As the speedo arced past 130mph, it suddenly stuck me that the approaching right-handed kink, which on every previous visit to Aston’s Gaydon test track I’d regarded as a benign sort of crooked straight, had rapidly turned into a bona fide corner, the kind of obstacle for which you must lose speed or regret it.
Yet we did not slow. Instead, the velocity of our Aston Martin One-77 kept rising at a rate I dimly calculated was more than quite spirited cars can manage below 60mph. This kink was about to turn into a crisis.
Luckily, I remember thinking, the track was very wide: we could take a line. This, as the relentless acceleration continued, provided a second or two’s comfort. Then, right at the jaws of the bend, we stopped accelerating and I glanced again at the speedo – now just short of 160mph. A smooth suggestion of right lock and the car began to corner hard, then harder. Under what were now mighty cornering forces, it refused to roll, staying mysteriously, immaculately on line.
Dimly, over the vocal V12, I was aware of Pirelli scuffing well-worn bitumen for maybe five or six seconds: this kink was now a long bend. Then we were straight and accelerating strongly again, back on the power and heading for 200mph (we managed 192) until it was time for the carbon-ceramic pads to grab their discs and wash off 150mph in a couple of hundred yards so that we could negotiate the 180deg hairpin not far ahead. In the rush I missed much detail, but there was just time to note that my driver, Chris Porritt, chief engineer of the One-77 programme and a quality wheelman, had made his last gearchange, fifth to sixth, at a cool 180mph. We were in a potent car.
I had known all along that this was going to be an extraordinary day. Today, I was to do what no hack in Europe had so far managed: get my backside into the £1.4 million Aston One-77. The car is considered so exclusive that the company principal, Ulrich Bez, had decreed that no stranger would so much as ride in it until the 77-strong customer body had bought its cars, lest they be tainted or discouraged by something they read in the press.
Even today there would be no driving, but I was being offered the next best thing: a ride on the limit with the guy who had been involved in this car’s creation from the beginning, who knew, and could justify, its every design and engineering feature, and who could handle its 7.3-litre, 750bhp potential with an aplomb I was never going to acquire in a mere day at the wheel. Or a month…
When the car was commissioned roughly four years ago, says Porritt, the One-77 team was given two clear goals. First, it was to build the best, fastest, most technically advanced and most radical Aston the company could create, almost without regard to cost. Second, it was to investigate design routes and key technology that Aston might use in its next-generation models.
The One-77 recipe might herald from four years ago, but it could have been written today. For the familiar sheet aluminium VH platform of your existing models, substitute a race-style, hand-laid carbonfibre chassis tub of the utmost rigidity. Combine structures in honeycomb-reinforced carbon and aluminium at the extremities to carry the suspension and transaxle (rear) and the suspension and engine (front), and protect them with deformable ‘crash cans’. Use your existing forged suspension wishbones – because they’re good – but devise a new inboard mounting system for the race-quality spring and damper units that will allow the bonnet, and thus the whole car, to be lower, while also reducing unsprung mass.
Clothe your chassis with handmade aluminium panels using a bonding process created by Airbus for aeroplanes. Create the car’s many metal parts (suspension pick-ups, bell cranks, engine mounts, bracketry) by machining most of them from aluminium billet. Then send your 48-valve V12 engine to Cosworth for a makeover that includes expansion to 7.3 litres (by boring and stroking) and a power hike, telling them not to give it back until it can make more than 700bhp and weighs 10 per cent less. Then rejoice when it comes back punching out a reliable 750bhp – with 553lb ft of torque – and weighs not 10 but 15 per cent less, because they’ve eliminated the old-tech shrunk-in cylinder liners in favour of a spray-on coating for the bores.