In 1913, British auto racing aficionados Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford stuffed a four-cylinder engine into a 1908 Isotta Fraschini and christened it an “Aston Martin” (the first name came from Aston Hill, where the two raced).
Several bankruptcies, two world wars and perennial production woes ensued, but what they wrought is now one of the world’s most desired auto brands, even boasting a Royal Warrant of Appointment to the Prince of Wales.
Last year, in celebration of its 100th anniversary, the company released the stunning Vanquish to critical acclaim. This year, it is continuing the party with the Vanquish Volante, a drop-dead-gorgeous drophead coupe (Brit-speak for convertible).
The famous signature grille is surrounded by a sinuous, lightweight all-carbon-fiber body mounted on a bonded aluminum structure: Aston Martin claims a 25 percent weight reduction and a 14 percent torsional rigidity improvement over the previous DBS.
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Significantly, the new Volante flouts the tried and true rule of GT cars — long hood, short deck — in favor of a long, swoopy front and rear, making for a svelte, sophisticated style that’s enhanced by the “full-height” windshield, which basically means that the glass runs up to the roof for a clean visual transition.
The triple-skinned fabric roof is capable of folding into the trunk at up to 30 mph in less than 14 seconds, which is about three times longer than it takes for the Volante to thunder to 60 mph (the estimated time is 4.1 seconds).
Packing 565 horses and 457 pound-feet of torque, the Volante’s 6.0-liter V-12 is matched to a super-smooth six-speed automatic transmission that, when punched, rewards driver, passenger and bystanders with a satisfyingly aggressive roar.
Three body-control damping systems are available: Normal, Sport and Track. Brembo carbon ceramic brakes bring things to a whoa in a big hurry.
Happily for drivers, Aston Martin is eschewing — for now, at least — the trend toward electrically assisted steering in favor of the more tactile hydraulic system.
The Volante is styled as a 2+2, but it’s really a two-seater with fancy storage space that comes in five types of hand-stitched leather and 30 color choices (hourglass quilting optional). The massive center stack console is adapted from the One-77 supercar and features “haptic” or touch-sensitive controls for the climate and infotainment systems, including the specially designed 1,000-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system.
All this power, style and cosseting comes at a cost, of course: MSRP is $297,995.
While that’s a good chunk of change, it’s still cheaper than the 10 limited-edition Volantes prepared for the Neiman Marcus 2013 Christmas catalog that went for $344,500.
But for those with deep pockets and the desire to celebrate 100 years of automotive history, as well as the willingness to wait four to six months for delivery, Aston Martin’s new hand-built flagship represents the pinnacle of dynamic engineering and luxurious driving performance.