Marek Reichman is emboldened. Standing before the freshly unveiled DBS Superleggera on the terrace of Kempinski Hotel Berchtesgaden in Bavaria, surrounded by representative of the world’s press, Aston Martin’s Chief Creative Officer runs through a well-rehearsed explanation of where the company was, where it is and where it’s going. In many respects, the DBS Superleggera serves as a natural break in the company’s much-vaunted seven-year plan, representing the apotheosis of long-running themes in Aston Martin’s traditional approach to design and engineering. As a superlative front-engined grand tourer, the DBS Superleggera is without equal, even though it clearly squares up to other prominent challengers in this small but keenly contested section of the market. What comes next, however, will definitely shake things up.
“Aston Martin is undeniably becoming more adventurous,” Reichman says, now back in his office above the expansive design studio in Gaydon. “I think that’s partly down to the solid foundations we’ve built for ourselves with the seven-year model plan, but it’s also a confidence that comes through the application of design and technology.” Reichman’s office is an Aladdin’s Cave of objects acquired over the years, but the real objects of desire are kept downstairs, away from prying eyes. Here you’ll find Aston Martins old and new, familiar forms and bold new shapes, the vast majority of which stay mysteriously shrouded. One sees covered cars with faintly familiar proportions, a lifted corner of cloth revealing tantalising glimpses of things to come. There are also mysterious machines lurking in the background, proposals and projects that indicate new ways of thinking for the company.
One of these ideas recently debuted at the Farnborough Air Show in July. A striking futuristic concept, developed in close collaboration with Rolls-Royce and the Cranfield Academy, the Volante Vision Concept takes Aston Martin’s design language into the skies. “The Volante Vision Concept is much more than just
a design exercise,” Reichman says. “This sector is emerging very quickly and we need to ensure that Aston Martin’s brand values are compatible with the personal mobility of the future. Our design and identity should be able to make the leap into other forms of transportation.”
Reichman is most proud of the canopy, a teardrop-shaped bubble that will give the three passengers the most remarkable all-round view. He is sanguine about the challenges ahead. “Obviously aviation throws up many, many issues and regulations,” he admits. “That’s partly why we partnered with one of the world’s best aero-engine manufacturers, Rolls-Royce, as well as the researchers at Cranfield. But our design language is dynamic enough to be applied to anything froma sports car to a submarine — and now from a futuristic aircraft to an SUV.” The visual sophistication of the Volante Vision Concept also evokes the extreme aerodynamic structures of the Valkyrie, a car shaped by the wind.
At the other end of the spectrum is the new LEGO DB5, a finely wrought 1,295-piece model that taps into two perennial sources of modern fandom — the world of James Bond and the legendary Danish construction set maker. It’s the first time Aston Martin has licensed itself to the brand. “LEGO really impressed us with its precision and engineering skills,” Reichman says, pointing out that the company achieves legendary manufacturing tolerances of 10 micrometres. He marvels at the way specific pieces in the set have been created out of familiar bricks, creating a surprisingly effective reproduction of the DB5’s iconic design details (not to mention its secret non-standard features). Like almost all designers and engineers, Reichman has a fondness for LEGO and recognises the value of bringing Aston Martin to a much wider audience. “The Bond DB5 is one of our absolute icons,” he admits. “It’s probably one of the best-known cars of all time. Partnering with LEGO is fun, of course, but these collaborations have a serious purpose as well.”
Our design language is dynamic enough to be applied to anything from a sports car to a submarine
At the core of the Aston Martin experience is the tactile, visceral sensation of engaging with the machine, a vanishing pleasure in this age of digital detachment. “We will see a separation between cars for pleasure and cars for transport,” Reichman acknowledges, “but there will also be more extreme products for those who want a more mechanical, purist car. Valkyrie is a perfect example.” Although the forthcoming Aston Martin Valkyrie represents the absolute limits of automotive technology and performance, the emotions it engenders are just as relevant to Aston Martin’s series production models.
“The more we comply with the needs of emissions and cities, it will reduce the ability to have a naturally aspirated ICE [internal combustion engine],” Reichman says, “but we’ll continue to make them, just as a Swiss watchmaker builds elaborate tourbillon movements, which maybe do less in the real world than a digital watch. But that’s not the point — it’s the heightened sense of interaction. You can make a mistake in an analogue car; you have to concentrate. Unlike the modern digital car, you are in complete control.”
He reminisces about a recent outing with a (non-Aston) classic. “I drove a 1954 [Triumph] TR3 down to the coast. You can’t push or force the car and it puts you in a more connected state. It’s more fun, in some respects.”
As well as these vital forays into the future, Reichman continues to push Aston Martin’s capability for creating truly bespoke cars. With capacity for two one-off cars each year, on top of its burgeoning work on Aston Martin’s production cars, the Q division remains the ultimate way to demonstrate Aston Martin’s adeptness with craft, design and technology. Currently in talks with at least one owner determined to create “their” ultimate expression of Aston Martin, Reichman believes Q plays a vital role in expressing the marque’s evolving design. “We need to celebrate the future and the capability to produce one-offs is a massive part of it,” he says. “One of the companies we’re talking to is Divergent 3D in California. It can actually 3D-print structures like a chassis. Ultimately, rapid prototyping becomes rapid manufacturing and a unique car can take two years. Just five years ago, it would have taken three years. It also demonstrates the value of collaboration — it’s why we have partnerships, to find new technology and approaches in other spheres.”
As 2018 starts to draw to a close, Reichman can reflect on an important year for Aston Martin, not just in terms of profit and product, but also in ethos and spirit. Q’s popularity is instructive. “Q grows naturally as it’s a percentage of our production, but by 2020 we could be doing 1,000 cars through Q. The customer always wants more,” he notes.“When something becomes ‘standard’ there will always be customers who desire more. Look at Valkyrie. Every one of those customers wants something different. They’re just feeling their passion and we’re there to help them do that. That’s what makes me get out of bed in the morning.”