Aston Martin starts to flex its muscles

Ford’s Premier Auto Group, of which Aston Martin is a key player, is really pushing the Aston brand world-wide. With the DB9, the Vanquish and now the “baby” Vantage V8, the marque is looking strong again. But it has not always been that way, despite its strong and lengthy heritage.

Saved from extinction in 1933 by a titled gentleman, Sir Arthur Sutherland KBE, and again in 1947 by wealthy industrialist David Brown (who gave the Aston Martins their ‘DB’ model insignia), the company was later saved from disappearing by the Ford Motor Company, who had also picked up Jaguar, Volvo and Land Rover, to then put all these brands together under the Premier Automotive Group (PAG) umbrella.

Aston Martin DB9

The man at the helm for Aston Martin is German, CEO engineer Dr. Ulrich Bez, and it is he who has been pushing through the development of the DB9, an all new vehicle, despite its many styling cues pointing towards an Aston Martin heritage.

The DB9 is built on an all-new VH platform with twice the rigidity of the old model. VH stands for Vertical Horizontal, and this platform is exclusive to Aston Martin since Bez was unhappy at the idea of sharing components with other Ford products.

The DB9 features a bonded aluminium frame, on to which the body panels and everything else is bolted. Almost a return to classical body and chassis concept, though this time the ‘chassis’ is vertical, as well as being horizontal. Since the body panels are no longer needed to give rigidity to the vehicle’s structure, it become easy to make styling changes for different variations on the DB9 theme – even an open topped model, the DB9 Volante.

The DB9’s bodywork, which is also in aluminium and some composite materials, was predominantly the work of DB7 and Vanquish stylist Ian Callum, but following Callum’s move within PAG to Jaguar, some modifications have been made by Henrik Fisker, his replacement at Aston Martin, who in turn has gone on to found his own styling company in America called Fisker Coachbuild.

Aston Martin V8 Vantage

For my money, this DB9 is probably the most beautiful design in current automobiles. No wings and air dams appearing as carbon-fibre add-ons. Just pure symmetry of line. In the words of veteran motor-noter Peter Robinson, “It’s achingly beautiful. Aston found no reason to start a styling revolution. The DB9, like the Vanquish, DB7, and V-8 Vantage, relies on classic proportions, long-established Aston styling cues, big 19-inch wheels, and simple sculptured forms to achieve its gorgeous looks. Less visually aggressive and more elegant than the US$235,600 460 hp Vanquish, (Aston Martin) will launch the US$155,000 coupe, and a couple of months later, the US$170,000 Volante convertible will follow.”

Enginewise, the DB9 sports a six litre V12 which is, as tradition would demand, up front, but brought as far back as possible to end up with a 50/50 weight distribution between front and rear axles. This is Aston Martin’s own engine, but has been re-engineered for the DB9, with a new crankshaft, cams, manifold, and engine-management system for more midrange torque. For a relatively light car, coming through the extensive use of aluminium, the torque figure of 567 Nm is more than enough to keep a push in your back through to its top whack of a smidgin under 300 kph.

Whilst Aston Martin will continue to be an exclusive brand, the new “baby” Aston Martin, the V8 Vantage is the most (relatively) affordable in the line up which includes the V12 DB9 and the Vanquish.

When the baby Aston was shown in Geneva this year, it was a show stopper, and one that the company hopes will lure buyers away from the Porsche 911. In photographs, the V8 Vantage is also just sensational, and Dr. Ulrich Bez has been taking the car to shows all over the world to promote the name, the exclusivity and, with the Vantage, the price.

However, this is still no bargain basement sports car, retailing at A$235,000 (around seven million baht on a straight currency exchange, and I would guess that the retail figure here would be around 20 million baht).

GoAuto reviewed the V8 Vantage after the Geneva show and was very enthusiastic about the new vehicle.

“The production version of Aston Martin’s third model, the Porsche 911-rivalling V8 Vantage, was one of the showstoppers in Geneva last week.

“First shown in concept form at the Detroit auto show in 2003, the ‘baby Aston’ starts its international rollout from Aston’s British (Gaydon, Warwickshire) production plant in the coming months.

Aston Martin V8 Vantage

“The striking Henrik Fisker-designed exterior stems from a low, sleek body, long bonnet, short front and rear overhangs, two-seater cabin and, unusual for a sports car of this type, a rather practical rear hatchback providing access to the 300-litre luggage compartment.

