You can now make a retro Ferrari 400 from a GTC4Lusso

Ares Design kicks off a raft of new projects: Tesla shooting brake, classic 964 and more

Dany Bahar is a survivor. He’s also someone with an amazing ability to gather top-tier talent around him when a business idea strikes. The former Red Bull and Ferrari marketing wizard, who later and controversially gambled on a massive expansion plan when he became CEO of Lotus, has just formally opened his next project: Ares Design, a contemporary carrozzeria/coachbuilder based in the heart of Italy’s motorsport valley in Modena.

For anyone who still doubts Bahar’s motivations, Ares Design’s HQ is a pretty effective means of shutting down the naysayers. Housed in an 18,000-square metre former Fiat and Alfa Romeo dealership, Bahar and his principal partner in the business, Waleed Al Ghafari – a telecoms entrepreneur who bid on and owns the Aston Martin DB10 featured in the Bond film Spectre, following a charity auction – have already delivered more than 150 cars, and have plans to grow the workforce beyond the 110 people already employed.

Bahar insists that there is a potent global demand for one-off cars amongst wealthy post-economic individuals for whom existing firms like Touring or Zagato, and indeed Ferrari, JLR and McLaren’s special ops divisions, don’t go far enough – and charge too much money for the pleasure.

“The future of customisation can go much further than stitching and trim,” Bahar says. “Coach-building isn’t some strange extra-terrestrial thing, it’s something you can really do. Our projects respect the relevant local safety and homologation laws, while giving our clients the level of differentiation they demand. The cars are expensive, of course, but the figures are realistic given our client base, and we don’t want to go crazy.”

Inspect Ares’ facilities and it’s clear the company is channelling the spirit of the coachbuilders that marked out Italy as a creative and artisanal hotbed in the pre- and post-war eras. Modified Porsche 911s and Land Rover Defenders are just the base-line from which it starts.

Design boss Mihai Panatescu has the ability to match the company’s ambition, as the recently revealed Panther project confirms. This is a stunning reboot of the De Tomaso Pantera based on Lamborghini Huracan underpinnings, although it stretches the homologation envelope somewhat by altering the donor car’s A-pillars and including pop-up headlamps.

Inspired by a client’s love of the 1970s Ghia-designed original, Ares says it has seven other orders for the Panther. “We use CFD to validate the design, and to ensure that the base car’s aerodynamics and cooling requirements aren’t compromised,” Panatescu tells TG.

Ares is also exploring the lucrative resto-mod market, and will re-engineer a Porsche 964 to fit a 991-sourced PDK transmission and steering, the front axle and brakes from a 997 model, as well as the sat nav from the latest Panamera. Another recent project blended the body from a one-owner, 53-year old Corvette Stingray with the chassis and powertrain from the Vette C6.

Around £600k gets you the carbon-bodied, Mercedes G-Class 4x4 squared X-Raid, and Ares has also taken advantage of Bentley’s failure to replace its huge Brooklands model by creating an impressively engineered Mulsanne coupe. Elsewhere, a Ferrari GTC4lusso is about to sacrifice its innards to re-emerge as a 2018 homage to the once-unloved but newly cool Ferrari 400, and a Porsche 918 is going under the knife on behalf of a Swiss client.

“It’s not special-looking enough for him,” Bahar smiles. “The real value here is to make the customer happy with the car he or she has designed. We help them realise their dream, and there’s a rising demand for that. It’s not a rational investment, it’s an emotional one.”

Significantly, however, Ares Design has been profitable since year one, and though Bahar has plans to grow the business, he’s keeping the ambitions in check. Nor is he interested in building his own car, or becoming a consultancy. This isn’t a Lotus-style odyssey. “I don’t think we have the ego to do our own car,” he says. “We’re customer-demand focused, not strategically driven.”