Up to now we’ve managed relatively few words on the subject of Aston Martin. It’s probably time we remedied that.
It wasn’t necessarily a matter of prejudice, but I suspect a degree of ambivalence might have crept in. Certainly in recent years under the leadership of the over-rated Ulrich Bez, the storied British marque came to rival Bentley as purveyors of overstyled and increasingly vulgar trinkets for the well heeled and indolent.
Almost but not quite – even as the almost perfectly realised DB9 was thoughtlessly pummelled into the decidedly aftermarket Vanquish before itself becoming the subject of what can only be described as a decidedly amateurish facelift, one was left pondering whether Marek Reichman’s appointment as styling chief was ill-judged. Taste and judgement certainly appeared to be in short supply during the Bez years and it’s only since his departure that we can discern how deeply his influence was felt.
Since Andy Palmer assumed control 2013, the serially troubled car maker appears to have turned a corner, both in commercial and product terms. Central to this has been the advent of the DB11, the first of a new family of traditional Aston Martin models, which will ultimately sit alongside additional vehicles, aimed at moving them into new markets and the sunny uplands of profitability – a concept which has never amounted to much apart from a fervently held aspiration up to now.
The DB11 was refreshing not only because it was handsome, but also because it was daring. In fact, it was (and remains) almost as polarising (and brave) a piece of classically contemporary automotive design as Jaguar’s unloved (X351) XJ. Like the Jaguar, it contains visual elements which appear to have been incorporated intentionally to create dissonance, so while it is a vehicle of immense (and it really is huge) presence and appeal, it falls short of outright beauty.
DB11 is also illustrative of a number of other factors. Firstly, that Reichman actually seems to be in possession of a cogent creative vision for the marque; one (it seems evident now), the Yorkshireman was unable to express publicly with the genius from Bad Cannstatt at the helm. Secondly, DB11 also makes clear that for all its modernity and visual risk, Aston Martin and by default, Reichman remain in thrall to the Callum protocol©.
Because seen in close quarters, if DB11 resembles anything, its a larger F-Type – or (to stretch the analogy close to breaking point) the stillborn replacement XK model Callum was recently quoted as having overseen several years ago at Whitley. As we know, Aston Martin’s design path diverged rather abruptly in the early 90’s when the DB7 was created out of the ashes of Jaguar’s stillborn XJ41 programme and on current form has yet to fully re-establish its own path. So while DB11 is fine looking machine and a creditable attempt at moving the conversation forward, Reichman has not as yet crafted a wholly divergent narrative.
Which brings us to the newly (well, two weeks ago now, but you know, spin cycles and such…) announced DB11 Volante; a car that drops neatly into that rather short list of convertibles which look significantly more attractive than their fixedhead counterparts. Why? Well, obviously the loss of that polarising floating C-pillar arrangement has tidied up the lines, but there’s something else – something intangible that the roof’s loss has lent the 11, which elevates it further.
The colour choice doesn’t hurt of course, but the DB11 Volante as shown elicits the lost romance of bonafide Grand Turismo travel in a manner the Bentley Continental, Ferrari Portofino or heaven help us, Mercedes-Benz SL could only secretly imagine – and then only for about an hour and a quarter on a slightly moist Tuesday afternoon in April. A lineal successor to the suave, impossibly elegant and tastefully expensive GT’s of a bygone era, the Volante offers a vastly more appealing proposition to this avowed fixed-head aficionado.
Aston Martin has had more than its share of ups and downs over its turbulent past, but on paper at least now appears to have both a plan and the necessary backing to see it to fruition. And while I couldn’t necessarily see myself owning (putative Euromillions win notwithstanding) this manner of vehicle, the fact that in the DB11 Volante, Aston Martin offers the only car in this sector with even a screed of elegance or grace, lends them and their creators a degree of credibility I would have previously considered unthinkable.
11 thoughts on “Drophead Candy”
“The DB11 was refreshing not only because it was handsome, but also because it was daring.”
I don’t know about this. I see a car much more “in thrall to the Callum protocol©” than anything truly daring here. Astons aren’t really my kind of cars in general but I’m not sure that Xeroxing an F-Type at 120% can be deemed as engaging in visual risk. The DB7 was far more of a break from its predecessors than this.
It must also be noted in passing that the wheels on the pictured Volante are spectacularly unpleasant.
With the DB11 Aston seems to be harking back to previous Jensen designs rather than its own heritage. See the CV8 and the 541 with the front wing and bonnet line treatments….
The wheels are truly ugly: what do they think they’re saying?
But then this car is scarcely a B24 or E-Type DHC anyway.
I’m actually a fixed-head man really, and note that Bentley’s Continental R was never chopped, as its beauty was unimprovable.
This Aston reminds me of the 1930 French quip about WO Bentley making “the best lorries in the world”.
I completely agree that this is nicer than the coupe, and that the wheels on this example are terrible – like some aftermarket nightmare. I differ on the current Vanquish, though; I know it’s very derivative of the donating DB9, but I think it’s a very effective job that appeals to my more basic senses.
I’m not taken by the DB11, I’m afraid.
The details miss the mark for me – the side vent aft of the front wheels, the ‘floating C pillar’, the front lights all look heavy-handed to me. And the dashboard is such a big and obvious thing.
I know nothing about the marketing of luxury cars so for all I know the DB11 hits its mark perfectly – I suppose it looks like an Aston Martin yet is obviously different from its predecessor, which probably ticks off the two key objectives.
