LIFE IN THE ROAR
It takes a certain amount of confidence to declare something to be ‘the world’s most beautiful’ anything — especially when referring to a four-door sports car that costs around £150,000. But that is how Aston Martin describes its new Rapide S, which is its Grand Tourer (let’s stick to the English language since we are talking about the most famous of British sportscar manufacturers).
Still, after a century of making iconic cars, Aston Martin can be forgiven a little braggadocio. The release of the new Rapide S — replacing the 2010 model — is very much part of its official centenary celebrations.
What I didn’t realise until I first stopped to fill the car up with petrol at an M40 service station was that the noise of the V12 engine alone has already developed a cult following from supercar petrolheads.
As I jumped into the car after paying for the petrol, I was approached by two large men who had been waiting for me inside a van.
I had noticed the men — muscular, with shaven heads and tattoos — looking at me rather suspiciously when I was filling up. So, to find them waiting for me beside my gleaming car — with personal plate — was cause for some anxiety.
As I gunned the ignition and fired up the engine, one of the men tapped on the window. I couldn’t just drive away as the other man was now standing in front of the bonnet. I nervously lowered the window by about six inches and looked up towards the man by my window.
‘Do us a favour, mate,’ he said. ‘Will you rev the engine for us? You’re driving the same car Clarkson drove on Top Gear. Same plate, mate. Just love the noise of that engine. Go on, please give it a good rev for us!’ I obliged with a very chavvy example of engine revving before roaring off back towards the M40, relieved not to have been Aston-jacked in the forecourt.
Made in chelsea
It was fitting that after my Aston Martin Rapide S was dropped off at my flat off the King’s Road in Chelsea, the first place I headed was the very garage on Callow Street where the company took its first steps back in 1913.
There is no Aston dealership in Callow Street today — only a commemorative plaque indicating where the original premises of Bamford & Martin Ltd were — but it was nice to raise a toast (more revving of the throaty V12 engine) outside the garage where Lionel Martin had first created what he called an Aston Martin by fitting a four-cylinder Coventry-Simplex engine to the chassis of an Italian-made 1908 Isotta-Fraschini.
I was driving the standard edition Rapide S. But any banker wondering what to do with an upcoming bonus can special-order a centenary edition of the Rapide S — although by January it may already be too late as only 100 are being built, along with 100 centenary edition examples of the V8 Vantage, the DB9 and the Vanquish.
Each centenary edition Aston Martin will be identified by being fitted with a special hide of ultra-soft black leather — previously used only inside Aston’s One-77 hypercar — with contrasting silver stitching, special silver thread embroidery of the Aston Martin wings on the head restraints and solid silver sill plaques hallmarked with a unique number.
The paint finish will also be unique. Normally, the paintwork on a new Aston Martin takes over 50 hours to complete — excluding buffing and polishing. But the centenary cars will take an additional eighteen hours, thanks to special ‘tinters’ that are being added to create a ‘darker inner colour’.
Such attention to detail is what has always made the Aston Martin marque stand out. Bamford & Martin designed their first car in March 1915. Production, however, did not start because of the First World War, and all their machinery was sold to an aviation firm as part of the war effort.
The story of Aston Martin has often been a troubled financial journey. Now mostly owned by Ford, the marque is very much back on form, with the launch of the Rapide in 2010 helping to steer the firm back towards profit. But the original Rapide had its detractors, especially in regards to the cramped cockpit, which has been improved.
Room for manoeuvres
The Rapide is Aston’s spiritual successor to the Lagonda, which was first produced in 1974. The controversial Lagonda was the first Aston saloon car to be built with four doors and — as a direct challenge to Ferrari’s 365 GT4 gran turismo ‘two plus two’ — was largely responsible for turning around the company’s declining fortunes.
The first thing I noticed about getting into the Rapide S is that the car is longer, sleeker and roomier than you normally expect with an Aston. I also like the way the perforated duotone interior (upholstered in finest Bridge of Weir ‘Piano Black’ leather) is called the cabin, rather than the cockpit. A cabin definitely suggests a luxurious journey ahead, as opposed to the more cramped fighter-pilot interior feel of a car like the Porsche 911 GT3.
The new Rapide boasts more ‘power and luxury’ than the original Rapide, thanks to its Gen 4 AM11 engine. But the Aston’s power only really kicks in when you approach the red revs. While driving from Callow Street towards the M40, the Aston glided smoothly and quietly through the streets. The 620Nm of torque delivers the very heady power of 558PS — an increase of more than 17 per cent over the previous Rapide.
This is one of the very best Astons ever built. It is a true touring car with much improved space inside and unexpectedly economical fuel consumption: I drove from Shropshire to London (160 miles) using just half a tank. The superb Bang & Olufsen stereo is loud enough to be used in the Ministry of Sound. I liked the abundance of cup holders. I loved the Aston umbrella in the boot, and the fact that it is not just a car than claims to fit four adults inside — it is a car that actually has room to fit four adults.
One of the quirkiest features of the Rapide S is that the engine noise has been recorded so that you can actually listen to the throaty roar on the Aston Martin website before the car is even delivered to your front door. And if you get withdrawal symptoms, you can turn the V12 engine whine into your mobile ringtone — as, I suspect, those viewers of Top Gear I met on the forecourt have probably done.