Bought a McLaren Senna? I hope you kept the receipt. The Aston Martin Valkyrie is here.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Valkyrie, is that it followed a very different conceptual path to every other production car in the world. Usually, suits sitting around a table in a board room meeting will spot a segment in the market that their company (the car manufacturer) will be able to fill. Then they’ll get their marketing people to go out and look into what the consumers who buy the cars in this segment want, so that they can come up with a very specific brief outlining what this car is supposed to be. That brief will then end up in the hands of their designers and engineers, who will be given a tight schedule in which to produce this car. Give or take a few details and this is pretty much how most cars come into being – even multimillion-pound hypercars. However, the Valkyrie isn’t “most” cars, and as you can imagine, has followed a very different path in terms of how it came to be.
Adrian Newey is one of the world’s most successful car designers. He’s held positions an aerodynamicist, designer, race engineer, and technical director. In Formula One, his designs have won an excess of a hundred and fifty Grands Prix races, and ten Constructors’ Championships with three different teams, (Williams F1, McLaren, & Red Bull Racing) while six different drivers have won the Drivers’ Championship, driving with Newey’s designs. In Indie Car racing, his designs and engineering have won a further two championships. So it’s clear that he knows what he’s doing with a pencil, but oddly enough for someone who has spent their entire career designing race cars, he’s never gotten the chance to implement his ideas into a road legal car. “I’ve been wanting to do something like this for years,” Newey says. “Sometimes when I had a few idle moments I would doodle some ideas and throw them in a box where they have slowly gathered dust over the years. In two-thousand and fifteen, I thought it was time to do something with them.” And this became the start of how the Valkyrie came to be.
He goes on to explain “I agreed with Christian Horner [the Red Bull Racing team principal] that I would start work part time on such a project. We assembled a very small team, a chief designer, an aerodynamicist and a surface designer to start work on it from a mechanical package and aero shape point of view. We worked through the autumn of 2015 and then started discussions into what we do next. Do we find a private investor to partner, with or do we approach a car company? In the end both Christian and I thought it best to partner a car maker. They know all about things like distribution, sales, servicing, emissions regulations and door seals – all the areas in which we have no experience.”
At this point, it was clear that whatever badge this car wore, it would be the halo car of not only its manufacturer, but its generation. Something equivalent to a modern-day McLaren F1. Though for Newey and Horner, there was only ever one candidate, “Aston Martin was clearly the favourite, only half an hour or so drive away and clearly a very appropriate company. That was an easy choice and we already knew Andy Palmer, Aston Martin’s CEO, which made it a very simple deal.” And that’s what’s different about the Valkyrie, it wasn’t imagined by a company, instead it was a concept which went on to become part of a company. Like a person who gets to decide who his or her parents are, before they are even born.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting in an old car, [or better still, driving one] then you’ll know what people are talking about when they say that modern cars are too big. When discussing this topic, a car I like to refer to is the MGB GT, as it is a fine example of how just how much cars have become enlarged and cumbersome with the advent of safety technology, and buyer trends. So much so that I once nearly bought one, the first time I was ever in one. See, coming from the somewhat modern cars I was used to spending my time in, climbing into the MGB GT felt more like I was entering a time capsule, than it did getting into a car. The skinny gear-lever which was hardly thicker than a pencil. The petite steering wheel that had a radius as small as my index finger. And the fact that you sit shoulder to shoulder with your passenger. All alien feelings to someone who is used to the modern automobile. And it seems that I am far from alone in enjoying this sensation of wearing the car, rather than sitting in it. Cars are now, in Newey’s words, “big, clumsy and heavy. And it’s not just supercars. It’s the way the car industry has gone, from old Mini to new Mini. I wanted to avoid this and keep the [Valkyrie small].”
This is a philosophy which has been central to the Valkyrie’s design. It only weighs 1030kg, and the interior is barely big enough for two people. There are no seats, but merely padded indentations in the car’s monocoque chassis which mimic the shape of the human derrière. (Or “arse” in simple terms.) These so-called ‘seats’ get weirder still, as they don’t face completely forwards, like they do in every other car in the world. See, much of the Valkyrie’s extreme design is governed by aerodynamics. Therefore a sacrifice that one must make in this car, is that where the footwell would usually be, there is instead something known as a ‘venturi tunnel.’ (Best illustrated below.) Air from under the car flows through this area, meaning that in order for the driver and passenger to be seated in reasonable comfort, they have to kind of face each other a bit. And in accordance with that, the seats are angled two degrees towards each other.
Nowadays, not many new cars are designed with a V12 engine in mind. Sure, you’ll find it in the new Rolls Royce Phantom, the LaFerrari, and a few GT cars, but overall the V12 engine is a dying breed. They may be smooth as silk, but using engines with less cylinders, smaller displacements, and more boost is just the way that engineers are going now. This way, you can get big power out of an engine and still pass emission tests with relative ease. However, the Valkyrie makes no such compromise. It’ll use a bespoke six and a half litre V12, engineered by Cosworth.
Why a naturally aspirated V12 though? “We came to the conclusion that from a technical standpoint, a V12 was the best solution because although the engine itself is heavier, it is actually a much easier package to install. [Because] you haven’t got the turbos and the charge coolers to clutter up the back end of the car.” Furthermore, an advantage of the V12 layout is the lack of vibration it produces. Thanks to its firing order, as one piston moves down, another moves up, balancing the reciprocating forces. This means it’ll put a very small amount of stress onto the car’s chassis.
Of course though, to get sky-high power from a naturally aspirated engine, it takes more than just big displacement. This is the reason why it’ll spin at a rate unheard of for anything short of a superbike. Sources suggest it’ll blast way past the ten thousand revolutions per minute barrier. It’s thanks to this, and a small electric motor that the car manages to put out an alleged one thousand, one hundred and thirty horsepower. Though David King, Aston Martin’s chief engineer, is quick to point out that “Only a small proportion of the power comes from the electric motor, sited within the powertrain. Any more, and the lithium-ion battery pack would be too heavy.” The electric motor is chiefly useful for pulling away from a standstill to preserve the clutch, making gear changes more fluid, and for the reverse gear.
The car’s gearbox is a Ricardo seven speed unit, single-clutch sequential design. Newey designed gearbox to be as compact as possible, to engineer around the car’s massive venturi tunnels. Sources suggest that the final drive ratio is fairly tall and will allow for top speed runs to exceed two hundred and fifty miles per hour.
Me too. But all one hundred and fifty have been sold.
By James Harrison