We are delighted to share with you our Aston...
Peter Tomalin tells the story behind them, drives them back to back, and finds out what you need to know if you’re tempted to add either to your collection
I’ll be honest, as I pulled back the bedroom curtains at 7.30 this morning I offered a silent prayer to the weather gods. When your day involves driving a pair of cars such as these, what you really want is warm(ish), dry(ish) tarmac to sample them on. Immensely potent, lightweight road-racers, riding on stiffened suspension and tyres optimised for trackdays tend not to be at their best on cold, damp, late-November roads. And with vulnerable-looking carbonfibre protrusions ready to betray any indiscretion, you could be forgiven for treading very carefully indeed, when what you really want to do is open the taps and give them a proper workout!
Thankfully my wish has been granted; it’s a wonderfully bright and crisp early-winter’s morning, and a couple of hours later I arrive at Nicholas Mee & Co to find the GT8 and GT12 fuelled, warmed through and waiting side-by-side in the sunshine. And what a sight they make; Gaydon-era Aston Martin at its most extreme. Short of a One-77 or Valkyrie, these have to be the most extrovert road cars ever to wear the famous winged badge (that badge, incidentally, fashioned in carbonfibre on the nose of the GT12 for ultimate weight saving and paddock kudos).
Tarmac-skimming front splitters, high-rise rear wings, titanium exhausts poking through carbon diffusers, magnesium alloy wheels… both cars shout ‘road racer’ from every vent and fairly bristle with aggression. Only question is, which to try first…
But before we jump in, a little bit of background.
It was the GT12 that came first, unveiled in the spring of 2015, one of the very first models to be launched under new CEO Dr Andy Palmer, who had arrived at Gaydon the previous autumn. There had been motorsport-inspired special editions of the ‘VH2’ Vantage before, but the Vantage GT12 was very different and a whole lot more serious.
In fact it was originally going to be called the Vantage GT3, as a tribute to Aston Martin’s highly successful GT3 endurance racers of the day – until Porsche objected. The German manufacturer had its own series of highly rated track-flavoured road cars, the 911 GT3 RS being perhaps the best known and most revered. So Aston backed down, though it was pretty clear which car the renamed GT12 sought to emulate. Here, at last, was a model genuinely influenced by motorsport, one that fused all of AML’s engineering talent and racing pedigree like no Vantage before it.
The GT12 was the creation of AML’s dedicated Special Projects facility at Wellesbourne, a few miles down the road from Gaydon, headed by David King and staffed by a crack team of between 30 and 40 experienced engineers and technicians. This was the same team that produced the DB10 for James Bond and later the Vulcan track car, among other highly specialised machines.
The extent and depth of the changes from the standard V12 Vantage S were immediately apparent. Body-wise, the front, rear and flanks had all been sharpened, widened, extended or re-worked to improve cooling, increase downforce, broaden the car’s footprint and simply make it look more the part; indeed the body was a good 100mm wider for maximum road presence. Weight-saving options include a carbonfibre roof, carbonfibre grille, polycarbonate rear and rear quarter windows, plus a lithium-ion battery to replace the regular (hefty) lead-acid item. In combination, they helped reduce the kerb weight by a very considerable 100kg.
Under the bonnet, the 5.9-litre V12 wore a new magnesium inlet manifold, which saved more weight and flowed air more freely into the hungry engine. Magnesium was also used in the torque-tube between the engine and rear axle, while the new exhaust system was made from titanium for more weight savings and a sharper, more urgent note.
Together, the manifold and exhaust system (plus appropriate remapping of the engine management system) yielded a formidable 592bhp at 7000rpm compared with 565bhp from the regular V12 S, the highest output yet seen from the naturally aspirated V12. Aston quoted a 0-60mph time of 3.5sec and a top speed of 185mph, which was actually down from the V12 Vantage S’s 205mph top speed as a result of the additional drag generated by the high-downforce aero package. Like the V12 S, the GT12 was available only with a paddle-shift transmission, in this case the seven-speed Sportshift III automated manual.
Chassis-wise, the wishbones remained standard but the springs and dampers were tuned to the car and retained Aston’s Adaptive Damping System, albeit with re-calibrated Normal, Sport and Track modes. Wheels were 19in front and 20in rear, in either forged alloy or optional cast magnesium, and wore wider, stickier Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres. Huge Brembo carbon-ceramic disc brakes were clamped by new six- and four-pot monobloc Brembo calipers unique to the GT12. Like we said, serious stuff.
As with the exterior and the mechanical underpinnings, the GT12’s interior was an exciting departure from the norm. Extensive use of carbonfibre stripped more weight from the car, while the satnav display was fixed in position, its opening and closing mechanism jettisoned to save further weight. Likewise, the bucket seats did away with electric adjustment (though you could have power-adjust seats as an option) and there was a basic infotainment system. You could specify the monster 700W and 1000W B&O hi-fi systems, but they come at a significant weight penalty thanks to the hefty amplifiers and speakers. Many owners decided they’d be quite happy to listen to the V12 instead!
