If you were to judge Aston Martin's success just by watching a few James Bond movies, you might think the British automakers have it made. After all, their cars are slick, fast and expensive -- the company's motto is "power, beauty and soul." Like most sports car companies, Aston Martin's dedication to quality and performance has achieved a loyal fan base that reaches far beyond the United Kingdom.
With such dedication to the Aston Martin brand, most fans eagerly anticipate any news of an upcoming concept. The company is currently under private ownership, so expectations are high for potential new design features or engine specifics. After working out initial plans during the summer of 2005, the company introduced the Aston Martin Rapide concept car at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAO) in 2006. Although the car is scheduled for production in 2009, Internet bloggers are already frothing at the mouth over the Rapide.
What type of engine will the Rapide use? How many people will it seat? Will it finally come with all the cool gadgets James Bond gets to use? In this article, we'll take a look at the Aston Martin Rapide and talk about some of the changes in store for 2009.
Aston Martin History
Aston Martin's ride has been anything but smooth -- the brand has changed ownership multiple times during the automobile's long history, occasionally experiencing tough financial times. Founded in 1914 by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford, Aston Martin began its rocky history at the start of World War I. The full name of the company comes from Martin's last name and a stretch of road in Herfordshire, England, used for racing called the Aston Hillclimb. After World War I briefly halted production, Aston Martin continued to produce cars specifically for the racetrack, focusing on speed more than luxury. Competition cars proved to be a strain on finances, however, and Aston Martin changed hands several times until World War II.
In 1947, however, tractor manufacturer David Brown purchased the company. Models under Brown's ownership took on his initials -- DB -- and Aston Martin soon achieved worldwide recognition. The DB5, for instance, gained instant notoriety when it appeared in the 1964 James Bond film "Goldfinger." Fitted with high-tech gadgets and weaponry, the rockets and oil slick buttons were just a spy fan's daydream, but the car looked cool enough to catch the attention of moviegoers and achieve iconic status.
Brown's departure in the 1970s marked a return to difficult times, and the 1980s weren't smooth, either -- the unfortunately named Aston Martin Nimrod, a disappointing return to the racetrack, didn't help. The company was saved yet again in 1987, when Ford Motors bought up 75 percent of Aston Martin, later acquiring the remaining 25 percent in 1994. The latest installment in Aston Martin's history occurred in March 2007, when Ford sold it to a small group of Aston Martin devotees.
Fortunately for sports car enthusiasts, Aston Martin is still here -- the brand refuses to disappear, and it's for good reason. Although the company has experienced several financial setbacks over the course of its history, the spirit and design of each new model along with a loyal interest in their cars have kept Aston Martin up and running. Read the next page to see how the Rapide carries on the tradition.
Aston Martin Rapide Specifications
Although the Rapide's name clearly refers to the speed of the car, Aston Martin didn't just choose it to sound exotic and cool (even though it does). The name actually comes from a much older car, the Lagonda Rapide. Lagonda was another British auto company that shared a similar history with Aston Martin -- it started producing cars around the early 1900s, racing them to win medals and gain popularity. But World Wars I and II ended up holding back production, and the company began to experience the same kind of financial troubles as Aston Martin.
When David Brown purchased Aston Martin in 1947, he also decided to buy Lagonda along with it and merge the two under the Aston Martin name. From 1961 to 1964, a small number of Lagonda Rapides were produced. They were hulking, four-door luxury sedans that weighed more than 3,500 pounds, yet still performed at high speeds of about 130 mph, which meant they burned a lot of gasoline.
In order to compete with other longer, high-performance vehicles like the upcoming Mercedes CLS and Porsche Panamera, the new Rapide has taken inspiration from the unlikely Lagonda Rapide, stretching out Aston Martin's traditional two-door coupe into a "four-door, high performance" coupe. While the original Lagonda Rapide was heavy and, despite its luxurious qualities, slightly awkward, Aston Martin has applied its unique V/H (vertical/horizontal) architecture, a unique design platform that uses a glued and riveted aluminum tub, and light materials to make the new Rapide an entirely different car.
