Aston Martin DB9
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Story and photos by Tony Whitney

Legendary British automaker, Aston Martin, doesn’t launch new models very often. Even with the might of Ford behind the nameplate, gestation time is lengthy with cars that are virtually hand built from nose to tail.

I drove the new DB9 for the first time in southern California recently and have much to report, but first, a little history regarding a company that’s been around a lot longer than most of its rivals.

Was there once a Mr. Aston and a Mr. Martin toiling away building sports cars in the early days of motoring? Not entirely. The hallowed 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 in England 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 victory at LeMans and the World Sports Car Championship in 1959.

Aston Martin DB9
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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. There’s an interesting parallel here with supercar rival Lamborghini, which was originally spun off from a tractor outfit of the same name. 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 DB9
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The DB9 is a truly wonderful-looking car from any perspective. Basically a 2+2 coupe in the form I drove it (there’s also a Volante convertible), it manages to look sleek and muscular at the same time. It looks, perhaps, like a Jaguar XK that’s read too many Joe Wieder weightlifting manuals. But if any automobile ever looked like a piece of sculpture, this has to be it!

Looks are one thing, of course, but engineering is the key when it comes to serious sports cars and the DB9 doesn’t disappoint. It’s built almost entirely of aluminum, but when I suggested to an AM executive that they’d been looking over the shoulders of their friends over at Jaguar with their XJ sedan, I was told that the DB9 uses different technology and was developed separately. The body structure uses a combination of aluminum pressings, extrusions and diecastings to create a very strong and rigid shell. Many of the body components are bonded together, aerospace style. The nearest model I’ve researched that uses this kind of fabrication technology is the Audi A8 with its Audi Space Frame (ASF) system. By way of comparison, aluminum-bodied cars like the Honda NSX are built more or less like steel vehicles with welded-together stampings.

The DB9 also uses a wide variety of composites for structural applications around the vehicle. For example, the driveshaft is made from carbon fibre and this contributes towards a very light, yet rugged, vehicle. According to Aston Martin, the DB9 is 25 per cent lighter than the DB7 it replaces. AM also claims that the DB9 has one of the most structurally efficient body frames in the industry.

The DB9 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. As enthusiasts will know, Aston Martin’s ancestral home is Newport Pagnell, but the serious action these days seems to be at Gaydon.

Aston Martin DB9

Aston Martin DB9
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Of course, a landmark body deserves something special under the hood and the DB9 delivers the goods. The 6.0-litre V-12 produces a silky 450 horsepower and 420 ft-lbs of torque – enough to propel this fairly large sports car from zero to 100 km/h in less than five seconds. Top speed is over 300 km/h and I can believe that even at that velocity, the car feels safe and stable – as did a Porsche Turbo I once hit 305 km/h in. Serious sports cars always feel just as safe and stable at race speeds as they do on the freeway burbling along at 110 km/h. With its healthy torque figure, the DB9 can get under way very quickly indeed and the transformation to high speeds from back lane dawdles is both swift and free of fuss. The car inspires great confidence and seems to want to just get up and go, rather than cruise gently along and I’m sure a race car driver could get astonishing performance out of a DB9.

Buyers can choose from two transmissions – a 6-speed Graziano and a 6-speed ZF automatic which has with dashboard buttons to select Park, Reverse, Drive or Neutral plus steering wheel-mounted paddles for manual changes. My test car came with the ZF and it functioned better than most I’ve tried lately (especially BMW’s SMG on the M5). You can use the transmission in full automatic mode and forget about it, but this can be overridden at any time by using the paddle shifters. I found these easy-to-grab shifters very straightforward to become familiar with and used them a lot on the winding roads to the east of San Diego. I’m not familiar with the Graziano system (the only Graziano I’ve ever heard of was boxer Rocky), but it’s probably fine for people who just have to drive with a manual transmission.

Aston Martin DB9
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The interior of the DB9 is a total delight with superb leathers almost everywhere, a perfect driving position and a general feeling of being part of the car. My tester came with, of all things, bamboo trim and the light-coloured wood (if bamboo is wood) looked really slick. There are some environmental benefits that are being touted for the use of bamboo – it certainly grows fast enough and will pierce a thick layer of blacktop in days if you don’t control it in your garden. I’ve been battling bamboo on my property for years and if the folks at Aston Martin ever run out of the stuff, they only have to ask.

Aston Martin design director Henrik Fisker says: “We wanted the DB9 to look like it was milled out of a solid piece of aluminum. The way the car sits on the road is crucial – a sleek, long look is what we wanted.” Few will argue that these targets weren’t met. And the car certainly feels as though it was machined from a solid block. Best of all, the DB9 follows a long tradition of Aston Martin to build cars that are true sports cars and not just attractive boulevard cruisers. It’s certainly true that there are few places around the world to exploit the performance of a car like this, but it’s good to know such automobiles exist should we ever be fortunate enough to buy one.

Aston Martin DB9
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Aston Martin DB9s are built by hand, one at a time, even though the vehicle features very advanced performance and safety technology (the brakes are awesome, for example). Each one is “signed off” by a key employee at the manufacturing plant and a plaque noting this inspection process is the first thing you see when opening the hood. Also, owners get a “made for” plate on the door sills – a nice touch after spending all that money and something that will impress the heck out of your pals at the golf club with their “mass produced” S500 Mercs and 745i BMWs.

The car is priced at under $220,000, which in supercar terms, is far from excessive. A Ferrari 575M Maranello V-12 will set you back some $330,000 and a Lamborghini V-12 Murcielago, about $400,000. You can actually pay more for a Mercedes-Benz SL with the top V-12.

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