquish S on the basis that he didn't own any of his more famous back catalogue, Ian Callum started to think about giving it - as he puts it - "the facelift it never had."
Things escalated from there and the finished project ended up being considerably more complex. Donfrancesco says that around a quarter of buyers are providing their own donor car, with the rest leaving it up to CALLUM to source one. These are then disassembled and fully rebuilt with numerous new parts and what is effectively a fresh interior. That means new bumpers, sill protectors, mirrors and lights. All of which has come at considerable cost. "I think our first quote for making the custom taillights was half a million quid," says Donfrancesco. "I asked Ian 'do we really need to do this?' and he said yes, but we did find a cheaper way."
Up close the reality does look pretty stunning, especially in the Roxanne Red that the demonstrator has been finished in. "Red has always been one of my favourite colours," Callum explains when I catch up by phone a few days later, "but I was rarely allowed to use it at Aston or Jaguar because it wasn't considered to be 'on brand'." The vivid hue gives a sense of a video game come to life, one exacerbated by the crispness of the shutlines - much tighter than I remember from the production Vanquish.
Changes to the cabin are more substantive. Callum never liked the Vanquish's interior and the new car doesn't just get posher trim - although that is present - so much as a full remodelling. The carbonfibre centre console is all new and has a far more natural angle than the slabby original; the Jaguar XK heating and ventilation controls have also been banished. Even door cards and door pulls have been changed, with subtle use of the 'deconstructed tartan' of the original show car. There's a mechanical watch mounted at the top of the dashboard, made by Bremont. The same company has redesigned the instruments, although with strange etched shading on the speedo and rev counter that makes it predictably hard to see the obscured parts. One box I wouldn't tick.
But today is meant to be about driving more than looking, a demonstration that Donfrancesco and his small team have wrought some substantive changes to the aged Vanquish. The most obvious difference is the one sitting at the base of the dashboard, the demonstrator having the same manual gearbox conversion that Aston Martin Works has been offering as an approved upgrade for some time. Donfrancesco says early CALLUM buyers have been split between this and the six-speed GM torque converter auto that it is also offering - and the first customer opted to keep the snappy single clutch transmission the car was built with.
The manual 'box brings a heavy clutch pedal and a weighty shift action that requires careful aim to find the right gear. Not that accurate selection is especially important given both the potency of the 6.0-litre V12 and its willingness to pull cleanly from basement revs without hesitancy, if not a great deal of enthusiasm south of 2,000rpm. But beyond that it turns impressively bristly, snarling towards the red line and sounding much more muscular that the standard Vanquish thanks to a well-tuned exhaust note. It's quick, too - as in, properly 2020 quick - with the new induction system, exhaust and top end tweaks having taken output to a serious 580hp.
Yet the Vanquish's age is also evident in some areas. Loping along the M40 there's more wind noise than would be normal these days and the seating position feels high, even though it has been lowered from the original car. Suspension settings also feel soft initially, and the instinctive search for the switch that will stiffen adaptive dampers is in vain - like the original, the CALLUM Vanquish's suspension is entirely passive.
While the new car's ride has a pliancy that the ur-Vanquish lacked, it isn't short on discipline. The tricky section of B4100 I met the DBS on proves the point, the new Bilstein dampers allowing enough wheel travel to take the edge off the dips and compressions, but stopping the sort of secondary heave that normally comes with such pliancy. Suspension changes include a modest 10mm drop in ride height but a 60mm increase in track, the anti-roll bars are stiffer and all bushes have been changed. The wheels look very similar to those of the original car, but at 20 inches they have an inch more diameter.
Donfrancesco later explains that the development team tried firmer springs, but these were asking too much of the Vanquish's structural strength. Hence the importance of damper tuning as well as a multitude of other tweaks. The idea, he says, was to make the CALLUM breathe with the road rather than try to fight it; something it really seems to do.
The other dynamic change becomes apparent under harder use. The narrower-rimmed steering wheel is bristling with feedback and the CALLUM generates impressive grip, but also surrenders this much more progressively than the original car did. The Vanquish's transition from grip to slip could be a sudden one, especially if the robo-gearbox banged in an unexpected change when loaded up. The new car hangs on harder on its Michelin Pilot Sport tyres and doesn't feel snappy as the limits approach, or even get breached. Something which is pretty easy to do at lower speeds as the old-fashioned traction control is pretty dull witted and seems to only intervene once the rear axle has started to slide. The Aston-sourced carbon-ceramic brakes are also a useful upgrade, banishing the fade a hard-used original Vanquish was prone to and with good pedal feel. As with design, the CALLUM's dynamics haven't been completely transformed, rather updated and improved.
The market for any £600,000 restomod is always going to be a limited one. But the fact that R-Reforged has already managed to sell a good percentage of the 25 CALLUM cars proves there is proper demand from those with both deep pockets and an appreciation for a reimagined version of a car that is already most of its way to classichood.
Not that either CALLUM the business, or Callum the man, are planning to just do a series of greatest hits. "I want to produce something more than a revamped car, and not just a remix of my own albums," Callum says, "this is a one-off and a stepping stone to something bigger."
As the global car industry enters its emissions-enforced Age of Sensible it seems certain that we'll be seeing much more of this type of thing: we've got more emotionally-intensive internal combustion cars behind us than in our collective future. Beyond confirming that the next CALLUM project is going to be with a modern car, Callum won't say more. It certainly won't be boring.
SPECIFICATION | 2021 R-REFORGED CALLUM VANQUISH 25
Engine: 5,935cc V12
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive (this car; six-speed auto also available)
Power (hp): 580@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): TBC
0-60mph: 4.2 second (est)
Top speed: 200mph+
Weight: 1900kg (est)
Price: £540,000 (including VAT), plus donor Vanquish S
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