Aston Martin Vanquish (2001) manual driven

2015-10-07 Read: 692x

What is a Vanquish really like with three pedals and a stick rather than paddles?

 It's a marketing rather than an engineering decision if ever there was one: Aston Martin's first-gen Vanquish was only ever available as a paddleshift automatic.

This car proves it - the Aston Martin Works-converted Vanquish manual demonstrator, complete with six-speed shifter sprouting prominently out of the centre console. Because it comes about not through fitting an entirely new manual transaxle from another Aston, extensive re-engineering and all... but by replacing the Tremec/Borg-Warner T-56 six-speed gearbox's Magneti Marelli semi-auto shifter pack (also used by period Ferrari 360s) with a conventional manual selector. Simple now; it would have been a breeze back then.

They didn't, because of the desire to give the Vanquish a technological-leader image. The 21st century Bond doesn't shift a gearlever, he uses paddles - and back in 2001, paddle shifters were still a little bit space age. Every single one of the 2,500 Vanquish and Vanquish S built between 2001 and 2007 was thus duly equipped.

A lesson in avoidance

Sadly, as we know, the shifts themselves weren't so space age. They were smooth enough and downshift blips were amusing but, even then, they seemed laggy. Today, it's like switching back to a Windows 95 PC. That's the thing when electronics form a major part of a car - electronics evolve, and so too do our expectations.

Then there's the nagging question of reliability and longevity. The first road test cars suffered gearbox gremlins and, apparently, Aston Martin's one-day driver training course for all Vanquish buyers even included a lesson in city centre motoring - basically, keep a gap to the car in front so you can stay rolling, rather than stopping and starting, to protect the clutch...

In theory, then, this manual V12 Vanquish should be rather nice. Particularly as those fearing a bit of a lash up will be amazed at how factory-fit it all seems. The gearknob, donated by a V8 Vantage, looks like it was born to be there, and the position of the lever is ergonomically perfect (anyone remember the awkward canting over of the Reliant Scimitar SS1..?). If you didn't know the Vanquish never came as a manual, you'd think there was nothing extraordinary here. Goodness, there's even just enough space for the clutch, meaning no original 911-like feelings of pressing down into the passenger footwell.

As if it would be a lash up, though: this is the work of, well, Aston Martin Works, the crack development department based at the firm's spiritual HQ in Newport Pagnell. They've neatly used the central ashtray to house the lever (for the Vanquish S, it became a cupholder) and because Aston covers it all in leather matching the rest of the interior, the slight remodelling required to ensure the lever has full fore and aft travel without your fist smashing into the centre console is completely hidden. The steering wheel cowl hasn't been forgotten either (the paddles are removed, not left redundant...).

Manual decision: vanquished

But for all this, you'll still pause as you start up. For a decade, this has been a paddle shift car. How do you drive a manual Vanquish? As it turns out, because of the quality of the shift, just like a normal manual (a light and crisp one at that). It snicks into first cleanly, the meaty clutch is not the feared brutal switch as you let it out and, well, everything gels nicely from the off. The only surprise is shifting from second to third, and later from third to fifth: it has an extremely narrow gate that requires a delicate hand. Mindful of expensive V12-munching downshifts, maybe Aston should revive that Vanquish driver training with a revised gearbox training module...

It soon starts to flow, so the rest of the revived Vanquish can be explored. The other surprise? How it still stands scrutiny. It feels like a classic front-engine V12 coupe, with all the handling confidence you'd hope for (the fact this original development hack was converted for Vanquish S trials helps - and explains why Y-plate registration doesn't match S-spec grille, front splitter and rear spoiler). Drive normally and it's nice and neutral, press on and it becomes satisfyingly rear-influenced, with the predictability and directness of the gearshift giving you further confidence (rather like as Dan discovered recently with the difference between manual and DCT BMW M3). It maybe even lets you drive that bit quicker, because you feel more keyed into the car beneath you - and on twisty British roads, complete predictability is what you need when piloting a sports car that's more than 1.9 metres wide. An intelligent nicely damped ride is too; you sense the magic of Lotus.

This early incarnation of Aston's V12 motor is, on reflection, also rather nice. It doesn't quite have the finishing school culture today's iterations do, so is a little rawer and more prominent, and better to a classic driver's eyes as a result. Entertainment is more important than the ultimate in driving refinement here, and with this engine, you certainly know you're driving a V12. Particularly when, deep into the test route, you notice you've used plenty of the remaining fuel, leaving the dial pointing worryingly close to zero. Enter cruise mode, and enter one more major reasons paddle shift Vanquish owners may consider the conversion: it trickles along in traffic beautifully, not a lunge in sight nor the merest whiff of a lightly-cooking clutch.

It's a super conversion that makes the Vanquish the car it perhaps ought to have been back when manual gearboxes really were in vogue. This, and the allure of the Aston Martin Works stamps and stickers, is why so many (we're talking hundreds rather than handfuls) are now having it done, despite the upwards-of-£15,000 cost (most have a few other Works tweaks while there - modern-grade touchscreen sat nav being a favourite). Vanquish manual? Thanks to Works, we know it works. 


  • Engine: 5,935cc V12
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
  • Power (hp): 520@7,000rpm
  • Torque (lb ft): 425@5,800rpm
  • 0-62mph: 4.8 seconds (est) 
  • Top speed: 200mph + 
  • Kerbweight: 1,875kg (est)
  • MPG: 16.9 NEDC combined (est)
  • CO2: 396g/km (est)
  • Price: Used Vanquish + c.£15,000

Discussion about article New topic

Photo gallery - Aston Martin Vanquish I

Aston Martin Vanquish I

This is an article about the model Aston Martin Vanquish I

Aston Martin Vanquish buying guide (2001-2007)

Damnably seductive, the original Vanquish. It’s a car with vivid performance, a tremendous warmth of character and a rousing delivery that grips you from the moment you press that big red starter button and never lets you go. As when new, its charisma more than compensates for its few failings, and cements its place as one of the great Aston Martins. With early examples available for as little a...

Aston Martin Vanquish (2001) manual gear

We seem to be operating on fast-forward. The Aston Martin Vanquish has that effect. That familiar knot in the stomach you feel when driving something really quick really quickly kicks in the moment the exhaust bypass valves open. This is the point where the angry strung-out V12 clamour makes your heart race and pupils dilate. It may be artificially amplified, but it’s utterly intoxicating. That th...

James Bond's Vanquish

The Aston Martin V12 Vanquish is a grand tourer that was introduced in 2001 as a successor to the ageing Virage range.

Featuring a maximum speed in excess of 190 mph and a 6.0 litre V12 engine developing more than 450 horsepower, the vehicle was unveiled at the 2001 Geneva Motor Show and was produced from 2001 to 2005. The V12 Vanquish was replaced by the DBS in 2007, with the Vanquish name being...

Aston Martin Vanquish S

The fastest production model ever to be built by Aston Martin made its world debut at the 2004 Paris Motor Show. With a maximum speed in excess of 200mph and a 6.0 litre V12 engine developing 520 horsepower, the Vanquish S has been designed to deliver even greater performance, complemented by subtle suspension and steering changes and a number of interior and external style revisions. The Vanquish...