Aston Martin's head of creative, Marek Reichman, talks us through his design philosophy
Aston Martin has broken out of its shackles since 2015, firing out a surprisingly diverse range of new cars, including the sporty Vantage, the fully electric Lagonda Vision and All-Terrain concept, and the muscular DBS Superleggera. That's not to mention the wildest F1-inspired hypercar design we've ever seen in the astonishing Valkyrie, or the stunning mid-engined AM-RB 003 supercar, which will take on the Vanquish name by the time it hits the road.
It's been quite a creative flurry, and Aston's diversification into several new markets has allowed the design department huge freedom to push outside the box into territory you'd never have expected from what was once a conservative and buttoned-down brand. The second the Valkyrie dropped, it became clear nothing was ever going to be the same, and it softened the blow for Aston to launch a beefed-up muscle car like the DBS, which looks for all the world like a Mustang that's been taught to read and write and use cutlery..
These are fun times indeed, as this storied brand loosens its collar and stretches its legs creatively. So we were fascinated to join Chief Creative Officer Marek Reichman at an event in Melbourne, Australia, and have him talk us through his thinking, particularly on the DBS Superleggera. What follows is an edited transcript.
How quickly this has happened for us as a business is incredible. We've gone from having what I'd call a showroom full of Russian dolls, as I'd describe it, to having a showroom full of unique propositions in each market space that we compete in.
To put it in context, DB11 was first. As you know, we always talk about beauty in our cars as part of our reason for being. It's why I get out of bed every day, because I love the challenge of trying to make something with beauty.
If you look at that car, it's what I'd define as the perfect proportion that your mind reads as beautiful. It's the most descriptive of those qualities that define beauty. It's the Saville Row suit, it's what's expected of an Aston Martin. It's more genteel rather than ultimate performance. It's more conservative in and constrained in its viewpoint.
Vantage, on the other hand, is a predator. It's a hunter. It has an unique character compared to DB11 visually and as a driver as well. Now you're seeing the quad exhaust system. It sounds much better, obviously, and it's there to enhance the rear end of the car in that respect. It's the hunter, it's the true sports car, it's the one that this weekend is in America racing in the endurance series in EWC.
And that's one of the things at the head of what we are. We make sports cars to go racing. Whether it's in the Valkyrie eventually, whether it's in EWC, or whether it's Aston Martin Red Bull Racing in Formula One.
That's the sports car of the range currently. Two seats only, doesn't have a typical Aston Martin face, doesn't have a side strake, doesn't have the upper cabin split up the way the DB11 has it. It's more elemental, it's more of a bull shark. You look at the nose, the face of that car, it's much more aggressive, it's much more direct and dynamic in its visual language than the DB11, which has its own dynamic character also.
So you go from "beautiful is a number" to "beauty can't be tamed." And then to the DBS – and remember, after this you've got an SUV and a mid-engined car, and the bloodline has to be there through all of them, but they don't have the same look and feel.
From my perspective, we talk about the DBS as being absolute. Absolute in its beauty, absolute in its performance characteristics. It does everything to the limit, pushes everything.
Nine hundred Nm of torque, 715 horsepower. As a designer, if somebody tells me that in the context of DB11 and Vantage, I already have a visual thought. I'm already thinking about how to represent that to the customer. Those numbers mean it's powerful. It has to look like something you just can't stop. So we have this language of power, because of the characteristics that sit beneath the body.
One of the ways you can get the characteristics of DB11 and DBS to be different is that this has a carbon fiber hood, it has about 80 percent carbon fiber panels on the exterior. You can shape them differently to an aluminum panel. When you're using aluminum, you're pressing and bending and forming it, and it has an elastic limit. Carbon is laid completely differently, so you've got more freedom to define the shapes. You're not constrained to certain radii – with aluminum, you have the potential to start to split or tear the material. Carbon has its constraints, but they're different.
Obviously it has to have a bigger face, because it has to breathe and it has to exit the air to get those 900 Nm of torque, and breathe to release those 715 horsepower.
