As­ton Martin Gymkhana

As­ton Martin’s en­tire back cat­a­logue slid­ing side­ways around a Welsh hanger. Eeek


In a lit­tle un­der three years, As­ton Martin will be build­ing cars in this hangar. There will be peo­ple and ma­chin­ery, in­fras­truc­ture, lo­gis­tics, com­po­nents and, at the cen­tre of it all, a pro­duc­tion line, down which will fow the forth­com­ing DBX SUV and po­ten­tially some­thing wear­ing a Lagonda badge. But that’s not un­til early 2020.

Next week – by the time you read this in other words – they will start tear­ing up the foor in here. That’s a cry­ing shame. It’s pol­ished con­crete, smooth, re­fec­tive and un­touched since the RAF moved out a few years back.

Right now, and for the next two days, this hangar is ours. Well, ours and a flm crew’s. But we can share – we have not one, but three hangars to choose from. Cor­rec­tion: not hangars, su­per-hangars, 11,000 square me­tres each, or ex­pressed an­other way, 2.7 acres. Lo­cated at St Athan in South Wales, they were built for the RAF to ser­vice their fast jets in, could ac­com­mo­date some­thing like 48 Tor­na­dos at a time, but they moved out in 2012, and the place has been empty since.

And then along came As­ton, need­ing a new man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity to fulfl its plans to dou­ble pro­duc­tion to around 14,000 cars per year. A match made in heaven, al­beit one that re­quires an in­vest­ment of some­thing like £200 mil­lion be­fore 750 jobs can be cre­ated and 7,000 cars a year can start rolling out the doors.

Con­fronted with sev­eral acres of cov­ered space, As­ton Martin de­cided to do the de­cent thing: de­lay the re­de­vel­op­ment peo­ple get­ting in for a few days and bring along a bit of their back cat­a­logue to make a flm – 28 cars, to be pre­cise, with a com­bined value of £65 mil­lion. Oof. Throw in a few rac­ing driv­ers, a cou­ple of cameos from Welsh rugby play­ers, some noise, smoke, drama and a de­cent sto­ry­line that in­volves a cheeky bit of il­licit af­ter hours “bor­row­ing”, and you have a cool vi­ral flm.

TopGear was in­stru­men­tal in this hap­pen­ing. Char­lie Turner and I were chat­ting with As­ton Martin last year when the con­ver­sa­tion swung to the deal they had struck with the MoD over the hangars at St Athan air­feld. TopGear cre­ativ­ity swung into ac­tion, and I think the next words ut­tered were “skid­ding about, in­doors, in As­tons”. Our con­tri­bu­tion ended there.

Un­til today, where I fnd my­self do­ing pre­cisely that. Our breadth of imag­i­na­tion clearly has few lim­its. I’m in hangar three. The main shoot for the flm doesn’t start un­til to­mor­row, but all the cars are ar­riv­ing of the backs of trucks and trail­ers in hangar two right now. I’d love to tell you that I have carte blanche to go and grab keys and razz stuf around, but, well, £65 mil­lion.

Just two cars, the DBR1 and DB4 GT Za­gato, ac­count for more than half that, but that still leaves £30-odd mil­lion-worth of metal and cars dat­ing back to 1921 – the A3 is the old­est As­ton Martin in ex­is­tence. There are con­cept cars, stunt cars, rac­ing

cars… and a DB5. This one’s worth £800,000, but I’ve never driven one and this isn’t an op­por­tu­nity I’m pre­pared to pass up.

The noise when it fres is in­stant Con­nery. The 4.0-litre straight-six sucks air through three SU car­bu­ret­tors and sounds in­stantly recog­nis­able from all those chase scenes. It’s cap­ti­vat­ing. Clearly I’m not go­ing to learn much about how it drives when all I have to play with is a few hun­dred me­tres of hangar, but this isn’t about that, and to be frank it’s not re­ally about skid­ding around, ei­ther. I can’t bring my­self to do it, to treat such a beau­ti­ful, el­e­gant thing clum­sily or harshly. So in­stead I pot­ter up and down, fngers guid­ing the wil­lowy steer­ing and fve-speed gear­lever, ears tuned in to the suck­ing carbs, the fuel star­va­tion through the long cor­ner at ei­ther end. In As­ton’s flm, it’s paired with the DB10, but that car’s a whole difer­ent ket­tle of fsh. It’s the stunt car from SPEC­TRE – open the door and all you fnd is roll cage, har­nesses and a hy­draulic hand­brake. I want to drive it, but it’s in­au­then­tic when there’s so much real his­tory here.

