Aston Martin’s headquarters at Gaydon has always been one of the most spectacular buildings in the motor industry. It’s got a gravel driveway, a geometrically perfect moat and a towering, gleaming lobby where the model line-up sits on display.
But it’s when you move further inside the sprawling factory site that things get really interesting. To get beyond the lobby requires a security card that beeps a set of frosted glass doors open. Pass through these and the standard of décor falls immediately. You’re now in an office rather than a boutique store. This is clearly where the work happens.
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You walk down a short corridor where various sculptures and bits of corporate artwork sit on display. This leads you to another set of locked security doors, and your host has to make with his magic pass again. Now you’re outside, walking through a slightly incongruous minimalist Japanese garden and approaching another building. You later discover this has won several architectural awards, but on first impressions it looks like a large, if stylish, bunker. ‘Aston Martin Design’ is embossed on one of the walls. The smart tag comes out again and yet another set of doors beep and unlock.
Another corridor, and then there’s a final door, that of the display studio, where even your host’s security tag doesn’t work any more. Instead he resorts to knocking, and – after a cautious pause – the door of this innermost sanctum is opened from the inside.
And then you’re looking at this car.
Let’s forgive Aston the cloak- and-dagger act. Because this stunning car, known simply as the CC100, has been the company’s most guarded secret for the last six months. And evo has been given exclusive behind-the-scenes access so that we can bring you the inside story on how something so wonderfully, so compellingly mad came about.
The initial idea was simple enough. Aston wanted to create an ultra-special model to celebrate both its centenary year and – less officially – the dramatic improvement in the company’s fortunes since it landed some much-needed investment from an Italian equity fund. The plans only solidified into the idea of creating a one-off roadster last December, and the car has been designed, built and assembled since then. It might look like a motor show special, but it’s been built to be driven, sharing its underpinnings with the V12 Vantage Roadster. And its first public gig will be a properly challenging one: a display lap of the Nordschleife ahead of the N24 race in May, with CEO Ulrich Bez at the wheel and in formation with an original DBR1 racer being driven by Sir Stirling Moss. No pressure, then.
The car in the styling studio isn’t real. It’s a full-sized clay model, but we’ll get to meet the partially assembled actual car later on (it’s the completed real CC100 you can see here in our photos). Aston’s senior designer, Miles Nurnberger, who led the project, and design boss Marek Reichman are on hand to talk me round the model. Both grin when they clock my fairly startled reaction to what, on first impressions, is a modern take on a 1950s endurance racer.
‘It’s great to be able to make something with this kind of freedom,’ Reichman confirms, ‘but it’s still a proper car – we never do anything that’s not feasible.’
There’s certainly plenty to take in. Even as a clay styling buck, the CC100 is one of those cars that you can spend an inordinate amount of time just staring at. At first, to be honest, because it looks so odd. Being without the visual anchor of a windscreen leaves your brain struggling to navigate around the shape, indeed initially even to work out which end is the front. Seen side-on, there is more to the form beyond long and low – the two roll-over protection pods give some visual definition, as does the aperture in the side bodywork. But first impressions are that it’s mostly bonnet.
But when you move closer, and start to see the car in three dimensions rather than just side-on, it gains visual complexity. The lines are beautifully sculpted, helping your mind to fill in some of the empty space left by the missing glasshouse. Cars with bodywork but no windscreen tend to end up looking like upturned bathtubs, or maybe Can-Am racers if you’re feeling charitable. But the CC100 is undoubtedly an Aston, even without its inspired-by-One-77 front grille. There’s something very old fashioned about it; it reminds me of the C-type Jaguar more than the Aston DBR1. But there’s also something very modern in the car’s skeletal, minimalist form.
It’s fair to say that classic sportscar racers have played a significant part in the inspiration behind the CC100, especially the way the twin cockpits are separated by a long strip of bodywork. The overhead perspective works particularly well – according to Nurnberger, the car was nicknamed ‘the racetrack’ because of its intricate plan view, and the shape of the cockpit apertures does look almost driveable.
