Aston Martin Valkyrie: the hybrid hypercar finally plucks victory from the jaws of defeat
Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece Apocalypse Now is often remembered as more of a production disaster than a film about the Vietnam War. Apart from a devastating typhoon, actor Martin Sheen’s heart attack and Marlon Brandon’s huge belly, one of the most notorious scenes is an aerial assault using napalm.
Horrifyingly realistic, a fleet of Huey helicopters dispense their lethal payload accompanied by a Richard Wagner soundtrack – Ride of the Valkyries. It was cinematic mayhem in a film plagued in the making. As cast member Dennis Hopper later said: “Ask anybody who was there, we all felt like we had fought the war.”
You could say the same about the Aston Martin Valkyrie. A car probably destined to achieve mythical status, it could also have launched the renowned British GT maker into a terminal tailspin, sent crashing into bankruptcy for an eighth time since it was founded 110 years ago.
Like Coppola’s classic, the company’s first hypercar has suffered a difficult gestation, hit by production problems, multiple delays, a PR disaster and an ongoing £150 million lawsuit.
Despite an all-star cast, a list of players that has included Formula 1 design guru Adrian Newey, Red Bull F1 team principal Christian Horner and former Aston CEO Andy Palmer – all of whom are no longer involved – the Valkyrie hasn’t enjoyed an easy ride since it was revealed way back in 2016. However, it is now ready to be premiered for His Majesty’s press for the first time, on a racing circuit in the Middle East.
Like many a fairytale, even that isn’t strictly true. If you attended the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2021, the £2.5 million Valkyrie suffered an embarrassing and very public breakdown, ending up parked on an escape road up the hill. Aston boss and part owner Lawrence Stroll later blamed the problem on a £5 part in the V12 hybrid’s electrical system.
As an opening scene it was memorable for all the wrong reasons but today we’ve been promised the Valkyrie is ready and waiting to go into battle at the Bahrain International Circuit. It’s mid-February at the racetrack in the sand dunes, only days before pre-season Formula 1 testing begins – the perfect moment for a hypercar claimed to be as close as it gets to an F1 car for the road.
Aerodynamically streamlined by Newey’s hand, almost to the edge of reason, the Valkyrie’s space capsule cockpit is like nothing else on Earth. Aston’s AMR22 F1 car from last season is parked only feet away but barely gets a glance. In some places, the Valkyrie’s carbon-fibre bodywork actually disappears into what must be the automotive design equivalent of a black hole.
These enormous ducts are part of the open underfloor design that sends air channelling around the teardrop-shaped passenger compartment, feeding the rear diffuser and producing massive downforce. Such is the effect that the cockpit and rear-mounted engine appear as a separate entity to the rest of the bodywork.
Every part of the Valkyrie has been on a strict diet, with magnesium alloy wheels weighing less than the tyres, the world’s smallest high-level brake light – only 6.5mm wide – and fantastically efficient titanium brakes. Even the famed Aston Martin winged badge has been slimmed to 40 microns, or two-fifths as wide as a strand of hair, to help reduce drag.
“We used so much titanium that the Ministry of Defence called to ask exactly what we needed it for – they thought we might be building something we shouldn’t,” recalls Miles Nurnberger, Aston Martin’s director of design.
Nurnberger is one of the few members of the senior team who has been involved in the Valkyrie project since its inception in 2016, when Aston and collaborators Red Bull were still talking. Despite a brief and unlikely spell at budget brand Dacia in 2021, he returned last year, in time to see the car breath into life.
Naturally, Aston Martin is reluctant to say too much about Valkyrie’s troubled tale. The lawsuit especially. It has been brought by two former dealers over the underwriting of the project. And those delays are, apparently, only what you might expect with a 1,139bhp hypercar. One that revs to 11,100rpm and was created on a blank sheet of paper.
Even so, an unspecified number of customers who placed an order years ago have demanded their money back – although there is still a waiting list of hopefuls for the sell-out production run of 150 coupés and 85 roofless Spiders. All 25 track-only AMR Pro cars have all gone, too.
One year-long delay was to create a pivoting wiper that could sweep and clear a curved screen at up to 220mph. Finally, Aston went to a company that developed the windshield for Nasa’s Space Shuttle. The Valkyrie is also the first road car with 3D printed parts in the headlights, it employs bespoke earplugs instead of heavy speakers for the audio system, while all the instrumentation of note is on an F1-style detachable steering wheel.
Harnessed in an enclosed cockpit with air-con blasting in my face, there’s an otherworldly feel to driving the Valkyrie. The numbers on the digital readout flick up to 187mph as I approach the first corner but it feels far removed from my speed of travel. Unlike the extreme wind and noise experienced while driving an F1 car, this is almost comfortable.
The naturally aspirated, 6.5-litre Cosworth engine screams in the distance as I drop down through the gears in Track mode, the most dynamic of three settings. There’s no ‘drive’ button in a Valkyrie – every change of the single clutch, seven-speed sequential gearbox is made via the paddle-shifters.
The level of grip is phenomenal but it’s the sheer shove of 695lb ft of torque as the rear-wheel-drive Valkyrie exits the bend that astonishes most. The Rimac-sourced hybrid system uses a 1.68kWh battery to boost the V12 petrol engine’s power; it also drives the Valkyrie’s reverse gear (rear visibility courtesy of door-mounted cameras).
My three laps are over almost as soon as they started. Stepping up and out of a striking top-hinged door, I feel like an astronaut returning to Earth. And remember, this is a car designed for the road, with number plates, indicator lights and a full suspension system for creeping over urban speed bumps.
“In 20 years or so, people will look back on this car and say we were mad to build it. That’s why the Valkyrie is so amazing – because we did go out and we did build it,” says Nurnberger. He isn’t joking.