ROAD RACER

BRED PURELY FOR THE TRACK, A BUNCH OF MAD SCIENTISTS NOW OFFER A KIT TO MAKE THE ASTON MARTIN VULCAN STREET LEGAL. WE GRAB THE KEYS

BY RCHARD MEADEN+PICS GUS GREGORY

AS MOMENTS of jeopardy go, this one is right up there with cliffhanger. Iím peering out of an Aston Martin cold, wet winterís day. Lucky so-and-so, youíre thinking. Well yes, there are worse places to find Except that this is the worldís only road-legal Vulcan attempting to turn right out of a small side-road onto road, threading the needle across a stream of fast

Moving traffic

To Make matters worse, thereís a slight incline and the my seat-time in this precious unicorn (insured or about AUD$3.8m) is the five minutes the taken to warm up after the car was unloaded at pre-arranged and, in hindsight, somewhat sub-optimal point.

THE ROAD CONVERSION REALLY IS A MAD PROJECT, BUT ITíS ALSO A BRILLIANT ONE

Still nothing for it now but to wait for a gap and go for it. control, please donít desert me now...

The Literal journey to this point may have taken only a minutes, but the metaphorical one has been more and a half since RML boss Michael Mallock tipped they were working on something rather special. special became clear when he gave me a peek at confidential CAD drawings of what was unmistakably a headlights. Items you only need if you intend to track-only monster on the road. Crikey.

What followed was a phenomenal and phenomenally project. One rooted in the kind of meticulous for which RML is renowned, but one hog-tied in legislative red tape that could only be generated by agency. Itís legal in the European Union, but we able to get it through ADR red tape. And if you wouldnít be cheap.

Readying a Vulcan for the road is a process far removed from the good old days when racecars were little more than highly developed road cars. Back then they often wore registration plates and, in the case of Aston Martinís Le Mans contenders of the 1950s and í60s, were driven to the circuit from the teamís base at the Hotel de France.

The Vulcan wasnít conceived to race, but nor was it ever intended for the road. Instead it was created to entertain ultra-wealthy enthusiasts with the looks of a concept car and the heart of a competition car. This gave Astonís design and engineering teams the latitude to make it a true flight of fantasy. The result is a car as suited to the street as a Eurofighter Typhoon is to dropping in at your local aero club.

With development funds (and an all-important Vulcan) provided by an extremely enthusiastic Aston Martin customer, RML set to work. It must have felt like an insurmountable challenge. Virtually every primary modification led to a chain of secondary changes that had to be chased around the car.

THE FEELING OF DOING SOMETHING THAT PROBABLY SHOULDNíT BE ALLOWED IS A HUGE PART OF THE APPEAL

This nose-to-tail approach might have added many months and considerable cost to the project (the road conversion now retails at £295,000 plus taxes Ė or around AUD$520,000), but itís such attention to detail and a reluctance to compromise that makes the difference between a project that simply makes a track car road legal and one that aims to create a car thatís useable and enjoyable on the road.

Chat to RMLís project leader Adam Airey and you quickly become acquainted with the phrase Ďradius requirementí. No, itís not the sexiest phrase in the automotive lexicon, but it literally shaped the road-going Vulcan. How so? Because ensuring that the Vulcanís numerous sharp-edged wings, spoilers, splitters and other protuberances could be made to satisfy the pedestrian-friendly radius requirements of the law enforcers was one of the projectís biggest tasks.

Perversely, the aesthetic success of the end product lies in the fact that RMLís Herculean effort to blunt the track carís potentially injurious body addenda goes largely unnoticed: unless you parked this street-legal Vulcan next to a track-only version, youíd be hard pressed to spot the differences.

When RML first revealed its plans, the most contentious area was very clearly the headlights. Originally designed only with low-set driving lights, any Vulcan road conversion was going to have to integrate headlights into that colossal front clamshell. Given that Aston Martinís design team sweat blood over the surfacing of their cars, smacking a pair of headlights on it could have resulted in something akin to the Mona Lisa wearing a pair of those novelty eyeballs-on-springs spectacles. Thankfully RMLís solution is rather more elegant.

Some of the other fixes required a little more lateral thinking. For instance, the trademark Ďbladeí tail-lights simply have a clear moulded cover over them. The new rear spoiler incorporates direction signals Ė nicknamed ĎWingdicatorsí by the RML team Ė in the endplates. The track-only carís rear window has been blanked out to negate the need for a rear-view mirror and saves on the need to replace it with E-marked glass. Itís no great loss to all-round visibility as the gigantic rear spoiler always blocked your view anyway.

Which brings us neatly onto the Vulcanís aerodynamics. Unsurprisingly, the track-only car has literally had its wings clipped: at the rear to avoid decapitating unfortunate pedestrians (though, to be fair, what a way to go!) and at the front to stop the splitter from chopping bystanders off at the ankles Ė and to improve the Vulcanís approach angle. Shortening the splitter also reduces frontal downforce in proportion to the diminution in rear downforce, so the car retains its high-speed handling balance.

There are just as many changes inside, but, as with the exterior, theyíre nicely integrated. The seats are new, as the track items had extended Ďearsí to prevent neck injury in the event of a lateral impact. Finishers were needed around all the switchgear to meet the dreaded radius requirements. An immobiliser and central locking were also retro-fitted.

Getting the Vulcan going is not the work of a moment. Before you can fire the engine into life, you have to turn it over on the starter without the fuel system running to bring the oil pressure up. Housekeeping done, you can then turn the rotary ignition switch to position 2 and start it with a push of the red button. It fires instantly, settling into a brassy, elevated idle. Curls of vapour rise from the side-exit exhausts, and as heat gets into the engine the whole car is shrouded in mist. A few more minutes and itís ready to do battle with the traffic. Which is where we came in...

Finally plucking up the courage to pull out into the flow, Iím not sure whoís more intimidated, me or the other drivers finding themselves in the company of what is surely the most extraordinary car theyíve ever seen. Some drop right back; others attempt to dock with the rear-end, smartphones held to their windscreens in an effort to video us, as you would a UFO sighting. So this is what itís like to be an A-list celebrity.

Just going with the flow should be incredibly frustrating, but simply being in the Vulcan amongst everyday traffic is one of the most enjoyable driving experiences I can remember. Itís this madness Ė the feeling of doing something that shouldnít be allowed Ė thatís a huge part of the appeal of the conversion.

Is the Vulcan an easy car to drive on the road? Yes and no. Of course itís an intimidating machine. The sheer size of it means you have to be circumspect, as it literally fills your side of the road. Visibility is better than you might imagine, though I never manage to shake the urge to glance up at where the rear-view mirror would be in a regular street car. Likewise, by any normal standard itís very noisy: the gearbox whines and chunters, compressors whir, the brakes squeal and considerable road noise is transmitted though the carbon-fibre tub.

THE V12 ENVELOPES YOU FROM THE MOMENT YOU PUSH THE STARTER BUTTON

And the V12? Well, of course, itís magnificent. An omnipresent force that envelopes you from the moment you push the red starter button, itís truly one of the great engines Ė savage but smooth, with the kind of tractability that only comes from big capacity engines. The three-stage power settings are retained, the lowest of which is 410kW and makes the Vulcan an unlikely pussycat. Of course, if you wind the power up, it readily overwhelms the rear Michelin Pilot Cup 2 tyres, but the multiadjustable traction control system is incredibly effective. In low-grip conditions it intervenes early but with real finesse, so you can lean on its invisible support with confidence.

You might expect that such a machine would feel numb at modest road speeds, but thereís a genuine sense of connection.

The carbon brakes protest at the lack of temperature, but they work fine and have far more progression than Iím expecting.

Likewise, the steering is power-assisted, but still has some meat to it and isnít excessively responsive. This makes the Vulcan easy to guide and intuitive to place on the road, even though you sit low with a limited view of its extremities. Iím pretty certain that negotiating the market square in the quaint English town of Olney wasnít a design consideration, but it trundled round without complaint.

Or a stall, much to my relief!

Once youíve got beyond the initial shock of the size, sounds and sheer absurdity that define the Vulcan driving experience, the actual process of making progress is surprisingly polished. The clutch should be an absolute pig when pulling away, but itís progressive if you show it some sensitivity Ė doubtless helped by the shorter gear ratios. The gearbox shifts cleanly even at low speeds and small throttle openings, which is just as well, for opportunities to give up to 611kW-worth of V12 its head on a wet and wintry road are slim to say the least.

Does this matter? Not really. Certainly no more than with any other road-going hypercar. I have no doubt that in warm, dry conditions you could make enthusiastic use of the Vulcanís epic reach. Whatever the weather, thereís something wonderful about having so much performance at your disposal, even if you rarely do more than scratch the surface. The one time I do let the bung out (on a long uphill stretch of dual-carriageway) it takes my heart a good five minutes to stop pounding.

RMLís Vulcan is road legal (for some), but it remains a wild, wild machine in any context and by any benchmark. That it has the manners to cope with stop-start driving and is genuinely enjoyable to drive is testament to the integrity of the original car and the expertise that resides within RML. Itís a mad project, but itís also a brilliant one.