Hang on? Isn't the Vanquish about to end production?
Yep, but it's going out fighting. First Aston Martin released details of an 'Ultimate' (read 'Final') edition Vanquish S, and now they have announced details of this 'Works Service' manual gearbox conversion. Both cars remind us that the Vanquish is, after all, a cracking car and that the forthcoming DBS is going to have to be very special indeed to best the big V.
A little late to start offering a manual gearbox conversion then?
Yes and no. Being a Works Service development (with a little help from Special Vehicle Operations at Gaydon), the manual conversion is available on any Vanquish old or new. So even if you're driving around in a six-year-old Vanquish, you can roll up to Works Service and revitalise the car with the manual conversion. Providing you have the required £13,250 + VAT that is. And let's not forget that the Works Service alchemists at Newport Pagnell, probably the finest Aston Martin craftsmen in the world, carry out the conversion.
So is this the gearbox the Vanquish should've had since it was launched?
Well, you'll never hear Aston Martin say it - but yes. The standard Auto Shift Manual (ASM) system fitted to the Vanquish was never the finest example of a paddle-shift clutchless manual. You always had the impression that the electronics controlling the clutch and throttle were locked in some kind of unhappy marriage - together, but reluctantly so - leaving the driver strangely detached from the chassis. The manual conversion plugs the driver back in and liberates the fantastic drivers' car that was always hidden within the Vanquish.
It's good then?
Oh yes. Yes, yes, yes. We tried a two-year old Vanquish ramped up to 'S' spec and fitted with the manual 'box. That means the full-monty 520bhp version of the 6-litre V12 engine, a Sport diff and Sports suspension. Our car also had a fantastic switchable exhaust valve device that, at the touch of a button, transforms the exhaust note from quiet-and-subtle to Iron Maiden-at-Monsters-of-Rock. Initially, it's the classy installation of the gearshift mechanism and clutch pedal that grabs you. There's no evidence to suggest that this is essentially a retro-fit and both the gearshift and clutch action are slick and meaty - perfectly reflecting the essential character of the Vanquish. Works Service and SVO worked hard on the gearshift operation in particular, with successful results. You can't get close to matching the lightening (250 millisecond) gear change speed of the ASM 'box, but you are compensated with the means to properly control the clutch and gearshifting.
How does this affect the overall driving experience?
You feel greater interaction with the chassis. The manual conversion has somehow released an overall feeling of being at one with the car; the throttle response is stunning, heel-and-toeing is simple and addictive, and the Vanquish's mighty performance feels more accessible and friendly. And let's not forget that the 520bhp version of Aston's big 6.0-litre V12 is enough to push the Vanquish S beyond 200mph. It's a fast, fast car, but it's a peerless GT too. The ride is composed, the steering even more feelsome than the newer DB9's, and the interior quality and style, especially with the newer '06 centre stack (unlike our test car) is typically plush and modern.
So, would you buy one?
Well, this is where it gets interesting. The last of the Vanquish line - the Ultimate Edition - is likely to sell out in a flash, even at £182,095. But we've looked at Auto Trader and found a few low-mileage '03 model year Vanquishs for around £90,000. Add the Works Service manual conversion (regular Vanquish cabin pictured above) and a few of the 'S' tweaks and for around £115,000 you will have what is still the ultimate Aston Martin. And that, ladies and gentleman, is a bargain.