Aston Martin joins the four door sports car brigade

Maserati Quattroporte, Porsche Panamera and Mercedes-Benz CLS have something in common. Four doors in a sporting car-riage. Sensing a niche, Aston Martin have also leapt in with the Aston Martin Rapide, shown as a concept car at the Detroit Auto Show. Having studied many photos of this car, I think it has to be one of the most beautiful cars ever built.

This Rapide (as opposed to the old Aston Martin Lagonda Rapide) is definitely ‘rapid’, with a 6 liter V12, 480 hp engine powering the coupe which is the work of Aston Mar-tin Design Director Marek Reichman, in conjunction with CEO Dr Ulrich Bez.

One reason that Aston has managed to produce this car so quickly lies in Aston Martin’s unique VH (Vertical/Horizontal) architecture, instead of the more usual monocoque construction, or the outdated (but still used) body on chassis designs (that’s one ton pick-up language around here).

The VH architecture was developed to offer exceptional manufacturing flexibility. This high-strength, low-mass architecture forms the backbone (or skeleton) of the current generation of Aston Martins, spearheaded by the DB9 Coup้ and flanked by the DB9 Volante and the Vantage.

The extruded aluminium construction of the VH architecture can be modified in both length and width, and the body panels (mixes of aluminum and composite materials) are then chemically-bonded to the VH ‘chassis’. This produces different body shapes very easily, without losing the inherently good chassis/suspension/motor/gearbox/diff package. At 5 meters long, the Rapide is 30cm longer than a DB9, and only 140kg heavier.

While the VH architecture is new, the concept has been used before by Aston Martin. In the decades following the war, the David Brown era cars used the strong chassis and tube ‘Superleggera’ construction in the early DB series. This allowed modifications and in the 1970s and 80s, Aston Martin could accommodate almost any customer request, and four-door variants of the V8 and Virage models were built for a select number of discerning customers.

The interior is as you would expect. Half a forest and a herd of cows sacrificed to clothe the interior. However, the piece de resistance is the chiller cabinet in the boot, perfectly shaped to hold a couple of bottles of Jacques-son champagne, along with four elegant flutes. In the interest of safety, the driver and passengers will have to stop to get their chilled champers out of the boot. (I doubt if she could afford it, but this would have to be the ideal car for our Agony Aunt Hillary.)

Like all Aston Martins, the Rapide is a superlative performer. Powered by the V12 engine from the DB9 but uprated to 480 brake horsepower mated to a ZF Touch-tronic gearbox, the car has performance equivalent to the DB9, although the gearing has been adjusted to suit the longer wheelbase and more refined ride. Carbon brakes and calipers, a first for Aston Martin, give the Rapide immense stability and stopping power. “A sports car is not simply characterized by the number of doors,” says Dr Bez, “so a four door car can still have the looks and performance of a sports car and the Rapide is certainly true to its name, providing an unrivalled way of taking four adults on a long-distance journey along any type of road.” Despite that being Aston Martin blurb, I have to say I would agree. All of the DB series I have driven have been superlative spor-ting chariots, without a doubt. And today’s are even better.

The only problem is the price. I would estimate that one of these landed in this country would probably set you back around 35 million baht, and the friendly neighborhood Aston Martin agents seem to be fairly thin on the ground out Chonburi way!

In search of a “classic”

I am sure that many of you are like me and either subscribe to, or read someone else’s (appeals to my Scottish heritage), classic car magazines. Since I really haven’t got the money to buy anything even vaguely described as “classic” also means that I spend much of the reading time coloured green with envy.

However, there are exceptions, I have just read an advertisement stating, “Two 1976 BMW 2002 models. 1 runs, 1 parts. New eng. trans. Own a classic. 75 percent restored, both for $1000. Call 12345.” Of course, this never to be repeated offer is in the United States of America (in God We Trust - all others pay cash) and by the time I could get the 75 percent restored bargains here, and paid freight and import duty, I might as well have bought a new one with a ‘Bangle Bottom’ from my friendly BMW sales outlet.