‘Lots of the original sketches showed it from above,’ Reichman says. ‘I love Goodwood and the Revival – I love standing on top of the pits and looking down. And that view of a sportscar is just excellent – it pulls into the pits and you’re looking dead down into it. It’s something you don’t normally see, but we wanted to really bring it out with this car, to celebrate it. I’m insistent that we look at the car every day from every perspective. It has to work in all of them.’
But although the CC draws clear inspiration from Aston’s past, and has been explicitly built to celebrate the company’s first century, we’re categorically instructed not to see it as being a retro model or a pastiche of Aston’s classic sports racers. ‘As with everything we do it’s never a literal translation of the past for us,’ says Reichman. ‘There’s no thought about a retrospective product – it’s only ever about moving forwards. Yes, the DBR1 was one of my favourite cars, even before I came to Aston Martin. It’s such an evocative shape and form – it doesn’t need to be beautiful, it’s just a racing car, it’s just got to perform a certain function. We wanted to show that a pure, very raw car can have beauty as well.’
Nurnberger adds to this, stating: ‘We’ve got a saying that we keep coming back to: be romantic, but never retro.’
The CC100 is based on the V12 Vantage Roadster, with the inherent flexibility of Aston’s ‘VH’ chassis architecture making it a relatively simple process to design new bodywork to fit over the same hardpoints. The body is made entirely from carbonfibre, with 55 separate mouldings. And although the exterior design was finalised using a traditional full-sized clay model, shaved and carved by hand, the intricate interior components and the enormous air vents built into the front of the side apertures only ever existed virtually before they were made, the designs going straight from Aston’s computers to manufacturer Multimatic, with the finished pieces then arriving less than a week later. It’s a process closer to that used by an F1 team than a road-car maker. Fortunately everything fitted together when it arrived. ‘It’s not like aluminium, you can’t just bang it with a hammer to make it fit,’ says Reichman, deadpan.
One of the biggest debates within the design team was whether or not to give the car any doors. ‘We thought long and hard about making an uninterrupted form, so you’d have to hop over it to get in, like a race car,’ says Reichman, ‘but that just didn’t seem like a very elegant solution for an Aston Martin. And when you look at the DBR1 you’ll see it’s still got a tiny little door that you can step through. Plus which, there’s an element of safety in having structure up here, and this is a car designed to be driven on track.’
The solution has been to give the CC100 what are basically opening safety bars – narrow vestigial doors with a ‘gull’ opening, but which include a solid intrusion beam and proper mountings front and rear. They haven’t prevented the car from keeping the side aperture that was part of the design brief from the start – one of the car’s defining features is meant to be the sensation of air rushing past. And a top spotter’s detail: the shape of the side opening is half of the Aston Martin winged badge.
The car has been designed to be useable, not just driveable. Although the CC100’s official duties will be limited to its parade lap at the Nürburgring, and then a few other functions throughout the summer, it will then be going to a new owner who, we’re told, plans to drive the car regularly. (Aston admits it’s also possible a second car will be built for another ultra-wealthy buyer. Although there’s no official price, we’re told the CC100 will be costing its new owner a ‘mid-ranking six-figure sum’.) While it won’t be homologated for road use, it does have production-spec lights, ESP and even a heater. Look closely and you’ll also see a couple of tiny ‘flippers’ in front of each seating position, designed to reduce wind buffeting at speed.
And the CC100 has one other important function, of course – dropping some broad hints about Aston’s future design direction. ‘Look at our track record,’ says Reichman with a smile. ‘When we do show cars, special cars, one-offs, they are great influences. You can see that directly in the way the One-77 influenced the look of the Vanquish. So yes, it’s fair to say that you will look back and maybe recognise what this car has influenced in the future.’
After lunch it’s time to go and meet the CC100 in the flesh. This means travelling through even more electronically locked doors, and into what’s probably the most secret place for the Aston brand – the prototype build workshop. It’s here that the car is being assembled, with three serious-looking technicians working with freshly arrived carbonfibre parts. On first impressions, it seems to be like building an oversize, and very expensive, Airfix kit.
