Elegant, timeless, exclusive – three words which just about do justice to the iconic, British marque that is Aston Martin. After a private tour of the factory in Gaydon, Warwickshire, I leave with huge respect for the men and women trusted with slowly bringing the cars to life and a much greater understanding of what gives the marque its enduring appeal.
Entering the VIP reception that greets potential customers from all over the world, my eyes are immediately drawn to the gorgeous, flowing lines and distinctive double-bubble roof of Italian coachbuilder Zagato’s take on the current Vanquish. However, in what feels more like an art gallery than the entrance to a car factory, I also find myself poring over the final two DB9s to roll off the production line. Despite being over a decade old, the styling has if anything become even more stunning with age and as I am to find out later, the DB9 (especially in 540bhp GT form) still feels every inch the modern grand tourer. Meanwhile, lurking menacingly in the corner is the antithesis to the DB9 and quite possibly the maddest car Aston Martin has ever produced – the mighty Vulcan.
If it’s possible to make a rational argument for spending in excess of one hundred thousand pounds on a car, then look no further than Aston Martin. You certainly get your money’s worth. Each car takes 4 months to build and with only 3 robots in the entire factory, almost every stage in the production process is carried out by the skilled workers. Their dexterity is matched only by their passion and enthusiasm. They clearly enjoy being part of the “Aston Martin family” and many will remain at the company all their working lives. Although they may not be fortunate enough to own one of the cars they help create, every one of them will at some point be given the opportunity to ride in an Aston and experience the fruits of their labour first hand.
The effort, care and attention which go into every aspect of building the cars are clear to see. The dashboard alone takes 75 hours to complete. The leather panels for the seats are stitched together by teams of 3 women who could pick out their own work simply by identifying their individual stitching style. A bespoke paint colour will take 50 hours to apply and as you would expect, produces a deep, rich finish of a quality that far exceeds anything I have ever seen. There are endless examples of this incredible attention to detail and every car is subject to an equally meticulous inspection process. They say perfection is impossible, but I think the people at Aston Martin would have something to say about that…
Upon reaching the end of the production line, I realise that while Aston Martin is not afraid to embrace new technology, it is their traditional approach to manufacturing that excites almost as much as the cars themselves, and which makes their products so endearing and increasingly desirable among the world’s wealthy elite. As I ponder this thought, I am taken outside by my excellent tour guide and very handy professional driver (the name’s Foster – Neville Foster), who leads me towards a beautiful DB9 GT Volante, resplendent in gleaming red paint with a black leather interior and gloss black finish. As he talks me through the car, I can’t help but be delighted by the theatre of the start-up procedure. Open the door handles that sit flush with the bodywork so as not to disrupt its carefully sculpted lines, insert the key into the dashboard and listen as the big 6 litre V12 engine fires into life with a fierce growl, before settling into a purposeful idle.
We head out onto some country roads around the factory where we engage the car’s Sport mode (with the dampers also set to Sport) to enjoy the full aural experience of the majestic engine up front. The sound of that V12 will never get old, but what I’m most impressed by is the car’s handling. There is some roll, but then this is a GT car, and the cosseting ride coupled with the engine’s vast reserves of torque would, I imagine, make long journeys nothing but a thoroughly enjoyable experience. However, the grip levels are enormous and the car always felt stable. The performance is genuinely accessible but always thrilling, and Nev assures me that with the traction control turned off (and it really is OFF on an Aston), it is just as benign when being driven close to the limit. It’s a neat trick when a car can give you such an adrenaline rush and in an instant return to a luxury cruiser when the settings are returned to their default modes.
After witnessing the painstaking process of building an Aston Martin and experiencing an unforgettable passenger ride in one of their most successful cars, Nev and I return to the reception for lunch and to discuss the future of the marque. Close by is a pre-production model of the DB11, the first of the new “21st century” Aston Martins. Then I find out the car is available with 5 years free servicing. Well, that might not quite be enough to make a new Aston affordable for an 18 year old who has just passed their driving test, but in my mind I have only one thought….Where do I sign?