Aston Martin DB9 Volante
Photo: G. Yoxon. Click image to enlarge

by Tony Whitney

Several major international automakers have a super-luxury nameplate among their stable of subsidiaries and this process has helped many of these prestigious brands stay alive. Even legendary Ferrari is owned by the big Italian Fiat group and perhaps even that sports car builder wouldn’t have survived on its own.

The news recently that fabled British luxury sports car builder Aston Martin had reported the first profitable year in its long history was very significant for observers of the world auto industry, even if very few of us will ever buy one of these cars.

Aston was acquired some time back by Ford Motor Company and just about everyone agrees that if the Blue Oval had not taken this step, the company would in all likelihood be history by now. I was surprised to learn that Aston Martin had never posted a profit, though there’s no denying that for a large part of its history, the company has been operated by wealthy “hobbyists” rather than by people bent on establishing a viable car manufacturing business. It may seem a surprise to many that a company offering such opulent cars – some of which cost several hundred thousand dollars – could face financial problems in the first place, but any industry executive will tell you that you can lose money much faster building luxury cars than you will turning out something more basic.

Even today, with Ford’s vast research and developments facilities at its disposal, Aston Martin still builds sports cars more or less by hand, one at a time. The difference between current Aston Martins and those of years gone by is that they include all the technology that any contemporary vehicle can pack in, even though the hands-on touch still remains – and accounts to some extent for the hefty prices.

The ‘Aston Martin’ name came from the marque’s founder Lionel Martin, who attached the prefix ‘Aston’ in honour of the then-famous Aston Clinton hill climb course on which he raced before and after the First World War.

The automaker was founded in 1913 as Bamford and Martin and was always involved with sports and racing cars of one kind or another. Many great successes were recorded by the firm over the years, including victories at LeMans and the World Sports Car Championship in 1959.

Wealthy tractor manufacturer David Brown bought the company in 1947 and the DB of his initials lives on today, even though his involvement ended many years ago and he has long passed on.

After some lean years Ford Motor Company took over Aston Martin in 1987 and today its future seems assured. With a solid management structure and the resources of Ford at its disposal, Aston Martin has never been stronger and its current range combines the best of old-world craftsmanship with state-of-the-art technology

Aston Martin has been celebrating the premiere of its new DB9 coupe and convertible models by staging a “Driven to the 9s Tour” across North America. I attended the Vancouver event, presented at the posh Sugar & Sugar special events facility in Gastown and backed by local distributor MCL Motor Cars. It’s all part of an effort to raise the profile of Aston Martin in North America and if the bottom line is any indication right now, the policy seems to be working very
well indeed.

Aston Martin DB9 Volante
Photo: G. Yoxon. Click image to enlarge

The all-aluminum DB9 (Yes – the initials of aforementioned David Brown live on even with the latest model) is powered by a 6.0-litre V-12 engine developing a supercar-appropriate 450 horsepower. The new car is being built at Aston Martin’s new worldwide headquarters facility at Gaydon in the UK midlands. This is Aston’s first model from the new plant, but others will surely follow.

Of course, many observers will be pondering whether the world needs another megabuck sports car in these times of high fuel costs and increasing speed restrictions on highways, not to mention financial hardship for so many. The fact is that the auto industry will supply vehicles wherever there’s a market for them and according to many analysts, the demand for high-performance supercars is actually strengthening. For a large vehicle manufacturing corporation such as Ford, products like the DB9 prompt engineers and designers to develop new materials and technology which may well filter down eventually to more mundane automobiles. There’s nothing like a high-end supercar to hone the skills of technologists and encourage development of advanced engineering techniques. Your next Taurus or Focus may not look much like an Aston Martin, but it has the same “DNA” and might well benefit from some of the lessons learned developing the DB9.

According to Aston Martin, the new car is aimed squarely at people who already own exotic sports cars built by rival manufacturers such as Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Maserati and Porsche. The company believes it has “raised the bar” with the new car and hopes that if it can persuade owners of competitive products to try a comparison test, they’ll win a few of them over. The DBB9 is a stunning-looking car, quite apart from its technological prowess and thrilling performance. And it’s worth remembering that although these cars end up only in the hands of the fortunate few, it takes a lot of people to build and market them – and that applies to any high-end automobile.

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