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
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.