This article has been taken
from the June 2014 issue
of Aston Martin's official
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With its sporty pedigree and good looks, the V8 Vantage N430 special edition is quite at home on the winding roads and chic neighbourhoods of Monaco.
It may be the world’s second smallest country after Vatican City, but Monaco has a remarkably strong connection with fast motor cars. Measuring barely three miles long by a mile-and-a-half wide, the principality is perhaps best known for its Grand Prix, first run in 1929 and won by celebrated English racing driver and spy William Grover-Williams. He’d had a distinct advantage growing up in the place and had taken his driving test on the very roads that formed the circuit.
Today, the narrow, winding, dipping, climbing roads where Grover-Williams grew up connect the bustling low-lying harbours with the lofty old town of Monaco-Ville where, if you stand for long enough, will lead you to believe that this is where most of the world’s exotic cars end up. As a result, it takes a truly impressive automobile to turn the head of the average Monégasque—which says a thing or two about the latest addition to the Aston Martin stable, the shamelessly racy Vantage N430.
Stepping through the doors of Nice airport, it was easy to spot the N430, not least because of the vibrant yellow hue accenting the “lipstick” grille surround, snaking up the A-pillars and cant rails, swathing the rear diffuser blade and door mirror caps.
The main body of the car, clothed in a gorgeous cloak of the Alloro green paint originally developed for the rare, Zagato-bodied Aston Martins, had fought valiantly to tone things down, but to little avail. The smartphone cameras were already out, their owners delighted at seeing this latest take on the V8 Vantage on the road for the very first time.
For my part, I was a little concerned that the N430 might just be a bit too aggressive for a rush-hour run to Monaco. Lower and tauter than the standard car, it has evolved from the GT4 racers that, for almost the past decade, have been a regular sight at the gruelling Nürburgring 24-hour race, hence the “N” in the title.
The 4.7-litre V8 engine, which powers all Aston Martin’s GTE and GT4 race cars with only minimal specification changes, releases an extra 10 horsepower and 20 more Newton metres of torque, providing an enhanced top speed of 190mph, and sports suspension with upgraded anti-roll bars, stiffer springs and revised damping rates as standard.
Add to that lightweight, 10-spoke alloy wheels and wide-profile sills derived directly from the N24 race car programme to improve stability and one gets the distinct impression that the N430 is decidedly more “track” than “road”.
All the same, its boot swallowed our bags well enough, leaving them hidden beneath its Q by Aston Martin carbon-fibre parcel shelf. And, once settled inside, the special Kevlar and carbon race-style seats quickly demonstrated that lightweight doesn’t necessarily have to mean lack of comfort.
Firing the car up and heading for Monaco, we eschewed the autoroute in favour of the cliff-top- climbing corniche and quickly discovered that the N430 has a true Jekyll and Hyde personality: given its head, it devours tarmac and joins up curves like the true racer from which it is derived. However, once among the crawling traffic heading into a Monaco congested by construction work and crowds heading for the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters tennis, it quietly resigned itself to a life at walking pace.
By coincidence, just the day before I had been travelling in the Aston Martin DBS that served as the wheels of Roger Moore’s character Lord Brett Sinclair in the cult 1970s television series The Persuaders!. In the first episode, Sinclair makes the same 15-mile run from Nice to Monaco in the DBS in an artistically licenced, traffic-free, two-and-half minutes.
It took us 90 in a 21st-century tailback, but the N430 never grumbled, delivering us without fuss to our destination, the Fairmont Hotel in Monte Carlo. Another 1970s creation, the hotel is considered a remarkable example of modernist architecture. Built on 15-metre pillars, it incorporates 60,000 square metres of space on seven floors with a heating and air-conditioning system that draws water from the sea, 40 metres below.
To take breakfast at the Fairmont’s Horizon Deck restaurant, looking out on the Mediterranean on a bright spring morning, is possibly one of the best ways in the world to start the day, particularly when that day involves driving through Monte Carlo’s winding streets in the N430. Traffic was light as we left, allowing a few opportunities to give the car an occasional, exhilarating blast around some of the most famous sections of the race circuit.
As well as the rich racing heritage, there are, of course, certain places that must be seen and things that must be done in order to take home the true Monaco experience. Fine dining is top of the list for visitors and the principality is spoilt for choice when it comes to superb restaurants.
The historic Hotel de Paris and the Hôtel Hermitage are famed for their exquisite restaurants. The best of the best is the Louis XV run by genius chef Alain Ducasse in the Hotel de Paris—and it has three Michelin stars to prove it. The Hermitage, meanwhile, offers the Michelin-starred La Vistamar, run by award-winning chef Joël Garault.
However, we headed out to Roquebrune-cap-Martin, on the eastern edge of town, to the ultra chic Monte Carlo Beach Hotel. Built for the glitterati of the 1920s jazz age, it is still imbued with a hedonistic sophistication. As we settled down in the sunshine on the terrace of its Michelin-starred Elsa restaurant, it took an iron will to drag ourselves away before dusk.