‘That’s not far off,’ admits Dave Hill, Aston’s head of racing and special projects, and the man charged with delivering the CC100 against what must have seemed like a ridiculously tight schedule. Which is why I’m even more surprised by his next revelation: that everything is going to plan and that the build is currently slightly ahead of the timetable. Doesn’t he know that one-offs and show cars traditionally get finished hours, sometimes even minutes, before they make their public debuts?
‘I’m surprised myself,’ he admits, ‘but so far everything is going according to plan. The hard work’s already been done – back in January and February when we were designing the modifications to the structure and getting the parts released for tooling. This is just putting it together.’
Even half-built, it’s an impressive thing, the aluminium chassis sitting on stands with various bits of bodywork attached, and others waiting their turn on a vast rack. The standard of finish is amazingly high: touching the back of the front grille reveals a familiar carbon weave, but on the front, under just a few coats of varnish and paint, there’s no evidence at all of the woven pattern underneath. Apparently this is thanks to the same patented treatment that’s used on the Vanquish and One-77.
In the cabin, the carbonfibre will be varnished but unpainted, with leather seats and door pulls. There’s a single central console for switches – including a place for Aston’s glass ‘key’ – and one display screen behind the steering wheel.
The engine and gearbox are brought in for a trial fitting – ‘We might have to pop some sports catalysts in,’ Hill admits – and the overwhelming impression is just how proper everything feels. It seems like a huge amount of effort for a one-off, even if it is a 100th birthday present.
‘Obviously it would have been far easier to make a static show car,’ admits Hill. ‘We could have done that in even less time and done it cheaper, and we would have got a certain amount of impact from it. But that’s not what we wanted. The brief was always to produce a working concept car that can not only move but can drive around a track at pretty high speeds. And that means we have to put a level of engineering into the vehicle to make sure it can do that safely and well.’
And what about the unique challenges of the Nordschleife? Given the experience of previous N24 races there’s got to be a fair chance that the CC100 will be taking to the track in heavy rain…
‘Fortunately carbonfibre is waterproof,’ says Hill. ‘Almost all the interior trim is carbonfibre apart from the seats, so there’s not much that can get damaged if it does rain. There’s some water management built into the car, and we can always bail it out with a bucket if things get really bad.’
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
The CC100 doesn’t just mark the end of one century for Aston, it marks the start of another. Although it’s a one-off (or possibly a two-off), it’s still tempting to see it as a transition into a new era, one in which Aston rediscovers its confidence and uses its investment bounty to get back on terms with its major rivals.
Changes are afoot – lessons learned from this project will transfer to the next breed of Aston road cars, and a new engine supply is coming soon. But thanks to the CC100, we also know that there’s no shortage of confidence in either the importance of the brand’s past, or the significance of its future. And that must surely be a good thing.
evo was there when Aston Martin put the final touches to the CC100, fired up its 565bhp V12 for the first time and put the first few miles on its clock
Saturday May 11, 12.30pm. In a secret corner of an eerily empty Aston factory, there’s the sense of an ending but also a deadline that has to be met.
In eight days’ time, company boss Dr Ulrich Bez will be at the wheel of the CC100 for its inaugural run on the Nürburgring Nordschleife. He’ll lead a parade of Astons of almost incalculable value, spanning the company’s 100-year history, before the start of this year’s 24-hour race. The CC100 has to be perfect. Although it won’t be in a race, the prospect of Dr Bez resisting the urge to fill the forested valleys of the Eifel mountains with the war cry of a Vanquish-sourced V12 is approximately zero.
This weekend is the one where it all has to come together – both the remaining parts of the car and the safety shakedown tests on the track at Aston’s Gaydon HQ. Eight Aston Martin employees, led by prototype build supervisor Zoran Cvijanovic, have given up their Saturdays (yet again) to make it happen. But when we arrive, the car is so stripped down it’s virtually skeletal. It doesn’t look as if it will rumble out into the daylight any time soon. Then again, the team didn’t even have a car to build just a few weeks ago. To have got this far in such a short space of time is remarkable.