The nostrils at the top are here because you have to exit that air, so there's a functional nature to the visual language of the car as well. At the grille, it still carries what I'd call our Aston Martin S-curvature. If you look at all of our cars – even the cars in Geneva that have no grille, like the Valkyrie or the 003 – the upper part of the hood, the front of the car, defines the nature of its Aston Martin language. None of them have the same grille, or the same language inside of that inflection point.
So the DBS is wider than a DB11, and it shows its muscularity. If you look at the form language at the front, it's a shorter front overhang. It's a wider rear haunch.
You have some unique features on the car. We're able to use the Aston Martin Aeroblade to great effect. Air comes in behind the rear windows here, it gets channeled through the car and exits out the back. You end up with a virtual air spoiler pushing lots of downforce.
The faster you go, the more air you're pushing through the system, and the bigger the blade. But there's no drag. It's basically like a big rear wing, but with no drag. Imagine a Formula One car, we're able to generate that much downforce without a rear wing. Obviously they don't have enough bodywork to pull enough air through to create the wing. But we get a very slippery form, low weight, and it works more efficiently at higher speeds without having to deploy anything.
The DB11 is a little more elegant, more constrained in that respect, but here in the DBS, I'm showing off a bit more. I'm telling you what I have, showing you the potential of the car. This was the product we've never really had in our portfolio.
How does that affect the front of the car, and how does that mean we can have a much shorter front overhang? Well, with the air wing, we don't need to have such a massive front splitter to achieve the downforce we need. There's more freedom for myself and my team to define the front corner of the car, and to give it a very nimble appearance at the front.
Air coming out of the side of the car – again you'll see these features, these vanes here that exit air from the wheel arch, they extract high pressure air which is creating lift – if you don't extract that air, the whole front fender and bonnet would work as a wing, and it'd start to lift the front of the car. And they extract it in a way again that reduces the front corner. We don't need this big front corner on the car.
So you're creating the body language to have its own aerodynamics. You're using the functionality and power, the nature of the car, to design the body language, with the materials and aerodynamics to create the form language you get.
The inside of the car … ultimately you can change your DBS Superleggera to suit your character and personality. There's the capability to do quilting, stitch lines, color choices … and then, of course, you can use Q by Aston Martin to really personalize the cars.
We do use unique leathers in our cars, but contrary to common belief they're not all male. They're some male, some female cows … bit of an internal joke there.
But why do you get that smell and sensation when you open the door? It's because we don't grain our leathers. If you look at 99 percent of other manufacturers' leathers, they put their own grain over the leather. They have to do that, because they use cows that don't live in fields that have barbed wire, and they also don't use hairy cows.
What's a hairy cow? It's the Scottish one with long hair. And why do we like the hairy cows? Because they don't get bitten by mosquitoes. So they don't have marks on the skin, and therefore you don't have to print a grain over them.
Bridge of Weir. It's quite unique. As a tannery, they're one of the most ecological tanneries in the world. They produce and provide all their own power and energy. It's a process that uses a lot of water, and they're up in the Scottish highlands, so they have incredibly refined water. We tan all the way through the hide because of that. If you take another luxury brand's leather and you cut it, you'll find the color is only on the outside, it doesn't go all the way through. If you cut ours, it's dyed all the way through. You're not putting more plastic over the top to protect it. You're not coloring it with plastic, it's a dye that goes all the way through.
So when you open the door and get in, you get a smell, because it's as close to a natural form of leather as you can possibly get. It's a small nuance, but it's the kind of thing that makes a car feel different. It's the sort of thing that makes people fall in love with a car.
And the unique thing we try to capture in all of our cars is the 3 percent that makes the difference. It's attention to detail to the point where a customer will tell you about something that you had no idea they'd realize. But they see it and they find it, they interact with the car in a different way, and it becomes part of the lifestyle.
Why the "Superleggera" branding on a British car? Well, if [CEO] Andrew [Palmer] were here, he'd tell you that if Ferrari can call their 812 the Superfast, we can use an Italian name on our car – which is 200 Nm greater than the 812, and far more usable. But we have a great relationship with these guys, because they used to build the DB5 bodies, that was a lightweight body. They built the DB4GT Zagato, they provided the aluminum for Zagato to form into the Zagatos. And this really is a lightweight body. It's all carbon fiber. So there's more credence to the name, I suppose.
Source: Aston Martin