Automotive : driving work of art.

I love cars since, well… Since I was born, almost. Because cars are like us. They are human creations : imperfect, yet so desirable. I love cars because they have a story to tell. And that story is never just black and white, it’s full of colours, full of beautiful anecdotes. I always defined cars as « driving work of art », because although they all seem the same, each one is different. Back in march 2010, being 19 years old, I remember it was basically the first time I fell in love with a car. That car was the Aston Martin V12 Vantage. So please let me introduce you to what I shall name my automotive dream girl, and especially the car in my family since August 2011. Text : Mickael B. © Images : Aston Martin, Mickael B., All Rights Reserved ©

Part 1 : History of the V12 Vantage

Let’s get back to 2003. I was just 14 years old, and my favorite automotive brand was presenting one of their most beautiful masterpiece ever : the Aston Martin AMV8 Concept at the North American International Auto Show, Detroit. I don’t really know why I started to like Aston Martin more than other brands, but my father who liked them too, and a certain James Bond might have been the two key factors. I saw first the AMV8 on pictures in one of my automotive magazines, before a first taste at the 2004 Geneva Motorshow. It was stunning, designed by Henrik Fisker, and was signing Aston Martin’s coming back to the V8s sports cars. Finally Aston Martin, which was owned at the time by Ford, was launching a car that could compete with the Porsche 911 !


A year later, when it was launched in its final form, the design had not much changed, which was very good, but Aston had chosen a german-assembled 380 horsepower 4.3 litre V8 to be mounted in the Vantage at their new Gaydon plant. This engine was missing torque at slow regimes, and as the V8 Vantage was quite heavy, with a weight of 1630 kilograms, it couldn’t really keep up with the 911 in terms of performance and driving dynamism. Available with both a 6 speed manual gearbox or automatic with flappy paddles on the steering wheel, the automatic never really worked properly especially when changing gears with the paddle, as it was very slow. Thanks though to its entry level price, its astonishing design, its distinguished interior finition and the amazing roar of the engine, it was enough for the V8 to be a commercial success, which wouldn’t have been possible without the new Gaydon factory.

The loss of the Newport Pagnell factory broke our hearts. But the new Gaydon factory bound our wounds.

Aston Martin purists will always say that the real Aston were made back at Newport Pagnell, and it is true. This was the time were Astons were delicate, almost fragile, machines that were entirely handcrafted by the same men for many years. It was the ideal factory when customers were fortunate enough to choose every single detail of their cars. It wouldn’t be possible anymore with all the new safety and electronic features that the new regulations impose, and at a time when customers want easy and sports cars, two words which should never be associated together. The Gaydon factory was built to modernize the old image of Aston Martin, proving that the small english brand could get to the level of other big automotive companies, building more reliable cars, using the latest technology available, and building them faster, using computer-aided equipments. Most of the purists were very afraid of this transformation Ford had decided for Aston, afraid the brand would lose its special heart and soul, a bit like Audi ripped off the Lamborghini spirit. Looking at the results it had, and especially that none of the Aston soul was lost throughout the process, all have to admit it may have saved the brand back then.

V8_VantageThe Gaydon factory offered Aston Martin the possibility to produce almost 2000 V8 Vantages a year, a number that the british manufacturer didn’t want to increase to let the V8 be an exclusive and desired product. In 2008 though, one important modification was adopted, with the change from the 4.3 to the 4.7 litre V8, which solved the torque and power problem, with a peak of 420 horsepower and 470 Nm. Among other changes was the introduction of the ECU – Emotional Control Unit – the key unit in piano black and sapphire, a new center console and new seats directly issued from the DBS, which was Aston Martin’s flagship at that time. So finally the V8 Vantage was getting what it deserved : a better engine, and an even better trimmed interior. The automatic gearbox was not changed though, and was still ludicrously slow.

One of the best automotive recipes : big engine, small body.

