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If it wasn’t for the missing race number on the bonnet, you could easily mistake the Aston Martin Vantage GT12 for a full-blown, track-seasoned GT racer on first glance.
I made that very mistake when I first laid eyes on this fire-breathing Aston earlier this year at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, moments before it blasted its way up Lord March’s spectacular driveway.
Aston’s GT has been a long time coming. Finally, the British luxury maker has built their own version of a proper street-legal road racer, earning Aston a spot in that rarefied segment alongside the 991 Porsche GT3 and GT3 RS, as well as Ferrari’s track-focused 458 Speciale (no longer produced).
But if you wanted one in your driveway, you would have needed to shell out a cool £250,000 (the cost in Australia will be around $650,000). Perhaps mercifully, all 100 strictly limited examples are already spoken for —according to Aston, they were snapped up before the car was even announced.
That’s a lot coin for a Vantage, especially when you consider the standard V12 Vantage S Coupe wears a price tag of around £138,000 in the UK (AU$360,000) and for that amount, you get one of the best high-performance sports cars ever built by the quintessential British marque.
And while the underpinnings might be V12 Vantage S, the GT12 is an entirely different beast altogether. Aston’s bespoke Q division has transformed the top-shelf luxury Vantage into one of the angriest road-going Astons ever.
Sporting big wings, extra intakes and a colour scheme to rival anything on the grid at Le Mans, this GT3-inspired special edition is lower and wider than any of its Vantage siblings. It’s got a broader track, too, front and rear, so it looks properly tough even at idle.
Maximum grip on turn-in is guaranteed due to a reduction in lateral load, as well as 19-inch forged alloy wheels wrapped in some of the best road rubber money can buy: Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres – 325s down back and 265s up front.
It’s not the lightest car in its class, but at 1565kg, the GT12 drops around 100kg off the stock V12 Vantage S thanks to plenty of carbonfibre bodywork and various lightweight inclusions inside, like leather straps for door handles.
Those lightweight body parts include the front guards and flared sills, front and rear bumpers, rear wing, front splitter and rear diffuser, while the bonnet and louvre also get the carbonfibre treatment.
For those still not satisfied with the kind of exclusivity afforded to so few, it was possible to opt for the set of machined carbonfibre Aston Martin wings. But as bespoke as they might be, they do look a trifle unfinished in my opinion.
While it might look like one of Aston’s racers, inside it’s all about top-shelf craftsmanship and luxury trappings. It’s an exquisitely crafted cockpit with lashings of Alcantara that adorns the headliner, dash and classic three-spoke steering wheel. The stitched leather sports seat shells and centre console are both fashioned from carbonfibre.
As expected, the options list for the GT12 is extensive, but none so fine as the 1000w Bang and Olufsen BeoSound sound system – not that it could ever hope to compete with the kind of visceral twelve-cylinder symphony this car can produce with a simple prod of the throttle.
You’ll still find the same 6.0-litre V12 under the bonnet, but this one has been fettled for more power (around 20kW) bringing it up to 441kW at 7000rpm, while torque rises slightly to 625Nm.
But it’s not just the extra grunt that sets the GT12 apart; other upgrades include a magnesium inlet manifold, magnesium torque tube and titanium exhaust, which collectively have produced nothing less than engineering alchemy.
All that grunt slams the tarmac through the axle via Aston’s seven-speed Sportshift 111 automated manual transmission with electronic shift-by-wire control system.
The result is ferocious, lag-free acceleration of a kind only possible from a naturally aspirated V12 powertrain. Floor it from a standing start, and the GT12 will hit 100km/h in just 3.7 seconds (five-tenths quicker than the V12 Vantage S).
At first I thought, yep, this feels quick, but then I gave it a proper boot full and the extent of the potential of this car exploded. Throttle response is scalpel sharp, so it feels more racer than road car, and the rate at which it can rein in a fast-moving Vanquish is hugely satisfying.
But here’s the thing; the GT12 looks intimidating, so I was expecting it to be a bit of handful, especially on a cold winter’s morning in the English midlands.
But that’s not the case. While you’ll want to get to know it before you dial up all it’s got, when you do, the power delivery is surprisingly smooth and wonderfully linear.
This is also a V12 that likes to rev – all the way to 7000rpm, so you’ll need to be extra quick on the draw with those paddleshifters or you’ll find yourself bouncing off the rev-limiter all too quickly attempting to slam through the gears.
Behind the wheel, the experience is as good as it gets, except for the transmission. While improvements have been made to Aston’s latest automated manual system, it’s still not as quick as the latest dual-clutch systems or as refined as the best ZF automatic 'box.
For smoother (if not quicker) shifts, I found it best to lift off the throttle momentarily on the upshift, otherwise there’s a frustrating pause that tends to be the only hiccup in what is an otherwise breathtaking driving experience.
There’s a good deal of feedback through the steering wheel, too, so you’re acutely aware of the amount of grip on offer at any given centimetre. It’s a very precise (quick, too) steering rack, so it’s easy to set the car up for an approaching bend or two.
Initially, I found the steering a tad light, but given the fact that you rarely need to dial up any lock, and the on-centre feel is bang on, you soon warm to it.
Like the V12 Vantage, the GT12 feels superbly balanced. Three-stage adaptive damping (Normal, Sport and Track) is standard, though even in the softest setting it’s a not unexpectedly firm ride, though never crashy.
The road holding is phenomenal, so big speeds can be carried through long, flowing corners. In fact, rather than lifting off, I found myself pushing harder, but with all the confidence of an endurance racer. There’s zero body lean, too. I mean, this car may as well be on rails.
That said, there’s a lot of torque going to the rear wheels, so expect a bit of play back there, if enthusiasm gets the best of you – and it most certainly will.
Make no mistake, this is most dynamically sorted Aston Martin road car ever built. It’s also the most rewarding to drive. I only wish I was one of the lucky 100.