GENEVA – The blue Carrozzeria Bertone SpA tie was the first thing Roberto Piatti noticed at an early morning meeting last April 10.
Lagonda Ltd. CEO Ulrich Bez never does anything by chance. His wearing of the tie, a present from some long-forgotten event, was a mark of respect for the famous Italian design house.
Bertone CEO Piatti, visiting Aston’s dramatic new Gaydon, U.K., headquarters for the first time to discuss the idea of a Bertone, was suitably encouraged.
The two men, long-time colleagues from their days at Daewoo Motor Co. Ltd. and IDEA SpA, first talked of a Bertone Aston at the Frankfurt auto show the previous year.
Piatti, in Gaydon to firm up on the idea, knew Bez was capable of making things happen. Bertone already planned to show the concept at the 2004 Geneva show.
|Jet 2 has support of Aston CEO Bez.|
Jet 2, the Bertone-styled, Vanquish-based, shooting-brake (2-door hatchback/wagon) unveiled in Geneva this week, has Bez’s full support. It’s not an official Aston project – not yet, anyway – but the mercurial Bez has followed its progress keenly, aware that if Aston is to reach its sales target of 5,000 cars a year and overtake Ferrari SpA in volume, Bertone could supply one important, if small, building block.
The Italians see Jet 2 as also having the potential to fulfill an increasing desire for automotive individuality, the once-traditional role of styling houses such as Bertone.
Says Piatti: “When we talk to high-end manufacturers, they tell us they have clients asking for more. Their customers say, ‘What are the chances of spending 20% more and getting something unique?’ They don’t want more leather and more wood on the interior, or more spoilers on the exterior. That’s ornamentation, not design.
“So we thought, let’s see if we can keep the fixed hard points, like the crash structure and firewall for homologation, but change completely the rest of the car by re-skinning it. On a €50,000 ($62,000) car, this tailored suit would mean doubling the price. But if we move the target to €200,000-€250,000 ($249,000-$312,000) cars, then €50,000 more for a unique body, with the same level of quality, is okay. It’s feasible.”
Bez, knowing the one major point of customer criticism of the Vanquish is its limited 2-seat configuration, suggested the idea of a true 2+2 body style based on Aston’s most expensive model. (Vanquish is designed as a strict 2-seater, but the car can be ordered with a 2+2 interior configuration.)
It also was Bez who insisted, even at that early stage, that the concept be called the Jet 2, drawing a direct line to Jet 1, styled by a young Giorgetto Giugiaro way back in 1961 during his early days at Bertone. Sadly, the re-bodied DB4 remained a one-off, though the car survives to this day.
Bertone was happy with the suggestion.
“We wanted to redesign the car, not just change it to a convertible,” Piatti says, making a not-so-subtle dig at SZ Design’s Geneva Vanquish Roadster. (See related story: Aston Martin to Roll Out Latest Limited-Run Model)
“Jet 2 was to be a real engineering project, as if it were a new vehicle in the range,” he says. “Our idea was to make the show car feasible and reproducible. As soon as we see the reaction of the market, we can adapt the tooling to the numbers we have to build and work out the investment cost.
“We have the ability to be flexible with the numbers. It can mean two cars, which we’d build like one-offs, or 20 to 50, which would require special tooling. Or it could be 200 to 250 cars, for which we’d use experimental prototype tooling.”
Giuliano Biasio, Bertone’s head of exterior design, says his team had complete freedom in designing the body, despite the retention of the production Vanquish’s windshield, door structure and grille.
However, the headlights come from the DB9. Early sketches indicate designers proposed using more trendy, slim-line vertically sited light-emitting-diode lights. It was Bez, again, who at a meeting in Turin last November recommended Bertone revert to a more traditional Aston headlight before the exterior design was frozen.
Employing the Vanquish grille and DB9 headlights automatically guarantees the nose mirrors the now long-established Aston Martin design tradition. But nobody could ever call the Jet 2 retro.
“It is simple to design a retro car,” claims Biasio. “Our challenge is to always achieve something new. Our rule is to be provocative every time.”
