Collaboration seems to come easily to Aston Martin, but choosing a partner to share the fundamental components of the brand must be done with care. Perhaps the longest-running partnership is the one with the Milanese coachbuilders Zagato, co-creators of the iconic DB4 GT Zagato, a lightweight, pared-back racing special that has become Aston Martin’s most celebrated racing car. Subsequent Zagato projects included the brutally handsome V8 Zagato of 1986, the DB7 Zagato and AR1 of 2003 and the striking V12 Zagato and race car unveiled in 2011. More recently, Aston Martin teamed up with Zagato to create the family of cars based on the Vanquish, including a Volante, Speedster and Shooting Brake.
Aston Martin’s Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer Marek Reichman believes the partnership with Zagato is a fundamental part of both Aston Martin’s heritage and modern ethos. Late last year the two companies announced a very special collaboration. 2019 is the 100th anniversary of the Italian company, as well as almost 60 years since the DB4 GT Zagato was introduced in 1960. To commemorate this significant date, Aston Martin and Zagato will produce the DBZ Centenary Collection, consisting of two cars that demonstrate Aston Martin’s bespoke manufacturing skills and the shared design ethos between the two companies. Just 19 sets will be available, comprising the DB4 GT Zagato Continuation — perhaps the most important model in six decades of collaboration — and the new Aston Martin DBS GT Zagato, which will build upon the sensational performance and style of the DBS Superleggera to encapsulate a relationship built on the synthesis of power and style.
Zagato was founded on 19 April 1919, imbuing the number with a distinct significance. Company legend has it that it was what defined the original Zagato’s production run. “Andrea [Zagato, CEO of the company] confirms this,” says Reichman. “He says there were only 19 DB4 GT Zagatos because of this date and also that it was his grandfather’s favourite number.” It’s a nice story and Reichman is hesitant to dismiss it outright (historians of the marque note that those original cars didn’t exactly set order books on fire, despite each having an approximate value of $16m to $19m today). In addition, four “Sanction 2” and two “Sanction 3” cars were built by the factory between 1987 and 2000, so in effect, these new cars will be Sanction 4.
The partnership with Zagato is a fundamental part of Aston Martin's heritage and modern ethos
The “Zagato Twins” are a truly radical project for Aston Martin. “Working with Zagato was always more than just an aesthetic approach,” says Reichman, although he acknowledges that the most recent Zagato projects were about a unique body, first and foremost. The introduction of the DBS GT Zagato will mark a return to a technology-driven collaboration, as well as an aesthetic one, just like the very first DB4 GT Zagato. “The original car was built by Andrea’s grandfather in order to beat Ferrari at its own game,” Reichman explains. “Ferrari even developed the SWB version of the 250 GTO in response.”
The DBS GT Zagato goes even further than the incredible dynamism of the DBS Superleggerra, finding “madness within the beauty”, in Reichman’s words. “It already has incredible underpinnings — it’s going to be the most powerful Zagato ever.” With a body of carbon fibre, the car demonstrates the value of being a technological pioneer. Back in the 1960s, Zagato’s bodyshop was the envy of the racing world. Its craftsmen demonstrated uncanny skill and agility with aluminium, using exceptionally thin gauges for lightness. “They were like Coke cans,” Reichman says. “Just the slightest brush of a hay bale could put a negative dent in the front end of a car. There’s an archive image of Andrea [Zagato] sitting on the bonnet of his grandfather’s white Zagato,” Reichman recalls. “Of course, when he got up he’d left an imprint.”
The Continuation cars will be more resilient, but still use traditional techniques. “I’ve been at Aston Martin for 14 years and I’m still in awe of people who can create a form from a flat piece of aluminium, to tolerances of 0.1mm,” says Reichman. Aston Martin expects some of the Continuation Zagatos to serve as substitutes for the original cars, now that values have rendered classic racing a terrifying spectre for insurers.
“These are track-based machines, although some customers might eventually be able to use them on the road,” he says. “They have to comply with FIA [Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile] heritage rules and that includes a modern specification roll cage, but we will build them as close to original as possible. You use all the same materials, so in theory the smell, the feel would be the same as back in the day. We use untreated Bridge of Weir leather, for example, which will crack and stain. Even a high-precision mechanical watch will occasionally need a new strap and regular servicing. These cars are the same: rubber will perish if it’s not used; oil needs to be warmed up before the performance is at its peak.”
Building the Continuation cars has only required a few contemporary techniques. “The only high-tech side to the construction is the way we make the tools to make the car,” says Reichman. These are mapped out in CAD to the same tolerances as a modern Aston Martin bodyshell, with every single hundreth of a millimetre accounted for. The forms are then turned into bucks (moulds), on which the skilled craftspeople of Aston Martin Works will transform flat pieces of aluminium into some of the most beautiful curves ever seen on a racing car.
Creating that physical model wasn’t entirely straightforward, for the manufacturing tolerances of six decades ago resulted in 19 very different cars, further altered by track-acquired damage and changes for aerodynamic or mechanical reasons. “There was often as much as 25mm difference between the sides of each car,” says Reichman, “so we needed to create a dataset of the best and most original cars in terms of form and shape.” Original cars were laser scanned and archive imagery scrutinised to create the tooling for the new models. Central to the recreation of these iconic bodyshells is the process of “English Wheeling”, the careful and meticulous introduction of a radius into a flat piece of aluminium, gradually building up the complexity so that the sheet fits perfectly over a buck of the bodyform you are creating. “It’s down to sweat, blood and tears and bashed knuckles,” says Reichman, full of admiration for the intense craftsmanship that goes into these cars. “They will spend 30 hours in paint alone,” he says, pointing out that’s 10 more than a contemporary Q car.
We’re focusing on the technology of ride and performance. The DBS is promising something unique and different
Throughout its long collaboration, Reichman notes that Zagato has always provided Aston Martin with a kind of outlet or pressure valve. “We can always push the image of an Aston Martin further with Zagato,” he says. The DBS GT Zagato is a case in point. “It’s about visually telling the story of the iconic signatures that Zagato has — a full face, a short overhang, the double bubble roof, a little bit avant-garde. The proportions are more pronounced,” Reichman explains, pointing out the details on the surfaces and forms.
However, he’s keen to stress that the “technology is the signifier for the future”. These include a new metal and carbon fibre structure that has an unbeatable combination of strength and weight. It’s also about the production technology required to create such a challenging machine. “We’re focusing on the technology of ride and performance,” he says. “The DBS GT Zagato is promising something unique and different.”