The body of the Rapide consists of a carbon fiber composite that gives its structure high strength and low mass, increasing both safety and efficiency. Most mountain bike frames are made from carbon fiber, so you might understand how light, yet strong, the material is if you've ever ridden one before.
The same 6-liter, V12 engine that powered the DB9 is under the Rapide's hood, so not much has changed in terms of performance. It's worth noting, however, that the engine had to be increased from 450 brake horsepower in the DB9 to 480 bhp to adjust to the longer wheelbase -- more power is necessary in order to keep the stretched-out Rapide running as a high-performance vehicle. The engine is also mated to a ZF Touchtronic gearbox, which allows the driver to shift between drive, park, neutral and reverse with the push of a button.
All of these specifications confirm the Rapide is nothing less than a high performance sports car, but Aston Martin made sure this model provides the best of both worlds. For more on the luxury and comfort features of the Rapide, read the next page.
A New Kind of Luxury Coupe
Although the Rapide is a high-performance coupe, that doesn't mean Aston Martin sacrificed any comfort on the inside. Coupes are traditionally sporty, two-door vehicles, but they still have four seats -- enough room for two seats up front and two in the back. That space is still pretty tight, however, since the length and overall proportions of the car affect its performance. The shorter the length, the less distance air has to travel over the top of the car, meaning the car will be able to perform faster and more efficiently.
Since the developers adjusted the horsepower of the Rapide's engine after stretching out the body, they could afford to add two more doors and keep the back seats spacious and comfortable. The eventual outcome is a coupe that can perform at high speeds over a variety of terrains and still make the journey seem like it takes place in a comfortable urban luxury vehicle.
The leather seats of the Rapide are made with a special kind of hide called shagreen, made from the skins of sharks or rays. The passengers don't have to just sit back in their smooth seats and enjoy the ride, either -- many controls available to the driver are also in front of the other seats. A satellite navigation system with hand-held Bluetooth technology is accessible to everyone in the Rapide, finally putting the age-old question of "Are we there yet?" to rest. The back of both front seat headrests come installed with DVD screens, along with personal audio and environmental system controls. Again, this should keep repetitive questions to a minimum.
The sunroof of the Rapide opens up the interior even more, as it's constructed from transparent polycarbonate material and stretches the length of all four seats. To top off all of this excess, the trunk -- or boot, as the British call it -- of the Rapide concept is installed with the perfect picnic set, a chiller cabinet built to hold a single bottle of champagne and four glasses.
It looks as though automakers are pulling in two separate directions -- while designs for tiny, space-efficient makes like the Smart Car and the IQ Car are gaining popularity in Europe, luxury car companies are seeing how big they can go. Aston Martin isn't the only brand toying with a longer concept, as the Rapide is in competition with bigger models like the Mercedes CLS and the Porsche Panamera. Even the designers of the new MINI Cooper have stretched out a traditionally small model -- its name appears to play on the word "coupe."
Whatever direction Aston Martin has taken recently, it seems to have brought the company out of yet another funk, and the Rapide may help them out even more. The company plans to produce between 1,000 and 2,000 Rapides annually and bring their overall annual production to about 7,000 -- much better numbers than Lagonda Rapide from the 1960s.
For more information on Aston Martin and other car-related articles, see the next page.
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More Great Links
- Aronson, Jeffery. "Aston Martin - history and future." Suite101.com. Mar. 21, 2007. http://businessprofiles.suite101.com/article.cfm/aston_martin_what_lies_ahead
- AstonMartin.com. "Aston Martin Rapide concept car - full press release." Detroit, 2006. http://www.astonmartin.com/thecompany/news?a=c94b333e-1bad-4a01-90bb-8422e59e6847
- Clemens, Kevin. "A short history of Aston Martin." EuropeanCar.com. http://www.europeancarweb.com/features/0211ec_aston_martin_history/index.html
- Racing Line. "Rapide wows the crowds at Detroit and Geneva." http://www.astonmartinracing.com/content/allsites/documents/Racing%20Line%201%20090306%20small_0af52014-f565-4ef0-a106-50230c195db9.pdf
- Yahoo! India News. "'Casino Royale' car-roll stunt sets Guinness world record." Nov. 8, 2006. http://in.news.yahoo.com/061108/139/6967r.html