One handsome beast

Feature Aston Martin's sleek and powerful new supercar can make you feel giddy as a schoolchild.

The One-77 is let out for the day and the complex shape has much more impact in natural light conditions. It's brutal, beautiful and purposeful at the same time and hints at Aston's future design language direction.
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There's a huge upstairs window in the gable end of Aston Martin's test centre at the Nürburgring in Germany that looks out onto the main road where thousands of motorists pass every day. As you drive past, the company's latest model is normally on display in what could be the ultimate shop window but yesterday my neck was strained more than usual, for behind the glass was the One-77. The only One-77 and boy, did it look awesome.

Later on I got talking with some of Aston's people and managed to persuade them to get it out from behind its glass wall, to take me through it, allow it to be photographed outdoors, allow it to be started up and - in a world first for any journalist - let it be seen on the move. I felt like a schoolboy again, a little bit giddy. Having seen various photographs of the One-77 drip-fed over the few months since it was partly unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show, I have to confess I was unmoved by it. Various people within the industry who had seen it in the metal, however, tried to convince me that it was an incredible piece of work and, seeing it for that fleeting second or two as I drove past, my opinion was starting to be swayed.

It's the following morning and I'm up early, eager to get from my hotel to the test centre. I'm ostensibly there to pick up the keys to "my" V12 Vantage, which I'm driving back to the UK, but my mind is, understandably, elsewhere. As Aston's affable PR man, Kim Palmer, takes me and the other journalists through the finer points of the new Vantage there erupts an almighty explosion upstairs. Someone has fired up the One-77 and, as it starts to descend on its hydraulic platform in front of us, all ears and eyes are on one thing only.

Palmer gives up - he's been upstaged by a car. The platform comes to a rest in front of us and everyone is entranced. If ever a car had enormous physical presence, it's this one. It rumbles away to wait for me outside and Palmer is centre-stage once again. Soon enough I'm joining Stuart Digger, who is lead technician on the project (which means he's in charge of the team that actually built the thing) and he proceeds to take me through the car's engineering highlights. "It's a pity you couldn't get to see the car without its bodywork," he starts, "because while it's stunning to look at now, it was equally impressive without its body."

So it's not simply a case of dressing up a DB9 and charging customers 1000 per cent more then? "No, because while there are a number of traditional Aston styling cues present here, the only thing this car shares with any other is its DBS-derived electrical architecture and wishbones. The rest is unique." Aston Martin's current range of cars, from the diminutive V8 Vantage right through to the DBS and upcoming Rapide, is built on a single, aluminium-bonded platform called VH. The One-77 is different, built around a carbon-fibre monocoque, or 'tub', more commonly found in race-car technology and only in the most exclusive production cars. For this, Aston turned to world leaders in carbon composite technology, Multimatic (MTC) in Canada.

"This allowed us to really push the boundaries of front-engine layout design," explains Digger. "It means we've been able to mount the engine lower and further back than anyone thought possible." He's right, too, as almost half the engine sits behind the base of the windscreen. And what an engine it is, as he goes on to explain. "We gave the standard six-litre V12 to Cosworth and told them to do their worst and this is the result."

Cosworth has been at the forefront of high-performance engine design for decades and has a well-proven track record in almost any field of motorsport you care to mention. "This is as far as the V12 will go," Digger continues. "We gave Cosworth targets of no less than 700bhp and a 10 per cent reduction in engine mass. Between us we managed a reduction of 25 per cent and, although we've yet to test it properly, the data shows it to be pushing out more than 700bhp, which will give a top speed in excess of 200mph."

Mere performance figures are not what the One-77 is about, though. It is, according to the company, "the ultimate expression of what an Aston Martin can be". In other words it takes the traditions of beauty, power and technical sophistication that we've become accustomed to and pushes them to the absolute limits. The engine's position has dictated a striking, swooping cabin design that incorporates exposed carbon fibre and basketweave leather upholstery inspired by some of the world's most cutting-edge furniture designers. The weave of the upholstery provides Alcantara-like grip and the seats of each car will be moulded to fit the customer.

"Every line on the One-77 has a consequence," Aston's director of design, Marek Reichman, later tells me. "The engineering team had its work cut out in adapting to the physical shape of the car's design and what they achieved is incredible. "The proportions employed here have to be seen to be believed. It's 100mm lower than a DBS, it's shorter than a DBS yet it's wider and has a longer wheelbase." -

There is, he says, a mystique about the car. "People who see it can't quite believe it. They don't understand how we've achieved such an outlandish design yet retained the core design philosophy. And we could only get these results by going back to the traditional craftsmanship that Aston Martin was known for years ago: hand-beating panels from aluminium." The One-77 is truly breathtaking and complex to look at. It looks as if it wants to tear your head off yet has an ethereal beauty lacking in other cars that appear so purposeful. The huge grille is reminiscent of Zagato's DB7 and Marek says it was vitally important to feature a single, full-height grille, not only because it's a part of Aston's heritage but because as much cooling air as possible needed to be forced into the radiators concealed in the car's nose.

For a one-off prototype, the quality of construction evident here is astonishing. Apart from the occasional minute shutline and trim flaw it looks ready for the showroom. When its magnificent engine is fired up, though, my eyes stop drinking in its intoxicating shape and my ears take over. It sounds even more brutal than it looks. In fact it sounds like a Nascar racer and I half expect flames to shoot out of its four exhaust pipes. I am in bewildered awe, it's official.

For the beyond-fortunate 77 owners and collectors who take delivery of these cars, life will not get much better; for this is a piece of sculpture, a work of art that happens to be a supercar. "There are just 25 exceedingly busy people working in the design department," says Reichman, "and we are all extremely proud of the cars that emerge from our factory. Getting to see and experience them on the road is the greatest thrill for me and the One-77 takes that feeling a step further."

Marek Reichman will probably never own one of these £1million cars but just knowing they're out there, being used and appreciated for what they are must come a close second. Deposits are already in for half the total build so get in quickly while there's still time. Bugatti who??