This same year, in 2008, I was getting 18 years old, which meant I could have my driving license. And as every 18 years old man, I was dreaming of the cars I wanted to drive, like the V8 Vantage. But Aston Martin came up with an even bigger surprise that year. They had presented in December 2007 to a few customers and enthusiasts the V12 Vantage RS. Based on the V8 Vantage’s chassis, this concept-car was the concretization of a great idea : big engine in a small car. This simple recipe has been proved to be terribly efficient in legendary cars such as the AC Cobra 427. The combination of a very good basis chassis with a bigger engine that wasn’t supposed to fit inside when the car was designed always ends up with either an excellent car or a catastrophe. There is no in between.

Aston Martin had done some very good work with the Vantage RS, letting their best engineering team, the ones which used to work in the Aston Martin Racing department of the brand, to get their hands on the V8 chassis. As racing engineers, they chose to put their biggest and most powerful engine available they had : the 6 litre V12 from the DBR9, developing no less from 600 horsepower. They stiffened the chassis, and lightened the car with new carbon fiber parts such as the bonnet or the carbon bucket seats. They reworked the aerodynamics to ensure more downforce, with a new front and rear diffuser, and a slightly more pronounced rear spoiler. To ensure the cooling of the big V12, the bonnet had elegant holes and finally, as real racing drivers, they fitted a 6 speed manual gearbox in the middle, for better driving sensations. The result was a car that was nearer from the Le Mans winner DBR9, than any of the production cars, including the DBS flagship at the time. It was better indeed, because it had a shorter wheelbase than the DBR9 itself, but had its engine, making it just as fast on the straight line like at the Paul Ricard during the presentation, and even faster in the bends thanks to the smaller chassis, which meant it could corner better.


When Aston Martin started to say that they would put the concept into production, I was really hoping that they would keep the big V12 from the DBR9, so that finally, an Aston Martin could compete against its rivals back then : the Ferrari 599 GTB or the Porsche 911 Turbo, which could easily destroy the Gaydon’s brand flagship, the DBS, in terms of performance. Sadly though, when the final version of the V12 was presented at the 2009 Geneva Motorshow, it was a hell of a disappointment. The car was still as beautiful, with its new carbon fibre front and rear diffuser, and the new perforated bonnet, but underneath Aston Martin had chosen to put aside the DBR9 engine, because of the difficulties to legalize this engine to road regulations, preferring the V12 from the DBS. So the engine in the V12 Vantage is exactly the same as in the DBS : 6 litre, 517 horsepower, 570 Nm of torque. I remember not understanding this choice, and still today, I would have preferred if Aston Martin had kept the DBR9 engine. The only modification the V12 Vantage had from the DBS apart from its design, was the carbon bucket seats, and a shorter ranged gearbox. Putting the DBS engine not only meant that my hopes of a british competitor to the great grand tourers like the Ferrari 599 GTB were lost, but moreover that there were almost two technically identical cars inside Aston Martin.

My first mistake was to think that the V12 Vantage was identical to the DBS.

At the time, I couldn’t find any valid reasons why customers would buy a just as powerful, more expensive, and less performant DBS instead of the V12. Except if you didn’t know or couldn’t drive a proper manual gearbox, there would be no reasons why you wouldn’t get a DBS. Especially knowing that Aston Martin did announce at the beginning they would only sell 1’000 V12 Vantages, making it more exclusive than the DBS, then looking at the price difference, sometimes over 100’000 CHF, I couldn’t find no way someone would buy a DBS anymore. I had forgotten James Bond…


Apart from that engine disappointment, I was very pleased with the rest of the car. Aston Martin’s engineers had done very good work, making the V12 version only 50 kilograms heavier than the V8 Vantage, with a peak weight of 1680 kilograms, preserving the excellent weight distribution with 51% on the front and 49% on the rear. This could be achieved thanks to the same carbon fiber pieces as the RS concept : carbon pieces, and wide 6 pistons 398 millimeters carbon ceramic brake discs, to ensure the car decelerates at least as fast as it accelerates. The V12 Vantage announced performances was a 0 to 100 km/h time in 4.2 seconds, and a top speed of just shy over the mythic 300 km/h, at 305 km/h. As all Aston Martin, performances are not only what matters, the global presence of the car is very important, and the V12 Vantage is no exception. It is wider than the V8, it looks much more agressive thanks to both the new diffusers, and with the new 15 millimeters lowered rear suspension, it sits nearer from the ground, giving it a terribly nice look and is almost instantly recognizable with the perforated bonnet.

