Marek Reichman, Chief Creative Officer at Aston Martin, is in ebullient mood. “It’s a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and we’re taking away the sheep’s clothing and showing the wolf,” he declares as he describes the AMR range of models unveiled at this year’s Geneva Motor Show. AMR stands, of course, for Aston Martin Racing, a badge familiar to anyone who has followed the success of the team in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). Drivers Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen were crowned WEC world champions in Bahrain in November, making it a perfect time to launch a line of high performance race cars for the road, with a race-inspired livery and DNA taken direct from the WEC-winning car.
It’s a bit like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and we’re taking away the sheep’s clothing and showing the wolf
This isn’t the first time that Aston Martin has looked to develop a much more extreme version of its cars. “David Brown [post-war owner of Aston Martin] first introduced the Vantage moniker as a way of differentiating models with a higher output engine,” explains Simon Sproule, Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer for Aston Martin.
“There was a very strong lobby, 10 years ago, not to call the Vantage a Vantage because the purists say the Vantage has always been your high-performance derivative. So we’ve sort of been here before: if you think of the Vantage as the forebear of AMR, then the last of those Vantage cars was the DB7 Vantage. With everything after that — the DB9, the Vanquish — we had the core models. There were specials — Vantage GT8s, Vantage GT12s, Vanquish Zagatos and so on — but there was never a plan to recreate the Vantage as a distinct performance line.”
Until now. With the decision made to continue in endurance racing for the foreseeable future, it made sense to create a road-car connection within the brand, so the revival of the spirit of Vantage as a performance derivative was born. AMR comes in what Sproule describes as “two flavours”. “We’ve got extreme AMR Pro cars, which will be more track-oriented. There will also be cars with AMR-developed power and handling enhancements. All AMR cars come from the same racing stable with the customer choosing what best suits their needs.”
Sproule explains that “not everybody wants very, very extreme cars if they’re not going on the track, but there’s an appetite for cars with a greater emphasis on sporting looks and performance.”
As David King, VP and Chief Special Operations Officer at Aston Martin and the man in charge of Aston Martin Racing, puts it, the Rapide AMR has a “lighter touch” than the “full fat” AMR Vantage Pro.
AMR Vantage Pro and Rapide AMR are the start of the AMR story, two conceptual forays into a new approach to performance and design. The more extreme AMR Pro cars will always be strictly limited. “The intention is to introduce AMR derivatives into the core line-up, where it makes sense,” says Sproule. “AMR will progressively become part of the Aston Martin Range.”
A quick look at the AMR Vantage Pro concept, the first “full fat” AMR Pro to be unveiled, confirms just how much race spec will be carried over to these road cars. “The car is a mixture of the wide-bodied design from the GT8 with the wider track, but it will have more developed aerodynamics and a new front end design with the full height front grille,” explains King. “Under the skin it will be a mixture of the GT4 and WEC racing spec, but still road legal.”
The intention is to introduce AMR derivatives into every line-up, where it makes sense
It sounds decidedly tasty, but quite a lot to handle on the road. The Rapide AMR concept illustrates an approach that is just as engaging and dynamic but perhaps better suited for those with a slightly more conservative disposition. “Our AMR-badged cars need to be more accessible, more affordable, more mainstream, but we don’t want them to be watered down to colour and trim and shiny wheels,” says King. “So there will be some small performance uplifts, ride and handling packs, that sort of thing. They will be part of the core model range..”
In a great touch that provides a neat link between road and track, a portion of the profits from the AMR cars will be fed straight back into the race programme.
And what about the styling? It’s all very well sharing the heart and blood of a race car, but such extreme performance needs an aesthetic equivalent, too. Marek Reichman corrects me: “I never use the word ‘styling’ at Aston Martin because we’re an integral part of creating the product: the proportion of the car is really what makes it beautiful. There’s a great reason that we can launch AMR as a road-going product, because we do it the other way round — we take our road-going car and race-ready it, and that’s what a V8 Vantage GTE is — it’s a road chassis that has all the proportion of a road car and that’s why they look wonderful on the track. AMR is a celebration of that; it’s a celebration of the success we had in 2016 and a celebration of the core of who we are. That’s why Robert Bamford and Lionel Martin started the company, because they wanted to race cars at Aston Hill, so for me this isn’t a design exercise, it’s the fundamental core of what we do in design every single day.”
So the AMR Vantage Pro will have “a big breathing mouth that is all wrapped up in a single graphic language, which is all about Stirling and lime green”. This is the same striking colour scheme as the race cars’ livery and Reichman hints that the origins of the name Stirling green are exactly what you might think.
When you apply a direct racing aesthetic to something that is very elegant, it’s a bit of a shock
That same colour scheme also dominates the AMR badged cars, of which the Rapide AMR will be the first. “Again, this has the same DNA,” says Reichman. “It has the same gene string: it’s got the extruded aluminium, but it’s very elegant and so when you apply a direct racing aesthetic to something that is very elegant, it’s always a little bit of a shock. It’s always a little bit, ‘That looks really cool’. It’s like seeing an amazing Savile Row suit and someone wearing trainers with it; it’s just not expected and that’s what our world is now. It’s an exciting product.”
An exciting product for exciting times. Aston Martin has signed up to the WEC for the foreseeable future. Racing will always provide inspiration and innovation, which helps take the brand forward, even if it is a high stakes activity. Fortunately, Aston Martin is a company that excels under pressure and you sense that, with AMR, it will deliver something new to the starting grid for its most adventurous customers.