The renaissance of Aston Martin as an independent manufacturer ...

The renaissance of Aston Martin as an independent manufacturer ...

98 I South AfricA Deluxe I Motor & sPorts luxury cars I 99

Astonishing Aston

The renaissance of Aston Martin as an independent

manufacturer has been one of the most remarkable events in

the global motor industry in decades, proving that a small and

entrepreneurial structure can survive and flourish in the 21st

century, without being part of a global giant.

Photos: © Aston Martin

he two decades aston martin spent inside ford motor company were not, in retrospect,

the golden ones. The very best is the here and now, reached some five years after

the company was purchased by a pair of kuwaiti investors and aston collector – and

investment banker – american John Sinders, with motorsport guru david Richards a key

player in brokering the deal too. ulrich Bez – appointed by ford to head am in 2000 remained on

to steer the ship (and is still at the helm), while ford retains a small share.

It is a fitting juncture for aston martin to have announced the latest Vanquish, reviving a nameplate

last used in 2005. a better designation is hard to envisage and this is an extraordinary machine,

intended to provide an unrivalled open road experience while carrying up to four occupants and

their luggage. It is a gT in the true sense of the word – in fact, aston’s leader describes it as a super

grand tourer. It sits right at the top of a model range which is arguably more impressive than ever

before in the brand’s 99 year history.

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The history of this remarkable (and resilient)

brand goes back to the year before the

outbreak of the first World War, when Robert

Bamford and lionel martin set up Bamford

and martin limited, a london-based

company selling Singer cars. It wasn’t long

before they started making their own cars

and renamed the company aston martin, the

aston part coming from the aston clinton

hill climb in which martin competed.

at the time they said that: “an aston martin

must always be a quality car, with good

performance and a pleasing appearance,

a car for the demanding owner who wants

to get a move on.” It is safe to say that not

much has changed since those days and

the philosophy has been distilled into the

Power, Beauty, and Soul pay-off line which

defines the brand. Its birthdate makes it

the planet’s longest-surviving manufacturer

of sports cars. The dB4/dB4gT/gT Zagato

cemented the company’s reputation and

styling credentials through the late ‘50s and

early ‘60s, but its successor is arguably the

most famous aston martin of all time. The

dB5 was launched in 1963 and eventually

over 1 000 were made, including a silver

coupe bristling with technology which 007

used to fend off his adversaries in goldfinger

and Thunderball.

The strength of the brand name has never

been in doubt, even during the toughest

times, and today production and profitability

are generally healthy too, with sales last

year at 4 200 units, compared to an alltime

high of over 7 000 in 2007 – before

markets imploded. however, in 1995 just

700 astons were sold, and between 1967

and 1987 production averaged roughly 250

a year. With total sales of 50 000 in almost

a century it remains a low-volume niche

brand, and one which intends sticking to its

knitting: making sporting cars. past, present

and future 007s would all approve.

So on to the Vanquish: from the fourth

quarter of the year, it’ll sit proudly at the

pinnacle of a product range which is bookended

by the four-door Rapide at one end

and the recently-updated Vantage at the

Photos: © Aston Martin

other. design chief marek Reichman has

exceeded his considerable talents: the

Vanquish is voluptuous, with flowing lines.

Yet there’s an athletic leanness too, as if

the bodywork has been tightly draped over

the mechanicals, the elongated side strakes

and the vents in the bonnet reminders of

mechanical functionality below the skin. The

aero duct tail helps to suck the car onto

the road and the overall result is an edgy,

forceful-looking car. The bulbous bonnet

seems barely able to contain the powerplant

beneath, and no wonder: it boasts 12

cylinders, almost six litres, 48 valves and

headline numbers of 421 kW and 620 nm.