Although the V12 Vantage was presented in 2009, I only fell in love with it one year later. For its public premiere, the V12 Vantage had arrived in Geneva in 2009 in a grey exterior livery, with black interior, which is very nice, but is nothing comparable to what came up the next year. In 2010, the british manufacturer presented the V12 Vantage Carbon Black, a limited edition inside the already limited V12 Vantage. Love can’t sometimes be explained, and I couldn’t really explain what I was feeling for the Carbon Black V12 Vantage at the time. It felt so desirable, I didn’t care about the engine anymore, it could have had no engine at all that I would still want one ! I remember I couldn’t stop looking at it, spending the most time I could at the motorshow in the Aston Martin stand, looking at it, savoring its curves, sitting in it, touching its fine leather and alcantara. In this black over black configuration it was so desirable, I remember trying to call my bank to know if I could by any chance get a loan to buy myself one. Of course it didn’t work, I didn’t find anyone kind or suicidal enough to lend me 250’000 CHF for my V12 Vantage Carbon black, and I was completely desperate after the motor show, not knowing if I would be able to own one some day. This is when I made myself a promise. The promise that I would fight all my life, all my entire life, until I had an Aston Martin V12 Vantage in my garage. I dreamt of the Carbon black. Night and day. I was mad.


I will fight all my life, until I have V12 Vantage in my garage.

This obsession of cars with a black exterior is probably due to one car we had in my family. A first generation BMW X5. I was twelve when my dad bought it, and it had been my dream car at the time. My mother as always in my family chose the color, so it arrived a spring afternoon black over beige livery. I have so much good souvenirs with this car : family driving journeys, listening to the three litre six cylinder engine roaring throughout the mountain roads we used to take to go to our ski resort. And I always found it absolutely stunning to look at, whatever the angle, and even today, it is one of the best looking SUVs in the world for me. It was the world’s first SUV, my family’s first SUV, and an amazing car. It is probably because of all the good memories I have with this black BMW X5 that pushes my subconscious instinctively to like black cars more than others.

Since I wanted the Aston Martin V12 Vantage more than any other cars, I started wondering about what other cars I would like to own to be able to say, one day maybe, that I have accomplished my biggest achievement in life. And after various reflexions, and a complete list of more than 180 cars if I become a billionaire, I arrived to a rather simpler list of just three cars. I will detail the complete list soon in another report, to give you a little taste of what I consider as my ultimate collection, and almost my vision of the paradise. While choosing the cars that would be in the smaller list, I always thought of cars I could eventually be owning in the future, given their actual price, their growth, and the personal ambition I have, so that it could stay feasible. Rather interestingly, I didn’t have to do this for my favorite three cars, because no matter what I did, I always ended up with the following ones :

1. Aston Martin V12 Vantage
2. Lamborghini Miura SV
3. Ferrari 288 GTO


I was 19 years old when I established this list, and four years later, I have to admit that this three cars list has not yet changed. I will do everything I can to own these three cars and put them in my garage. I just dream of this moment, this very special moment, when I would wake up one morning, open my garage, and see these three beauties sleeping, wondering which one I would get out. When this will happen, I will be able to say my biggest achievement in life is done, and I will be able to rest in peace, finally. The future will tell us if this list will change, but I don’t think so. The car which will replace any of these three cars will have to make me dream so much, stimulate my imagination to a point which I think is not possible anymore. The reason why the V12 Vantage is still on the top of this list, and will surely never move from this position, is because apart from the fact I completely fell in love after seeing for the first time its Carbon Black version, one of my favorite car videos ever features the V12 Vantage.

