British automotive enterprise has two key players in a loftier contest
Whether you are a motorsport fan, or just love the classical streak that links aeronautics to automobiles, states Iain Robertson, two not dissimilar brands, McLaren and Aston Martin, continue to fly a Great British flag on monied, aspirational high ground.
McLaren first…In Bruce McLaren’s hands, Sussex-based Elva became a frontline international success story. In its ultimate form, powered by a thunderously potent V8 engine, the McLaren Elva passed through three generations of attention-grabbing race results, although it was the Mk2 M1B that set fresh standards for the company. It is also the inspiration for yet another ‘limited production’ model for the McLaren of today.
It is worth highlighting that even with a promised run of 399 (only) examples of the McLaren Elva destined for production in the UK from late-2020, each retailing at a far from modest £1,425,000, the company’s approach continues to create a strong financial value for its ongoing survival, even in a slightly depressed new car market. It will join the ranks of McLaren’s ‘Ultimate Series’, for which an over-a-million-Pounds price tag is familiar ground.
Naturally, ‘normal’ people can only look on in wonder but it is important to recognise the McLaren Elva’s ground-breaking features, which are as much elements of the brand’s intuition and potential impact on the rest of the motor industry. Remember that McLaren is a true British success story. The Elva is its lightest road car by far, at around 650kgs, which is a key factor that all carmakers realise is vital to reducing vehicle emissions and increasing overall efficiency. Powered by an 815bhp version of the 4.0-litre bi-turbo petrol V8 engine used across its entire range of models, its mind-blowing acceleration figures (0-60mph in 2.6s; 0-125mph in 6.7s) are also a pinnacle achievement.
Designed as an open cockpit two-seater, advanced active aerodynamics (AAMS in McLaren-speak) are its means to protect occupants from the elements, even with a ‘floating windscreen’ and its deeply scalloped and ultra-lightweight bodywork. The engineering and aesthetic aims are to provide the ultimate connection between driver, car and nature, while ensuring that McLaren’s rich heritage in both on-road and on-track performance is maintained perfectly.
Naturally, the McLaren Elva is a technological showpiece but not to the point at which driving it is an alien process to be overcome. The cockpit is close coupled but spacious. The instrument panel moves with the steering column for personal adjustments. It is flanked by fingertip controls for all of the car’s active dynamics. Even the ‘infinity’ touchscreen angled from the dash-centre towards the driver operates with the logic of a smartphone, with flick and slide functionality catering for everything from sat-nav to track settings, the rear-view camera and climate control system.
As Mike Flewitt, CEO of McLaren Automotive puts it: “We are delighted to have gained the rights to the Elva name for an extraordinary new roadster that adds a new dimension to the McLaren Ultimate Series, while tracing its lineage back to the sportscars that laid the foundations for McLaren’s success. The McLaren-Elva M1A [Mk I] and its immediate successors not only set standards on the track but also established the pioneering design and engineering principles that remain at the heart of our brand; what better way to celebrate that than by bringing the Elva name right up to date.”
Now, Aston Martin…Troubled British sportscar manufacturer, Aston Martin, possesses a long and proud association with aviation, most specifically with our own Royal Air Force. Three of its four UK manufacturing locations are based on former RAF stations at Gaydon, Wellesbourne and St Athan, where a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility has been built recently inside ex-MOD Super Hangars. This heritage and strong connection to the RAF has led Aston Martin to bring its aviation projects together under ‘Aston Martin Wings’, an exciting programme that will see Aston Martin’s bespoke service, Q by Aston Martin, deliver a further series of limited edition models linked to aviation over the coming years.
The inspiration for Aston Martin Wings was the Vanquish S Red Arrows edition. Built in 2017 after Q by Aston Martin received a commission from Aston Martin Cambridge, these special cars contained exquisite details linked directly to the aircraft. For example, each of the Vanquish S Red Arrows built contained switchgear made from the undercarriage leg of a Red Arrows Hawk aircraft. A mere ten examples of the cars inspired by the Red Arrows were produced, with nine of them sold to eager customers prior to ‘Red 10’ being raffled, which raised an astonishing £1.46million for the RAF Benevolent Fund.
Another aviation project supported by Aston was the V8 Vantage S Blades Edition, named after the famous British aerobatics team. Featuring bespoke styling and interior tailoring, all five Blade Edition Aston Martins were delivered to customers during a very special day at Sywell Aerodrome, where each new owner was treated to an unforgettable aerobatic flight experience with The Blades.
During both World Wars, Aston Martin’s factories were called upon to build aircraft components, most famously for the Spitfire and Mosquito in WW2. The V12 Vantage S ‘Spitfire 80’, once again a commission by Aston Martin Cambridge, through Q by Aston Martin, celebrated one of the most iconic designs in British aeronautical history and the 80th anniversary of the Supermarine Spitfire’s first flight. Now in the hands of eight proud owners, the Duxford Green-painted cars are really easy to identify as each of them carries the trademark Spitfire yellow pinstripe on both the side strakes and deck lids of the cars.
Aston Martin President and Group CEO, Andy Palmer, has very close links to the RAF and has become, in fact, an Honorary Group Captain in 601 Squadron, Royal Air Force. He told us: “Aston Martin will always be synonymous with aviation, from our wings company logo to the heritage of our manufacturing sites in the UK. The Vanquish S Red Arrows edition was a great success for everyone concerned and I look forward to presenting our future aviation-related special editions.”
Conclusion: In many ways, despite the market positioning of their respective products, McLaren and Aston Martin are polar opposites. Both possess history but McLaren is the exciting newcomer that proves a defined and profitable forward plan, while Aston is reliant on its colourful past. Yet, both are staunchly British and warrant our applause.