Aston Martin’s inbuilt ‘WOW!’ factor continues to inspire Great Britishness
When Great British carmaker Aston Martin announced a £6m twin-car subscription offer, Iain Robertson found it tough to disguise his disbelief, although, with the first reliability trials reaching completion and handovers commencing, it is suspended.
We have a lot to be proud of, in our troubled little nation. When commentators talk of us being little more than a ‘services’ provider, I shall admit that the evolved-out hackles rise on my neck. To be frank, I loathe it even more when so-called ‘fellow citizens’ criticise our post-WW2 pathway from world manufacturing leader to what sometimes appears to be a sub-plot.
The sainted greengrocer’s daughter can be accused rightly of shepherding our dissolution into the current malaise. After all, it was her government of the late-1970s, through to 1990, that sold off our ‘crown jewels’, when they should have remained in public hands. Yet, errors notwithstanding, a Thatcherian level of resolve would not have led to our present, semi-lawless, ill-educated, near-defenceless and sadly ‘snowflake’ degenerative state.
We have innumerable manufacturing businesses in the UK, led unsurprisingly by the motor industry. A rich seam of intuition, invention, specialisation and competence exists. Much of it is UK-funded…although, equally, some projects and even entire production facilities need foreign investments. While names like Turnbull, Issigonis, England and Messrs Austin and Morris have been relegated to the annals of history, what they established during their pinnacle eras is continued today, often under foreign ownership.
Our classic cars scene is a focus for the rest of the world. Senior league British operators host worldwide auctions that are the envy of their international rivals, not least from the sale prices they achieve. Equally, Aston Martin is a manufacturer not alone in discovering that a market exists among the super-enthusiast, super-rich segment of the world car scene. In some ways, the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust (BMIHT) started the ball rolling several decades ago by reproducing MG and Mini bodyshells affordably. More recently, both Indian-owned Jaguar and Land Rover entered the restoration scene, with brand-new but vastly improved replicas of both E-Type and original Range Rover models. German-owned Bentley has followed suit, albeit in an even more exclusive vein.
Having popped behind-the-scenes at Jaguar Cars recently, doing the same at Aston Martin’s Newport Pagnell factory, followed by a brief trip up to Silverstone Circuit, seemed wonderfully logical. The brief that AM’s personnel have been working towards is a bespoke but perfect replication of a much loved and admired DB4 Zagato, by which just 19 Grand Touring examples constitute a ‘continuation’ series. The ‘secret’ lies in their optimised construction, to ensure that their ‘track-only’ future usage (if any are utilised in that manner) is as close to perfection as it can be. You have to be a squillionaire to be a member of this exclusive revenue earning club.
Although the production hall is just a well-lit and whitewashed renovation in its own right, to witness several of the smile inducing DB4Zs ending their hand-made production runs, with several other projects yet to materialise lingering beneath judiciously placed, ‘no peeking’, AM car covers, an atmosphere of intense British pride is much in evidence. It makes you wish for the £6m availability to be part of the prestigious process.
Bear in mind that the AM DBZ Centenary Collection subscription also entitles the owner to a spanking new DBS GT Zagato model, the first production versions of which are being eased off the lines at Aston’s more modern Gaydon facility (although customer deliveries will not commence until late-2020). Whether you regard it as a £6m purchase of a hand built classic/continuation car, with a corking new Aston chucked in for good measure, or not, it is an intriguing proposition, for which the company’s boss, Andy Palmer, needs clearly a swift congratulatory pat on the back for instigating the programme. The firm’s current new car production may be eminently desirable but a tad confused, the forthcoming DBX SUV model (built in South Wales at a new facility), reliant on Mercedes-Benz engineering, will help to generate a better balance to its overall output.
However, just 20 minutes away from Newport Pagnell is the hallowed tarmac of the Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit, where the Stowe Circuit is ‘home’ currently to several of the hand-built DB4Zs…this is where smiles turn to appreciative tears, as the triple Weber-carburetted six-cylinder engines burst into life, with a sharp crackle from their hand-fettled, crackle-black finished exhausts. A team of final inspection engineers tighten wheel-nuts, secure seats, resolve teardrop under-bonnet leakages and ensure that zero glitches exist in their creations. The pursuit of perfection is total and uncompromising, which should not be a surprise at the price tag.
Each of the continuation models has required a remarkable 4,500 hours of meticulous, artisan talent. The original DB4Zs were built to compete against the Ferrari ‘works’ racing cars of the 1960s but, while this new series is definitely a pinnacle achievement, there is significantly more to come from Aston Martin and its Heritage Division HQ located just north of Milton Keynes. In fact, a small run of DB5 ‘Goldfinger’ models, complete with some of the movie star’s special features, is set to appear in the future.
Conclusion: Although funded by a Luxembourg investment consortium, Aston Martin remains stoically British and is building new models at Gaydon, Oxfordshire, and St Athan, Wales, as well as its traditional home at Newport Pagnell. It may be a relatively small but prestigious operation overall, however, it is an example of Great Britishness of which we should all be proud.