Home » THE LAST GUNSLINGER

THE LAST GUNSLINGER

THE LAST GUNSLINGER

For the sake of privacy, I will call him Enzo, which is the nickname I gave him after numerous discussions regarding his previous acquisition of a Ferrari in California.
In August 2017, Enzo wanted to meet at the Aston Martin dealer in Golden Valley, Minnesota, just west of downtown Minneapolis. This would be a chance to connect with my old friend in person, instead of by phone or
email. We were to meet there and then go to downtown Minneapolis for lunch in the warehouse district at The Monte Carlo, which happens to serve the best chicken wings known to mankind. The wings are made with a
secret twelve season dry rub. Thinking back on previous conversations with Enzo, I had surmised that I would need to talk Enzo down from the edge of another new automotive acquisition. But unbeknownst to me was how far this automotive situation
had progressed since our last conversation before my arrival in Minneapolis. Enzo already had already selected an auto. My first impression, when I saw the car he picked, was that it was very nice, later I would find it to be extraordinary.
He walked me around a 2017 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S in China Grey paint with extensive carbon fiber bits. This can only be described as intoxicating to a fan of carbon fiber car parts such as myself. Enzo was quite smitten with it, to say the least.
Why Enzo wanted this particular car and his insights behind acquiring the car helped me understand the psychographics, or why people buy the things they do. Primarily, it was the last of its kind, of which I was entirely in agreement on his purchase. “There are so many reasons to want this car. It is simply poetry in motion. The lines, the performance, the elegant interior and incredible attention to detail all meld together to produce a true and proper British sports car.”Enzo stated. And it is the last part of his statement that resonates passionately to him, a proper British sports
car.
Aston Martin builds GT (Grand Touring) cars, but with the V12 Vantage S, they created a world-class sports car with a singular mission, an automotive concoction of driver involvement, rarity, luxury, speed, power, balance,
and passion. Another aspect Enzo liked is the fact that Aston Martin
had only built one hundred V12 Vantage S Coupes and Roadsters for the 2017 model year and solely for the American market. He adds, “Aston Martin took a huge leap to produce a limited edition and exceptional car with only 100 destined for the USA. Exclusivity in very limited numbers is invariably attractive to a lucky few that recognizes something special when they see it.”
Enzo told me the main reason why he got the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S 7-speed manual was the allure of its analog driving experience. And by driving experience, I mean, fun, as in that elusive thing that makes you want to get up before sunrise, grab the car keys and hit the road before the rest of the world wakes up. That favorite stretch of road patiently awaits your return to challenge it to a duel with its black ribbons of asphalt that snake through the countryside.
I quickly hatched a plan to meet Enzo at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in March to see his new acquisition. Enzo would fly from the Cayman Islands to Miami and retrieve his brand new steed and then drive up to meet me at Amelia Island. He was concerned about putting mileage on the car, and I subtly mentioned, “that is how you get acquainted with a new car. You take it on a road trip.”
At this point, you may be asking what the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S is? It’s a smallish coupe with a big, bad hand-built 6.0-liter V12 engine that is shoehorned within the two shock towers and capable of a top speed just north of 200mph. Aesthetically it looks like an elite athlete even at rest, but there is a visual promise of serious capabilities of mischief. The sheet metal appears to be pulled just ever so tautly over toned and well-defined muscles. The V12 Vantage S is Aston Martins most driver-focused
series production Vantage model that had previously only been available with the company’s seven-speed paddle-shift transmission. Manufacturers say, ‘nobody buys manuals anymore,” but purists say “if you make them we will buy them.” Not a single person could have predicted Aston Martin would go through all of the trouble to equip the out-going Vantage model with a seven-speed manual gearbox alongside the company’s existing Sportshift III transmission.
A walk-around of the V12 Vantage S leaves one with an overwhelming desire to lift the long but surprisingly light and carbon fiber vented hood and gaze upon what resides underneath. What you will find is Aston Martins familiar naturally aspirated 5.9-litre (even though they badge it 6.0) V12. Developing a healthy 565 horsepower at 6,750rpm and 457-lb/ft of torque at 5,750rpm, this engine does not have the headline-grabbing figures Ferrari or Lamborghini manages to extract from their own large capacity V12 engines, but it still is extremely capable and proves it’s mettle by launching the V12 Vantage S from a standstill to 60mph in a speedy 3.7 seconds and on to a very impressive 205mph.

