Launched this week amid much hullabaloo, the Aston Martin AM-RB 001 takes the British sports car maker into uncharted territory
It was a January evening in 2015 when the men behind Aston Martin's first ever mid-engined road car, the AM-RB 001, met in a gastropub and turned a pipe dream (and, in designer Adrian Newey's case, a boyhood dream) into a real-life project unveiled this week.
"It was over sausage and mash," says Aston Martin boss Andy Palmer. "Up to then it had been a collection of ideas and thoughts."
Dubbed a “hypercar”, rathan a humdrum supercar, the AM-RB 001 (the proper name is with the lawyers) has been designed by 10 times Formula One Constructors’ Championship designer Adrian Newey, currently employed by Red Bull Racing, with the bodywork by Marek Reichman, Aston's chief creative officer.
This is a rich prize indeed, for despite his evident talent and desire since childhood, this will be Newey's first-ever road car.
And what a car it is. Details are scant, but Newey explains: "I want it to be small and light, with a very responsive powertrain. The aerodynamics don't necessarily make it more pleasurable to drive, but they do have the effect of making you think you are going much faster than you thought possible."
The target weight is 1,000kg, which with a projected power-to-weight ratio of 1:1 means the car's V12 engine will need to develop about 1,000bhp. This output is Bugatti Veyron territory, although Newey says he is more interested in lap times than outright speeds.
One estimate is that the Red Bull Aston will be able to lap Silverstone faster than a Formula One car; a tall order indeed.
"We looked at all sorts of configurations," says Newey. "V6 twin-turbocharged, V8 single turbo, but in the end it had to be a V12 to get the sort of power output we were after."
Despite claims that the unit will be naturally-aspirated, Newey doesn't turn down some sort of hybridisation. "I haven't commented on the rest of it [the engine]," he says, though he claims that
the AM-RB 001 will start with an advantage compared with the McLaren P1 and La Ferrari, because their hybrid systems add another 50 per cent in weight.
Palmer says: "It wouldn't be appropriate to go into the source of power, but we are working with a third party and many aspects of the engine will break new ground."
Neither is the team going into details on the transmission of this two-seat road rocket, though interestingly they aren't denying that the AM-RB 001 will have some sort of rear-mounted transaxle.
The price? Budget for between £2 and £3 million, according to Palmer.
The design is now fixed bar a few details and it is due to run, according to Dave King, Aston’s vice-president and special operations manager, who is charged with building it, at the end of next year, with the first customer deliveries in 2019.
"It's a challenge," he says. "Adrian [Newey] is stretching us out of our comfort zone."
Although the new car doesn't share any parts with the Aston Martin track car, the Vulcan, he says some of the lessons learned will help with the production of the AM-RB 001.
As to how many will be built, the occluding mists are already rising. "We will build 99 but no more than 150," said Palmer at the launch, which took place in Aston Martin's production hall in front of the staff. "That it is to say, whether we do a special or not, there will never be more than 150 of these road cars on the road."
Read that very carefully. Newey is already talking of a track version (up to 25 examples) that will be lighter and faster, and racing has not entirely been ruled out.
However many are made, it's likely to be in short supply, however, since Palmer says he already has 370 firm expressions of interest.
Aston has rarely done such overt sub-branding as this liaison with the Red Bull Formula One team before, but between them, Andy Palmer and his PR chief Simon Sproule have changed the terms of trade at the company, leveraging their past at Renault-Nissan, which supplies motive power and funding for the Red Bull F1 team.
Palmer says Mercedes (which owns five per cent of Aston Martin, is a technical partner - and also an F1 rival to Red Bull) "is totally cool with the arrangement".
Former Aston boss Victor Gauntlett once said that a mid-engined Aston would be "totally inappropriate." His successor, Walter Hayes, said the company couldn't afford a mid-engined sports car.
One thing we can be certain of is that this car will take Britain's most exclusive GT maker into all-new territory, for good and ill.
Palmer says the lessons learned will feed into the company's road cars and doesn't rule out other mid-engined models.
"We see this as an advanced technology driver," he says. "It would be a shame not to use those lessons."
Who'd have thought it would be a fizzy-drink manufacturer that would bring about such a sea change at Aston Martin...
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