But it just isn’t an object of desire – and if it fails on that, what is the point? Why would it make sense to buy one over an AMG, say?
False dichotomy. The question is not why one would buy it over an AMG (or Ferrari, Porsche, Bentley, etc). It is entirely plausible the target buyers will buy all of the above. The real question is, why not buy one? And if it ticks off the two aforementioned objectives, it’s probably done enough.
Yeah, I’m a brazen cynic and proud of it, so sue me.
Ok Stradale, fair point.
But surely the point of the DB11 is that it is used as regular transport? To me, that brings it into competition with a whole lot of other cars.
But I don’t have the means to participate in this market, so what do I know? 😉
I’m quite surprised myself I actually like the DB11, particularly in this Volante guise.
The DB9 is one of those few cars I’m actively lusting after, at least in its early, red rear light variant, and only as a coupé. It’s a car I’d describe as stylistically flawless, which is rare indeed. The DB11 isn’t flawless at all, but it’s interesting. And certainly no botch job like that ridiculous Vanquish II, despite obviously being far more of a novelty design than its ‘timeless’ predecessor. But novel the DB11 is, compared with a Bentley Continental GT or a Ferrari California/Portofino. Reichman et al have done their best to come up with something unusual, which in itself must be applauded in this day and age, even though I could do without the steampunkish interior.
Uli Bez, to credit when and where it’s due, was also in charge of Aston’s fortunes when the VH-platform cars were developed in their pure, early, delicious forms. But in those days, he had a strong stylist in charge of Aston design, who would have stood his ground. Later on, once Doc Bez had established himself as ‘Mr Aston Martin’, he would have been in far more powerful a position, which must’ve been difficult to challenge for a medium-profile designer such as Marek Reichman. I therefore share Eoin’s assessment that Andy Palmer is granting him more creative freedom than before, as exemplified by this DB11.
Those wheels are still awful though. But the rest of the car I wouldn’t mind being seen in.
There’s been a little too much consensus around these parts of late, so it’s pleasing to see a little dissonance creeping in.
I had largely dismissed the DB11 in similar terms until yesterday, when I had the opportunity to examine one at close quarters. The similarity to the Jaguar is obvious, yes, but I stand by my view that Reichman could have played it far safer with the design and deserves some credit for not doing so. Anyway, how does one improve on the DB9?
I would also say this. If any of its rivals had been parked up in a similar fashion I’d have walked past without a glance. Had it been the new Bentley I’d probably have snorted derisively as I studiously ignored it – inverse snob that I am. No, the Aston doesn’t quite work (hence the X351 analogy), but nevertheless I do admit to liking it.
One other point: The DB7 as stylistic break was not a conscious decision but one dictated by the inherited body architecture of the Jaguar prototype it was wholly based upon – to say nothing of the XJS platform it ended up with. DB4 Zagato apart, Astons traditionally adopted a more lineal form language. The DB7 was a good deal more voluptuous (I think Ian Callum was always designing Jaguars even when he wasn’t designing Jaguars), and by osmosis the aberration has become the rule; Aston absorbing the Jaguar cues but never quite succeeding in making them their own.
I will have to argue hard here for I feel the far better post PAG story considering the pre-Ford era is Aston, not Volvo… and I feel much of this is thanks to Dr. Bez fighting harder than those at Jaguar. To me, the DB9, V8 Vantage, and all the Zagatos are quite possibly 4-5 of the best looking cars in the first quarter of this century.
Say what you will about sticking to long with the VH platform they ringed everything they could out of it, and the press major and small ate it up all the way to the end, , and Aston reached a high-end lust it only had briefly from DB4 to DB5, but with far better sales and quality, and cache that I don’t think even Ferrari has.
The DB9 was far better at creating a truly modern Britsh sports car from its predecessor, then the X100 to X150 ever did. I hope Callum’s second full-on go at XK can be seen one day, as I suspect it follows on from themes in the C-x75.
If you would have told me circa DB7 launch, on an XJS chassis, with a blown AJ6, that it would propel Aston to have a lust factor then Ferrai, when even Lotus looked in better shape I would of have laughed in your face, especially considering it was done on Ford’s dime and oversight.
Scott, thanks for your comments. Perhaps I’m being a little harsh when it comes to the ‘Bez era at Gaydon. I wouldn’t argue for a moment that he probably fought tooth and nail for everything he prised out the Dearborn beancounters. The cars produced on his watch were good as well, but stylistically, things went downhill towards the latter half of the last decade. It is my understanding that it was Bez himself who pushed for the stylistic changes to the DB9 – (which was not improved by its rather tasteless facelift) and for the aggressive looking and even tackier Vanquish model.
There is no doubt in my mind that the DB9 remains a high water mark in latter-day GT car design – perhaps the last of its kind in the truly classic idiom. Such grace and elegance of line is woefully unfashionable now. It was a phenomenal achievement on the part of Ian Callum (and those who worked with him), who completed both it and the V8 Vantage as he took up the reins from the late Geoff Lawson at Whitley in 1999. (His original Vanquish design also deserves honourable mention). But with both Jaguar and Aston Martin at different levels under the same PAG glass ceiling, I somehow doubt Callum was subsequently permitted to produce anything that would have stepped on Aston’s toes.
The DB7 of course remains the Aston Martin (reloaded) stylistic blueprint and when you consider that car’s distinctly murky background, you might understand why Jaguar insiders referred to it as ‘double cross’ – especially given that in the years that followed, they were accused of adopting Aston’s styling when in fact the opposite was the case.