The Story of the Aston Martin Bulldog - The Most Important Car Never Made
Whenever I look at an Aston Martin, I find myself involuntarily reaching into a little bag of predetermined powerful terminology in a vague effort to try and portray the unmatchable allure and beauty. For the past 15 years or so, Astons have been so consistently gorgeous, that before you've even looked at one you envisage exquisite proportions that imbue the appropriate expressions and subsequent drool off the end of your tongue. One word that would never feature in a preordained selection of aesthetic descriptions for an Aston Martin is "ugly". But for the car we see here, it appears that no other word will suffice.
This is the Aston Martin Bulldog, and on the outside, it couldn't be less akin to what we'd normally see wearing the badge of beauty. In fact, if you weren't told that this was an Aston, you would probably find yourself entangled in a guessing game with no resolution. But don't let the unfortunate exterior put you off, because what you're looking at here is something absolutely extraordinary. For this is a car that could've changed the automotive landscape like nothing ever has before.
The Bulldog saga begins in 1977. Aston Martin wanted to find a way to show off the might of their fairly new engineering facility in Newport Pagnell. The company's chairman at the time – Alan Curtis, who'd managed to pull Aston out of the blackhole of bankruptcy in 1975 – came up with a plan that would show just how useful the new facility would be for the company: build the fastest hypercar the world had ever seen.
At the time, the fastest production car in the world was the Lamborghini Countach LP400, with a 370bhp 3.9L V12, and a top speed of 179mph. Nowadays, it might not appear to be all that much of a daunting challenge to make a car push beyond this benchmark. And indeed, with the ingredients Aston were throwing into the Bulldog, surpassing the Countach wasn't going to be much of a challenge.
There's two ways you can approach the job of creating a new world's fastest production car: you can either aim to just edge your way into the record books by a few miles-per-hour, or you can give birth to something unlike anything the world has ever seen before, and obliterate the competition into another dimension. Thankfully, Aston were aiming to adopt the latter approach.
What they did was take one of their 5.3L V8's, and bolt to it two Garrett turbochargers. Back in 1977, turbocharging technology was fairly new on road cars, having been all but abandoned after its debut in the 60's thanks to reliability issues, and was only pursued again a few years before the Bulldog's conception. But when they tested the Twin-Turbo engine for the Bulldog, they found it was producing 700bhp! Nearly twice what the Countach used to become the world's fastest production car.
Unfortunately, in 1978, progress on the Bulldog project ceased after the chief engineer abandoned his duties to go and work for DeLorean. A few months later however, things were back on track. The body was designed by a man synonymous with creating wedges. No, not the head-chef at McCain – but a man called William Towns, whose previous work for Aston Martin lead to him creating the utterly grotesque Lagonda. Clearly, the man isn't overly fond of anything with curves: a preference that was probably felt most acutely by his wife.
The 70's however appeared to be the era of the wedge. And Aston Martin were following this tradition with the Bulldog. Into the design of the car, powered gullwing doors were utilised – but unlike other gullwing doors, part of the car's roof didn't fold up with the door. Due to the fact that the car only sat 43 inches tall off the ground, this made getting in and out something you'd only find easy if you were a gymnast with dwarfism. But if you did manage to contort yourself inside – without any vague remnants of your dignity in tact – you'd be greeted by an interior unlike anything you'd find on any other supercar around at the time.
With digital gauges abound, the Bulldog gave the world a glimpse into the future of dashboards. Only now have digital dashes started to become commonplace, which just goes to show how futuristic the feature was in the Bulldog. When driving the Bulldog at speed however, you'd probably end up complaining that the dials were malfunctioning. Not because the early form of the technology was prone to breaking – but because the numbers they'd show would be completely implausible!
When the Twin-Turbo V8 was put into the finished car, it was detuned somewhat down to 600bhp. Sent to humungous 345mm rear tyres via a 5-speed manual gearbox, the Bulldog was capable of a frankly underwhelming 0-60mph time of 5.1 seconds. Yes, that is fast, and faster than any other car could cope with at the time. But considering what the Bulldog would run up to given a long enough stretch of road, its 0-60mph time doesn't do it justice.
Around the high-speed track at the MIRA testing facility, the Bulldog shot up to a "gentle" 192mph. This however was not the car's top speed. And, if Aston Martin's calculations are to be believed, the Bulldog was barely breaking a sweat!
Aston Martin have always been confident to insist on the Bulldog's real potential. Unleashed with its full 700 horsepower on a long enough stretch of road, the Bulldog was capable of reaching a scarcely believable 237mph! Just in case that information has startled your brain into forgetting: this was back in 1979. And it could've affirmed itself as the world's fastest production car by a margin of nearly 60mph. No car in history has even got close to achieving that.
Despite being completed in 1979, it wasn't until the March of 1980 that the Bulldog was officially launched. The one prototype that had been built was seen as a clear message to every other performance car out there: a message that showed Aston Martin were capable of building the fastest car on the planet – a car that would move the goalposts completely out of sight of everything.
Despite the car's breath-taking capabilities, Aston had modest hopes for a limited production run of between 15 and 25 cars. But to this day, the only Bulldog in existence is the original prototype. After all that promise, and all that potential, Aston never proceeded with making the Bulldog. And the reason for that is one that's prevented many masterpieces from coming to fruition: a financial crisis.
Stocks the world over had suddenly contracted diarrhoea, and the bottom fell out of the performance car market. Once again, Aston Martin found themselves on the brink of death, and drastic action was required. Much in the same way a crab will amputate its own limbs in order to save its life, Aston Martin were forced to cut the Bulldog out of its future production plans in order to ensure the survival of the company.
In 1984, the one Bulldog built was sold for £130,000. Something of a bargain, if you ask me – because the car's now worth well in excess of a million squids!
Had it been produced, the Bulldog would've premiered a couple of important things for Aston Martin that have only recently become firsts for them. It would've been their first turbocharged production car, which we now know to be the DB11; and it would've been their first mid-engined production car, which we know will be the Valkyrie. But more than that however is the crater shaped shadow that was left behind by the impact this car would've had on the automotive world had it been produced.
It makes you wonder how automotive history would've panned out had Aston actually produced the Bulldog, in full fat 700bhp spec. If we pitch its 237mph top speed into what we know are the list of cars to hold fastest production car status, we find it would've taken a McLaren F1 without its rev limiter to dethrone it. Discounting that, the first out-of-the-factory production car that could've gone faster is the Bugatti Veyron.
If the Aston had been released however, automotive history would've taken a very different turn all thanks to the tidal-wave-like ripples it would've created. It would've forced everyone else to completely rethink what they were doing. The Ferrari F40, the Porsche 959, the Ruf CTR Yellowbird, the Jaguar XJ220, the McLaren F1, the Koenigsegg CCR, and even the Bugatti Veyron wouldn't have turned out like we know them - if Aston had released the Bulldog. That's just how significant this car was.
In many ways then, you can think of the Bulldog as the most important car never made. Something which would've terraformed the entire performance car domain, and moved outright speed lightyears ahead.
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Written by: Angelo Uccello
Tribe: Speed Machines
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