I ask Zoran for an update. ‘Right now, the guys are doing the geometry of the car, to make sure all the camber, castor and toe settings are right,’ he replies. ‘When we take it out to the track, we have to make sure, above all, that it’s safe. That’s my job: to make sure that nothing falls off, that everything stays where it should be and the car works. I’ll be pushing quite hard, but not over the limit. That’s for the ride and handling guys to do. I’m expendable, but not that expendable.’
Zoran is excited. Everyone is. Over the following hours, the meticulous checking and adjusting segues into the last phase of preparation, where the wheel nuts are torqued up, the remaining body panels and carbon trims attached and fingerprints are buffed away from the almost ridiculously beautiful bodywork. It feels a little what it must have been like to move into the final countdown for a space shuttle launch – the sense of anticipation is palpable.
‘I remember when we got the tub and all the panels from the supplier. They sprayed everything the Stirling Green colour and we were going to apply the yellow stripes,’ reflects Zoran. ‘We had to put all the panels on for the first time and I looked through the window into the paint booth and thought, “Yeah, this car is going to eat you alive.” It looked so good.’
It’s gone 5pm before CC100’s V12 barks into life and settles to its unique gargling tickover. Then, in an exercise that involves Nick Trott’s long-term McLaren, an Aston Cygnet and a Discovery 4 being used as a positioned blockade to shield the secret Aston from any prying telephoto lenses that might be lurking on the nearby main road, it’s driven onto the track.
Zoran works through the shakedown routine, building up speed with every check: braking, steering, suspension. Then it’s out onto the high-speed track, where CC100 tastes 100mph for the first time. It sounds as magnificent as it looks.
When Zoran returns, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone quite so relieved. Or so elated.
The mechanical transformation
Turning a V12 Vantage Roadster into the CC100 was both simple, and very complicated. Simple because Aston’s VH aluminium chassis carries all of the car’s structural strength, giving designers pretty much free rein to put new bodywork over it. And complicated because the finished car had to be capable of being driven reasonably hard.
The wheelbase and the basic chassis are identical to those of the Vantage, the two cars sharing sills and bulkheads. The Vantage’s windscreen surround has gone, of course, but the structural ‘scuttle’ panel is still present under the CC100’s carbon bodywork. The electrical architecture, stability control system and brakes are also identical, for simplicity’s sake.
The CC100 has a wider body, necessitating a 100mm increase in track, with this achieved through new control arms at the front and a widened subframe and longer driveshafts at the rear. The A-pillars have been modified to take the single hinge for the opening ‘safety bar’ doors and the rear bulkhead has been tweaked slightly as the CC’s roll-over protection hoops mount in a slightly different position.
The engine is the newer 565bhp version of Aston’s familiar 5.9-litre V12, as seen in the new Vanquish. And the biggest mechanical alteration is the fitment of Aston’s single-clutch automated transmission in place of the V12 Vantage’s standard manual ’box, surely something of a broad hint for future road-car strategy.
The carbonfibre bodywork consists of 55 different pieces, created by technical partners Multimatic directly from the digital files sent by the Aston design team – and assembled for the first time on the car itself. Fortunately, everything fitted perfectly. The lightweight body panels have helped to reduce mass – as has the loss of the roof and windscreen – and although the finished car’s estimated 1370kg kerb weight isn’t going to give the Lotus Elise nightmares, it’s a substantial saving over the standard V12 Vantage Roadster’s 1760kg.
The suspension features standard springs and four-way adjustable dampers. ‘It’s very close in terms of mass to our GT4 Vantage racers,’ says Dave Hill, ‘so we already know quite a lot about how to make a car of that weight work from a chassis and stability control point of view.’
Despite not being homologated for road use in Europe or America, the CC100 has been built to ‘legal viability’, with working lights and even a fully functioning heater to help battle chill in the open cabin. The eventual owner will be able to drive it hard, and even enjoy a modicum of comfort while doing so. Lucky chap.