Very much a ‘special series’ product rather than a full production model, only 100 Vantage GT12s were built, every one of them quickly snapped up with a basic list price of £250,000 (that’s around £300,000 in today’s money). Not that many of the 100 were ordered without a long list of extras, and those lightweight options weren’t cheap – it was very easy to spec a GT12 to well over £300k.
The GT8 followed a year later, in spring 2016, billed as a roadgoing interpretation of Aston Martin’s V8 Vantage GTE, a hugely successful race-car in its own right, whose career highlights included class victories at Le Mans in 2014 and 2017. The GT8 wouldn’t be quite as rare as the GT12, but still only 150 were offered, and again they were snapped up almost before the car was publically announced.
The GT8 wasn’t quite as extreme as the GT12 either – it featured regular cast-iron disc brakes rather than carbon-ceramics, for example – and the list price was considerably less at £165,000, but it was still a serious piece of kit and looked the part too, especially if you ticked the boxes for the lightweight and aero options. With the rear wing, carbonfibre roof, centre-lock forged magnesium wheels, polycarbonate side and rear windows, titanium centre-exit exhaust and carbonfibre sports seats, the weight tumbled by 100kg, while the price rocketed to close to £200k.
Peak power was up only 10bhp compared with the V8 Vantage S, to 440bhp, but the performance claims were still strong: 0-60 in 4.4sec and a top speed of 190mph. As well as having less exotic cast-iron discs, the GT8 had fixed-rate dampers, while Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s and a mechanical limited-slip diff completed the chassis package.
One thing the GT8 did have over the GT12, however, was a choice of transmissions: paddles or a traditional stick-shift manual. And I’m rather pleased to discover that the GT8 at Nicholas Mee & Co has the trad option, partly because it should provide a fascinating comparison with my own early Gaydon-era V8 Vantage, which has essentially the same six-speed ’box. Whether they’ll have much else in common I’m about to discover!
The GT8 looks terrific in Stratos White with the full aero kit, incidentally the same spec as then Aston CEO Andy Palmer’s own car. The interior is recognisably V8 Vantage – just. From the smoothly sculptural door panels to the central ‘waterfall’ console with its haptic switches, the GT8 is characterised by the mesmerising weave of exposed satin-finish carbonfibre. And what isn’t carbon is clad largely in Alcantara. Though, being an Aston, there are some delightful little additional touches such as the door pulls, which are beautifully crafted from saddle leather.
The fixed-back carbon bucket seat is set slightly higher than the standard item but it hugs the hips and torso beautifully. Now dip the clutch, push the ‘key’ into the centre of the dash – and flinch as the V8 bursts fiercely into life. Modern Astons like to holler, but the GT8 is on another level, raucous and unapologetic.
The next thing I notice is how much lighter the clutch is than the one in my early 4.3, and how much easier the shifts (time for me to consider a twin-plate clutch upgrade, perhaps).
Heading out along the local lanes, the ride is firm but far from harsh, the steering bright and wonderfully linear, and there’s a delicious feeling of connection through both the wheel’s Alcantara rim and that carbon-shelled bucket seat. The chassis feels beautifully reactive too, light on its feet, turning keenly and responding intimately to both steering and throttle inputs, the whole car feeling as though it’s pivoting around your hips. The process of covering ground at speed is totally absorbing.
When a dual carriageway opens out and you hold it through second and third gear there’s strong, sustained acceleration, particularly above 4000rpm – noticeably more urgent than in my 4.3 – accompanied by a terrifically exciting blare from the titanium exhaust. Equally pleasing is that when you back off to a cruise, the noise subsides to a background burble: this car wouldn’t be a pain on a long haul. But it’s the agility, the immediacy, the biddability and the sense of connection that form the strongest impression. I’m honestly struggling to think of a more engaging chassis in the whole Aston family (it’s no coincidence that ride and handling wizard Matt Becker had joined Aston Martin from Lotus just as these cars were being developed).
And so to the GT12, which if anything looks even more fabulous, in Alloro green and wearing its full aero battledress with flashes of yellow warpaint to mimic the racers. The wow factor continues inside with more expanses of beautifully wrought carbonfibre, superb detailing, and more excellent bucket seats – if anything these seem to place me slightly lower in the car, which feels good.
The V12 fires with a fierce flare of revs before settling to a smooth but potent-sounding idle. Select ‘D’ using the buttons for the automated manual and ease back out onto the lanes. It’s a friendly sort of beast in these early miles, the throttle easy to measure out, the ride never jarring, the steering responsive without being hyper, the transmission going about its business…
Sportshift III was an improvement on Aston’s earlier automated transmissions, though it’s still a touch ponderous when left to its own devices, certainly compared with modern twin-clutch set-ups. Press the Sport button and the shifts become a little crisper; better yet when you take control yourself with the paddles. In Sport the engine really finds its voice too – higher pitched than the V8, more complex, but every bit as thrilling, and quite awe-inspiring when you take it into the upper reaches of the rev band.
You’ll need plenty of space and the right conditions to do so, because the GT12 is a seriously quick car by any standards. This is the sort of power that gets the rear end twitching even in a straight line in third gear and forces you to mentally recalibrate to keep up. And there’s torque simply everywhere, so that at any speed and in any gear you can summon slightly surreal levels of acceleration. Thankfully the carbon-ceramic brakes are boundlessly powerful.
