Spot the Difference

Ian Callum was never happy with his Vanquish design, so he did it over

Ah, the Vanquish. Styled by Ian Callum, launched in 2001 as Aston Martin’s flagship model, but now a little overlooked and misunderstood.

Callum, though, has decided to give it a second life, rectifying the bits he never liked. And since leaving Jaguar, he too is enjoying a second life at the Callum design agency, free of corporate speeches and having to manage a design team of four hundred.

So this is the Callum Vanquish 25 by R-Reforged, a Swiss-based engineering company that Callum’s outfit is linked with. The “25” is the maximum number that will be built.

“I have a passion for the Vanquish, but it was designed in just fifteen weeks, and we only had one design review, with Jac Nasser and Bob Dover,” Ian recalls. “I was always unhappy with the DB7 lamps at the front, and we had to put indicators in the front “sugar scoops.” The rear venturi was all wrong, and we had to add rear reflectors at the last minute. The side window graphic was made up of chopped pieces of XK window surround. The stance is wrong, the wheels are too small and the interior wasn’t what I wanted.”

Although Ian’s name is above the door, the Callum company is run equally by Ian Callum (“my job is to sketch ideas”), Tom Bird on the commercial side, David Fairbairn as the programme director and Adam Donfrancesco on engineering. There are also alias modelers, a wealth of engineers and a small trim shop. Many staff are ex-Jaguar Land Rover.

So onto the new car… and it’s clear how much better the stance is, with a wider track, sitting on much bigger wheels. The sills are new, there’s a front splitter and larger rear diffuser, fresh mirrors and window surrounds, plus new front and rear lamps.

It could have looked gauche, but it works. Inside, the difference is even more marked; every panel has been changed, the seats have been redesigned, a luggage tray replaces the rear seats and the thinner-rimmed steering wheel is repositioned.

The re-engineering is extensive. Bilstein dampers, regraded bushes, stiffer anti-roll bars, a 10mm-lower ride height, up to 60mm-wider track, specific Michelin Pilot Sport tyre compounds and carbon-ceramic brakes. Very few people have driven this car, but we’ve got it for a few hours. It’s a six-speed manual, one of three options available – the others are a tweaked version of the original love/hate automated manual or an eight-speed GM auto.

It feels a good place to be sat in – very different from an original and with modern-day luxuries such as Apple CarPlay. Out on the road it burbles unobtrusively, riding the bumps in a way the Vanquish never did from new. Push it harder and it takes off with a sharply metallic note to the exhaust; the 5.9-litre V12 has been tweaked for an extra 60bhp, taking it to 580bhp, via engine management, new exhaust manifolds and a bit of cylinder-head work.

Where the real difference shows is the composure at speed, and when driven really hard. Accelerate and it squirms so satisfyingly but driven more sensibly it feels stiffer and more manageable than the original Vanquish but more comfortable, too, which is a good trick.

All this could feel like an assassination job on the original. It’s not – the Vanquish is a fine car. But the Callum R-Reforged version is better to drive and live with – as you’d hope for £550,000 – although with less of what may become the “period charm” of the original design.