Test riding the super rare Aston Martin AMB 001

by

Words: Alan Cathcart
Photography: Oli Tennent (statics)and Chris McEvoy (action)

What is the Aston Martin AMB 001?

If you were hoping to give yourself or a loved one a very special present in the form of one of the 100 limited edition AMB 001 turbocharged V-twin motorcycles – sorry, but you’re too late!

Every single example of this radical lovechild of two legendary British marques – Aston Martin and Brough Superior – sold out long ago at a price of €108,000, but never mind as you can plan ahead for next Christmas by putting your name down for one of the 88 examples to be constructed of the AMB 001 Pro, complete with a 225bhp V-twin turbo engine machined from solid billet. The price for that further example of the Entente Cordiale between the British car manufacturer and the French bike factory? Dig deep – it’ll be €148,900!

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When it was announced in October 2019 that Aston Martin was linking with the French-based born-again Brough Superior factory to develop jointly a motorcycle together, it seemed almost too good to be true. For putting a pair of Britain’s most historic motoring marques together seemed like a marketeer’s mirage – great on paper, but how could it possibly work in practice? But when the striking AMB 001, adorned with Aston’s winged badge on its flanks, was unveiled at the November 2019 EICMA Milan Show, suddenly it all made sense…

For, clothed in ultra-distinctive carbon fibre bodywork designed by Aston Martin’s executive vice president and chief creative officer, Marek Reichman (motorcycle nut and Ducati Panigale owner), the turbocharged direct-injection 997cc AMB 001 V-twin was a radically innovative motorcycle built exclusively for race track use, which had nevertheless been undergoing development on French roads for the past decade. How so? Because that’s how long French designer, entrepreneur and Brough Superior Motorcycles CEO Thierry Henriette had been working on such a bike. The original prototype made its public debut at the 2011 Paris Show under the Boxer SuperBob label, named after Thierry’s father Robert, who’d passed away three years earlier, after supporting his son’s decision at age 22 to drop out of medical school to establish a motorcycle dealership he named Boxer Bikes, after the Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer he was driving!

That 2011 prototype Boxer SuperBob was full of innovation, built around a specially-developed 88º V-twin eight-valve engine created by Akira Engineering in nearby Bayonne (later to build the Kawasaki ZX-10R motors that won seven World Superbike titles). Akira specifically designed the SuperBob motor for forced induction, with stronger crankcases and engine internals. The unheralded SuperBob roadster’s debut at the 2011 Paris Show was a huge hit with the French public, and thus armed with a sheaf of potential customers for a turbo motorcycle costing under €20,000, Henriette started looking for the €5 million in capital investment he needed to start production. But money was tight after the 2008 financial crash, especially for a brand like Boxer – completely unknown outside France. Brough Superior was another matter, though, and after Henriette was introduced to Mark Upham, owner of the Brough trademark, the two shook hands in July 2013 on a deal to develop a range of new gen Brough Superiors using a normally aspirated version of the SuperBob’s engine. Just four months later, the first modern Brough SS100 was unveiled at the Milan Show to mark the 90th anniversary of the model’s introduction.

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After Akira redeveloped the engine in normally aspirated form for the SS100’s production kick-off in 2015, development of the turbo V-twin concept continued, leading to the EICMA 2019 debut of the mind-blowing Aston Martin AMB 001, alluringly styled by Reichman and his team at Aston Martin, and while Covid put a brake on proceedings, production finally got started at Brough’s Toulouse plant, including building the engines entirely in-house. In March 2022 deliveries began to their patient new owners of the first 30 examples of Aston Martin’s debut motorcycle.

What makes the Aston Martin AMB 001 so special?

With a backbone frame machined from solid titanium billet and a carbon fibre subframe for the seat, some of the carbon bodywork is structural, too, and incorporates various aerodynamic features aimed at optimising downforce, and enhancing penetration of oncoming airflow. These include the frontal winglets whose shape is taken from the S-shaped curves found at the front of Aston Martin’s passenger cars. There’s also a carbon fibre fin running the length of the bike, over the top of the fuel tank and up to the minimalist TFT colour dash. Adorning this fin is Aston Martin’s wing logo, but rather than being painted on or a sticker, it’s a nine microns-thick laser-cut piece of stainless steel applied under the lacquer!

The liquid-cooled 88º V-twin 997cc engine acts as a fully load-bearing chassis component, with its cylinder angle reduced by two degrees at the crankcase from the more normal 90º format (which delivers perfect primary balance). This allows 30mm to be saved between the cylinder heads, without having to use a counterbalancer to smooth out undue vibration. The cast aluminium single-sided swingarm rotates in the horizontally-split crankcases, the upper half of which incorporates the Nikasil-lined cylinders.

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There’s composite drive to the pair of four-valve cylinder heads, comprising a Morse chain for each cylinder driven directly off the crank, running to an intermediate gear pinion situated immediately beneath the twin overhead camshafts in each head. The paired steel valves – 35mm inlets and 31mm exhausts – sit at a 26º total included angle, and are directly operated via buckets. There’s a single 52mm Bosch throttle body with RBW digital throttle.

