In­side the rar­efied world of pres­tige and be­spoke cars.

Neue Luxury - - Front Page - By Kyle For­tune


While all lux­ury mar­ques will in­dulge some level of in­di­vid­u­al­i­sa­tion and cus­tomi­sa­tion, the UK has some of the most es­tab­lished su­per lux­ury and per­for­mance brands where be­spoke in­ter­ac­tion have long been con­sid­ered the norm. As­ton Martin, Rolls-royce, Bent­ley and rel­a­tive new­com­ers Mclaren Au­to­mo­tive all have de­part­ments whose re­mit is to act upon be­spoke re­quests. While such in­di­vid­ual per­son­al­i­sa­tion isn’t unique to ei­ther mar­que, it is, in an his­tor­i­cal sense a pe­cu­liarly Bri­tish phe­nom­e­non.

“Peo­ple say they don’t need our cars, they buy them be­cause they’re beau­ti­ful. They buy them be­cause they cre­ate a per­sonal feel­ing with the car, and Q ex­em­pli­fies that process. It en­dorses it and al­lows peo­ple to cre­ate a piece of their own in­spi­ra­tion,” says Dr Matthew J Ben­nett, Gen­eral Man­ager of Q and VIP sales for As­ton Martin. Q is the per­son­al­i­sa­tion depart­ment that works in the very best tra­di­tion of As­ton Martin, in or­der to cater to the mar­ques most dis­cern­ing, de­mand­ing and ex­act­ing clients. As a not so sub­tle nod to As­ton Martin’s most fa­mous lit­er­ary driver, the di­vi­sion takes the al­ready very ex­clu­sive and cre­ates the op­por­tu­nity to re­alise some­thing even more dis­tinc­tive.

As Ben­nett stands in front of a beau­ti­fully crafted pre­sen­ta­tion case, filled with swathes of the finest leathers, sculpted painted blocks, their shape de­lib­er­ately cho­sen to demon­strate the ef­fect of light and shade on the hue, he re­marks “Cre­at­ing a cat­a­logue for Q is al­most im­pos­si­ble as new ideas come from every part of the world”. Marek Re­ich­man, Head of De­sign at As­ton Martin, favours this end­less op­por­tu­nity adding, “the only limit is your imag­i­na­tion”.

It’s a tra­di­tion that As­ton Martin has had since its in­cep­tion; Re­ich­man notes, “it’s at the very core of our brand”. The hand-made el­e­ment of As­ton Martin’s cars ac­com­mo­dates for imaginative in­no­va­tions in ve­hi­cle de­sign, and the firm only pro­duces a small num­ber of cars each year, with just 65,000 As­ton Martins hav­ing been built in over 100 years.

“One thing all of our clients share is the ex­pe­ri­ence,” Ben­nett ex­plains. “The jour­ney of meet­ing us, talk­ing to us and hav­ing some fun is as im­por­tant as the end prod­uct. What is unique about As­ton Martin is the close prox­im­ity of de­sign en­gi­neer­ing and sales, and the fact that the clients’ get to talk to the same guy that de­signed the car.”

“We as­sume that this whole idea of per­son­al­i­sa­tion comes from the home, but the car and the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try re­ally started it all, you can even look at that from the per­spec­tive of tai­lor­ing. A lot of our crafts­men and seam­stresses came from the tai­lor­ing trade, which is all about peo­ple and in­di­vid­u­al­i­sa­tion” Re­ich­man ex­plains while re­flect­ing on nu­mer­ous com­mis­sions he is per­son­ally in­volved in each year. “Ev­ery­one’s a dif­fer­ent shape, size and has dif­fer­ent tastes. What we do is very much about that. This is about our clients taste. We don’t po­lice it, we ad­vise. We don’t say you can’t have a bright green, we ac­tu­ally say this bright green would work with this bright yel­low and this bright red.”

