Aston's usefulness to Ford will almost certainly come from being able to use AML's highly skilled engineering department as a technological test bed. At the same time, Ford is not famous for spending money unnecessarily, and AML will also be expected to produce something of more immediate value to the corporate bottom line.
This it intends to do in two ways. First, while Ford has been careful to avoid trumpeting its Aston connection - "There's been no bastardisation," says Gauntlett. "No 'Can we have a discreet Ford badge?'. It would be better to close Aston than to ruin it." - it may be less loath to advertise Aston's kinship with the other of Ford's British buy-ups, Jaguar. Already Aston Martin's most successful dealerships in the United States - another major market - are also Jaguar dealers, and a joint marketing venture is certainly plausible. "It gives Aston somewhere to go in the family," notes Gauntlett.
Second, and more tangibly, AML will also launch a new and - in comparison with its existing product range - popular car, now known as the DP 1999, set for production in 1995 and priced, in today's terms, at £85,000. With an intended output of 700 a year, the DP 1999 will treble AML's production at a stroke, requiring a new, Ford-funded plant near the Newport Pagnell site. Since the car will be "still intrinsically an Aston, but not completely coach built", it will also have to acquire, relatively speaking, mass production skills. Here again Jaguar may have its role to play, although any suggestion of a production merger is dismissed by Gauntlett.
Even so, the DP 1999 will undoubtedly bring problems of its own, the most obvious being one of image dilution. Although Gauntlett is insistent that "£85,000 is still pretty upmarket, and 2,000 cars is half Rolls-Bentley's batting average", the car affectionately referred to at Newport Pagnell as "The Cheapo" has unhappy antecedents. One of its own ancestors, the pre-war, downmarket Lagonda Rapier, almost destroyed its parent company. Recently Porsche's 928 series - "more properly an Audi coupe", says AML's marketing director, Michael Haysey - "got things nastily wrong". Haysey emphasises that the DP 1999 will have to be "pitched very carefully indeed, and that includes pricing" - something of a departure for post-war Astons. "When I joined the company from BMW I was heard to remark that my job would be a doddle," says Haysey, ruefully. Now the BMW 8-series will be among competitors in a newly bare-knuckled marketplace.
How the ensuing scrap will affect the DP 1999's grander cousins, the Virage and Vantage, must be a matter of concern at Newport Pagnell. The Ford deal was accepted by most Aston owners "with a surprising degree of sympathy", says Gauntlett, "largely, I suppose, because a majority of them are independent businessmen themselves, and understood the necessity." How far their goodwill can be stretched is a moot point. Broadening the product range (the company is also aiming at the "company chairman" market, pitching a re-created Lagonda at Rolls-Bentley's traditional slot) will undoubtedly ensure that Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd circa 2010 is a more secure financial proposition than it was in 1980. Whether the Princess of Wales will still sit on its cars is another question.
(Charles Darwent is a freelance writer.)