AMOC at Lime Rock 2018, Part 2
I woke up the next morning unrested, dehydrated, and cranky. My room was hot and I felt like hell from spending the night burning up in my bed. Blade felt the same and talked to the front desk to figure out why the temperature in our room was so high. Turns out, our room's temperature was controlled by a thermostat in another room. Oh, the quirks of old buildings. The hotel staff said they'd talk to whoever was occupying the room with our thermostat and ask them to keep it at a cooler temperature. We didn't have any other issues with it after that first night, so I'm guessing those people were fine with the request.
Thursday was the road rally, which was a scenic drive that ultimately ended at the spot where we'd have lunch. It was my first time attending this part of the weekend as I usually spent the Thursday as a travel day to get to Connecticut from Virginia. There were far more cars than I had expected when Blade and I walked up to the main building. The variety from the very beginning was impressive, and it would only get better as the day continued.
Every time I thought we'd gathered everyone, more rolled up. I was meandering around chatting with people and looking at the cars, catching up with people I hadn't seen since the previous year's event, when I tall cherry-cheeked man walked up to me with a wide grin on his face. He pointed at me and said, "Redpants! You're Redpants, right?"
"Haha, yep, that's me."
"I feel like I should give you a hug!" Bob (our second Bob) then introduced himself and explained that he had driven his friend's Vantage and wanted one for himself. He then found my Redpants website and realized that he could afford to do so, and so he did. I meet people like Bob in person or by email once or twice per month, and I'm left flattered and amazed every time. It's a continuous reminder of the reach I've had in the Aston Martin world, and blows my mind that I have such an impact. This was taken even further when I met a young man named Liam who was there with his father. I'll get to him later.
Miller Motorcars brought a New Vantage and a DB11 Volante, and those were sitting in front of the main building. I eavesdropped a few times as people inspected the car. The same mixed responses I've heard about the New Vantage were repeated here. An older gentleman said it was gorgeous, others weren't fond of the front, a couple people not happy at all. The DB11 parked behind it received generally positive reviews, but it was clear that neither car was even close to as loved as the prior generation of cars.
Route instructions were handed out and everyone headed to their cars. The instructions were simple: It said how far to go and where to turn. The roads were smooth, the scenery gorgeous, and aside from being briefly stuck behind a tractor, traffic was all but non-existent. This would be easy, right?
The instructions were vague in some places, incomplete in others, and flat-out confusing throughout. Nobody could decipher them. To make things even more difficult, we weren't given a map so we had no context for the route. Reception in the area is nearly non-existent so cell phones weren't an option. On the rare occasion we got reception, well... the instructions didn't have the full address. It had a the street name in one line of the instructions, and the house number in another line of the instructions, but that was it. So when Blade and I finally gave up and decided to punch in the address, I chose the one that Waze said was closest to us; it was 7 miles away while the rest were 80 or more miles away. A short while later we were close but not quite at the address… in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it the last quarter-mile because the steep gravel road wouldn’t accommodate an Aston Martin. It was clear we were in the wrong place. We backtracked and tried Waze again, a new address popping up this time that was previously missing from the app’s results, and then rang the bells of realization. I punched in the new (read: correct) address and we changed course.
I wondered if we’d be the last car to arrive, or maybe one of the first. We ended up arriving mid-pack. Even though it took us 3 hours to complete what should have been a 2-hour drive, it took many others even longer.
Lunch was hosted by Tom and Robert (not Bob or Rob) at their house which was still undergoing an extensive renovation. They have a design firm and this house was one of a few projects they're currently heading. They brought in catering for lunch, a small open bar for wine, and tents for shade with tables and chairs for all their guests.
It was my first time making it to this lunch and may also be my last for a while. Next year I doubt I'll be able to attend the lunch, and who knows what will happen beyond that. But it was a wonderful time and I'm glad to have finally attended. The gathering was relaxing and friendly - aside from recovering from the chaotic rally. No one had anything to do. There were no cars to clean for the concours, no prep for a track day, and no worry about the schedule. Everyone just relaxed, chatted, and lounged around socializing.
One of the cars at lunch stood out to me. Not because I noticed it - it was one of over a dozen Vantages. But because of what I was told about it. It belonged to a guy named Bob (our third Bob), and it wasn’t a run-of-the-mill Vantage. It was a V12 Vantage S manual. And not just any run-of-the-mill V12 Vantage S manual (as if that’s a normal car). It was a V12 Vantage S manual with the 600-hp performance upgrade from Aston Martin.
The performance package boosts the power of the 5.9L V12 engine from 565 hp to a whopping 600, while at the same time dropping a substantial amount of weight. The intake manifolds are made of magnesium, a lighter metal than aluminum. Aston Martin went so far to save a touch more weight by shaving off the embossed “Aston Martin” lettering that comes on the standard manifolds. While that may seem a little excessive, the exhaust system one-ups it. The entire exhaust system is made of titanium and costs, last time I consulted the black market, the equivalence of an arm and two legs. It weighs incredibly little due to its titanium construction, and due to the fact that the muffler (the heaviest part of the exhaust system) is minuscule in size compared to a standard Vantage muffler.
