What Dany did next

Be it a one- off design or a classic car re- imag­ined, ex- Lo­tus boss Ba­har is de­ter­mined to trans­form the art of coach­build­ing

Evo - - INTERVIEW -

AL­THOUGH IT STARTED OUT AS a fairly typ­i­cal car mod­i­fi­ca­tion busi­ness, Ares Design has un­der­gone a dra­matic trans­for­ma­tion in the past 18 months to be­come what its CEO, Dany Ba­har, now proudly de­scribes as a coach­builder.

You know Ba­har, of course, he who, af­ter roles at Red Bull and then Fer­rari, had a three-year stint at the helm of Group Lo­tus. It was here that he helped to mas­ter­mind the dra­matic un­veil­ing of five con­cept cars at the 2010 Paris mo­tor show, as well as re­turn the Lo­tus name to For­mula 1. Ba­har’s ac­ri­mo­nious de­par­ture in 2012 was even­tu­ally set­tled out of court, but while he has been largely off the radar in the mean­time, that’s not to say life has been dull.

As much is con­firmed as we ar­rive for the grand open­ing of Ares’s new head­quar­ters, set on an in­dus­trial es­tate on the north­ern edge of Mo­dena, Italy. The 18,000-square-me­tre fa­cil­ity is where Ba­har’s team will now design and build its cars. So far there have been a pair of two-door Bent­ley Mul­sannes (the orig­i­nal cus­tomer wanted a modern in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Brook­lands; his friend liked the idea so much he or­dered one, too), the gar­gan­tuan Ares X-raid off-roader, based on the Mercedes G-class (and a hit with clients in the Mid­dle East), and more re­cently the Pro­ject Pan­ther con­cept, a re-imag­in­ing of the De To­maso Pan­tera based on the un­der­pin­nings of a Lam­borgh­ini Hu­racán.

Coach­build­ing is noth­ing new, of course, and the idea of ap­ply­ing it to modern cars bears a sim­i­lar­ity to Fer­rari’s ex­clu­sive Ate­lier pro­gramme. How­ever, Ba­har boasts that Ares can move at a faster pace than a car man­u­fac­turer, as

I could have shown you our plan one year ago of what we are do­ing now. But we de­cided not to, we had time

well as al­low more free­dom to meet a cus­tomer’s re­quire­ments (within tech­ni­cal and safety con­straints), and de­liver it all at a sig­nif­i­cantly lower price.

‘If you want to have your own car de­signed, a one-off, you’re talk­ing just un­der 1mil­lion euros [c£900,000],’ ex­plains Ba­har. ‘If you want your car to be one of 10 or 15 of a lim­ited-run se­ries it’s 700,000 to 800,000 euros [c£615,000 to £700,000].’ Cus­tomers can also or­der a classic car with modern un­der­pin­nings at around the £360,000 mark, with ex­am­ples to date be­ing an Ls3-based con­ver­sion of a 1964 Corvette St­ingray, and an ex­ten­sively mod­i­fied Porsche 964 Targa with en­gine, sus­pen­sion and PDK gear­box taken from a modern-day 911, and a Panam­era in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem.

Sev­eral ex­am­ples of each of these ap­proaches were un­veiled at the open­ing in an event de­signed to show­case what the com­pany has al­ready achieved, rather than to out­line what it wants to do – a marked con­trast with how Ba­har ap­proached the Lo­tus re­launch. Was this a de­lib­er­ate move on his part? ‘Ab­so­lutely. It was a per­sonal de­ci­sion of mine,’ he says. ‘I could have shown you our plan one year ago of what we are do­ing now. But we de­cided not to, we had time.’

That time has been put to good use, too; to date, Ba­har says Ares has com­pleted more than 200 cars, in­clud­ing 11 X-raids, the two Bent­leys, and a 991 ‘GT3’ Targa with RS body­work, cen­tre-lock wheels and a 567bhp en­gine up­grade. There’s also the small mat­ter of the 53 Land Rover De­fend­ers the com­pany is con­vert­ing with the help of Coven­try-based JE Mo­tor­works for an un­named Bri­tish client.

The pièce de ré­sis­tance, how­ever, is Pro­ject Pan­ther, which is now well into the build process and came about af­ter a client wanted a modern-day equiv­a­lent of the Pan­tera to go along­side his orig­i­nal from the early ’70s. This build-to-or­der ap­proach is typ­i­cal of how Ares tends to work, al­though the com­pany does also un­der­take projects off its own back, such as a shoot­ing brake ver­sion of the Tesla Model S that is cur­rently in de­vel­op­ment.

Ba­har hands a card to guests bear­ing the line ‘creat­ing a plan and then de­liv­er­ing it, against the odds, is ex­tremely sat­is­fy­ing’. A sug­ges­tion, per­haps, that his strat­egy for Lo­tus wasn’t as far-fetched as it might have seemed? ‘I think the five-car plan would have worked,’ he in­sists. ‘Or if it wasn’t five cars it would have been three. It doesn’t mat­ter whether it’s three or five, I just think that the plan, how­ever am­bi­tious or ag­gres­sive, was still the right move. I don’t know where Lo­tus will end up to­day. I still think its place is where we thought it should be, not where it is now.’

As to whether the suc­cess­ful emer­gence of Ares (Ba­har says it is now prof­itable, and has an­other £20mil­lion worth of in­vest­ment to in­crease the size of its site by al­most 50 per cent in or­der to keep up with de­mand) will si­lence Ba­har’s crit­ics, he is less con­cerned: ‘I’m be­yond that. We do it for us, for my part­ners, my share­hold­ers and our clients.’

Ares Design’s tar­get is to make coach­build­ing more ac­ces­si­ble and more af­ford­able than it’s been in the past. On the ev­i­dence thus far, it might just be on to some­thing.

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