The Aston Martin DB9 has the rich, the famous and the motoring press collectively salivating like Pavlov's dogs in a bell factory. But we already know it will have less power than the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, Mercedes E55 AMG and even the new M5. And losing out in the inevitable game of boardroom trumps is likely to annoy anyone who has just shelled out $155,000 for his shiny new steed from Newport Pagnall. For these types, this BBR-tuned DB7 may hold the key to the car's salvation.
While Brackley-based BBR is located just down the road from Aston Martin's home in Newport Pagnall, the first experience director and ex-touring car racer Dave Brodie had with the DB7 was when he jumped into a customer's V6 to head to a meeting. He returned within 5 minutes, declaring it the slowest pile of overpriced scrap he had ever had the misfortune of driving. Most would have walked away, muttering under their breath, but Dave never backs away from a challenge.
He took the engine out and found it wasn't running close to the 337 bhp claimed, but with a little imagination he managed to modify the supercharger, remap the ECU and liberate 400 bhp and 438 lb-ft of torque for just 2,995 plus taxes.
BBR's modifications give the V6 another push high up in the rev range as the 4-liter homes in on the 7000-rpm limit. Bury the throttle in the lush carpet and this car will yield rewards, but getting there is still a painful experience and I thought for a moment I'd pulled away with the handbrake jammed on.
The claimed 0-to-60-mph time of 5.4 sec. for the factory version sounded like pure fantasy from behind the wheel of the modified V6 I drove, which is still poor at low revs. BBR's cheap fix was only designed to make a bad car bearable, though, you can't get a revolution at that price and you could easily add brake upgrades and any number of other additions to the mod list.
Still, the V6 cost "just" $80,000 new, and can be obtained much cheaper now, so this car is for those who desperately want a part of the James Bond myth. Of course, it isn't just about pure speed, this is as much about show as go after all, but this car was truly awful. Even the manufacturer eventually acknowledged it, removing it from the market shortly after the V12 came along.
The V12 is an altogether different proposition and was greeted like a centerfold in a prison. This was a machine worthy of the legendary wings-and James Bond behind the wheel-and a car that took the fight to Ferrari's 550 Maranello. Of course, the tatty Ford switchgear wasn't great, nor the chassis based on the same Jaguar XJS technology that stretched back to 1975. But this machine was beautifully finished in swathes of shagpile and leather, looked fantastic from the outside and had that almighty engine.
This particular example is a unique 2003 Volante, retrospectively fitted with the GT kit that was only available on the coupes in the brochure. This boosted the power to 435 bhp and dropped the ride height by 3mm, together with some clever additional bracing to make the most of the 355mm front and 330mm rear Brembo brake discs.
Handling-wise, the DB7 was mighty impressive, considering its Jaguar roots. Of course the 6-liter tended towards understeer, but with a nose only marginally lighter than a 747, that will always be the case.
It weighs 4,100 lb in the drop-top version, but there is a grace about the DB7 that defies its bulk. With the GT, the steering is precise, with the wheel sending a gilt-edge advice slip when the tires start to lose the fight for grip. It's easy to drive, too, as one would expect from a car company that still shies away from outright performance in favor of ride quality.
But the car is merely beautifully made leather and aluminum wrapping for that engine; 85% of the torque is available from just 1500 revs, making this armchair on wheels a serious sporting proposition. While the V6 spluttered down the road like a beached whale making one last lunge for the sea, the V12 bolts like a horse from a gate. And the baritone roar is immense-immense in the way that only a V12 can be.
In standard form this car completes the 0-to-60-mph dash in 5 sec. flat and can reach somewhere in the region of 180 mph. It also produces 410 lb-ft of torque, which is impressive stuff indeed. In fact, the unit is so good the V12 has enjoyed only minor revisions before finding a home in the engine bay of the DB9. And here is the point.
BBR hiked this DB7's power to 547 bhp and the torque up to 496 lb-ft, which won't impact too heavily on the base performance figures but does give it more ponies than the Scaglietti and has a major effect on the in-gear acceleration. And there's no reason at all why it cannot happen to the DB9.
All Dave needs is a willing owner prepared to leave his car at the shop long enough to master the new engine. There is no particular magic, just a bigger air intake, gas-flowed cylinder heads, a remapped ECU and a new manifold. You can even crate up a DB7 engine, send the 20,000 and wait for the power hike.
You don't need to work too hard to liberate horses from a 6-liter and even Aston's chief engineer, Jeremy Main, believes 600 bhp is perfectly possible with this engine. Fear not, as soon as a customer brings his or her car in and asks, BBR will do it.
Monster MINIOnly last month I pondered the sense of fwd cars with 250 bhp and more after a fraught outing in a 328-bhp Alfa, but now I have to order up a slice of humble pie after a drive in BBR's 275-bhp MINI.
The tuner's Stage 4 conversion takes this fashion icon and turns it into a proper sports car. For those of you who don't want to spend 15,000 to take your MINI to quite that level, there are kits for 220-, 240- and 250 bhp. The big kit includes a gas-flowed and ported cylinder head fitted with a new camshaft, an uprated valve spring assembly, a new supercharger, new injectors, an auxiliary water pump, a twin-intercooler, a new exhaust and a wild-looking air inlet in the hood, as well as the requisite engine remap.
The ratios on the six-speed gearbox also come in for some attention and the performance drops to a staggering 5.2 sec. for the 0 to 60 mph and the needle will now head all the way round the dinner plate-sized speedo to 150 mph. The noise is something else, too; a high-pitched whine from the transmission and supercharger that belongs in a sci-fi special effects department.
Clearly the car is not for shrinking violets, but it is usable transportation and a highly entertaining, chuckable car that won't bite unless you truly deserve it.
It invites an attacking style and, thanks to suspension mods and a mighty limited-slip diff, opposite locks on exits. BBR rejigged the front and rear suspension to rid the MINI of its built-in understeer but retained the original springs and dampers for ride quality and cost control.
Of course, 275 bhp is always going to be huge power for a car of this size and configuration, but even with the traction control off on country roads it felt balanced and didn't once threaten to plow straight ahead through a hedge on sharp turns. The back end slides out, but a novice could balance it on the throttle, such is its natural poise. So while I expected an engine more overpowering than an old-woman's perfume, I actually received an education on what is possible with the right engineering.
It flatters any driver, is immense fun, is a genuine daily driver and BBR is already shipping huge numbers of kits to the U.S. If you're thinking of tuning your MINI, this is the place to start.-Nick Hall