When lunch was finished I hitched a ride back to the hotel with a guy named Matthew Ivanhoe. Last year he brought a V12 Vantage Zagato and a DB4. Matt has a business called The Cultivated Collector and the Zagato has since sold. But the DB4 returned because it’s his personal car that he has no intention of selling. I don’t blame him, it’s a seriously cool car.
As we drove along we chatted about cars (so typical). I hate to say that I don’t have much experience with older cars, and I told him that. The only other car of that era I’d driven was a 1965 Porsche 356C, which I stalled at least once and was helplessly lost most times when looking for third gear. Matthew was shocked by the admission and promptly veered off the road to park on the shoulder.
“You’re driving,” are two of the most exciting and terrifying words in a car-junky’s vocabulary. Most of us are lucky to see a DB4, let alone ride in one. But to drive one? Ha!
I’d have been far more terrified than excited had those been the only words he said. But, being the disarmingly courteous guy he is, he didn’t just say, “You’re driving.”
Matt had pulled off the road, parked, turned to me, and said, “I’m so sorry I didn’t offer from the start. You’re driving.”
He… he apologized to me? On what planet did I deserve an apology? I was happy to get a ride and never expected more. It’s in these situations that you know you’re dealing with a world-class automotive enthusiast - one that is eager to share his passion - and it took me a moment to overcome my shock. I’m not sure he noticed my dropped jaw as he was already out of the car and moving around to swap seats with me by the time my eyes refocused.
Driving the DB4
I took a couple minutes to look around and explore the switchgear, layout, and feel of the driver seat. It didn’t do me much good, I still screwed up with the turn signals (and what I mistook for the turn signals) through the whole drive. It was the most intimidating thing I’d ever driven. I don’t mean I was scared of the car so much - it was one of the three slowest cars I’d ever driven (this DB4, the aforementioned 356C, and a 1985 Honda Civic wagon). Rather, it was the intense pressure to not fuck up.
Driving the DB4 was a personal affair. The steering wheel didn’t adjust up or down so it stayed where it was - firmly pressed against my inner thighs. Every time I turned the wheel, it was personal. It wasn’t much different than when I had driven the 356C. I took a bit more time to adjust my seating position in that car so I could bow-leg straddle the steering wheel and drive without having my manhood fondled through each turn. I could have done the same with the DB4 but I didn’t think to do so in my euphoric delirium. Instead, I let the car have its way with me and I quickly got used to it.
What I didn’t quite get the hang of was the turn signals. I’m very particular about turn signals and forgoing their use is a serious pet peeve of mine. I get annoyed very quickly when people on the road around me don’t use turn signals. On this drive, I became my own worst enemy. The turn signals in most cars are on the left-hand side (speaking as an American with left-hand drive cars), so I use my left hand to toggle the indicators. The DB4’s indicators were on the right, and the left was occupied by a nearly (or totally) identical lever used to activate the brights of the headlights.
Each time I toggled the lever to make a turn or change lanes, it resulted in flashing my brights at oncoming traffic rather than turning on the turn signal. And when I did manage to use the correct lever, I forgot to turn it off. The turn signals don’t auto-return once your turn is complete so I spent half the drive with either my brights or a turn signal on.
Good job, me. Good job.
As with other cars of that era, the pedals were thin and closely-spaced. I’m able to drive with the sides of my feet so the pedals weren’t an issue after a couple minutes of ankle-twisting adjustment. The brakes were easy to use and I never felt like they’d fail me. The suspension transmitted enough of the road for me to know what was happening, but I didn’t push the car enough to know if the tires would play along as well. The engine was smooth and lovely, and I kept wanting to give it that extra bit of push to hit just one note higher as we sang along the road.
Driving an older car is involving in a way a modern car simply cannot be. They take active participation to make them work, and you have to think about the car as much as you think about the roads and traffic around you. AMOC’s Lime Rock event brings several DB4s together and these guys take their cars out on the track. Having driven one myself and seeing how much work it takes on the road gives me a massive appreciation for what the owners of these cars do with them during track days.
Our route was longer than necessary, Matthew giving me the chance to drive the car a bit more than a direct route would have allowed. By the time we returned to the Troutbeck, Blade had gathered several people at the pool with the clever use of gin. The hotel had an inflatable unicorn in the pool which served as a reminder that no matter our ages or places in life, silly things can return us to childhood.
Thursday night’s dinner isn’t a single event like those of Friday and Saturday. Instead, several groups break off and go to restaurants in the area to catch up with friends they hadn’t seen for some time. My buddy Rob (he is neither a Bob nor the lunch-hosting Robert) invited me to join him at the Whitehart and I happily accepted. It didn’t hurt that he also offered to let me drive his manual 2017 V12 Vantage S to the restaurant.
