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Aston Martian

FEATURE BY MAX NOBLE
28/09/2017

Well dear reader they must be off this planet and on the same one as Zak Brown.

The one where such remarkable global engineering companies as Porsche, Honda, and Toyota can completely fail to build a top grade Formula One engine, but a boutique, bespoke, hand-built, small, real small, supplier of uniquely British sporting cars and grand tourers can suddenly build a world class engine unlike anything they've ever built before, with a total company turnover about the same as Lexus spent perfecting screws for the door fascia on the original LS400.

So their CEO, Andy Palmer, fresh from having Infiniti pour dollars into Red Bull, is now seeking to have Aston do same.

I fall back once more on my theory that CEOs, and other senior executives, simply need a justifiable business case to put to the Board as to why they are going racing.

One needs to be on another planet to see any defensible reason why Aston, home of mighty V8 and V12 engines based firmly on the principles first hammered out by Ford in 1932 when the first mass produced V8 (the flat head) saw the light of day in the Model 18. In that launch year Ford produced around 212,000 of the flat head V8 engines.

Climbing from a low of just over 480 vehicles sold in Europe for 1998, Aston scaled the heights of nearly 4,000 sales in 2007, before this lofty peak sloped down to a rather modest 1,500 vehicles again in 2016. Their lowest years saw less than 100 vehicles built.

Aston first went bankrupt in the late 1920's, the first of nearly century long finance challenges. Then with the guidance of David Brown, Aston first won Le Mans in 1959, with a certain Carroll Shelby behind the wheel, and Roy Salvadori being the other driver piloting the 3.6 litre inline 6 engine in a rare racing Aston chassis.

David Brown steered Aston into a purple patch, not limited to Goldfinger and that Bond car, but with a series of beautifully crafted in-line six engines designed by Tadek Marek, produced some of the finest grand tourers to ever grace the Queen's Highways.

In 1964 a certain George Harrison indulged in a then new DB5, a name worthy of being mentioned along with that of James Bond as a famous endorser of the Aston brand of Grand Tourers.

Then in 1991 Ford motor company took complete control of Aston, leading to a run of fine modern models, and in 1995 the record number of 700 vehicle sales.

Think on that. The company that had launched the World's first mass produced V8 in 1932, was here 63 years later producing 219,300 fewer Astons than flathead V8s within a year and considering it a ringing success.

Much pain and sorrow ensued for the Ford Premier Automotive group as Aston, Jaguar, Volvo, and a few others came and went. Aston staggered on, carried mainly by the fact that most drivers knew that Bond Car, and a few soft-hearted Englishmen had enough money to keep things moving, and enough optimism to believe this time, the business future for Aston would be different.

So now fast forward to 2014, and after a spell under David Richards of Prodrive fame, Andy Palmer becomes CEO. That year saw 3,500 cars sold for a loss of 72 million pounds to the company.

Honda sold over 4 million vehicles in 2014, for revenues in excess of 80 billion pounds.

So Aston built 0.08% the number of cars while losing an amount equal to 0.09% of Honda's turnover.

Honda has now spent significantly more failing to produce a winning Formula One engine than Aston has generated in revenue during any year it has existed.

Ford tried to rescue Aston, and with all its mass market might, sold it a few years later at a loss.

In 1932 Ford was pumping out flat head V8's around the 1,000 per day mark. More in one day than Aston has produced in most of the years it has existed.

Bond and Harrison I am sure loved their DB5's.

I love the DB5.

If anyone wants to provide me with a DB11, plus the budget to run it, I will gladly accept with tears in my eyes.

If anyone tells me Aston can beat Honda, let alone Mercedes, at building Formula One engines, while releasing a Valkyrie super car (which it should be noted is powered by a 6.5L V12 Cosworth engine) I would steer them towards that fine set of musical dramas by Richard Wagner.

Der Ring des Nibelungen (more commonly called The Ring Cycle in English) has a fine second part called Die Walkure, or again in English The Valkyrie.

The rather famous section of this part centres on the Valkyrie transporting fallen heroes to Valhalla.

Current Aston management might like to reflect on the lessons in that prior to blowing the dust off the drawing board for a Formula One engine.

That is, if they still live on the same planet as the rest of us.

Max Noble.

Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Max Noble, 25/10/2017 13:02

"@BrightonCorgi - well stated! Our conversation is in danger of wandering across several threads here, but it was one of your earlier comments, along with prompting of others, that led to me writing the Branding article. That followed... which is now followed by the “Golden Wings” article... so I’ll be fascinated to see what you think of that concept... :-). "

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2. Posted by BrightonCorgi, 24/10/2017 14:39

"@Max Noble - I don't want to see Aston have a 2nd brand. Aston needs to be on top with no substitute. Jaguar is there for those who want a premium car that more stylish than anything in Germany, and better made than Maserati. Maserati should try to mimic Jaguar's every move. I am fan and owner of both Jaguar and Aston. There's Lotus if someone wants a pure sports car at lower price of entry than a Vantage (Evora 400 is an outstanding car).

[img]https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/TkchEKKrExN5sFNZBJzITkIFt_BUMfYv9xJ6efhrXgxAcr8YRHwXC87VRt-MLk8g_sIhvtM6-3qCOWwpOkKTLZ_0WlnJtHhcNmqtt3mrMImpwoB1bkFfTEcZUQIpcuO5Ich8is3VJGzPbfOFtGq7THHoYcgjlXvUio-UU_fTFSQ9EHVT-snwtZQgsEFFPjtu9Yj0DY3a6HyD0h4gaeAC0t2qswudeBku6VTdCrTv0trh1Q7_GE6SbwlEXKpylZoqXEsnXEOphDm5x3kZI5omAY8lBD_b0v1u0q0lgwKLjI7P_N4JcmHxduDt54-yN7iSSIRsGi4wzLyCMVgwv-6jwerXhQABPxvls91yED9XU2OS1X2op6mO0bTi7NoJLc6qYaq81Qnor6VD1UYKEkfstjOAYPdGwBALKhHrN353wJak-ty4IeoOLPZx2LPmuK5u2I30SK7jc6GBVwsInb2_-jjdIKIxS6XJt8CIxKrvXdRiyo6Xi-SW-7o-kzIQ3Txm73L3H7rMKfzAZXnKnnkFmuUbvWw6D5rpj63YQxq7rd67RL7BdZl87xOCgu4m75YYWeMaJk_tJooMTdORklVhYda2BNGptZlCrEdniL7QjA=w1246-h934-no[/img]"

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3. Posted by 4-Wheel Drifter, 15/10/2017 17:08

"Dear Max:

The logic of your argument is irrefutable. The liklihood of A.M. producing an F1 powerplant that could make the field is practially nil, let alone make a competitive powerplant. What you failed to mention was the certainty that if A.M. MANAGED the impossible, the rule-makers at F1 would certainly intervene. Remember what they did to Cosworth? When you have Renault, Mercedes-Benz; Honda and Ferrari investing in engines how likely are they to look kindly on genuine competition? F1, as everyone knows, is about money as much as it is about racing and when it comes to money versus racing, we all know who wins."

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4. Posted by Tombstone, 12/10/2017 23:07

"All it takes is money, a rich sugar daddy perhaps, and a decent engineering department.

ferrari don't make many cars per annum - 9,000 isn't big by any stretch of the imagination, more than Aston Martin I grant you. Yet due to Mr Morris' Millions it can produce a half decent engine for Formula One."

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5. Posted by Max Noble, 07/10/2017 7:10

"@Uffen - very good point! There is something pure and rewarding in doing it the old fashioned way of hard work with your own hands. :-).

I know the mammoth amount of platform Sharing that goes on to keep costs down and profits up boggles my mind. I think half the VW, Audi, Skoda, and Seat ranges are all based on a stretched Audi 80 platform penned by a Munich school boy back in 1972! :-) :-).

...and then we have mechanical Swiss watches... :-)"

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6. Posted by Uffen, 07/10/2017 2:12

"Good thoughts, Max, but frankly I am sick and tired of firms attempting to gain credibility via a "complex business and branding puzzle" rather than a true home-sourced bit of engineering. What will significant might and glory really stand for if accomplished with smoke and mirrors (and cash, of course)? "

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7. Posted by Max Noble, 06/10/2017 0:38

"@BrightonCorgi - it will be fascinating to watch. I see Jaguar as the British Porsche ( in terms of brand positioning) and Aston as a uniquely British take on a Ferrari like marque. As such, if one continues with this World view, Aston is targeting around 10,000 cars per year as a maximum. So they need a secondary brand (to reflect Maserati), and a sugar daddy, to match the finance support of Fiat (hello Mercedes...).
May-be, just may-be they have all the parts of this complex business and branding puzzle in place and we are about to see a 21st Century Aston of significant might and glory.
Cannot wait to see what happens to be honest!"