To put it bluntly, this car has a surfeit of

muscle – enough to propel it to a top speed

just shy of 300 km/h. It is the most potent

engine ever fitted to a production aston, with

the exception of the limited edition one-77.

acceleration to 100 km/h takes 4.1 seconds,

a number ultimately determined by a car’s

power to weight ratio. despite its lavish list

of features and plentiful safety equipment,

the Vanquish tips the scales at a reasonably

svelte 1739 kilos, some 100 kg lighter than

its namesake. key to this is extensive use

of carbon fibre in its chassis, but also the

use of the same high-tech material for the

bodywork. Without this, it would not have

been possible to shape the doors or the

tailgate so elaborately either. While a 100

kilo saving may not sound like much, the

chassis stiffness – a key indicator of handling

precision and roadholding – has been

improved by some 25 percent too. While

considerably roomier in terms of passenger

and especially luggage space than the car it

replaces – the dBS – this is still a 2+2 and in

fact is also available without rear seats, for

those who don’t care too much for company.

The sumptuous interior mixes understated

english charm with modern high-tech and

there are a number of stylistic nods to the

one-77. There’s more than a modicum of

practicality too and the boot is, at 368 litres,

more than 60 percent larger than the dBS.

The Vanquish can carry sufficient luggage

for even the most ambitious grand tourist.

for those after a car with more generous

dimensions however, there’s the Rapide. The

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recipient of another evocative name, the

Rapide provides genuine four-seater comfort

with the convenience of four-doors. But

don’t let the layout fool you – it lives up to its

name thanks to a V12 similar to that of the

Vanquish, tuned to be slightly less powerful

but more torquey to compensate for the

added weight of a large, sporting saloon.

Built initially in austria, production has

recently shifted to the company’s stateof-the-art

gaydon, Warwickshire facility,

which was opened in 2003 and from where

every aston martin now hails. It lies at the

compact end of the aston performance

scale. The styling – whether as a roadster

or coupe, is more dramatic and purposeful

than ever. There are changes under the

skin too, the most significant of which is

one that enhances the driving experience

considerably, and that is the wider availability

of the new, made-for-aston seven-speed

automated manual gearbox.

The standard Vantage V8 still represents

a scintillating driving experience and has

maintained its competitive edge with a

process of continual improvement. In the

latest version the brakes, and tyres have

been upgraded to the same spec as the

potent S version, and the steering ratio

has been changed for quicker reactions

to driver input. available with or without

wind in the hair, its soulful V8 (rated at a

slightly mellower 313kW and 470 nm in

this application) can also be ordered with

a conventional six-speed manual and at

around R1.7-million represents an entry

point to the stable which is considerably

lower than before. The S version, however,

is available exclusively with seven cogs and

two pedals, and performance purists will

revel in a car which bridges the gap between

road car and racer. The lusty V8 is uprated

to 321 kW and 490 nm, and has an exhaust

note to confirm it.

The V12 (available as a roadster since the

northern Summer) is still equipped with the

sensational 6-litre 12-cylinder engine, for

the ultimate dynamite in a small package

motoring experience. clearly, there’s some

heat being generated down in the engine

room and this flagship version can be

recognised instantly by its vented bonnet.

a Zagato version of the Vantage is also

waiting in the wings, and will be introduced

later in the year. It’ll celebrate a 50 year

liaison between the exotically-named Italian

design and engineering studio and the

British marque, which started with the dB4

gT Zagato in 1960, and therefore represents

aston martin’s heritage and future, says Bez.

It is, all things considered, a pretty formidable

model line-up which aston martin can offer.

as the urbane dr Bez said: “The aston martin

range is stronger now than at any time in our

history. The new Vanquish represents the

perfect way to signal the beginning of our

centenary celebrations next year.”

Topping it all for aston is being voted the

united kingdom’s coolest brand five times

in the last six years by coolBrands. With

the arrival of the Vanquish there must be a

pretty strong likelihood of the accolade going

to gaydon once again when the winners

are revealed late in September – by which

time you’ll also be able to order a Vanquish

locally. now that’s cool.

adrian Burford

Photos: © Aston Martin

The new Vanquish represents the perfect

way to signal the beginning of our centenary

celebrations next year.

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