Best Of The Bez

Intended as the crowning glory of a newly-independent, never-more-glamorous Aston Martin, the One-77 turned out to symbolise something else entirely. 

photo (c) Bonhams

2007 must have been a year of triumph for Dr ing Ulrich Bez. Over the course of the previous seven years, the German engineer and Aston Martin managing director had turned an outdated, but well loved marque trading on past glories and an awful lot of goodwill into a serious prestige sports car brand. On top of that, he’d overseen the sale of the company from Ford to a consortium backed by Kuwaiti investors. Bez was now no mere executive henchman anymore. He was the true boss.

After having spent most of his career playing second fiddle (most notably to his direct superior at BMW, Wolfgang Reitzle, who’d also hired Bez to run Aston Martin during his brief stint in charge of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group), Bez had become the undisputed boss of not just any old business, but a company that had refused to go the way of the Jensens and Alvisses – yet similarly refused to earn a profit over the course of the many decades of its existence.

With the main product range of the marque still being relatively new and unquestionably attractive (the DB9 was four years old by that point), a new challenge needed to be set – a challenge that, apparently, had to reflect the extraordinary circumstances under which it was instigated: the extraordinary successes Bez and Aston Martin had accrued.

The resultant Aston Martin One-77 therefore was no ordinary car, not even by the standards of this special marque. It cost £1 million (excluding taxes), was made only of the finest materials (mostly leather and carbonfibre) and powered by a 7.3 litre V12 engine, producing 759 bhp. No more than 77 examples would be built.

(c) Auto-Didakt

Given the strength of the Aston Martin brand, and the hunger for exclusive luxury goods in general at the time, this offering seemed ambitious, but not outlandish. Dr Bez and his fellow decision makers certainly believed the Aston Martin brand truly was so strong, so alluring that they could sell almost anything wearing that badge – particularly an astoundingly rare, frightfully expensive piece of megalomania.

The way the One-77 was unveiled certainly suggested that this was an offering so enticing, it would practically sell itself. Which is why its first public appearance, at the 2008 Paris Motor Show, was a decidedly tantalising affair, as most of the car (or rather: a fibreglass styling model) was kept under a cloth – Picture if you will the almost unbearable pains of longing sheikhs and teased dot-com billionaires!

photo (c) Car Magazine

Unfortunately, these pains were soon overtaken by blind panic, as the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers resulted in sheikhs and tech billionaires alike losing billions over the course of a few weeks. Suddenly, hypercars were not high on anyone’s agenda. Even hypercars sporting magnified air intakes and the outstanding innovation of mirror stalks seamlessly fitted to the doors.

Overnight, the air around this most supreme of Aston Martins seemed thin, rather than rarefied.

Another fibreglass model was eventually unveiled, but the lack of reviews (which was fully intentional, as mere journalists were not to besmirch the One-77’s exquisite leather seats) and general passage of time meant the aura of mystery and reserve was increasingly met with indifference.

Eventually, reviews and drive reports ‘leaked’, but by that point, Aston Martin was once again in survival, rather than celebratory mode, which made sideshows like One-77 or the Lagonda SUV concept car unveiled in 2009 appear like unnecessary distractions. The lack of any truly new product until the arrival of the DB11 in 2016 only exacerbated this impression.

Not that this prevented Dr Bez from indulging in yet another vanity project at the same time: An autobiography, focussing on his reign at Newport Pagnell and then Gaydon, somewhat immodestly titled Making Aston Martin.

photo (c) Drive

Meanwhile, One-77’s production ended in clandestine, rather than enigmatic style. It’s unclear to this day how many One-77s were eventually built – rumour has it the Vulcan race car unveiled in 2015 used quite a few leftover body shells of the car that might be more truthfully called the One-22 or One-44.

Over the course of time though, this rarity might add to this peculiar Aston’s myth – after all, the company’s history is mostly made up of glorious failures and quaint products, rather than an uninterrupted string of victories and successes. In that sense, the One-77 is a quintessential Aston Martin.

Dr Bez’ Making Aston Martin book was sold out years ago, incidentally. Prices for used copies currently start at €319.

 

The author of this piece runs his own motoring website, which you are welcome to visit at 

 www.auto-didakt.com

Author: Christopher Butt

car design enthusiast // the mind behind www.auto-didakt.com // contributor to The Road Rat magazine //

12 thoughts on “Best Of The Bez”

  1. I suppose that manufacturers always make themselves a hostage to fortune when they state exactly how many copies of a “limited edition” model they intend to produce. The DB9 and 2005 Vantage were brilliant looking cars, damn near perfect from a design perspective, so it’s not surprising confidence was so high. At least the owners of the One-77 can take comfort from the knowledge that their car is even more exclusive than they anticipated.