Running a steep 10.5:1 compression for a turbo motor, the AMB 001’s engine produces 182bhp at 9000rpm, transmitted via a six-speed extractable cassette-type gearbox made by CIMA in Italy, with the Garrett turbocharger capable of delivering a maximum boost of 14.5psi, but providing variable boost via the Bosch ECU according to the gear selected, engine speed and load.

One of the most impressive stats on the AMB 001 is the fact that while peak torque of 114.32lb-ft is produced at 6,800rpm, there’s at least 100lb-ft available from 5000 all the way to 9500 revs. The normally-aspirated Euro 4 compliant Brough Superior SS100 version of the same motor produces 102bhp at 9600rpm, and peak torque of 64lb-ft at 7300rpm…

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The Aston Martin’s front suspension is based on the wishbone fork design created by French engineer Claude Fior and raced to points-scoring finishes in the FIM Endurance series some two years before the first bike bearing the similar Hossack format was created. The fourche Fior was later copied by John Britten, as well as by BMW on their Duolever front end, and is employed on all Brough Superior models. The twin wishbone struts are CNC machined from aluminium billet with twin articulated titanium triangular links, and carry a Donerre monoshock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping. At the rear the swingarm pivots in the engine crankcases, with another fully adjustable Donerre monoshock.

Donerre is a Czech-owned French competition suspension specialist located north of Toulouse which, besides being the French importer for WP, has developed a series of dedicated shocks for Brough Superior and now Aston Martin models. Brough ditched Öhlins for them, so they must be good!

Likewise a local concern, Beringer has long supplied Boxer, Brough and now Aston Martin with brakes, and its twin 320mm front discs on the AMB 001 are gripped by their radially-mounted four-piston Monobloc calipers, with a 230mm rear disc and single-pot caliper. Thanks to copious attention to saving weight, the AMB 001 scales just 180kg dry, split 50/50% along the 1499mm wheelbase.

Test ride

Successive Covid lockdowns and travel restrictions between France and Britain meant that I couldn’t take up Thierry Henriette’s invitation to ride the AMB 001 at a test session. Finally a chance came to do so – in a series of runs up the Duke of Richmond’s front drive at the 2022 Goodwood Festival of Speed. Look, I wasn’t going to say no, was I, so nothing for it but to grit my teeth and start praying nothing unexpected would befall me in finally demonstrating this long-awaited piece of Aston Martin history was indeed rideable in front of 100,000 spectators. And then it started raining…

Well, I’m not afraid to admit I chickened out of making friends with the AMB 001 on a wet track made extra slippery by all the oil and rubber dropped by the cars running before me that morning. Plus they’d only brought one bike, so if by any chance… well, you get it. But my turn came under sunny skies that afternoon, before which I’d sampled the bike for size and discovered that at 5’10” tall I practically needed a stepladder to climb aboard the supposedly 830mm-high seat, beautifully upholstered in Oxford tan leather, which was also very wide where it met the ‘fuel tank’ (which is actually mostly under the seat, but you get the point). I reckon they might need to remeasure that, because once aboard I could only just touch the toes of both boots down on the ground simultaneously – it felt unbelievably precarious, because after firing up the pretty meaty-sounding turbo V-twin motor I had to inch to the startline in the queue of bikes leaning over to the right so I could put my right foot to the ground to find neutral with my left when I needed to on the race-pattern gearshift. That was when I noticed the Michelin label on the tread of the front tyre – overly concerned about climbing aboard, I’d forgotten to check what tyres I was riding on. But at least I knew that I had brand-new slick tyres which, moreover, had spent zero time under warmers, because standing in the line of bikes waiting our turn would have cooled them off pronto.

Spinning up the rear just before I reached the startline at least got some heat into that end of things – but I was more concerned about the front, because the first turn at Goodwood is barely 200 metres from the start, and the next one even closer than that. As I tiptoed round the pair of them in second gear I could feel the front tyre behaving like I was riding over marbles – great feedback from the Donerre front shock! But now I was straightened up and could pin the throttle cautiously but firmly as we streaked past the house. I could feel the rear tyre repeatedly unhooking then gripping again beneath me – no TC to speak of on the map I had dialled in – sending the bike into a gentle speed wobble that apparently looked quite spectacular on TV, so they tell me. I was more worried about Molecomb Corner at the end of the straight past the House – the first left-hander on the course, so caution was needed on the unscrubbed front tyre. So I made sure I did all my braking in a straight line – but then the Beringers worked so well that I, ahem, had to accelerate again to get round the bend. Look, this was a survival course, not a question of looking good!

But from there on I started to appreciate the qualities of the Aston, which steered precisely – almost delicately – through the Kennels Esses, before hugging the stone wall tightly round the long left-hander leading to the finish line. But it was the long straight blast up the hill to the Finishing Enclosure that really impressed me, with the turbo motor delivering impressive acceleration as I clicked up through the sweet-shifting gearbox – though I just ran out of space before I could hit top gear.

