Marek describes Gaydon as a turnkey facility, with design, engineering and construction all taking place at the same site. The factory itself is just off from the main building, down a short corridor that celebrates the evolution of the Aston Martin car. At one end, a Bamford Martin car from the nineteen twenties, and at the other, the Aston Martin DBS from the James Bond film Quantum of Solace. This was the “hero car” so it was remarkably intact, with all its doors and nary a bullet hole to be seen. Although, I was sure I heard Mr.White’s muffled cries from the boot.
Entering the factory the first thing that hits you is the noise. Just the sheer lack of it. There’s no resonating clang of metal, no shouts across the floor, no shrill whine of machinery. I’ve worked in noisier offices than this car plant.
If I thought driving in was like something out of a Bond movie, then this factory was pure Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Okay, there were no Oompa-Loompas in evidence, but it might not have felt unusual if these skilled technicians had all suddenly burst out into song. There was certainly the same balance of high-tech and hands on and abstract efficiency. Where Willy Wonka stated that he used trained squirrels to shell his nuts, here one individual stitches an entire car’s upholstery over seventy hours. One man was applying leather to a centre console with the kind of devoted attention to detail and proficiency one would expect to find in a bespoke tailors.
The production line itself runs in stages at four-minute intervals, with each individual at every station given plenty of time to ensure that each part of the car they are working on is perfect.
Once rolled off the line, the car then goes for tuning and from there onto a simulated road and is tested for a thousand miles. Then it goes out on the track for further tests. Then it comes back again and is re-polished and re-tuned until the engine is perfect and every possible speck of dirt, grime and each fingerprint are gone. Only then does the car go off to the dealerships.
The tub construction is of super-lightweight alloys and we get to witness the process of a tub rolling off to get ready for panel adhesion. The tub is so light that is can be easily picked up by just two technicians. The tub then gets finely sprayed with an epoxy by a computer-controlled machine and from there it is moved by hand to have its panels pressure sealed into place. At each stage there is plenty of human hands-on involvement and, for a modern car manufacturer, this gives the Aston Martins’ a remarkably hand-built quality.
Finally, we look at the paint process. The paint in an Aston Martin is described as “concours” level, meaning that it is of the kind of standard you would expect from a completely restored classic car that might be shown at Pebble Beach, for example.
Bare metal is sprayed with primer. This primer is then hand polished to remove imperfections. Then a coat of paint is applied and allowed to dry. This is then given a layer of polish. Once polished, this is then hand sanded down with ultrafine paper to remove any possible imperfections in this coat and then it is re-polished again to bring up the shine. This is a hugely labour intensive process that takes over fifty hours to complete. The majority of car manufactures would simply have neither the time nor the inclination to involve themselves with a process as thorough as this. But what it does for Aston is to give each and every car an absolutely perfect finish. I think it would be fairly safe to say that at Aston Martin there is almost an obsession with perfection, which they apply to every endeavour. Every project they undertake, they give it their absolute all, from the controversial Cygnet to the stunning One-77 or their recently unveiled Vanquish.
Talking of which, after lunch we were ushered back into the design pavilion and into a cavernous auditorium where, at its centre and lit up from above, the distinctive shape of an Aston Martin lay beneath a shroud. Marek Reichman and Francis Cretin, the lead designers for Aston Martin and for Jaeger-LeCoultre’s AMVOX, stood at the front, ready to talk us through their inspirations, their commonalities and their design processes. This was a rare treat indeed to hear from the horses mouth the journeys they had both gone on to achieve both these stunning timepieces and incredible automotives.
Finally, it was time to unveil the surprise we had been promised, and indeed it was beautiful to behold: The prototype of the new Aston Martin Vanquish.
With the One-77 finally finished production, the Vanquish will now take over as Aston Martin’s halo vehicle. The new Vanquish is unique in any road car in that its body is entirely made from carbon fibre. Aston Martin has developed a patented paint technology to be able to paint carbon fibre so that it looks like metal, and to manufacture large single pieces in a variety of sculptural shapes. This innovative technology has enabled Aston Martin to create a truly beautiful, graceful looking car that has the power and lightness to make it one of the fastest, most agile road sports cars in the world.
The vehicle is not only beautiful, but it is tactile. It looks good, but it also feels amazing to the touch. As we walk around it, Marek explains his reasoning for each curve, the placement of each line. To be told this from the designer himself in front of a piece of automotive history is honestly a privileged experience.
Sadly, we couldn’t linger as we still had more to see. For those of you who want to know what’s next, I’ll just say this: One-77.
Aston Martin and Jaeger-LeCoultre: A match made in heaven? Part III
On Tuesday, Dublo told us how he got to play with the gorgeous range of AMVOX watches by Jaeger-LeCoultre at Aston Martin’s Gaydon HQ. Today, he describes his tour of their factory and a rather special unveiling…
Ben is our resident screenwriter, that’s right, a real-life movie screenwriter. If we hadn’t captured him, drugged him and locked him in the basement here at Prodigal Towers, right now he’d be living the Hollywood dream that should rightfully be his, ensconced in a John Lautner house in Malibu. But don’t feel sorry for him. More fool him for drinking that spiked Martini in the first place.
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