Colour choice is in­deed an in­ten­sive process and the ideas be­hind each de­ci­sion are var­ied and nu­anced. Whether it be blue paint to match a kitchen blender for a Bent­ley Con­ti­nen­tal GTC or even a Rolls-royce Wraith painted to echo the Jaguar MKII driven by tele­vi­sion de­tec­tive In­spec­tor Morse. Such de­mands might seem sim­ple, but Rolls-royce’s Head of Be­spoke Sales and Mar­ket­ing, Richard Col­lar is quick to note that achiev­ing this par­tic­u­lar cus­tomers re­quest, meant an in­vest­ment of time equiv­a­lent to paint­ing eigh­teen Wraiths off the stan­dard pal­ette and two-tone paint process.

Cul­tural and geo­graph­i­cal in­flu­ences are also a sig­nif­i­cant con­sid­er­a­tion for mak­ers. A car des­tined for a Mid­dle Eastern client might look out of place on a grey Bri­tish day, but un­der the shim­mer­ing bright­ness of an equa­to­rial sun, it’s per­fect. “The joy of the be­spoke of­fer­ing,” says James War­ren of Rolls-royce, “is that we don’t have to sec­ond-guess that, we don’t just of­fer the lim­ited twenty colour pal­ette, there are 44,000 to choose from and that means it can be any­thing to any­one, no mat­ter where they are in the world”.

It’s some­thing that Re­ich­man at As­ton Martin recog­nises only too well and ad­mits that colour has the power to sur­prise. “You may hap­pen to be driv­ing down a road in In­dia and see an ar­ray of saris hang­ing up to dry and al­though you would never imag­ine those colours work­ing to­gether, they re­ally do look fab­u­lous. We are al­ways work­ing with our de­sign­ers to cre­ate a nu­ance in our colours. There are so many tonal dif­fer­ences in one colour that you can al­ways get them to blend and match.”

As­ton Martin’s be­spoke ca­pa­bil­i­ties aren’t lim­ited to sur­face treat­ments. A client want­ing to cel­e­brate the an­niver­sary of the fall of the Ber­lin Wall, not only took ad­van­tage of a col­lec­tion of unique leather, paint and fab­ric op­tions, but also re­quested that some of the stone from the wall be in­laid into the in­te­rior Q badge. There’s lit­tle that As­ton Martin’s crafts­men and women can­not de­liver. Un­der­lin­ing their ex­quis­ite abil­ity and upon the mar­ques cen­te­nary, the Q di­vi­sion filled the fine slith­ers be­tween the stylised wings on the com­pany’s badge (said to be de­rived from a scarab beetle) with the lus­trous green shell of its in­spi­ra­tion. Bent­ley’s Mulliner Di­vi­sion re­sponds to every­thing from unique leather­work and wood fin­ishes to cham­pagne chillers, col­lec­tively adding to an al­ready ar­du­ous man­u­fac­tur­ing pe­riod reach­ing up to 400 hours or more. And the price? No one re­ally asks.

In the cur­rent mar­ket there’s in­creas­ing de­mand for in­di­vid­u­al­i­sa­tion and si­mul­ta­ne­ous de­mand for ex­clu­siv­ity. As­ton Martin’s One-77 project from 2009-12 has built just seventy-seven ex­clu­sive As­ton Martin hy­pecars with a £1.2 mil­lion price tag. Each, says Re­ich­man, was unique. One client fa­mously loved the cars alu­minium struc­ture so much that he pur­chased a chas­sis to dis­play on his wall as art. “Projects like One-77” says Re­ich­man, “are where the real po­ten­tial is. It’s not sim­ply colour and ma­te­ri­als, it’s shape and form, stance, style, at­ti­tude and feel­ing.”