As every teenager car passionate, I was and still am a fan of TopGear.

The british broadcast TV program is more a comedy show about cars than a real usual car show. It is one of the only funny and inspiring car television program. Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May have built an amazing compilation of burnt tyres, amazing road trips, juvenile challenges and lap times throughout the years. Comparing TopGear to any other car programs is impossible, because they are the only one which seem honest when they talk about the automobiles they are testing. There are almost no other magazine that would be able to tell you that a Lamborghini, a Porsche, or a Ferrari is crap because they don’t have enough experience for driving sports cars. In consequence, most magazines or car shows journalists are seriously impressed about the acceleration, and the global behavior of the car and tend not to see any defaults in the car. But not TopGear, because they push the car to its limits, searching for every single default, even if it is a small detail, and they always do it in a funny way.

So when I learnt during the Series 13 that TopGear had tested the V12 Vantage, I really got excited. I had read and seen most of the reviews of the Aston : most of them just said it was the best Aston Martin ever produced, giving it 5 stars out of 5, some other pointing the fact it was too close to the DBS, but that in the bends you could feel the original dynamism of the lighter V8 Vantage chassis giving the car a more sporty feeling. Some others pointed the fact it was closer to a mid engined berlinetta than to a V12 front engined grand tourer, but none did really impress me, or convinced me about the global car behavior. So I waited. I waited all the seven episodes, wondering if really they had tested it, and if it was for this series or the next one. The V12 Vantage was featured in the very last minutes of the seventh and last Series 13 episode :

The first time I saw it, I found it so beautiful, I cried.

This video had completely affected me, because I had only one hope and one incertitude. The hope to own a V12 Vantage, one day. The incertitude I would die without having that opportunity, without having the opportunity to even drive one. The scenery, these beautiful english country roads, this music, An Ending from Brian Eno, this car, the Aston Martin V12 Vantage, it is probably one of my most near vision of paradise. And finally I understood what it was all about with the V12 Vantage, thanks to Jeremy Clarkson. He said so little about the car itself, letting everyone imagine how it would be like, and then just saying it was wonderful. That was exactly how I had imagined the Aston Martin would be, a wonderful car. Nothing less, nothing more. Not the most perfect car in the world. Not the most powerful car in the world. Not the easiest car to drive in the world. Just a wonderful car to savor every single kilometer you do inside it.

The second part was a lot more emotional. I couldn’t confound Jeremy when he said that these cars will soon be consigned to history books. I mean, with all the new ecology regulations, with the new very restrictive speed limits, who would buy and drive a big 6 litre V12 sports car ? This is when I made myself a second promise. If one day, I had the opportunity to own whatever sports car, and especially an Aston Martin V12 Vantage, I should get it on the road, I should drive it, I should show it to people, as a reminder of what a real sports car is, not letting it in my garage sleeping, not letting people consign it to history books.

If I had the opportunity to own a V12 Vantage in my life, I would drive it, show it, as a reminder to people of what sports cars are.


I was more in love than ever with the V12 Vantage. In one of his later DVDs : Duel, Jeremy Clarkson made a more complete test drive of the Aston Martin, qualifying the V12 Vantage as the world’s best grand tourer, even better than the british manufacturer’s flagship at the time, which was still the DBS. This strengthened my love for the V12 Vantage, and consolidated my ideas that I couldn’t see why anyone would get a DBS instead. In 2011, Aston Martin did another move that I didn’t understand at the time. My favorite manufacturer announced that they would finally export the V12 Vantage to the United States. Without any automatic gearbox, it felt like a suicidal move for me, because most of Americans just don’t know how to drive a manual gearbox. There are some exceptions though because some car collectors are very attached to manual sticks, and some manufacturers continued to propose such gearbox only in the United States like BMW with the M5 V10. To answer the new american demand, Aston had changed their plans and decided to produce more than 1000 units of the V12 Vantage.