There are many understated Bertone touches, such as the small vents ahead of the front wheel arches and the slender intake below the grille. Where the Jet 2 truly departs from Aston visual convention is from the windscreen back. Transforming the Vanquish into a 2+2 meant stretching the wheelbase a massive 8.2 ins. (21 cm) to 114 ins. (290 cm), 1.8 ins. (4.5 cm) longer than that of a Mercedes E-Class.
To utilize the potential space, the roofline was extended to create a contemporary sporting wagon, in the style of the late ’60s Reliant Scimitar GTE and early ’70s Volvo 1800ES. In profile and in any three-quarters rear view, the Jet 2 represents a radical departure from Aston’s sleek coupe profile. It’s a look and a concept much favored by Bertone.
Does building a near proper 4-seater imply Bertone also discussed the idea of a Lagonda sedan with Bez? Piatti and crew prefer to remain silent, but their body language leaves the distinct impression the idea of reviving an Aston Martin Lagonda, in one form or another, almost certainly features into Bez’s medium-term ambitions for the dormant marque. The DB9/Vantage V8’s VH modular platform is designed to be stretched in both wheelbase and length and width and track.
Biasio is particularly happy with the way the Aston grille has been recreated in the shape of the center section of the taillights on the huge rear hatchback. It wraps over into the roof, below the rear glass area and around the lower body sides. Huge twin horizontal exhaust pipes, finished in sanded aluminum, fill the lower corners.
“It’s a very graphic rear end, yet with lots of volume,” he says.
Biasio also added a stronger shoulder line, with a negative radius, to connect the grille to the taillights, via long upper flanks. Alloy trim surrounds the base of the windscreen before sweeping up the A-pillars and around the sunroof that’s designed as twin panels with a T-shaped roof. Bertone says this too is realistic.
Biasio also has given the sills a sweeping shape that takes them up over the bulging rear wheel arches “to underline the power of the Vanquish.” The shape of the side windows repeats the rising sill line.
Rear overhang is minimal and emphasized by the strong plain view taper. The Jet 2 is 0.6 ins. (1.5 cm) wider and higher than a Vanquish, but, amazingly, considering the scale of the increase in wheelbase, just 0.4 ins. (1 cm) longer.
Aston Martin insiders give the impression they are more impressed with the interior, specifically its use of natural materials. Rather than fashion the cabin around the Vanquish, Bertone preferred the more modern, superior finish of the new DB9, though the steering wheel and instrument cluster are modified Vanquish.
“I was inspired by the idea that people who buy cars like the Vanquish are also interested in yachts or power boats, like old Rivas with their lovely quality and craftsmanship,” says David Wilkie, who is head of interior design for Bertone and best known for styling theStreetka when he worked for Ghia SpA. “We wanted to use the colors of natural materials.”
Bridge of Weir, increasingly the supplier of choice for high-quality leathers, produced an embossed green leather. Satin nickel aluminum and matt pear-wood are prominent on the doors and seatbacks.
The front seats are re-trimmed DB9 buckets, while the rear seats are more individual folding seat capsules that create a huge luggage area. Wilkie says the rear compartment is designed for 50 percentile (averaged-sized) adults, but admits, “It’s certainly not a Maybach.”
The car on display in Geneva is a fully running prototype based on a stretched Vanquish supplied by Aston Martin. Construction began at Bertone in December. The longer wheelbase meant cutting the Vanquish’s carbon-fiber transmission tunnel and adding a section in aluminum alloy. The 5.9L V-12, paddle shift 6-speed gearbox and double wishbone suspension are unchanged. Bertone predicts a weight increase of about 110 lbs. (50 kg) over the 4,045-lb. (1,835-kg) Vanquish.
Bertone is serious about building the Jet 2, if the reaction in Geneva is positive. Piatti insists a decision will be made within two to three months.
Because Bertone has been so clever in utilizing the Vanquish mechanicals, the gap between green light and production need only be nine to 12 months.
“We want to be very prudent, to say things together (with Aston Martin),” says Piatti. “But if we can’t do this for the OEMs, we can’t do anything.”