There are also plenty of independent restaurants that are well worth trying: the Rascasse, which sits on the race track hairpin beside the harbour or the lovely, Art Deco Quai des Artistes opposite; and the nearby Cafe de Paris providing al fresco dining. For those with simple tastes, Monaco’s best value eaterie is the Tip Top near Place du Casino. It’s basic, but very popular with locals, who are at least making an attempt to “keep it real”.
A drive to Fontvieille followed for a spot of people watching at the Columbus Monte Carlo. Established in 2001 by former Formula One star David Coulthard and hotel guru Ken McCulloch, who sold it in 2010, it offers stylish minimalism and excellent food. During F1 week, it becomes home to many drivers, who can also be found letting off post-race steam in the tiny, but oh-so-trendy Slammers bar in rue Suffren Reymond.
And no trip to Monaco would be complete without a visit to the legendary Monte Carlo Casino, the source of the revenue that helps the principality to maintain its favourable tax regime. Entry costs €10 to entice visitors, but an old ruling actually bans Monaco’s citizens from entering the gaming rooms.
If the thrill of the casino is not for you, Monaco presents a surprising number of sightseeing opportunities around its undulating streets. You’ll have to leave your car behind for Mont Agel—at 163 metres, it is the highest point in the principality and affords stunning views towards France, Italy and out to sea. Or visit the beautiful Jardin Exotique, which is filled with rare plants and has a large and fabulous natural grotto.
Prince Albert of Monaco’s private automobile collection, meanwhile, is a must-see for car enthusiasts. Open to the public at the Terrasses Fontvieille museum, it holds an eclectic collection started by his late father, Prince Ranier, and includes almost 100 classic cars of all vintages and models.
And no visit to the principality would be complete, of course, without a visit to the royal family’s official residence, the Palais Princier in old Monaco town. The nearby Saint Nicholas Cathedral Monaco-Ville is the place where actress Grace Kelly married Prince Ranier and where they are now both buried.
The Grimaldi Forum convention centre, home of the Top Marques motor show, should be checked out by anyone with even a passing interest in architecture as it has two-thirds of its structure underground, as well as impressive eco-friendly credentials and a beautiful Japanese garden next door.
Architecture buffs should also make sure that they see the Salle Garnier opera house, which is richly decorated with deep red walls, acres of gold leaf detailing and a superb collection of paintings, and attracts some of the world’s top performers. And then there is the shopping. Every top name can be found in Monaco, whether you want the best clothes, the best shoes, the best watches or the best jewels. Top shopping streets are the Avenue Monte Carlo, Avenue des Beaux Arts and Allées Lumières.
They are all crammed into a space the size of New York’s Central Park and, although the best way to see its individual parts is often to simply wander around, it would have been nothing short of sacrilege to have arrived in Monaco by N430 and not enjoyed at least one full lap of its legendary circuit. he only practical way to do that was to rise before dawn when the streets were virtually empty of traffic. I roused the car’s engine just as the sun began to rise and, with the chill morning prompting healthy wisps of condensation to drift from the tailpipes, gently eased the N430 out of the Fairmont’s car park.
My aim was to stick as closely as possible to the route of the circuit, which meant joining it just after the Station hairpin, gently rounding the tight Portier curve and heading straight into the tunnel. The temptation was to give the V8 its head to revel in its glorious howl bouncing around the tunnel walls, but respect for its still-cold internals meant keeping the revs low.
A very slight quickening of pace past the port next, followed by the chance for a couple of rousing throttle blips on the way down to second gear in advance of negotiating the chicane. The N430 ducked through, surged along the straight and purred around Tabac corner, emerging alongside the grandstands and on, straight past the swimming pool, to the celebrated Rascasse.
One of the slowest parts of the circuit, the Rascasse is also one of the most demanding. In race conditions, it requires remarkable self control to allow the car to virtually coast around it as the slightest lead-footedness will almost certainly provoke a spin.
Caution was rewarded with a clear run down the start-line section in advance of the St Devote curve leading to the long straight. Getting warmed through and ready for a few more rpm, the car was entering its stride as we rounded Massenet to enter the evocative Casino Square—no cheering crowds in this case, but quite a few admiring glances from the local early risers.
All that was left to do was let the N430 devour the short straight past the Hotel Metropole, round the tight right-hander and then back down to the Fairmont. Another lap was almost irresistibly tempting, but by then the traffic was getting heavy—besides which, a couple of days of being enveloped in the buzz, wealth, glamour and sheer unreality of Monaco can be exhausting. It was something of a relief to head out of the principality to a place both close to Monaco yet serenely detached from its singular form of madness.
That place is the heavenly oasis called the Cap Estel hotel, barely five miles from Monaco at Èze-Bord-De-Mer yet cocooned on its own, private peninsula. Built in 1900 by Frank Harris, a decidedly colourful, Irish-born journalist and close friend of Oscar Wilde, it was a favourite of Hollywood stars and political greats alike. These days, with its infinity pool and private beach, it’s a serene place in which to rest and relax.
It’s also conveniently situated for the thrilling roads that snake up to the Alps beyond—giving me the ideal opportunity to release the N430’s inner Mr Hyde.
Monte Carlo 12, Avenue des Spélugues, Monte Carlo, Monaco
1312, Avenue Raymond Poincaré Èze-Bord-De-Mer, France
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