Driving the V12 Vantage S Manual
Last year he had to shuffle a couple cars around and I helped him out with that. He had a Vanquish Volante and a V12 Vantage S manual roadster. I got to drive the roadster but never opened it up because it was a short drive in small-town traffic. He returned this year with a Vanquish S Volante and a V12 Vantage S manual coupe.
There are a few ways to refer to this car. V12 Vantage S “dogleg” or “manual” or “7-speed” (though all of them, manual and Sportshift, are 7-speed), or simply V12VSM (the M for Manual) which is what I prefer, especially since it’s vastly easier to type than V12 Vantage S manual. The name variants all focus on one thing: the gearbox. Specifically, the fact that the car has a manual transmission. The V12 Vantage S was only offered with a Sportshift until the end of its life, and even then the manual cars were built in a very limited quantity. Not only is it a rare car with only a few hundred (if that) being made, it’s also the end of an era. The V12VSM was the last car made with a naturally-aspirated V12 engine and manual transmission.
It’s a stark contrast going from a 1960 DB4 to a 2017 V12VSM. Driving the DB4 was a give-and-take relationship. It was teamwork with driver and car working together. The V12VSM was entirely one-sided. Give the car input and it just does. Step on the gas, it launches forward. Step on the brakes, you cease moving. Turn the wheel, it’s going wherever you point it. It doesn’t matter what you command, it obeys.
I laughed the whole way to the restaurant. Rob’s wife was following behind us and probably thought I was crazy or drunk (I was neither). I was just trying to get a feel for the car and compare it to my own V8 Vantages. It’s a huge leap in improved performance going from my mostly-stock red Vantage to my heavily modified grey one. It’s another huge leap going from the grey one to the V12VSM. It accelerates and brakes harder, and it’s incredibly composed. In situations where I feel like I’d be ragging out a V8 Vantage, the V12 thrusts forward with a silky-smooth surge.
I’ve talked extensively over the years about how the 4.3L V8 Vantage was full of potential. Not just that specific car, but the Vantage platform itself. It’s evident in the fact that Aston Martin was able to drop a huge V12 engine into it and came away with a brilliant sports car. The V12VSM is the car that shows the full extent of that potential. The incredible power is usable without making the small car feel unbalanced or on edge. Winding through forested hillside roads wasn’t a frantic fiasco of spinning tires and oversteering the car into a salvage yard. I never felt like I couldn’t manage the thing, as it was purely predictable and gave me all the confidence in the world to use the tires, the brakes, and the engine as I pleased. The car was sorted. It was planted. It was just plain stupid. It was everything I wanted in an Aston Martin.
I parked the car behind the Whitehart and got out laughing. Rob’s wife was happy to see her husband had survived while I giggled like a fool. But then I turned to look back at the car as we walked away from it, and I stopped laughing. It looked like mine. It felt like mine. But it wasn’t mine. It was so much more than either of my Vantages.
And I’m so fucking mad that I can’t have one.
There was a lot of wine during dinner to make me feel better. Well, it made me feel better that night, not the next morning. After a couple of glasses of wine, a few of us split a bottle. I asked the waiter to bring his recommendation, and it turned out fantastic. I ordered a New York strip steak to go with my wine, which was cooked just right and tasted fantastic. It’s hard to beat a red wine and steak pairing.
I’m also glad I didn’t get the fish and chips. A few months ago a couple gents, James and Lenny, came over from England for our Tech Day. Clare and I took them out to do some requisite souvenir shopping in Tampa and stopped into a restaurant at the International Mall called The Pub for a bite to eat. We were lured in by a sign they had out front proudly proclaiming they had the best fish and chips in the US. Of course the Brits had to see for themselves what American fish and chips had to offer. They were disappointed, and so was I. I’m not a fish and chips expert by any means, but I’ve had them in the UK and it was far better over there. Plus, I’ve had better in the US, so I have no idea how The Pub had been voted best in the US.
The Whitehart also had fish and chips on the menu and I was tempted to get it so I could report back to James and Lenny. I decided against it but someone else ordered them and wasn’t impressed. I tried a bite and wasn’t impressed either. The breading with thick and overly-crispy, the fish disproportionately small in the golden casing. The flavor was good, but you had to bite through a fried batter that was almost too hard to enjoy and had a presence and taste that masked the taste of the fish within.
At some point the power cut out and we were left dining by candlelight. A power line transformer blew and it cut the power for the whole area. People that ate at the Boathouse that night, another local restaurant, said they had lost power as well. In hindsight it didn’t seem like it lasted long, but truth be told the entire night isn’t perfectly clear in my mind. Between the excitement of seeing everyone, the wine, and the exhaustion, some details have slipped away.
I hadn’t been sleeping well for weeks, so the exhaustion was real. I was supposed to call Clare before I went to sleep that night, and I planned to as I got into bed. But as soon as I laid down, my head hit the pillow and I completely passed out. (Sorry, Clare.)
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