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TG chats to Aston's design chief
A beat, and then, a smile. “They’re all very interesting,” Marek Reichman, Aston Martin design director, says quietly. “They’re very interesting and very valid for those companies, in terms of the way they’re looking at technology and how they project themselves.”
Another beat. A minor pause. Some hesitation. Then finally, something concrete. “But if you ask me about my favourite of them all? It would have to be the Ferrari.” The ‘all’ bit referring of course, to the Ferrari LaFerrari, McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder: three rather stupendous hypercars, and three very different iterations of each companies’ design philosophy.
You see, TG.com was in the process of being grilled by the midday heat at Kensington Park Gardens over the weekend, the scene of Aston Martin’s splendid 100th anniversary garden party, when we bumped into none other than Marek at the ice-cream stand. Considering his baby, the glorious One-77, was vacuuming up audience attention and threatening to push the little Cygnet parked beside it into a cosmic black hole, it was only right we had a little chat.
Talk naturally fell to the current hot potato of the holy triumvirate of hypercars that Jeremy recently threatened to end Top Gear telly on. “I like LaFerrari, I like what it’s done in terms of reducing the mass and size of the car,” he says, coolly.
He should know a thing or two about such aspects, having jumped on board the Aston train in 2005 - after a stint with Ford - and being responsible for… [deep breath] the Rapide, DBS, new Vanquish, new V12 Vantage, Rapide S, Vantage S, One-77 and the Zagato. Whisper it - he also did the Cygnet, but we’ll brush over that for now.
“It’s lower than anything they’ve ever done before,” he adds, “it’s a little bit narrower, and the technology of the chassis and the way its integrated into the front crash structure is, I think, very beautiful.” LaFerrari certainly is something to behold, but can we expect anything like this from Aston?
Again, another beat, another pause, and finally, a wry smile. “We never say no to anything,” he says to me, “but our focus is very much on, you know, our layout, which we believe is successful in terms of front mid-engined cars. It’s also very successful in our racing attempts, and we believe it gives 50:50 weight distribution and balance. It’s perfect for me in terms of getting perfect proportions for a GT car.”
Guess we’ll have to make do with the One-77 then, as the pinnacle of Aston’s achievements, and something very dear to Marek’s heart. Obviously. “One-77 was pretty special as a project. We knew how many we were going to do, we knew the price point (because of the technology involved) and the engine involved (a mighty 7.3-litre, 750bhp V12).
“It was then about coming up with a design language that could only be made by hand, because the whole idea was that it’s an interconnection between technology and art. So the whole body - although super-formed aluminium - is then hand beaten and hand finished, the chassis and engine - which uses F1 technology - are incredibly high tech.
“It’s a super mix, and it was about the most beautiful proportion we could come up with: getting the driver as low as possible. It’s a true front mid-engined car. When you look at One-77 with the bonnet open, you can only see six of the cylinders because the others are further back. I remember being around when we were receiving the first parts for the first prototype, and just unwrapping these beautiful carbon fibre bits and machined engine parts was like Christmas every day.”
This raises an interesting point, and one we alluded to in our earlier story about the Kensington Park Gardens party. Because there, we bumped into a chap who had been locked into the One-77 death-glare and couldn’t budge. He told me “every Aston Martin has a unique story to tell,” and with one particular One-77, the owner wanted to see that story Every Single Day.
“Every single surface, every single piece had to be an ‘A’ surface in design,” Mareks says, pointing to the fact you could legitimately showcase any given piece on the One-77 and pass it off as art. “In fact,” he smiles, “we had one customer who was interested in having the chassis in his bedroom. He didn’t want the body put on the chassis, he said it was too beautiful to cover up.”
This philosophy forms part of why Marek came to Aston Martin in the first place. “My mission statement when I began was to really move the brand on in terms of the modernity of design. It was to keep pushing them into being incredibly… if I could use the word ‘aggressive’, but I don’t want to say aggressive. Perhaps more powerful? More distinctive. To become a recognised competitor to all the brands we sit next to now.
“And then, it was to introduce some unusual products. Like One-77. Like the Zagato. And like the CC100.” Ah yes, the roofless, bonkers, DBR1 tribute built on a timeframe skinnier than a skinny latte drinker’s skinny jeans - less than six months. “We wanted to do it in a way that was very relevant to the way DBR1 was done, in that there was no compromise, it was raw, there was no ‘should we question’, ‘should we redo’. To imagine at the time how the DBR1 was done, it was all about ‘get it out for the next race’, ‘get it ready’, ‘get it prepared’, but it turned out to be a beautiful object. We wanted to approach it in very much the same way.”
The DBR1, incidentally, happens to be one of Marek’s top three motoring design icons, along with the W154 Mercedes Silver Arrows F1 racer from the late 1930s, and finally, the Lamborghini Miura. “That last spot changes all the time,” he laughs.
Our time is at an end, which is a shame, because Marek has much to offer on the world of design. “I must say, to be a designer in the modern era now you’ve got to look outside the field of your specialized subject, to get inspiration from everywhere. It comes from art, architecture, from theatre, from cinema, from light, from travel, the culture of different countries.
“I like my gadgets, I ride motorbikes, I’ve got old racing cars, I like my hi-fi, I like vinyl, I like my design furniture, I’m creating my own - well, I’ve already designed and built one house, I’m doing another one at the minute, so I think you’ve got to live and breathe it, it’s a full time thing.”
Wait a sec, he’s got old racing cars? He smiles. “Ah, I’ve got a Ducati 996, I’ve got a brand new Aston Martin Vanquish, I’ve also got a Formula 3 car from the ‘50s called an Emeryson, I’ve got a Formula Junior from the ‘60s called the T56 Cooper. And that’s it. I’m so lucky I get to choose whichever Aston Martin I want. Apart from the One-77 and Zagato, of course.” A hardship we must all bear, Mr Reichman.