The ultimate Aston Martin Experience
A short trip up the M40 from my hometown of Swindon, gets you (me) to Gaydon in Shakespeare county, Warwickshire. Gaydon is a sleepy enough little town, brick and tile homes and a couple of convenience stores but it is also home to the British Motor Museum and a couple of very impressive car marques. I was there to visit the quintessentially British sports car company Aston Martin and yes I was a little excited.
Closed off to outside world by a thick steel gate and security guardhouse, the near 50,000 square metre HQ and production facility (once inside) is a true sight to behold, but I’ll get to that in a moment. The lead up to the facility is a short tree-lined road that ends with a chrome, mirror-finished vantage displayed high up on pedestal bank. This is quickly followed by the HQ’s car park, which to most of us, is a car spotters dream. DBs of various models and numbers, and Vantages in a variety of colours, what I assume to be ‘company cars’ (but they could just be visitors) all neatly lined up and dressed to impress. Needless to say, I parked my rental a fair distance away and walked up to the HQ by foot.
The Aston Martin HQ’s office and reception building is a stunning moat fronted, two-level ‘castle’ that wouldn’t look out of place on a TV property show, and why should it, after all, it is Aston’s ‘home’. Lightly beige coloured and textured natural stone, with dark glass embrasures, make up the structures curved fascia with the moat adding to the visage (and apparently doubling as a car park too) as a DB11 and Vantage were ‘floating’ on top of the water.
The visual delights obviously continued on the inside, with the automatic doors opening up to reveal an elegantly simple and yet very ‘wow’ generating, customer atrium. With a handful of finely crafted road and race Aston’s strategically placed in the foyer to salivate over, branded items to be purchased plus a baby-sized model of a very well known DB5 encased in glass, I took a long moment to savour the surroundings.
Still dribbling, I walked over to the concierge station to register my arrival, where a receptionist with a beaming smile uttered the immortal line, ‘ahh Mr McLeod, we’ve been expecting you’, that my friends, was pure music to my ears.
A member of the Aston Martin publicity team came out greet me and I was almost immediately introduced to my ‘tour guide’ I guess I looked keen as English mustard to see inside. Of course the production area was to be a no camera zone, however, the corridor leading up to it, thankfully was not. Much of Aston Martin’s 105-year history was there, told via a lane of outstanding automobiles and graphics. From a 1923 boat tail to Lord Brett Sinclair’s Bahama yellow DBS, and including a DB7 Zagato Volante and finally the DB10 as seen in the movies. With far too many pictures taken, it was time to get to the business end and tour the arts and crafts area (what some may call the production area).
Crafting an Aston Martin, regardless of the model, takes time, around 200 man-hours each to be more precise. But I’m not so sure as I saw a clock anywhere inside (oh wait, maybe in some of the hand-built dashboards). The cars are gracefully moved through a series of stations, each one adding their own specially designed element to the overall creation. Despite being a vehicle manufacturing facility, the entire workspace is clear and uncluttered, plenty of clean shiny polished concrete floor slab floors, silver-clad walls and a gently barrel-vaulted roof. ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ as my grandfather would say.
Our first stop was the Leather and Trim Station, where the Astonites went about turning the deeply dyed (and often personalised) leather, into vehicle interiors. I watched as brogue roof linings, hand-stitched seating and Aston embossed and embroidered headrests, were all created before my very eyes – and all within the deep leather scent that hung warmly in the air.
If I’m honest, the rest of the ‘tour’ was a bit of a blur, as everywhere I looked there were their fine British sports cars in various states of completion. Much of my time was spent trying to pinpoint the exact model and version, how much fun is that!
We did, however, visit the paint shop. It takes in the region of 50 hours to achieve the depth and lustre of the exterior paintwork on an Aston Martin. Man and machine work in harmony applying the exact amount of colour in the most ideal way, before it’s lacquered, polished and re-buffed to ensure the perfect finish is attained.
Also the CMM (Co-ordinate Measuring Machine) Shop – where the chassis are checked to ensure the finest of tolerances are achieved – Something that is very reassuring since these vehicles are FAST. And of course, the final assembly and rectification areas, where the Astonite craftsman work their magic before their creation are thoroughly and rigorously inspected.
There were a couple of closed-door projects on the go that alas, I was unable to convince my tour guide to allow me to visit (could have been a good time for me to use my tranquiliser dart pen), but as it turned out, Aston’s press guy (and my new found friend) had another couple of treats in store for me.
First, I was handed the keys to a jet black Vanquish S Volante with ivory white interior. What Aston Martin deem to be their ultimate Super GT, this beautiful brute of a car possess a 6-litre V12 engine that produces 444kW and 630Nm of torque. It boasts a top speed of 0ver 200mph and a 0-60 time of 3.5 seconds, and it was all mine for several hours. I toured the quaint Gaydon countryside in V12 open top glory, letting the hoarse engine roar as many times as I could and let the wind blow wildly through what’s left of my hair – it was an outstanding experience.
Reluctantly returning to the HQ, there was one last surprise awaiting me. With VERY strict orders to keep this hush-hush (at the time), I got to see, feel, and sit in, the all-new Vantage V8. All the details are out there now, but to be one of the first people in the world to see this DB10 looking, fierce new breed of Vantage was quite an honour.
Watching things being made is always holds a large amount of fascination to me, but the Aston Martin facility is something else. Beautifully formed elements being brought together by genuine craftsman is mesmerising. Add to this, the chance to drive a Vanquish S Volante, preview a brand spanking new vehicle model and to top it off, ‘be expected’ takes bucket list levels to all new heights. Thanks heaps for your hospitality Aston Martin, is it wrong to ‘expect’ alright hope for another invite? How about we reconvene in St Athan, Wales?
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