This 7-speed manual transmission is essentially a manual version of the
seven-speed paddle-shift gearbox. Aston Martin chose to give it a dog-leg
first gear, that’s to say located to the left and back, with second gear
across and forwards in the gate. It’s an engineer-to drive nod to old-school racing transmissions and is rather cool, but it’s not very intuitive on the first or second try. This is not a trait that detracts from the car at all, but more of a quirk that requires the driver to spend time getting to know the transmission and the pickup point when the clutch bites.

cvOne may believe this to be a retro transmission, but it has some decidedly hi-tech features to it, most notably in the AMSHIFT function, which offers automated throttle blips on downshifts that make you into an instant hero. The art of shifting with AMSHIFT is it also enables you to flat-shift up through the gearbox with the throttle pinned.
As a 2017 Model Year Vantage, it also benefits from Aston Martin’s new AMi III multimedia and navigation system, plus the requisite Apple CarPlay iPhone integration into the telematics.
What it’s like to drive? Once I was inside, I saw that the cockpit has that effortless blend of old-world craftsmanship and quality with sporting yet focused purpose that Aston Martin does so well. Every inch is draped in Alcantara that looks and feels very expensive. The red stitching is in harmonious contrast with the shiny carbon fiber weave and flat coloring of the charcoal Alcantara.

The seats are firm, supportive and comfortable with excellent bolstering. The driving position puts you low, so you feel as one with the automobile, which is vital to the man/machine interface. The steering wheel is nicely weighted with good hand feel, as it’s not too big or small in circumference.

The glass Engine Start button in the dash beckons for Me just to push it. On startup, the hand-built V12 has a loud, unique bark that may lead anyone within a two block radius to deduce that you just rudely woke a dragon from a deep slumber.

The big V12 engine settles into a smooth idle as I waited for the vital fluids to warm up. And surprisingly the clutch is quite heavy as it should be, as it mates to a large V12.

The ethos of Aston Martin is in the details. Its heavy clutch has a physicality that sends a not so subtle message that one is going to have to work to get the car to perform. The manual gearbox feels notchy and requires the driver be committed to a delicate dance of steering, clutch, gas and brake pedals to dance with the car.There isn’t another automotive manufacturer on the
planet that offers this combination of V12 engine and manual transmission, and to Enzo, a car aficionado this seductive automotive combination proved to be undeniable.
There is a nice weight to all the controls. The steering has the bonus of being a hydraulic unit rather than an electrically power assisted unit. The steering offers feedback as to what the front suspension and tires are saying through the steering wheel. There is a beautiful old-school feel and response to match the car’s pure and simple focus.
The V12 Vantage S has a massive engine, but it doesn’t get in the way of its chassis dynamics. At slow speed, it’s compliant and almost docile. But there is an underlying current that permeates through the steering wheel and
into your body it’s ready to hit triple digit speeds at a moments notice. It would be prudent to pay particular attention to posted speed limits because the car doesn’t come with a “get out of jail free card” that is secretly located somewhere in the cockpit.
The V12 Vantage S has a sharper edge with a more powerful and aggressively elegant demeanor that goads you to push its capabilities and your. You can imagine it makes for an unforgettable drive every time you slip behind the wheel and start the machine. From behind the wheel, the gearbox dominates the experience, but that is what the V12 Vantage S is all about.