“At 4380mm long, the compact hatch is also the smallest model in the Aston range. Said to have endured the most extensive testing and development program in the company’s 91 year history, the V8 Vantage uses Aston’s unique VH (vertical horizontal) architecture, a bonded-aluminium structure with aluminium alloy, steel, composite and magnesium alloy body. Kerb weight is 1570kg.

“An all-new (and unique to Aston, for now) 283kW/410Nm 4.3 litre, 32 valve quad-cam V8 is used in a transaxle configuration, whereby the front mid-mounted engine is connected to the rear mid-mounted transmission via a cast-aluminium torque tube and carbon fibre propshaft. This layout provides the rear-drive car with a 49:51 weight distribution.

“Aston has also adopted a dry-sump lubrication system for the V8 Vantage, allowing the engine to sit low in the body, lowering the centre of gravity and in turn improving handling and overall balance and stability. For the time being, the sole gearbox available is a six-speed ‘Graziano’ manual.

“Bottom line in performance terms is a 0-100 km/h time of 5.0 seconds and a 280 km/h maximum speed. The brakes comprise 355/330mm front/rear ventilated grooved steel discs with radial-mounted four-piston Brembo monobloc callipers.

“Wheels are 10 spoke alloys measuring 8.5J x 18 at the front and 9.5J x 18 at the rear, with 18 inch Bridgestone Potenza tyres (235/45 front, 275/40 rear). A 19 inch wheel/tyre package is also available.

“Standard equipment includes ABS brakes with brake assist, traction control, stability control and positive torque control (PTC). Interior features run to ‘technical grain’ leather, alloy finished console fascia, anthracite interior fittings, 10-way electrically adjustable seats, automatic climate control, battery disconnect switch, trip computer, dual-stage driver and passenger airbags, side airbags and an alarm.”

For me, while the smaller Aston is a good looking vehicle, nothing beats the DB9. For my pocket, both are totally unaffordable, but it is always fun to look!

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I said that the first Monaco Grand Prix was won by a Williams. And I asked True or False? It was, of course, quite true, but not one of the Sir Frank type Williams F1 vehicles. The first Monaco GP was held in 1929 and was won by a W. Williams, driving a Bugatti Type 35B.

So to this week. During the hostilities (a lovely euphemism for WW II) there was no real motor racing, but after the war, motor sport began afresh, mainly using pre-WW II race cars. The first post-war race in the UK was run at Ballyclare. I want to know, who was the driver, and what car did he drive?

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email auto [email protected]

Good luck!

Thailand’s Toyota Vios to go to Oz?

Hot rumour down under is that Toyota are going to respond to GM Holden’s rebadged Daewoo Kalos, which is to be sold at rock bottom prices as the Holden Barina. Toyota’s answer will be to import the Toyota Vios which is made in both Thailand and China, but the bets are on Thailand. Exporting from here is simpler, the Vigo is already making the trips down under regularly, and it makes more sense to source the Vios from here as well.

Toyota Vios

Toyota Australia had looked at many options, including rebadged Daihatsu Sirions, but finally has decided on the Vios. The car would slide under the present entry level Toyota, the Japanese Yaris, which retails for A$15,000. The GM Barina is just under A$13,000.

To say this is a hotly contested area of the marketplace is an understatement, with Hyundai coming in strongly with its Getz.

Just a week after Holden released the A$12,990 Barina, Hyundai has launched the new Getz with more power, features and fresh styling, and a starting price of A$13,490 for the 1.4-litre three-door.

The new 1.6-litre, 3-door Getz is priced from A$14,490 with standard air-conditioning, anti-skid brakes, electronic brakeforce distribution and rear disc brakes, whilst the Barina has the option of ABS brakes as part of an alloy-wheel package for A$1190 but does not include EBD or rear discs.

Hyundai marketing and sales director Theo van Doore says the company decided to make ABS standard because many buyers won’t pay if it is an option.

The Getz has consistently remained in second spot in the light-car class since its launch three years ago, running just behind Toyota’s popular Echo. It has been voted the cheapest car to run in the Australian running costs survey for the past three years and won Australia’s Best Small Car in 2003.

The Getz gets to 100km/h in 9.6 seconds, covering the quarter mile in 16.4 seconds.

The entry-level Getz moves up from a 1.3 to a 1.4-litre single cam engine boosting power by 7.5kW to 70kW and torque up 9Nm to 126Nm. The 1.4-litre uses 0.1 litre less fuel than both the manual and automatic 1.6 recording 6.1 litres per 100km and 7.0 litres per 100km respectively. Around town the Getz 1.4 is zippy but is still responsive on the highway, revving just on 3000rpm at 110km/h.