When Bal Choda was presented with a Matchbox toy Aston Martin DBS as a seventh birthday gift from his grandad, it was like his destiny being handed to him. Choda was so enthralled by the Aston Martin — the car driven by Roger Moore in the TV series The Persuaders — that he drew his own sketch of the DBS, along with a caption stating: “When I grow up I want to become an engineer and I want to work for a sportscar company.”
Forty-five years on and Choda is Lead Engineer in the Advanced Manufacturing engineering team at Aston Martin, or as he puts it: “I am living my dream.” The skills that enable Choda and his team to marry design and technology have been fine-tuned over the years and are a perfect illustration of the work of the craftsmen and women who underpin every car Aston Martin builds.
Choda’s early career path began with an engineering apprenticeship at Lucas Industries, followed by a Mechanical Engineering Production Degree, as well as a degree in Automotive and Architectural Design. His determination to gain the most comprehensive apprenticeship saw him work across Europe for various automotive firms, including BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Nissan and Ford, learning different cultures, languages and manufacturing processes. He returned to the UK, where fate directed him towards Aston Martin as he worked on the project to develop the special Vanquish used in Die Another Day. It was a very different time. “There were definitely improvements to be made in the manufacturing process,” he recalls. “It was like a cottage industry.”
And it was key personnel like Choda who were given the opportunity to dramatically change and improve those processes when the firm moved to its new state-of-the-art HQ in Gaydon in 2003. Choda helped set up the Trim Shop in the new factory. “Newport Pagnell was only an hour’s drive away, but the difference in the facilities was 100 years apart,” he says. “At Gaydon, we were using technology in trim and interiors that had never been seen before. Of course, in manufacturing we are always looking to save time, but we adopt a fine line between technology and craftsmanship — you can’t rush hand crafting and it has always remained the key. And even the latest machinery needs a craftsman’s knowledge to work with it.”
In 2008, state-of-the-art technology was introduced into the Trim Shop that made embroidery possible for the first time. “The embroidered Aston Martin Wings logo had 6000 stitches alone, but we could also experiment with different colours, patterns and customer initials,” says Choda. The addition of a large quilting machine, which Choda re-engineered to use a combination of thread thicknesses, opened up even more options for customers, with all sorts of beautiful embroidery and quilted patterns available. “We designed a number of unique processes to enable us to apply quilting to virtually any design,” he explains. “It means we can turn a designer’s vision into a reality.” One such example was the 2012 Vanquish, whose unique hourglass quilted interior was the world’s first with over one million stitches.
When it came to the DB11, the unique brogue patterning posed an interesting challenge. “Brogue is usually found on shoes made from stiff saddle leather, but we use soft natural grain leather, so the application had to be different,” says Choda. He brought in a dedicated brogue machine, with every brogue punch produced by skilled machinists.
Today, the Trim Shop is a “favourite viewing area” for customers on the factory tour. “It takes 180 man hours to build each car and they have the world’s most beautiful interiors,” he says. He sees his job today as key in linking together design and the Trim Shop: “My role is to be a voice between our designers and our craftsmen and women.”
Choda has also taken on the role of ambassador and mentor for the company and visits local schools. It’s a task he relishes. “Young people love anything associated with being cool and Aston Martin is very cool. My job is to tell youngsters what goes into making the car so beautiful and the skills needed. You have to have a combination of experience, passion and energy because at Aston Martin, we keep raising the bar.”
Simon Holmes started at Aston Martin around the same time as Bal Choda, but via a completely different route. “When I left school, I had minimal qualifications and no idea what I wanted to do,” he recalls. When a friend working for an interior trim company suggested he apply for a job, he went for it. “I quickly realised car interiors was what I wanted to do. My next break was when I spotted a job at Aston Martin in the Trim Shop,” he says. “When I got the job, I knew it was a job for life,” Holmes says. “There is a magic about Aston Martin — when you tell people you work here they see you in a completely different light.”
Things have changed dramatically in his 18 years at the company, particularly for customers. “The sheer choice of interior trim options is almost unreal,” Holmes says. “We can do almost anything our customers want.” One client recently wanted the rear of his seat covered in the family tartan trim, in cloth, rather than leather. “We don’t normally do either,” Holmes says, “but that’s what the customer wanted so we did it.”
At Aston Martin, Holmes has found a company that has helped him push himself further. Today, he is Lead Technician in the Trim Shop. “I am a total perfectionist and the attention to detail and the complexity we offer
is incredible,” he says. “For me, the Trim Shop is the heart of Aston Martin. It’s where we marry technology and hand-built tradition.”
Bal Choda and Simon Holmes are perfect examples of the company’s commitment to quality and skills. It is the passion of the people at Aston Martin that makes the cars so special.