By the end of the weekend I was trailbraking into Turn 1 with total confidence, and once I eventually found the right braking point, same thing at Molecomb, too. But it still felt a little ungainly because of its ride height in flicking from side to side through the Kennels Esses – although the way it came so smoothly on boost after that for the short straight which followed was really satisfying. The ride height of the whole bike needs to be dropped at least 20mm – it’s much too tall, and while having ridden all his various racebikes I know Claude Fior was an avid exponent of tall motorcycles in order to promote weight transfer in pursuit of extra grip, I never did agree that’s necessary to get the best out of his front end design, as here.

Indeed, riding the Aston Martin increasingly brought a smile to my face. Despite its undoubtedly impressive horsepower and torque numbers, this rather surprisingly isn’t a wheel-standing hyperbike with an aggressive hit of grunt when you spool up the turbo. Instead, there’s a strong but completely insistent shove all the way through the revband from 4,500rpm upwards – as well as a nicely mapped throttle response. This is quite devoid of any turbo lag, yet isn’t fierce or snatchy in pickup from a closed throttle, as sometimes happens on turbo motors where the engineers have over-compensated in dialling out lag. But another reason for the fluid yet immediate pickup is surely the AMB 001’s direct EFI – aka GDI, or Gasoline Direct Injection – which Henriette says he stipulated for the superior throttle response it delivers.

Despite the fact that no other series production motorcycle has incorporated GDI since the ill-fated Bimota Vdue two-stroke a quarter-of-a-century ago, in cars it’s ubiquitous today. This entails the fuel being directly injecting into the combustion chamber, rather than spraying it into the inlet either side of the throttle butterfly, as in the indirect EFI used on all motorcycles today. GDI increases the air delivered to the engine because fuel no longer has to compete with the airflow for space in the inlet ducts – but direct injection of the charge into the combustion chamber also gives less time to evaporate the fuel. With the requisite fuel pressure as high as 26,000psi, the GDI injectors are exposed to increased heat and pressure, plus you need a higher-pressure fuel pump and more precise fuel mapping, all reasons why direct fuel injection is considerably more costly than indirect EFI. In combining GDI with the turbo, the Aston Martin’s mechanical package is thus pretty avantgarde in two-wheeled terms.

Once I’d learned its traits the AMB 001 offered the same kind of exhilarating punch my supercharged Vee Two Ducati 999 Super Squalo has been furnishing me with for the past 15 years. Gladly I’ll own up to being a devotee of forced induction, and the Aston Martin provides the same kind of visceral thrill that I’ve grown addicted to down the years on the Squalo. Accelerating wide open in almost any gear results in your being propelled forward hard and fast, thanks to the intoxicating, enthralling and downright thrilling performance this motorcycle delivers. There’s no abrupt transition into maxi-torque mode, just a super-smooth delivery of significant grunt. The anti-wheelie programme in the Bosch ECU allows the AMB 001’s front wheel only to hover slightly above the Tarmac as you gas it hard, so this bike’s performance is civilised and accessible, but nonetheless impressive for being that.

Believe me, this is a truly invigorating, entrancing ride, which deserves to reach a wider audience.

Specification

ASTON MARTIN AMB 001

Engine: 997cc, liquid-cooled DOHC 88-degree V-twin four-stroke with four valves per cylinder, and composite chain/gear cam drive, direct electronic fuel injection, intercooled high-pressure variable-boost liquid-cooled Garrett turbocharger (maximum 1.00 bar/14.5psi boost), Bosch ECU, single 52mm Bosch throttle body with RBW digital throttle

Power output: 182bhp/136kW @ 9,000rpm

Maximum torque: 155Nm/114.32lb-ft  @ 6,800rpm

Gearbox: Extractable cassette-type 6-speed CIMA

Chassis: CNC machined titanium backbone frame with carbon fibre subframe, 23.9° with 102.60mm trail

Suspension: Fior-type wishbone fork CNC machined from aluminium billet with twin articulated titanium triangular links, and Donerre monoshock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping with 112mm travel (F), single-sided aluminium swingarm, pivoting in engine crankcases, Donerre monoshock fully adjustable, 124mm travel (R)

Wheelbase: 1499mm

Brakes: Front: 2 x 320mm Beringer stainless steel discs with 2 x four-piston Beringer radial calipers (F), 230mm Beringer stainless steel disc with 1 x two-piston Beringer caliper (R)

Wheels/Tyres: 120/70-17 Michelin Power Slick on 3.50in CNC-machined forged aluminium wheel (F), 200/55-17 Michelin Power Slick on 6.25in CNC machined forged aluminium wheel (R)

Seat height: 830mm

Fuel capacity: 14 litres

Constructor: Brough Superior Motorcycles, Toulouse, France, on behalf of Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd., Gaydon, Warwickshire, UK

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