If, as Socrates reckoned, contentment is natural wealth and luxury is artificial poverty, then the Aston Martin V12 Speedster is very luxurious indeed. This pared-back roadster does without a roof, windows, or even a windshield, the last omission being the most obvious when driving it in England while trying to avoid frequent rain showers.
As with the similarly naked Ferrari Monza and McLaren Elva, the V12 Speedster is designed for those in search of something truly different. We imagine the sort of affluent collectors who already have garages filled with fully glazed exotica. Inspiration for its design was drawn from Aston’s DBR1, which is high in the running for the title of best-looking race car of the 1950s. The Speedster also bears a more-than-passing resemblance to the CC100 one-off that Aston built to celebrate its centennial in 2013. The company’s current design director Miles Nurnberger oversaw the creation of both that car and the Speedster. He also cites some influences from the One-77 in the latter’s swoopy carbon-fiber bodywork.
Underneath the V12 Speedster is a version of the Vantage roadster’s bonded aluminium chassis, along with most of the front-end structure of the DBS Superleggera grafted on to accommodate the extra bulk of its twin-turbocharged 5.2-liter V-12 engine. The car we drove was a late-development prototype but one we were told was representative of the cars that customers will receive later this year, each one priced at the equivalent of about $950,000.
Practicality was predictably low on the V12 Speedster’s list of design priorities. Luggage space is limited to pods behind the seats that are sized to transport helmets. There is also a removeable leather bag where the glovebox would normally be. More surprising is the presence of a full climate-control system and even the Vantage’s infotainment suite. Our drive took place close to both Aston’s engineering center at the Silverstone race circuit and the company’s Gaydon headquarters some 25 miles away. This quickly proved that the best efforts of the car’s heater and audio system were quickly overwhelmed by the buffeting slipstream at any speed beyond 40 mph.
More surprising was the lack of engine noise. Aston’s V-12s have long been some of the planet’s finest sounding internal-combustion powerplants, and at low speeds it can be heard purring and rasping in the way we’ve reveled in before. But at speed the V-12’s growl is almost entirely swept away, with only the hardest use producing an exhaust note that can get past the rushing airflow and the padding of a helmet. Driving without head protection improved things a bit, but bystanders are still likely to get greater aural enjoyment from this car than its pilot.
The Speedster’s V-12 has also been retuned at the insistence of Aston’s new CEO, Tobias Moers, who disliked the DBS Superleggera’s abrupt power delivery when he initially drove one after taking control of the company. The Speedster develops slightly less horsepower than the DBS—690 ponies to the Superleggera’s 715—and substantially less torque, with the new peak of 555 pound-feet arriving at a much higher 5000 rpm. (Aston quotes 664 pound-feet at 1800 rpm for the DBS.) The result is a car that feels less savage than Aston’s other V-12-powered models but with cleaner low-speed throttle response and significantly improved traction. The V12 Speedster’s other chassis settings are also softer than those of the Vantage roadster. This is more the result of how Aston figures Speedster buyers will want their cars to behave than from any structural weaknesses of the car. Aston’s special vehicles head David King says the Speedster is as rigid as the Vantage.
Ride quality is impressively pliant, even with the adaptive dampers in their firmest Sport Plus mode, and the Speedster’s body control is excellent when tackling bumpy and heavily cambered roads at high speeds. There’s good weight and feel to the steering, and although its front-end responses felt less sharp than in the Vantage, the Speedster’s Pirelli P Zero summer tires generate huge amounts of grip. Standard carbon-ceramic brakes seem like overkill for a car that will probably rarely be driven flat-out, but they deliver strong deceleration and didn’t grumble under gentle use.
The Speedster is best thought of as the equivalent of a fairing-free naked motorcycle. Performance likely will only be exploited in small doses; faster straights are to be endured more than enjoyed. But corners make it feel truly special, with the rushing airflow increasing the sense of both speed and the driver’s connection to the road. Visibility proved unsurprisingly excellent, with the Speedster revealing how the pillars and windshield frames of conventional roadsters limit their outward view even with their roofs stowed.
Such an unencumbered perspective proved to be a benefit as the English weather closed in on us, as we were able spot and track approaching rain clouds and even take evasive action. Well, mostly. Having weaved successfully around several heavy showers, the Speedster got caught in an unavoidable deluge a couple of miles from the end of our journey. A conventional roadster might have been able to maintain some dryness in such situations through steady forward progress, but the Aston confirmed this is only possible with a functional windshield. Fortunately, its cabin was undamaged by the soaking.
It was a useful reminder of just how eccentric this striking piece of English automotive sculpture is. The lack of a windshield means the V12 Speedster won’t be officially sold for road use in the United States, although Aston says it is working with American buyers seeking to import it under show-and-display regulations. Those buyers surely will have plenty of alternative means of transportation for when the weather turns foul, but the exclusive draw of the V12 Speedster is undeniable. Act fast and you may be able to secure one of your own. Aston says a few of the 88 examples to be built are still available.
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