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Car and Driver: Behind the Scenes at Aston Martin’s Frankenstein Lab for Special Projects


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Top-secret engineering facilities shouldn’t draw attention to themselves, but Aston Martin’s skunkworks takes covert boringness to a whole new level. As these things tend to be, it’s in a low-rise building, this one located in the small and uninteresting English town of Wellesbourne, seven miles from Aston’s Gaydon HQ.


There are no signs, unsurprisingly, but we soon discover the facility doesn’t seem to even have a name beyond the one given to it by the industrial park it sits on. Chief engineer Fraser Dunn looks unsure when we ask how to describe this elite part of the business. “Unit 20 usually, but don’t say that,” he says. “Officially we’re the Q Advanced Operations division—think of us as Aston’s ‘what if?’ department.”


It’s soon clear that, for all the external dullness, great things happen inside Unit 20. This is where the idea for the Vulcan—the track-only special based around the One-77’s chassis and powertrain—was proposed, and it’s where the 24 cars subsequently ordered (for a cool $2.4 million each) have been built. Before then it was busy making the DB10 cars that were used for the filming of James Bond’s last outing. It’s also where Aston’s future limited-run specials will be designed and constructed, with company boss Andy Palmer having previously told us that the company will be doing two such cars per year.


Behind the Scenes at Aston Martin's Frankenstein Lab for Special Projects


When we visit, the last Vulcans are being finished off and preparations are being made to ship cars and parts to the first of the ultra-exclusive track days that buyers get as part of their seven-figure investment. This is taking place at Yas Marina in Dubai next week, with boxes of wheels, tires and spare parts ready for dispatch—apparently there will even be an extra car on the ground in case things go really wrong.


The visit is also a chance to get as close to the Vulcan as we ever will, multiple simultaneous lottery wins notwithstanding. It’s an astonishing thing, with a full carbon tub and milled metal suspension components that look like they belong on an LMP1 racer. There are three different power modes to allow owners to build up to the full experience: 550 hp, 675 hp, and then the unfettered 820 hp. Despite that, the 7.0-liter V-12 engine is estimated to be good for 15,500 miles between rebuilds, which for a track-only car is probably pretty much a lifetime. The car is claimed to weigh 2980 pounds and reportedly produces 3080 pounds of aerodynamic downforce at its top speed of 204 mph.


The last two cars in the workshop are finished in white, not because their owners want them like that, but because—although they’ve ordered and paid for them—they haven’t decided which color to have them painted yet. It’s enough to make you feel sorry for the hectic life of the modern billionaire.


Behind the Scenes at Aston Martin's Frankenstein Lab for Special Projects


This is only a quick visit, but Dunn fires up one of the Vulcans so we can hear an idle noise that Satan might use as his ringtone and see the cone of flames that appears in the side-exit exhausts every time the throttle is blipped. We also get to admire the detachable steering wheel, which looks like an F1 item for the fact it’s been made by the same manufacturer that produces them for most of the Grand Prix grid. It costs $20,000 by itself, although by the standards of the Vulcan that seems like pretty good value; Dunn also shows us a set of badges made from machine-milled carbon fiber which is a £20,000 option—that’s $28,300 (!) at current exchange rates. Apparently three Vulcan buyers have opted for them.


So what else goes on in Unit 20? We’ve noticed a sizable partition that runs along the center of the building, either an extremely well-protected storage area or something even more secret. Our requests to take a look are politely refused, although Dunn refuses to be drawn into revealing precisely what is going on there. “We do other activities on this site,” he says with a smile, “ones that we’re not going to talk about right now.”


His reticence under gentle interrogation is to his credit, but on the way out we see a sign warning that it’s necessary to take another route to enter the Prototype Tub Build Area, which gives the game away. Let’s hope that Dunn, and the 40 other people who work on the site, are kept busy in the years ahead.




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