With 568 British horsepower it’s quite appropriate I should pay a visit to Her Majesty’s stud. Driving down Kings Avenue towards the Sandringham Estate I spotted the stables to the right, a big ‘ER’ embedded in the brickwork, and swung my Aston Martin through the open gate. Within seven seconds a royal protection officer arrived and I held my hands up in apology. He told me I could avoid the Tower of London “only because you’ve got an Aston” and let me go on my way.
This is undoubtedly the real world advantage that Aston Martin has over every other supercar builder. Maybe you can get away with murder in a Ferrari in Italy, but only Italy. Everyone else thinks you’re an intolerable show-off, but if you drive an Aston you’re James Bond, you have taste and restraint, and you’re welcome on the Queen’s property. Or welcome-ish, at least.
People smile when you pass by. They let you out of turns. They come up to you in the car park and congratulate you on such a beautiful addition to the tarmac. That doesn’t happen with a Lamborghini. Lambos instil a different kind of envy, and not a pretty one.
My Vanquish is Morning Frost white, and it’s a Volante, meaning at the touch of a button the electric roof nestles snuggly between the rear seats and the boot (it takes 14 seconds). Its 6.0 V12 gives a feral bark when you slide the crystal key into the dashboard. The styling is, I would argue, the most handsome of any car on sale today. It’s a very easy car to fall in love with, and a very difficult one to give back.
I’d suffered that sense of longing twice in a month having a few weeks earlier handed back the key to another Aston, the DB9GT, this one in black, with black leather seats: my Aston Martin Yin and Yang. The DB9GT is the final hurrah for a car that was first launched in 2004. During those 12 years the design has hardly changed yet it still looks damn near perfect. Two Astons in the same month. Somebody somewhere must have made a mistake; a glorious, glorious mistake. Because of all the £200,000 cars I’ve driven in recent years, from the Ferrari F12 to the Rolls-Royce Dawn, an Aston Martin is the only one I can imagine myself living with.
As with all of these stunning machines, one wants to take the car somewhere suitable and make sure your mates see it. So, with two weekends to fill I set about ticking the boxes. Harking back to my school daydreams, I took the DB9GT to my alma mater in Dorset, Bryanston. Country roads: tick. Imposing building to photograph the car in front of: tick. Sense of vindication after all these years: tick. For at least 72 hours, I had an Aston. Jeremy Irons was one of the parents when I was at ‘Bry’ and he drove an Appletree Green DB7. God, how I lusted after this car whenever I saw it parked up on the playing fields. Unfortunately Mr Irons wasn’t quite so endearing. He used to correct us all on our grammar, which we hated. Still, he probably helped shape my taste in automobiles.
Next up, I set the sat nav for Goodwood Racecourse for ‘Opening Saturday’. I’ve been reading a lot of PG Wodehouse recently and Bertie Wooster and his chums are forever talking about heading down to the races in the Lagonda for a bit of a flutter. It sounded like a perfect setting for this 21st century relative and an excuse to wear tweed and brightly coloured trousers. I was somewhat perturbed, therefore, to find that while people at Goodwood embrace the dressing up, it’s turned into one massive stag do. I lost count of the number of bachelor and hen groups I spotted, with their sashes and inflatable penises. I retreated, £60 down.
Another box to tick when driving a supercar is the celebrity haunt appearance. If you show up in a shiny new Aston Martin that velvet rope will unclip without question. Having picked up my dinner date, a costume designer from Paris, I arrived at my target: the Chiltern Firehouse. One paparazzo came over to show me some photos he’d taken of a DB11, the car that will replace the DB9 later this year. While he was distracted, Christiano Ronaldo snuck into the restaurant behind him.
With the DB9GT, Aston has saved the best till last. The design might be 12 years old, but it’s improved constantly and feels nothing less than current. At £140,000 the price has risen steadily but so has the power and capability. Its naturally aspirated 6.0 V12 produces 540bhp and shoots from standing to 62 in 4.5 seconds, topping out at 183mph. All respectable stuff, and packaged so handsomely. The DB11 has very big driving shoes to fill.
With the DB9GT returned to Gaydon, Aston’s Warwickshire factory, my spirits were once again lifted by an invitation to a classic Aston auction, hosted by Bonhams on the site of the marque’s previous factory in Newport Pagnell, which produced their most storied and celebrated machines from 1958 until its closure in 2007. Around 13,300 cars, including Sean Connery’s DB5 and Prince Charles’ DB6 Volante, rolled off the line here without a robot in sight. Sadly, most of the original buildings have been bulldozed, but there is now a showroom and heritage servicing and restoration facility in their place.
Aston lent me a Vanquish for the trip to Buckinghamshire and beyond, and I offered the passenger seat to the biggest Aston fan I know, my mother. Actually she invited herself, but I went along with it. She declared the pearlescent Vanquish the most beautiful car I have ever blagged.
It costs a fiver under £200,000, not least because of its weight-saving carbon-fibre body. Zero to 60 comes in 3.8 seconds thanks to 568 horses. Top speed is 197mph, so just missing out on the 200 threshold that the coupe is able to cross. But with the roof down, it feels way faster.
Following lunch with some of the world’s foremost classic car collectors, we were summoned to take our seats on the front row at the auction. The earliest car on sale was a 1953 DB2/4 Mark 1 Drophead which had been owned by the daughter of Aston’s head honcho at the time, David Brown. It went for slightly above the estimate, at £290,000. The newest was a future classic, a 2007 Vanquish S like the one Bond drove in Die Another Day and, at £72,000, a coupe likely to appreciate. But there were signs the market is hesitating. Classic car prices have soared over the last decade to almost unsustainable levels and, as many observers at the auction noted, the threat of a Brexit may be causing some collectors to sit on their hands until 23rd June. Several cars, particularly from the desirable 1960s DB5 and DB6 era, didn’t meet their reserves.
The star car was the 1953 DB3S, the most beautiful British racing car of that decade, which had been owned by David Brown and raced by luminaries Sir Stirling Moss, Peter Collins, Tony Brooks, Roy Salvadori, Reg Parnell and Graham Hill. The estimate was £6-7m but it went for £5m, causing some tension among the auctioneers. I actually thought a fight might break out between one of the spotters and a man taking bids over the phone. Despite the slight dip in demand, I didn’t hesitate to needle my mother over a potential fortune she once overlooked. You see in 1993 she took me to the Classic & Sportscar show, where we set eyes on the most gorgeous DB4 you have ever seen. It was freshly restored, turquoise, and had once been owned by DB himself – the guv’nor Mr Brown. The sticker price in 1993 – £60,000. Please could we buy it, I implored. Sell the house. It would be worth it. Too much money, I was told, and by Jove did I sulk.
Imagine what that car would be worth today. £600,000? £1m? More? Quite probably. “You couldn’t expect me to take financial advice from a 12-year-old,” my mother protests. Well, if she had, she could afford a fleet of Vanquishes now. Instead, she was chauffeured in one for a weekend up to Bucks and Norfolk. That’s still a hell of a treat, though.