It was one of those offers you’d be mad to turn down: Come to a private test track and have a go in the entire range of Aston Martin road cars. Well, if you absolutely insist.
I’ve been a lifelong fan of Astons, but perhaps surprisingly I’d never driven one till now. Well, I once drove a 90s Virage about quarter of a mile, but that doesn’t count. As well as the fulfilment of sinking into a quilted bucket seat and staring at that famous scarab wing logo embossed on the steering wheel, there was also the track: Millbrook.
This sprawling proving ground near Bedford provides the world’s car manufacturers the facilities to test and develop their new models to the limit, all in the highest secrecy.
Arriving at the track, our camera phones had stickers put over the lenses and one had the feeling we were always being watched.
Millbrook was built in the 1960s when the motorway speed limit was first enforced. Till then, you would often find Aston Martins on the M1 near Newport Pagnell flat out at 170mph with an engineer at the wheel.
The whole fleet stood before me: The new Virage, the DB9, the V12 Vantage, and the Rapide S. We would be experiencing them on four courses: The alpine route, which is a hilly and twisty b-road with lots of humps and blind corners; a handling course with plenty of run-off; a 1-mile straight for acceleration and brake testing; and a 2-mile bowl where manufacturers drive over 140mph for hours on end to test reliability.
The alpine route served as Montenegro in Casino Royale, where 007 got all four wheels off the ground in his DBS before losing control and barrel rolling. See the vid here.
I like to drive pretending I’m being chased by an Apache gunship. I got all four wheel off that hump too in the Virage (the DBS’s successor) and, without a girl lying in the road, kept it pointing forwards too. Bond 0 – AHN 1.
The Rapide S was a revelation, given it’s longer and heavier than the others thanks to its four seat configuration. The handling was superb, the chassis feeling as stiff as the DB9’s.
I used the 565bhp V12 Vantage, at 205mph the fastest car in the fleet, for the 1-mile drag run and touched 175mph. Zero to 60mph took 3.8 seconds.
And on the oval course I was encouraged to take my hands off the Virage’s wheel as we bombed along at 140mph, the car keeping perfectly between the lines as the banking pulls the steering in. It was hypnotic, and I reckon the slightest loss of concentration would send you over the barriers and into god knows where. You could see where the barriers had been replaced over the years, so there have probably been a few incidents.
The Astons are confident driving machines though, and the performance was really mindblowing. As was the track, this R&D playground, the perfect place to put Britain’s most prestigious sporting marque to the test.