    What of Aston Martin’s present and future? The DB11 had an extraordinarily hard task, improving on near-perfection, but largely suceeds. The only demerits I can see are the currently (but not enduringly?) fashionable C-pillar treatment on the coupé and odd downward sloping bumper to front wing shut-line, which gives the front a slightly droopy look:

    The new Vantage is an equally difficult “second album” and misses the mark somewhat with overly small headlamps and that HUGE grille, fat-lipped on some models:

    1. I don’t think either of these cars is anywhere near as good as their predecessors.

      I’ve seen a few DB11s in the metal, including one which is quite regularly parked on a street near my house. Sorry, but no. The DBS looks a fair bit better, I think.

      On a practical note, the headlamps on the Vantage are apparently very, very poor. This makes their small size doubly annoying.

    2. I like the DB11 – gargantuan size apart. It’s nowhere near as pretty as the DB9, but then again, it never stood a chance. At least Aston tried to come up with something genuinely original, rather than simply rehash what’s come before.

      The Vantage, on the other hand, is just a rather lumpen looking thing. If it was the new Toyota Supra, I wouldn’t mind it so much, but an Aston mustn’t look this vulgar.

      What unites both models though is the rather terrible cabins. The previous cars’ interiors never constituted the last word in terms of either build quality or ergonomics, but they possessed style and flair in spades. The new models’ cabins are just nasty.

  2. I felt Bez suffered from pretty chronic ‘it’s all gone to my head’ arrogance in the second half of his time at Aston. One sees it so often – business leaders lauded for early success take their foot off the gas, believing the job’s done, and create edifices to their own glory rather than an enduring legacy.

    The new Vantage suffers in comparison with two cars – its predecessor (one of my all-time favourites) and the DB10 which featured (starred?) in Spectre. It’s like someone high-up interfered to push for a more in-yer-face design at the expense of refinement and restraint in the design (which was an aspect which made the earlier car so appealing).

    1. I’m told Dr Bez isn’t welcomed with open arms at Gaydon these days. Maybe that’s to do with the book…

  3. One has to wonder about the marketing plan for a car where the entire engineering, development, tooling, testing and production budget is 77 million pounds (best case scenario).

    The whole body structure and external panels are new. The engine is new except for the block. Even the interior is new – new dash and instruments different than the DB9.

    Safety certification, emissions and crash testing alone would run into millions.

  4. The promotion of the One-77 was indeed bizarre.

    Trusted friends like Steve Autocropley were invited for passenger rides, so that they could write suitably gushing prose about quite how wonderful the whole project was, but refusing to allow journalists to review the car suggested that the car was a donkey and Aston were trying to hide it from criticism.

    When even tiny Pagani found it possible to provide cars for testing, Aston Martin’s attitude seemed baffling.

    Personally, I got bored by the car long before I read a review of a customer’s own car, which suggested that in fact the One-77 was a charismatic and charming car.

  5. I think there’s something ugly and avaricious in the mindset of both Aston Martin and potential buyers of the One-77 and am not unhappy that it was something of a failure. While I think managed Capitalism is by far the least worst method of running an economy and creating and distributing wealth, selling any product for many multiples of its value, based in large part on artificially created scarcity, is pretty cynical, and buying such a product is simply a highly vulgar display of extreme wealth, where money has lost all meaning.

    I’m straying into politics here, but at least the DTW Illumaniti mostly appear to be still on holiday, so there’s only Eóin around to tell me off for doing so.

    1. I encountered a One-77 at a concours event in Chelsea a number of years ago. Having dismissed it as both ugly and irrelevant, I found, rather to my surprise that it was a good deal more arresting in the flesh – if still over-steroidal and over-sized. It truly is gargantuan. On balance, I’d have to say, Aston’s own first-generation Vanquish did the British bruiser in a sharp suit routine better in just about every way.

      As current sole deckhand, boiler-stoker, crows-nest occupier and captain of this fair vessel, I’m prepared to let today’s lapse go Daniel, but let’s not make a habit of it…

    2. ‘Willst Du was gelten, mache Dich selten’ is a German saying about artificial shortage that might’ve been the guiding principle behind One-77.

      Minor details apart, I don’t mind the car at all. It’s just the overblown grandiosity and sense of smug complacency surrounding it I always found deeply irritating. One never got the idea that the engineers went to work, created the best GT they could and realised they’d have to charge a million quid for the end result – it always felt as though the number was decided upon first, and then the car was devised in such a way that this sum could somehow be justified.

    3. Keep in mind that this vehicle was developed for the pre-financial crisis economy, where the assumption was that the growing number of “ultra high net worth individuals” would pay up for almost any crap as long as it was perceived as expensive, exclusive and prestigious.

      And there was an ugly symbiosis of mutually reinforcing greed, where the buyers assumed there would be instant big price gains on their “limited edition” purchases.

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