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Bespoke - - VEHICLES -

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.

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