Preview: Aston Martin V12 Vanquish
|Will Aston?s new technology flagship live up to its powerful name? . ?t speak German. s to sell his own car? |
Mar 17, 2005 19:41:50|
16 ( -2 -12.5% )|
|Author||Paul A. Eisenstein|
The town of Newport Pagnell is a throwback to another era, a sleepy little village more likely to serve as the setting for an E.M. Forster novel than a manufacturing center. Youâ€™d likely drive right by the Aston Martin complex without even recognizing the ramshackle assortment of brick buildings, the first built in 1820, and many of them in operations since the late Nineteenth Century, when they were used to assemble elegant, Victorian-era carriages. But under the new roof of the main assembly building, a minor revolution is taking place.
The first warning shot was fired at the North American International Auto Show in January of 1998, when the automaker rolled out a rare concept car, dubbed Project Vantage. "The public reaction said we should go away and build this car," says Ian Minards, the head of what was quickly codenamed Project AMV03.
Another skirmish was taking place in Germany. There was turmoil at BMW, roiled by the collapse of its British subsidiary, Rover. In a boardroom coup, the carmakerâ€™s top two executives were ousted, with product chief Wolfgang Reitzle quickly landing a job at Ford Motor Co. Reitzle was named head of the new Premier Automotive Group, created to oversee the American carmakerâ€™s luxury brand portfolio. That included Aston, which Ford acquired, almost on a whim, in 1987.
For decades, Aston had survived as one of the worldâ€™s lowest-volume automakers, a great year meaning sales of perhaps 600 vehiclesâ€”barely a third of what even Ferrari would roll out. Reitzle quickly saw an opportunity to nudge a little more volume out of Aston, without tarnishing its well-guarded image of exclusivity. So he not only gave the green light to Project AMV03, but came up with the money to modernize a production line that dated back to an era when handcraftsmanship, not productivity, were the benchmarks of luxury.
Vanquish keeps show-car looks
The results will be seen next spring, when Astonâ€™s first new car since 1995 makes its formal debut. Dubbed the V12 Vanquish, it will replace the Vantage, Astonâ€™s timeworn mainstay. With only the most subtle tweaks, Vanquish maintains the look of the show car. "The exterior styling was so good," Minards asserts, "there wasnâ€™t any reason to change that." (Actually, they tried, at one point borrowing the taillamps of the American coupe, the Mercury Cougar. But wiser heads prevailed, and in the end, Vanquish maintains its uniqueâ€”and upscaleâ€”appearance.)
Under the skin, the show car went through significant changes, however, with Aston adopting all new construction methodsâ€”including an industry first, the use of super-plastic-formed aluminum exterior panels. The main body structure is formed from extruded aluminum thatâ€™s bonded and riveted to a carbon fiber transmission tunnel. Composite inner body side sections, and carbon fiber windshield pillars create a high-strength safety cell. The engine subframe is a mix of aluminum and carbon fiber, and a deformable composite crash structure is mounted just ahead of the engine.
Vanquish will be powered by the same 6.0-liter V12 found in the DB7 coupe and convertible. That engine currently is rated at 450 horsepower, though Minards hints "thereâ€™s lots of room to improve on that." For the Vanquish, the engineâ€™s valve train has been lightened and stiffened. The crankshaft has been lightened and a new air induction system has been developed, along with a new exhaust system with automatic back-pressure control. All of that adds up to a package with an estimated top speed "in excess" of 190 mph.
Lifting a page from Formula One, the six-speed Select Shift Manual transmission places paddle shifters on the steering wheel, and Minards hints that gear changes will be accomplished significantly faster than a similar system used by Ferrari.
Emphasis on technology
Vanquish will be Ford Motor Companyâ€™s technical showcase
In keeping with the emphasis on technology, Vanquish will offer rain-sensing tires, twilight sensing lights, satellite navigation, and other Telematic systems. "It will be the most sophisticated Aston Martin weâ€™ve ever built," Minards boasts, "done with the idea of Aston Martin being the technical showcase for Ford Motor Co."
Vanquishâ€™s 19" wheels will be fitted with a tire pressure sensing system, a real plus at the speeds a vehicle like this is designed to operate at. Somewhat surprisingly, the coupe will not feature Run-Flat tires, Aston engineers deciding they degraded ride comfort too much.
While the Vanquish is all about technology, Aston isnâ€™t giving up on tradition entirely. Thereâ€™ll still be plenty of that traditional Connolly leather swathing the interior. Youâ€™ll be able to order it in just about any color imaginableâ€”along with matching exterior paint. "But we want to move away from wood to more contemporary materials and finishes," Minards says.
The new coupe will be offered in two body configurations: either a 2+2, with a minimally functional rear seat, or a true two-seater. That version will come complete with a set of bespoke luggage. A convertible versionâ€”Aston would dub it a Volanteâ€”is under study, but the coupe already has the necessary structureâ€”such as its carbon fiber A-pillarâ€”to meet the necessary rollover standards.
The original plan called for Aston to unleash Vanquish at the Paris Motor Show. But "we felt we were not ready," says Astonâ€™s new chief executive, Ulrich Bez. Exactly what changes were necessary, no one will say, though industry rumors suggest several possible problems remained to be resolved. Bez hints there were at least some styling issues when he notes, "With a car like this, we donâ€™t want to make a facelift in a year. We want to make it right from the beginning."
Unless there are other setbacks, Aston now plans to roll out its new flagship at next springâ€™s Geneva Motor Show, with sales to launch soon afterward. Vanquish is expected to carry a base price of around $230,000.
Despite that price tag, the automaker counts on Vanquish to deliver a significant boost to its sales. Last year, the British marque topped 600 for the first time, and itâ€™s aiming to nip the 1000 marque this year. But longer-term, Bez says his goal is to double or even triple that number. Newport Pagnell will never be the same.
The V12 Vanquishâ€”Up Close
Engine: Aluminum DOHC 6.0-liter V-12, 450 hp, 410 lb/ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual with paddle-operated Auto Shift Manual/Select Shift Manual
(ASM/SSM) electro-hydraulic control system, rear-wheel drive
Suspension: Front and rear independent double aluminum wishbone.
Body: Two-door in either 2+0 or 2+2 seating configuration.
Uses bonded aluminum, carbon fiber and other composites.
Wheels and tires: 19-in forged aluminum; Yokohama 255/40 ZR19 front, 285/40 ZR19 rear.
Length x width: 183.3 x 75.7 in
Curb Weight: 4000 lbs (est.)
Wheelbase: 105.9 in
Acceleration: 0-60 in 4.7 seconds
Maximum speed: 190 mph