“Our clients al­most al­ways have very good taste. And while in­dus­try stan­dards can of­ten dic­tate that adding up to 30 per­cent in spe­cialised op­tions re­sults in the de­pre­ci­a­tion of the re­sell value of a ve­hi­cle, to some it’s not an

is­sue. It’s the same as en­grav­ing your ini­tials on the back of your watch. You’re in this for the long term, you’re cre­at­ing some­thing that’s spe­cial to you. Our clients un­der­stand value, with value be­ing de­fined as style, ex­clu­siv­ity and some­thing that has never been be­fore - that adds huge value to the ex­pe­ri­ence. In the end that’s the bit that drives the de­ci­sions and not the fi­nal cost” ad­mits Ben­nett. The process is en­joy­able for the clients and as well as those work­ing on the project, Ben­nett ex­plains, “the ex­pe­ri­ence is fun and chal­leng­ing be­cause you gain so much in­spi­ra­tion and there are no re­stric­tions to the cre­ative vi­sion. In the end that’s what pro­vides unique value to our clients”.

This is some­thing Mclaren’s Spe­cial Op­er­a­tion (MSO) depart­ment has wit­nessed with its P1 su­per­car project. There is so much op­por­tu­nity for the cre­ative vi­sion. James Banks, Head of Com­mer­cial Op­er­a­tions at MSO says, “one of our key mantras is ‘never say no’. We’ll do what you like when­ever its pos­si­ble within the law and avail­able bud­get. One of the first ques­tions I al­ways ask of clients is whether you’ll be tak­ing it to the race­track or the opera. And then you’ve got to think about how that might change in time, a car you wanted to race be­comes the car you take out for an evening”.

There’s no greater ex­am­ple of Bank’s think­ing and the scope of MSO’S abil­ity for one-off be­spoke cars than the Mclaren X-1, a retro-deco-in­spired fan­tas­ti­cal car based on the 12C. Its anony­mous Mclaren-ded­i­cated owner wanted some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent, with none of the ex­te­rior pan­els or lights car­ried over from the orig­i­nal car. Never to be seen again af­ter its 2012 un­veil­ing at Peb­ble Beach, the X-1 might not be to ev­ery­one’s taste but it does in­deed rep­re­sent the zenith of hand built be­spoke pro­duc­tion.

While Bent­ley and Rolls-royce might not de­liver such overt and os­ten­ta­tious one-off cre­ations, Bent­ley’s 2008 Con­ti­nen­tal GTZ Za­gato, a se­ries of just nine cars, harks back to an age where coach builders and de­sign houses cre­ated unique body­work on run­ning chas­sis. Za­gato’s most prom­i­nent re­la­tion­ship re­mains with As­ton Martin and the Z badge is still syn­ony­mous with the mar­que. The col­lab­o­ra­tion has pro­duced iconic out­comes such as the 1960’s DB4 GT Za­gato and the most re­cent 2011 V12 Za­gato, Vi­rage Shoot­ing Brake Za­gato, DBS Coupe Za­gato Cen­ten­nial and Spi­der Cen­ten­nial with the for­mer three cel­e­brat­ing Za­gato’s ninety-fifth an­niver­sary.

Cars like As­ton Martin’s CC100 Speed­ster of which only two were built, were cars very close to Re­ich­man’s heart. “The CC100 is a kind of spir­i­tual em­bod­i­ment of our DNA and to be able to do that for a client is very re­ward­ing.” Such ma­chines are in­evitably ex­pen­sive, but Re­ich­man sug­gests that with their clients, it has lit­tle to do with money. It’s the re­al­i­sa­tion of a dream and in the world of col­lecta­bles these ve­hi­cles are right­fully con­sid­ered in­vest­ments.

As en­joy­able as the process may be for clients, it’s clearly lib­er­at­ing for Re­ich­man to be given the out­let to chan­nel his cre­ativ­ity. “We do things that we some­times show as ex­per­i­ments; in­vari­ably they cap­ture some­one’s imag­i­na­tion so much that they must have one. That for me is the big­gest buzz, as it adds cre­dence to your imag­i­na­tion and val­i­dates your de­sire to in­spire, to gen­er­ate in­ter­est and to en­thuse your own team. Should a client see our think­ing and love it, then in the world of be­spoke cars, they can have it.”

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