Motor mouth: bonded to the myth

Motor mouth: bonded to the myth - Arnold Toynbee once said that myth is a very strange thing: it feeds off itself and the more it eats, the bigger it gets. One of the biggest myths is the desirability of fast, beautiful cars. The DB7 Vantage is fast and b

by STEPHEN BAYLEY
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Arnold Toynbee once said that myth is a very strange thing: it feeds off itself and the more it eats, the bigger it gets. One of the biggest myths is the desirability of fast, beautiful cars. The DB7 Vantage is fast and beautiful, but why exactly would you want to own one?

Maybe you have James Bond fantasies. The name is Martin, Aston Martin.

In fact, Ian Fleming's original drove a Blower Bentley, but the Cubby Broccoli interpretation put Sean Connery in an Aston Martin DB5 and a conceptual loop was closed forever. Never mind that this most English of cars was driven by a Scots actor and that its elegant body was designed by one Gaetano Ponzi working for an Italian carrozzeria (admittedly with the anglophile and anglophone name of Touring).

Never mind any of that: suaviter in modo might be Aston Martin's mission statement. Even though today's James Bond is in a BMW and wears Brioni suits, the fit between man and machine is now permanent.

Policemen will charmingly always accuse speeding drivers of being Stirling Moss, not Johnny Herbert. And in conformity with this rule, Aston is Bond.

For ever. English Heritage, yah.

In fact, you could argue for some wacky onomastics to enforce notions of ethnic idiosyncrasy. The name comes from combining the Aston Clinton hill climb and Lionel Martin, who went bankrupt in 1925. We get the DB bit from David Brown, an industrialist specialising in hardened steel gears and tractors, who once owned the company. To this we should now probably add the spy and, while we're at it, why not include the name of the original designer as well as the more recent one who gave us the lascivious body, Ian Callum? The sound of an Aston Martin David Brown Gaetano Ponzi James Bond Ian Callum would be just as impressive as the sight.

When the original DB7 appeared I thought it was, while obviously modern and very easy on the eye, a sort of autumnal car. More tweeds and pipe and Wiltshire than biting-and-screaming sex and black tights and champagne and Prada - I mean, Prince Charles is, after James Bond, the best-known Aston enthusiast. And I was wrong.

The DB7 has been very successful and taken Aston Martin into places it has never been before. I won't say hairdressers, but a DB7-owning woman sitting next to me at a charity dinner at Claridge's did.

Hence the Vantage. Instead of a rather unexciting straight six, the Vantage uses an extraordinary V-12 whose whisper-it inheritance comes from two Mondeo engines joined as one. To articulate the dramatic power source, the DB7's body has gone slightly steroidal and there are more tumid bulges and suggestive orifices than hitherto. The car looks more aggressive and has more presence, but its essential elegance remains.

Beautiful? Most people would say absolutely, yes.

Alas, a similar majority would also say that the ergonomics are atrocious.

Sure, you don't expect a car of this nature to be as accessible as a one-man bus, but I would have been very pleased not to have sustained a permanent scar on my right knuckles arising from contusions caused by my hand snagging the door pocket every time it reached for the fly-off handbrake so cutely squeezed down the right side of the driver's seat.

You start the engine with a period-detail red button and it squelches into life with a vivid thwoar. If you are receptive to these things, it is a pleasure of almost erotic intensity. And that's before you even move.

Moving is not so easy: the clutch is like a gym's stair machine set on the max and the six-speed gearbox is a reminder that agricultural equipment lurks in the Vantage's gene pool. Clunk-clunk every trip.

Not the sinister crisp accuracy of James Bond's Walther PPK; it's rather more like manoeuvring a field gun around a parade ground but, once you have built up some momentum, the paradigms shift as quickly as the landscape blurs and the traffic recedes to infinity. The 12-cylinder Vantage is so quick that the cliches threaten.

I wouldn't call it a wieldy car, not even a sporty one. It's a different sort of proposition, which offers beauty, speed and presence in solemn excess. If you are tired of these, you are tired of life. The Vantage is a hit and a myth.

Stephen Bayley is an author and design consultant.

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