Aston's heritage preserved

By Jacqui Madelin

Celebrated company's focus on past part of its future

Some owners seek only mechanical renovation that leaves the patina on paint and leather, while others prefer an as-new car. Photo/ Jacqui Madelin
Some owners seek only mechanical renovation that leaves the patina on paint and leather, while others prefer an as-new car. Photo/ Jacqui Madelin

Grass verges stream past as we snatch another gear, 12 mighty cylinders howling in our ears as rubber grabs tarmac and we swing round another bend, the mighty bonnet thrusting for the horizon, down two, motor snapping and popping on the overrun as we skitter across tarmac bumps that threaten to tip us into the canal then into the next bend.

No, it's not James Bond at his best - it's Aston Martin's best, the new V12 Vanquish strutting its stiffer, more powerful stuff. And make no mistake, this car's lacquered carbon fibre skin's a thing of beauty that promises the timeless elegance of Bond's DB5, a car we admired that morning at the brand's British home at Newport Pagnell where it headed after Skyfall filming for a post-thrash check-up, as it has every two or three weeks during production.

The new-car factory may have moved to Gaydon, but the classics return to the company's heart from 1955 to 2007, the premises that built the DB5 and now fettles older Astons.

Here we admire the polished carbon fibre that clads the bonded aluminium monocoque underpinning the Vanquish, and check out current Astons up on hoists for servicing. There's a dirt-speckled One-77 fresh from a race at Spa, its track pack including a data-logging system with cameras front, rear, and on the driver. The 559kW car ran on regular tyres as the extra grip from slicks would need a suspension change, and the ABS and traction systems are set at the road parameters they're developed for. A Norwegian Vanquish S owner likes the Aston Martin Works stamp in his service book and there's a DB9 with more

Aston Martin's base at Newport Pagnell, and a DB5, one of the classic models. The new-car factory has moved to Gaydon.

Even the car's mineral oils are as close to original as possible.than 161,000km on the dial - some owners really do use their cars every day.

Around the corner carbon fibre's cracked and torn on a crash-damaged car with a smashed windscreen that went through a motorway barrier, but with some staff here since this car was built, the premises can work on anything - it's even turned coupes into estates - and electronically heated and controlled booths are poised to go. A DB6 MkII's fully restored body sits primed and perfect, its colour about to be applied while mechanics under a light booth turned up to three-times daylight power check for finish faults - this is clearly no ordinary crash repair shop.

Walking between buildings we pass diggers and scaffolding - the premises is being restored and extended for its new role - and go back in time to the heritage area, in a red brick building as old as many of the cars it houses.

There's a 2004 DB7 parked next to a mouth-watering 1958 DB4 that's just had a full restoration. Our guide says some owners seek only mechanical renovation that leaves the patina on paint and leather, while others prefer an as-new car - like the blue DB5 with a just-completed full body-off restoration for a Japanese customer who bought it as a wreck and has never driven it.

The "restoration book" was upholstered in cream-piped navy leather to match seats that look as new as the day it first rolled out of here. Even the car's mineral oils are as close to original as possible - "the only thing we can't get is leaded fuel and we fit different valve seats and timing to accommodate that".

We pass the DB6 once owned by Paul McCartney and learn a restoration takes 2000 hours over 12 to 18 months, using the original patterns and if needed, the original Vanquish jigs.

Crossing to the metal shop tattooed arms run a file over a DB2 front wing, "we made new rear wings. Even the car's mineral oils are as close to original as possible for it, restored the hood and powder coated the chassis".

Next to it, sheets of aluminium are being rolled and welded over a form to build a new front for a DB6 - it's 5.30pm but these chaps are enthusiasts, not clock-watchers. "This DB4 we took the paint off and found poor repair work so we'll cut sections out and manufacture brand new wings."

Admiring a DB3S we're told there are no drawings for some cars - staff take the original apart to replicate it.

Amid the crowded space a Cygnet's awaiting post-skirmish work and everywhere you look there's some automotive delight - the floor awash with swarf and oil smears.

Soon these guys will move into a new building as this one becomes the heritage showroom.

All this history underlines Aston's philosophy of vertical and horizontal architecture, a philosophy that eases R&D costs as the models evolve by referencing earlier cars then taking them a step further, a process which ensures that the 1963 DB5 is as clearly an Aston Martin as today's Vanquish - both desirable and luxurious performance GTs, the aspirational cars of their era.

- NZ Herald

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