That reminds me of a true story about a chap, in Pattaya in Thailand, who did bring in a classic – a fully restored 1970 MGB. Beautiful condition after a ground-up restoration. The Thai Customs looked at this gleaming BRG jewel on the docks and levied, 300,000 baht duty. This was not negotiable and had to be paid, or it could sit on the docks for ever. The importing (hope to be) owner queried this. “The car is 30 years old,” said he. “Yes. But look new,” said the smiling Customs man (Thailand is the Land of Smiles, after all). After what he had expended to buy it in the UK and the freight to get it out to SE Asia, he paid up, wiping tears from his eyes as he shelled out.

But back to you and I, in our search for the classic car that we deserve. I have always looked in back yards, hoping that one day I will spot an abandoned Invicta 4 ฝ litre low chassis Black Prince, that just needs a quick wash and polish and a full tank of gas. I also dream about having my wicked way with any of the Charlie’s Angels female leads, which is probably slightly more likely than finding said Invicta low chassis Black Prince, with or without the tankful of gas. Currently the closest I have come to an Invicta is a dilapidated Tuk-Tuk, which on the desirable ratings scale between 1-10 comes in at a resounding 0.25. Charlie’s Angels are currently not returning my emails.

But I actually have owned some classic cars amongst the hundred or so that have passed through my hands. Porsche 911 Targa, MG TC (several), MG TD (a brace), MGA, MGB, Leyland Clubman 1275 GT (OK, I know that one’s getting fairly close to ‘average’, but they are remembered with fondness). Those will do for starters.

There is only one problem, however. When I had ownership of these vehicles, they were not considered to be ‘classics’ – it was only after I sold them, that they became ‘wanted’. During my tenure they were generally thought of as “old bangers”. I could get depressed at this, but it is not my nature. Look on the positive side, I say.

If the old MG’s and the 1973 Porsche Targa became classics, what about the other cars that have sat in my garage and leaked oil on the floor? Will they turn into classics by this time next year? Is now the time to rush out and buy a green and white 1958 Fiat 1100? Or perhaps a pale blue 1953 side valve V8 Ford Customline? Or what about a slant six
VJ Valiant wagon circa
1973? However, even I doubt whether these will ever make ‘classic’ standing.)

So what can I re-purchase? Perhaps the Mk VII M Jaguar is half a chance. Or the Series I Mazda RX-7. The MX-5 Miata is too new and they are still for sale, so that’s out. A Daihatsu Mira defies all logic. A GS 1220 Citroen ditto, and the same for its bigger brother, the CX 2200. A Toyota Crown? No, surely. A ‘lift-back’ 1975 Toyota Celica ‘mini-Mustang’ might just scrape in. I’ve seen a couple of notch-backs recently, so I can continue looking. Yes, that’s my new classic car project!

In the meantime, does anyone have Drew Barrymore’s phone number?

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mention-ed that wonderful film ‘Genevieve’. It was released in 1953 and was loosely based around the London to Brighton Commemoration run, organized by the RAC in the UK. There were two cars that were the (automotive) stars of the film. One was a Dutch Spyker, and the other was Genevieve, a 1904 Darracq. The film was very popular, and Genevieve became known all over the world. However, with fame there often people who are ready to show something seedy in your past. Genevieve was not ‘really’ a 1904 12 hp model, but had been built from many Darracq’s and the radiator was actually from a 15 hp model. But of even more interest for the film buffs was the fact that the producer Henry Cornelius wanted a British Lanchester in the starring role. The question was why did he eventually use a French Darracq instead of the British Lanchester? The answer was simply that he could not find a Lanchester owner in the UK willing to lend his car for the film!

So to this week. The pre-war Opel Kadett resurfaced in 1947 in another country, and called the “Son of XXXXXX”. By what name was it known as in the rest of the world?

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

“Our” Motor Show well into planning phase

With all the publicity given to the Detroit Auto Show, we should not forget that the Bangkok International Motor Show is recognized by the Organization Inter-nationale desConstructeurs d’Automobiles (OICA) as being one of the premier motor shows in the world. This is not a recognition given lightly, and it was some years before we were accredited. But the Bangkok Show at the end of March is fully acknowledged by OICA. Dates this year are March 24 until April 2.

As well as all the new cars, there are special events which include a Classic Car Show, the Mustang Club (relive in your mind the car chase from Bullitt, the 1968 movie starring Steve McQueen and his GT 390 Mustang), Sports Car show, the VW Club, the Austin Mini show and even classic motorcycles, and more.

As more details come to hand, I will let you know through this column.