Aston Martin is up there at the summit of the world’s coolest brands, along with Nike and Apple. It’s the connoisseur’s carmaker of choice, just ask James Bond. But it’s not all plain sailing and there’s plenty going on behind the scenes to warrant a closer look.
Ilove Aston Martins, I really do. I’ve given it some thought, and here’s why: Driving a Ferrari is akin to taking out a wellknown model – people will certainly ogle but there’ll also be a fair amount of envy and ill will. An Aston on the other hand is a more refined equation. To use the same analogy, an Aston would be prettier than a supermodel but more cerebral than you’d expect as well. Regardless of the company, she’ll always be the coolest person in the room and the most easygoing too – as comfortable at the opera as lounging about at home. Basically, wherever you take an Aston, she commands respect. Founded in 1913, the company came into its own when David Brown took it over in the late 1940s. From that point on, it has been making some of the world’s most timelessly stunning cars. I must add here that they weren’t always a dream to drive. Growing up, we had an Aston DB2/4 DHC and to be frank, it drove like a truck. Most old Astons do. Thankfully, that changed around the turn of the millennium and nowadays Astons handle as well as they look, which is why I’ve been dreaming of owning a DB9 ever since it came out in 2004. Lately, my focus has moved higher up the food chain to the Vanquish, Aston Martin’s flagship grand tourer. Then again, after my most recent trip to the company’s headquarters in Gaydon, during which I was loaned a brand new Rapide S, I’m pretty convinced that any of their cars will do me just fine. The trip was ostensibly to ascertain what the future holds for this influential company. Part of my fact-finding mission include d a tour of their production facilities, where I got to witness how lovingly handcrafted these cars continue to be and where I learnt that a whopping nine bull hides went into upholstering my Rapide S. This visit also afforded me time to sit down with the marque’s chief creative officer and design director, Marek Reichman. His name may sound German but he’s as English as Yorkshire pudding, which is funnily enough where was was born. Reichman has been in charge of Aston Martin design since 2005, a year after the Ian Callum and Henrik Fisker-penned DB9 went into production and has has been instrumental in keeping that particular design fresh and up-to-date despite the car getting ever longer in the tooth. He can also be credited with expanding the range with the V8, the Rapide, the DBS and then the Vanquish as well as, most recently of all, the DBX crossover concept, the track-only Vulcan supercar and the track-and-road Vantage GT12. It’s easy to forget, given its sphere of influence, that Aston Martin is still only a small independent car manufacturer. Unlike Rolls-royce, Bentley and Jaguar Land Rover, which all have rich industrial parents (BMW Group, Volkswagen Group and Tata respectively), Aston Martin has to fight the good fight alone, and with limited funding. That’s because it is principally owne d by two private-equity firms – Investment Dar from Kuwait and Investindustrial from Italy. Things aren’t all that rosy either from a sales perspective: last year the total number of cars delivered was just 4,200, a figure far short of a pre-financial crisis peak of 7,300 in 2007. Clearly, an aging portfolio and insufficient resources are holding the company back. And I felt as much at the wheel of my Rapide S. It may be gorgeous to look at, fun to drive and sound like nothing else on earth but the moment you try working its confusing and poorly sorted on-board electronics, you have no doubt just where improvements are needed.