Part of me is missing the added interaction of the manual ’box. But things happen very quickly in the GT12. And when you’re really on it, being able to flick through the gears without having to navigate your way around a manual gate is probably for the best, especially when coming down the ’box. You also have to be on your mettle in the corners, as even without turning the stability and traction off, it’s easy to get the tail out of shape under power. This is the VH-era Vantage turned up to, well… 12!
If the GT12 lacks one thing, it’s the GT8’s ultimate sense of lightness and agility. That’s almost entirely down to the fact that there’s a socking great V12 in the nose, filling the underbonnet and sitting partly over the front axle, whereas the V8 is right back behind the axle-line and placed lower in the car too. You can sense the extra weight and feel the difference in the GT8’s greater keenness to turn and its extra poise under braking, though switching the GT12’s damping to a stiffer setting brings noticeably greater composure. So you drive the more powerful car accordingly, taking fewer liberties and relishing every opportunity to unleash the V12’s explosive power, every drive an event.
It’s been an absolutely fascinating day, spent in the company of two of the most exciting and most charismatic Astons of the recent past. Personally I’d take the GT8 with the manual ’box. But if you love the idea of that mighty V12 engine, then you’ll probably accept no substitute, and I wouldn’t blame you one bit. You’ll also enjoy the feeling of unmatched potency every single time you slip into the GT12’s bucket seat and push the key into the dash…
Neal Garrard, commercial director of Nicholas Mee & Co, agrees that the GT8 just edges it in pure dynamic terms. ‘I was confident enough to say, after a previous drive in a GT8, that it’s Aston Martin’s greatest ever driver’s car,’ he says. ‘I really can’t think of another that is quite as engaging for the driver.
‘That said, the GT12 is just about the fastest road car I’ve ever driven, but still docile in traffic. To be honest I’d be very happy with either!’
Neal says credit should be given to Andy Palmer for presiding over the launch of such extreme machines. ‘Andy Palmer came in with some fresh thinking,’ he continues. ‘They were a new kind of Aston Martin, cars that challenged the accepted norm and the traditional owner demographic and were aimed at reducing the average age of the Aston Martin owner. They were the most aggressive, dramatic road cars that Aston had ever launched.’
Sales executive Matthew Staton reckons that to find another Aston Martin with a similar road-racer vibe, you probably have to go right back to the DB4 GT. And it’s surely no coincidence that both the DB4 GT and the two Vantage GTs emerged from two golden eras for Aston Martin in motorsport. ‘The GT8 and 12 were certainly the culmination of a lot of learning from racing activity,’ says Neal, ‘going right back to the Vantage N24 introduced in 2006. The GT class win for the Vantage GTE in 2017, when they beat the Corvettes and the Ferraris and Porsches, was one of the iconic moments in Le Mans history.’
So both GT8 and GT12 have the motorsport connection that has always excited collectors over the years. They are also both pretty rare machines, especially the GT12 with just 100 built. Of those, just 28 were right-hand-drive UK cars. The GT8 is slightly more numerous, with 150 built and 80 being right-hand drive. Of those, 68 had the traditional manual transmission – often a popular option with UK buyers over the years. Today, a manual commands around a 5 per cent premium over a similar-spec Sportshift GT8.
As we know, both models were expensive when new, particularly when extensively optioned, as both of these examples were. Today, the GT8 is priced at £165,000, the GT12 £330,000, so exactly double. That reflects the extra rarity and desirability not just of this GT12, but of V12-engined Vantages generally, and, as Matthew points out, the fact that the GT12 is the absolute ultimate evolution of the VH Vantage line.
‘Short to medium term, we believe the values of both cars will hold reasonably steady,’ says Neal. ‘In the longer term, there has to be a good chance that they will rise, which makes these particularly attractive to the new-era collector, of which we’re seeing more and more. In fact the GT8 has developed something of a cult following, with a very active club for like-minded owners. Also, for people who drive Porsche’s GT3 and RS models, these cars should be on their radar.
‘The other big thing they have in their favour is that servicing tends to be no more expensive than for regular Vantage models; the technology was all tried and tested. For the level of performance they offer, they are very cost-effective cars to own and run.
‘Our view is that pure driver’s cars reached a zenith around this time, before turbos and PDK gearboxes and too many electronics. They were cars with big naturally aspirated engines, the option of manual gearboxes and an analogue feel, and these two were the absolute pinnacle.’
Engine V8, 4735cc V12, 5925cc
Power 440bhp @ 7300rpm 592bhp @ 7000rpm
Torque 361lb ft @ 5000rpm 461lb ft @ 5500rpm
Weight* 1510kg 1565kg
Power to weight* 296bhp/ton 389bhp/ton
0-60mph 4.4sec 3.5sec
Top speed 190mph 185mph
*with all the lightweight options
Peter Tomalin has been writing about fast cars for 30 years. In previous lives he has been deputy editor of Performance Car magazine, editor of Evo and managing editor of Vantage. Now freelance, he contributes to Evo and Octane magazines among others and owns a 2006 V8 Vantage.