You have a choice of suspension settings, but none are anything that can be described as soft. The ride is firm but not punishing which belies its stance which is just inches above the road. Not that you’d expect it from Aston Martin, but this is an unashamedly hardcore car and requires a firm commitment at the start from the driver.
Its handling offers a firm grip and balanced agility that allows you to slice through corners with the utmost confidence. Multi-stage ESP keeps the powerful V12 reigned-in, but you are cognizant at all times as it can step its tail out in the more aggressive sporting modes. If you switch the ESP off, you better be able to drive. This time I didn’t turn it off, this was a brand-new automobile with 650 miles on the odometer, and it wasn’t my car. The massive carbon ceramic rotors and equally large calipers ensure confident stopping power.
On an emotional level, the manual transmission brings an immediate and more intimate connection with the car. You have to think about what you’re doing. Steering angle, gas pedal, and current speed, clutch bite, brake modulation, gear selection, etc. Done well and it’s how you get the car to dance. You have to plan and match rev points with road speed in a way that a paddle shift doesn’t require you to do. If you share my love of driving a manual transmission, this interactive experience is extraordinary.
The new dog-leg 7-speed transmission does have a learning curve, and not just because 1st gear is in a weird position. To be honest, the V12 has so much flexibility it would be quite pleased to pull away from a stop in 2nd gear. I will spare you embarrassment if muscle memory leads you to think 1st gear is in the usual spot, which happened to me.
There is an unusual tightness of the gate and an uncharacteristic spring bias that favors the 4th/5th gears over the 2nd/3rd and 6th/7th gearshifts. Which leads me to believe the engineers preferred those two gearshifts for spirited driving or what is most likely the sweet spot.
Unless you are very deliberate with your up-shift from 2nd gear to 3rd gear, you can end up in 5th gear instead which throws off the driving cadence. Like I mentioned previously, it has a learning curve and can be very annoying at first, but if you are patient and give it time you do get more comfortable, and more importantly you get more confident with the gearbox. The reward for your patience is matching V12 revs with smoothly selected shifts aided by AMShift.
If you aren’t prepared to make an effort to get to know the gear shift, then you should probably know the car may spit you out because it asks for a commitment from the driver. Hang with it, and you will be rewarded with a great gearshift. This new 7-speed gearbox isn’t a great one, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a deal breaker either by any stretch as its dog-leg gear arrangement is a unique quirk of it’s personality. By the time I had to turn it back over to Enzo, there is a definite charm and connection offered by this manual transmission version of V12 Vantage S that had proved to me as very seductive indeed.

After a long day of washing the car, shooting pictures of the car, attending the Porsche Werks Reunion, previewing the Gooding & Co. auction, and driving the car again, we returned to our accommodations at a golf villa on Amelia Island. I went online to look around to see if there was an Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster with a 7-speed manual available at another dealership in the continental United States. There was, and my want got pretty deep, this vehicle is just that special.
There was rain in the forecast on Sunday for the concours but of course there wasn’t a drop of precipitation. We took the short 0.9 mile St. John‚Äôs River Ferry ride that links Mayport Village and Fort George Island that is just south of Amelia Island. After departing the ferry Enzo and I concurred that there might be a Florida statute against driving a soiled Aston Martin in broad daylight, so we found a self-serve car wash on the way south. James Bond wouldn’t cruise to Saint Augustine in a soiled Aston Martin, so Enzo refused to drive his soiled either.

Saint Augustine was interesting. It is an eclectic mix of historical landmarks and cheesy tourist traps. The amount of attention the car received was astounding. People pointed and smiled, turned to get a second look and asked questions. Enzo grew tiresome of the attention it garnered so I started answering the questions such as “What is it?” “What’s under the hood?” When informed it was a 6.0-liter V12 mated to a 7-speed manual transmission most inquirers offered a look of disbelief that changed to a wry smile. Baby your a star!
The Aston Martin V12 Vantage S with its dog-leg 7-speed manual transmission puts the driver back in control while offering a new level of driver engagement and a unique experience that is essentially, NLA or simply stated, No Longer Available which is its unquestioned value proposition.
I would mention rivals and direct competitors, but the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S doesn’t have one. Porsches new 911 Carrera T with a 7-speed manual is about as close as you could get. It has a base price of $102,100, powered by a smooth 3.0-liter twin-turbo flat-six cylinder engine. It lacks some cylinders, about a total of six of them.

The Aston Martin V12 Vantage S was conceived and built by craftsman in Gaydon, Warwickshire, United Kingdom with a singular vision to produce one car that put the driver back into the man/machine interface.
Consider the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S 7-speed Manual a four-wheeled love letter written in steel, aluminum, Alcantara, carbon fiber, rubber and glass. And it boldly takes its place as the last gunslinger.

darryle moody
darryle moody
Share: