As the speedo arced past 130 mph, it suddenly stuck me that the approaching right-handed kink, which on every previous visit to Aston's Gaydon test track I'd regarded as a benign sort of crooked straight, had rapidly turned into a bona fide corner, the kind of obstacle for which you must lose speed or regret it.
Yet we did not slow. Instead, the velocity of our 2012 Aston Martin One-77 kept rising at a rapid rate. Then I remembered that the track was very wide. This, as the relentless acceleration continued, provided only momentary comfort. It was at that point, right at the jaws of the bend, that we stopped accelerating and I glanced again at the speedo that was just short of 160 mph.
A smooth suggestion of right lock from Chris Porritt, chief engineer of the One-77 program and a quality wheelman, and the car began to corner hard, then harder. Under what were now mighty cornering forces, it refused to roll, staying mysteriously, immaculately on line. Then we were straight and accelerating strongly again, back on the power and heading for 200 mph (we managed 192) until it was time for the carbon-ceramic pads to grab their discs and wash off 150 mph in a couple of hundred yards so we could negotiate the 180-degree hairpin not far ahead.
Getting in the Seat
I had known all along that this was going to be an extraordinary day. Today, I was to do what no writer in Europe had so far managed: get my backside into the £1.4 million 2012 Aston Martin One-77. The car is considered so exclusive that the company principal, Ulrich Bez, had decreed that no stranger would so much as ride in it until the 77-strong customer body had bought its cars, lest they be tainted or discouraged by something they read in the press.
Even today there would be no driving, but I was being offered the next best thing: a ride on the limit with the guy who had been involved in this car's creation from the beginning. Porritt knew, and could justify, the One-77's every design and engineering feature. He could also handle its 7.3-liter, 750-horsepower V12 with an aplomb I was never going to acquire in a mere day at the wheel. Or a month, for that matter.
Birth of the One-77
When the car was commissioned roughly four years ago, says Porritt, the One-77 team was given two clear goals. First, it was to build the best, fastest, most technically advanced and most radical Aston the company could create, almost without regard to cost. Second, it was to investigate design routes and key technology that Aston might use in its next-generation models.
The One-77 recipe might come from four years ago, but it could have been written today. Instead of the now familiar sheet aluminum VH platform that underpins the existing models, the 2012 Aston Martin One-77 substitutes a race-style, hand-laid carbon-fiber chassis tub of the utmost rigidity. It then combines structures in honeycomb-reinforced carbon and aluminum at the extremities to carry the suspension and transaxle out back and the suspension and engine in front, both of which are protected by deformable "crash cans."
It uses the existing forged suspension wishbones — because they're good — but devises a new inboard mounting system for the race-quality spring and damper units that will allow the hood, and thus the whole car, to be lower, while also reducing unsprung mass. The chassis is clothed with handmade aluminum panels using a bonding process created by Airbus for airplanes. There are plenty of aluminum parts as well, including the suspension pick-ups, bell cranks, engine mounts and various bracketry.
Insane Power and Styling To Match
Aston sent its 6.0-liter V12 to Cosworth Engineering for a power hike, telling it not to give the engine back until it could make more than 700 hp and weigh 10 percent less. Cosworth bored and stroked the engine to 7.3 liters and then eliminated the old-tech shrunk-in cylinder liners in favor of a spray-on coating, among other things. The V12 returned with output ratings of 750 hp and 553 pound-feet of torque. Oh, and it weighed 15 percent less than before, too.
Aston's designers did their part to create a car with an instantly different look compared to the standard cars. The One-77 sits lower, with a heavily waisted body, huge rear haunches, small overhangs and a set-back greenhouse. They also updated and simplified the interior that, as in other Astons, has been looking old for years.
The designers also made sure that every metal trim part is machined to minute accuracy from billet, and every surface speaks of quality. The whole thing is built with Swiss-watch precision using hand-picked staff of reassuring age and experience. It all adds up to a car that can command the equivalent of nearly $2 million U.S.
A Very Different Aston
When you approach the car, you'll instantly notice how different its proportions are from Aston Martins you know. The 2012 Aston Martin One-77 is similar in length to the DBS and DB9, but the wheelbase is nearly 2 inches longer and the whole car is lower. Chalk it down to the influence of those inboard front suspension units. They, along with a new dry-sump system for the engine, allow the engine to be farther back and 3.9 inches lower in the car.
The driver is nearly 4 inches lower, too, but the car itself is only about 3 inches lower because there's about an inch more headroom. The cabin is even farther back toward the rear axle — this is a pure two-seater — and its wasp-waisted body allows very easy access.
Open the butterfly doors and you see an interior that could only be an Aston. Low seats, lots of double-stitched leather and a big waterfall center stack. You might recognize the jewellike speedo and tachometer adopted from other models. Your seat is very low and deep, with high side bolsters, but you can still see well.
The starter whirrs seamlessly, then the V12 bursts raucously into life. In the first seconds of running, it is clear the dominant sound in this car is always going to be the engine. You hear mechanical sizzles and induction roar, and once the engine passes 2,200 rpm in Sport mode, you hear most of the exhaust, too. In normal (or Town mode) the car's management computer keeps the butterflies shut to a more respectable 4,500 rpm. But it's vocal, so the owner will need to get used to it.
The One-77 uses a rear-mounted six-speed automated manual gearbox instead of a dual-clutch system because it is lighter and much easier to package with the diff. Aston also feels it has done enough to make the box work well with the mammoth torque it must handle.
It proves up to the task. You can have smooth, slurred changes at medium-low revs in town or quick shifts under full noise. There's a "drive auto" setting that will please some owners, but Porritt never used it.
The suspension is very firm but the car always stays flat, courtesy of the long wheelbase and very wide tracks. The car is just short of 6.5 feet wide, and the wheels go right to the extremities, but when Porritt deploys the full 750 hp, it is easy to see why this suspension must impose serious discipline.
It delivers immense thrust off the line and there is a big head-toss on the 1st-to-2nd gearchange. I'm forced way back into my seat, but the thing I'm really noticing is how the wheels are still trying to spin as we select 3rd. They would be scratching about even more if not for the traction control system. This is another of those cars in the Bugatti-McLaren mold that can always, literally, go faster than you desire.
Handling? Sticky tires on huge wheels, ultrawide tracks, zero overhangs and most mass located well inside the wheelbase make this car easy to set up as a neutral handler, and that's what Porritt and his team have done. The car much prefers to stay on line, but you can make it break away any time with power — as long as the traction control is off.
Deploy the handsome folding rear wing (or it pops up by itself at 80 mph) and the car gently understeers in long fast bends, says the engineer. I find "gentle" an incongruous word for this car, in any context.
Is It Worth Millions?
The car is a complete surprise to me, for its sheer single-mindedness. The noise is dominant and the ride is firm. It requires a driver who is dominant and never apologetic.
I had expected this Aston to be a classic old gentleman's GT: in other words, hugely potent but, above all, polite and refined. But this is not the case. The 2012 Aston Martin One-77 is raw. It is made for delivering ultimate performance from a long hood/short deck configuration.
It is a driving challenge, never a pushover. My respect for billionaires — or at least the 77 who will have a chance to own one of these — has just gone up.
Portions of this content have appeared in foreign print media and are reproduced with permission.