Aston Martin Callum Vanquish 25 (2020) review: passion project

Published:02 September 2020

  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
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By Jake Groves

CAR's deputy news editor, office Geordie, gamer, lover of hot hatches

By Jake Groves

CAR's deputy news editor, office Geordie, gamer, lover of hot hatches

► Remixed Aston Vanquish driven
► Overhaul by R-Reforged and Callum Design
► Starts from £450k, plus taxes and donor car

Callum Design and R-Reforged have worked together to reimagine the Aston Martin Vanquish – one of Callum’s most iconic and memorable designs. The car itself first debuted in 2001, and has been thoroughly upgraded, tweaked and gently redesigned to bring it up to 2020.

It’s not often a car designer ever gets the chance to go back to a production car they have penned and completely overhaul it to the latest standards. Ian Callum is one of the lucky few. ‘No matter what you can do, it can always be better,’ he says, not long after I’ve been behind the wheel of his and R-Reforged reimagined Aston.

How has the Vanquish been made better, then?

The better question is how hasn’t it been improved.

It’s still a Vanquish to look at, but the bodywork has been cleaned up from nose to tail; a new front apron keeps the trad Aston Martin grille but the bumper is now carbonfibre and features a lower extension of that air intake, and two ducts transfer air flow to the brakes. Innovations in lighting technology see the headlights use LED power, removing the round foglights of the original that Callum never much cared for in the process.

callum vanquish static front

New 20-inch wheels and a wider track at the rear fill the curvy arches, and a new rear diffuser further improves air flow – complete with an exhaust system that merges seamlessly with it. It’s also the little details that have been refined, too; the looping trim around the side windows, for example, is now one piece of carbonfibre instead of the thick and unsightly blocks of rubber sealant on the original.

The Callum Vanquish sits on custom suspension with Bilstein dampers, stiffened anti-roll bars, carbon ceramic brakes, and – something novel for such a low-volume project – a choice of gearboxes: you can keep the original’s semi-automatic, install a six-speed torque converter auto from a Corvette or, rather excitingly, a six-speed manual.

While there have been numerous changes done under the skin, the Callum Vanquish still uses a 6.0-litre, naturally aspirated V12. Only now, there are uprated camshafts, a carbonfibre airbox and recalibrated ECU, boosting power by 60bhp to 580bhp, and singing tenor rather than baritone via the bespoke exhaust system mentioned earlier.

callum vanquish interior

The cockpit, too, has had a significant overhaul. The R-Reforged and Callum Design teams have, among other changes, completely reworked the seats, added a removable Bremont watch (because why not?) and bought in some infotainment. Leather upholstery from Bridge of Weir (that also supplies the likes of Bentley) has a unique, modern tartan on the seats, headlining and rear window shelf, while a bespoke luggage set from Mulberry is yours to call your own, too.

None of this can be cheap…

You are correct. As you may have guessed from the number on the headline, just 25 will be made to individual specifications. While he’s not directly involved in the sales process (that is instead the job of R-Reforged), Callum will discuss specifications personally with each buyer. Given that he has his name on the line here, he’s keen to be proud to have it on every one of the 25 Vanquish creations, if you catch my drift.

Vanquish vs 550M: modern classic GTs go head-to-head

The base estimated price is a minimum of £450,000, and that’s before any local taxes and – most crucially – a Vanquish donor car. You have to remember this isn’t an all-new creation, it’s like Jaguar Land Rover Classic Works’ Defender V8; you need a base upon which the teams can improve on. Either R-Reforged can source an original Vanquish for you to get started on, or you can hand over your own to have the work done. According to the R-Reforged team, some buyers have even asked to have a Callum 25 Vanquish alongside their original. Oh, to be so wealthy, eh?

Let’s get started, shall we?

After some time driving an original Vanquish for comparison, I jumped into the red one you see in the images: a manual version complete with cream leather interior and carbonfibre centre console. What was instantly noticeable was the work gone into the seating; the R-Reforged and Callum teams completely redesigned them and the rails beneath them, allowing you to sit much lower in the cockpit than a regular one. Twist the key and prod the central starter button and the Callum Vanquish still starts with a V12 harrumph just like any other recent Aston. Good.

callum vanquish front tracking

For the first few miles, you’re busy getting acquainted with everything. Our sunny day didn’t do the instruments or the bought-in infotainment any favours, for a start. The dials within the binnacle are overlayed with an odd crosshair graphic, which obscures the dials to the point of it taking more than a quick glance to check your speed, and the infotainment’s angle is too high, making it near-impossible to use in direct sunlight.

But the biggest treat in those early miles is getting to know that new manual gearbox, if you spec it. It’s a boon for involvement, and a workout for your left leg/right arm combo in crawling traffic. Having a manual gearbox – especially one with a heavy clutch and shift action such as this – may be at odds with the Vanquish’s innate GT vibes, but changing gear here has a tactile and communicative action like few I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

callum vanquish side pan

The six forward gears are also looooooooooooong, allowing the V12 to pull and pull and pull with a divine throttle response that only a naturally aspirated engine can really provide. And when you do stretch the legs of that V12…. What a noise. The sports exhaust system allows the Callum Vanquish to sing tenor, rather than baritone, with a tuneful howl at almost any revs. Keep the revs climbing, allowing the V12 to flex its muscle and there’s a smooth surge of acceleration at any gear and at any speed.

Okay, it’s fast! How does it handle?

The reworked chassis has shifted the balance, if only slightly, more towards sports car than GT. The ride treads the very thin line between comfortable enough for cruising and sharp enough for some back road fun relatively well; it’s definitely a firmer setup here than any modern Aston – even the DB11 AMR – and far more so than an original Vanquish. That does translate into the Callum Vanquish finding more lumps in the road and some above average boominess from the tyres at motorway cruising speeds.

callum vanquish front cornering

But this thing comes alive when you’re taking the long way home. Its width can be unnerving on skinny B-roads and it takes a few miles to really get to know how far you can push it, but the more you drive it the more you realise that the ceiling for the car’s talent is high. The taut body control from that reworked suspension system suddenly pays massive dividends; this 1800kg grand tourer can hustle just as athletically on a twisty road as plenty of brand-new sports cars you can go to a dealer and buy, and much better than even a brand new Bentley Continental GT. The steering is much more alert than before (the original Vanquish’s rack has a bit off a dead-spot just off-centre), with that and the tremendous grip from the rear axle giving you tremendous confidence.

Aston Martin Callum Vanquish 25: verdict

It’s an odd one, this. What has been done visually and engineering-wise to an already great piece of design and driving theatre has to be truly commended, as R-Reforged and Callum Design have managed to make a grand tourer handle like a sports car. Those that are lucky enough to get the keys to one will have something that is truly bespoke and swill slap a smile on your face that few other cars will.

But that’s also the problem – the Callum Vanquish is hyper-exclusive and obscenely expensive. Most will see it as little more than a passion project, with Ian Callum getting the incredibly rare honour to redo a design from 20 years ago. If you’re one of the 25 that get a hold of one, just do one thing for the rest of us: don’t just leave it to sit in a garage for the rest of its life.

callum vanquish side static

Check out more Aston Martin reviews here


Price when new: £450,000
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 5935cc naturally-aspirated V12, 580bhp, 395lb ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 4.5sec (est) 0-62mph, 200mph (est)
Weight / material: 1810kg/steel, aluminium and carbonfibre
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4665/1923/1318mm

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By Jake Groves

CAR's deputy news editor, office Geordie, gamer, lover of hot hatches