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8. Posted by BrightonCorgi, 05/10/2017 17:07

"Aston Martin is on the upward swing. I question how much wrenching & design they will actually do in this F1 effort. The branding with Red Bull is going to be fantastic for AM sales if they can offer some cars under $150K USD. Perhaps the new Vantage is come in under that? AM is also moving into lifestyle market like Ferrari & Porsche excel at. Good times for Aston Martin. "

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9. Posted by Paul C, 05/10/2017 12:32

"Mercedes is the new Cosworth. They provide relatively reliable and competitive power units. The customers will provide spiffy bespoke valve covers and name plates for their own Mercedes power units. What a brilliant idea! Why didn't McLaren think of this before making Alonso flash back to his season with Minardi for 3 years?"

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10. Posted by Max Noble, 03/10/2017 10:04

"I recommend the “Porsche 911 Story” by Paul Frere to anyone interested in the triumph of remarkable engineering over the laws of Physics. :-)

Great read about an iconic car.

"

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11. Posted by mickl, 02/10/2017 23:39

"@cricketpo I guess the beetle derived engine that powered Mclaren to the 1984 & 85 Constructors Championship wasn't too bad a donkey. If all you're basing an opinion on how good Porsche are at engineering, on the single point of engine positioning of one of their models, then you're as ignorant as Trump is on what constitutes a hair style."

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12. Posted by mickl, 02/10/2017 15:22

"Any engine coming from AM will be a rebadged AMG Mercedes engine by the simple fact that all the upcoming mainstream AM roadcars will be powered by rebadged and modified AMG Merc road engines and MB are part owners of AM. AM lets RB use their name and RB buys the engine from Mercedes like they do at the moment from Renault and slap a badge on. As it's already been said, how else would AM be able to afford to pay for an engine seeing as they've not made a profit since 2010.

Wonder how Tag Heuer will take this? "

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13. Posted by cricketpo, 30/09/2017 11:20

"Well taking the fact that this may all be political and Machiavellian maneuvering from all parties to one side I see no reason why Aston shouldn't be able to have a go. Money will be an issue but Aston have (under the authors own evidence) quite happily spent some one else's money and then risen glistening from the ashes such is the brand strength of Aston Martin. The fact that Honda and Toyota have wasted vast sums of money for little gain says more about their design management, or lack of it. I would like to have been a fly on the wall of the design committee where no one seems to be saying "Do you know what? this is a pile of s**te lets rip it all up and start again" Both companies appear to have designed a camel but, rather than deciding that camels are not in fact very fast, have carried on until they had the fastest camels in town, But still camels.
As for the engineering excellence of Porsche? just how seriously can you take a manufacturer whose designs are based on a VW Beetle pre WW2?
As a result AM are on the same planet as Honda and Toyota (give Porsche a wide berth they ARE on a different planet as is anyone who wastes time and cash on them) they surely can't do any worse!

On a more serious note it would seem fair to say that the current engines are too exotic for the current financial climate. Perhaps we should tell Mercedes and Ferrari thay can no longer make and supply engines. We would then have a field of cars with unreliable and poor engines and hey presto we have taken F1 back to it's "Hey day" when there was more uncertainty in a race. For uncertainty I really mean risk of death and disfigurement
"

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14. Posted by Max Noble, 30/09/2017 11:17

"@Spindoctor - Agree, Bernie's apprentice (Mr. Horner) is up to something and it surely is not what is actually being said!"

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15. Posted by Spindoctor, 30/09/2017 9:54

"I'm forced to the conclusion that this is part of some orchestrated play by RBR & fellow-travellers to twist Liberty\FIA's arm vis--a-vis upcoming PU changes. Nobody sane person (nor even Eddie Jordan) seriously believes AM can ever compete technically or financially against the Grown Ups.
This offers two sort of complimentary probabilities:

1) They're serious, and gambling on a change back to 20th Century motive-power
2) Implying they'll come in to F1 and build PU if they're cheaper....

In other words its mainly PR babble and back-door politics & wheeler-dealering (come back Bernie, all is forgiven).

My speculative take is that should anything real come out of this, a more likely possibility is that AM might re-badge Mercedes F1 PU, and plonk it in the back of an RBR\Aston Martin F1 car - just like they do with road cars.
"

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