I go for a wan­der along this ridicu­lous line of cars for what to drive next. Hon­estly, it’s real pinch-your­self stuf. There’s a One-77 next to a wedge of Lagonda, the As­ton Martin Lola Le Mans racer from 2009, a pair of mod­ern Za­gatos, the CC100 con­cept, a black man­ual Van­quish (what a sweetie); be­hind me a red Vul­can squeezes out of a trans­porter with barely an inch of clear­ance ei­ther side of its wing. I wan­der fur­ther: GT8, DB2, Valkyrie, DB11, V12 Van­tage S, Taraf, Vi­rage, there’s even a Cygnet kick­ing around. Over the course of the day, I drive about a dozen, but none means as much to me as the 1980 V8 Van­tage.

I have a lot to thank Top Trumps for – pri­mar­ily my job, but also a rec­ol­lec­tion for car stats that did me pre­cisely no favours with the op­po­site sex dur­ing my for­ma­tive years. This was Britain’s frst su­per­car: 435bhp, 170mph, 5.3 sec­onds to 60mph (didn’t have to look those up). Bet­ter ac­cel­er­a­tion than a Fer­rari Day­tona, more power than a Lam­borgh­ini Coun­tach, the most pow­er­ful car in the pack, in fact. What a bruiser. That solid grille, the ex­tra driv­ing lights, the small, deep-dish steer­ing wheel, a nat­u­rally as­pi­rated 5.3-litre V8 that rum­bles and roars, flling these halls with echoes, a di­nosaur in more ways than one.

It’s a bounder’s car, per­fectly at­tuned to its pre-yup­pie era, and it’s a whole heap of fun ca­reer­ing around a hangar, imag­in­ing you’re in some up­mar­ket Sweeney- style chase, prob­a­bly es­cap­ing a fu­ri­ous hus­band. Af­ter ten min­utes a fug of fumes has per­me­ated ev­ery cu­bic inch of the hangar to the ex­tent that our eyes start to wa­ter. Time for a change.

I drive the 6.3-litre Vi­rage (the mighty V600 is of-lim­its be­cause a pri­vate buyer has just paid the thick end of half a mil­lion for it), and that’s a hoot but has is­sues with cool­ing and ends up pid­dling out a load of coolant from its ex­pan­sion tank.

I’m con­cerned for its wel­fare, but As­ton has its own car whis­perer, Paul Spires, the di­rec­tor of As­ton Martin Works, who as­sures me this is no is­sue. His abil­ity to coax life into the more re­luc­tant mem­bers of the ensem­ble is as­ton­ish­ing.

A vast 600bhp of twin-turbo V12 makes the DB11 dance and glide around here like Ore Oduba, like­wise the 2001 Van­quish with its lovely steer­ing feel and pre­ci­sion power de­liv­ery. Turns out the gear­box in the One-77 is as bad as ev­ery­one says, but what a sen­sa­tional ob­ject, and 7.3 litres of V12 makes a noise to ri­val any air­craft that once called this hangar home.

There’s less room to play the fol­low­ing day. The hangars are now re­ferred to as a “set”, and they’re on “lock down”. As­ton’s pro rac­ing driv­ers, Darren Turner and Nicki Thiim, plus Matt Becker, the chief ve­hi­cle at­tribute en­gi­neer, are get­ting into the swing of “act­ing”. Not just “driv­ing”, but ac­tual “walk­ing” and “talk­ing”. They take to it pretty quickly, de­spite the rep­e­ti­tion needed for difer­ent cam­era an­gles, light­ing, sound, etc. They’re hav­ing fun. Well, up to a point.

There’s a bit where I’ve been promised a small role – do some skids out­side in a Rapide and flm Darren and Nicki be­ing thrown around in the back seats. Trou­ble is, Matt had a go at pitch­ing them around frst, and they’re both look­ing a bit green. Un­daunted I go and have a play any­way, hope­ful that a frac­tion of a sec­ond of smoke cre­ation might make it into the fnal cut.

Else­where, syn­chro­nised drift­ing hap­pens in hangar two, which has had its foor swept and cleaned of all marks ready to have a load more fresh black lines etched into it, while an­other se­quence calls for the three V8s – Vi­rage, V8 Van­tage and V600 – to charge through all three con­nected hangars at, well, speeds which must have made those door­ways feel very small in­deed.

It’s safe to say St Athan’s su­per-hangars haven’t seen any­thing like this be­fore – and never will again. By the time you read this, the lovely pol­ished, squeal­ing foor will be no more. But that’s fne, be­cause it’s get­ting ready for some­thing even more ex­cit­ing and far more im­por­tant to hap­pen – the next stage of As­ton Martin’s fu­ture.

“I go for a wan­der along this ridicu­lous line of cars for what to drive next”

“‘What did you say? Come round here where I can see you...” 1991 Vi­rage proves bal­let danc­ing has run in the As­ton fam­ily for years Bruis­ing V8 Van­tage makes a break for the doors, “and no Vi­rage is gonna stop me”

Drone was cap­ti­vated by the way DB11’s lights re­flected off the floor

600bhp meets a pol­ished floor. They get on like a house on fire

DBR1 gets ready for its closeup. Just not too close when it’s worth £20 mil­lion, OK?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.