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Monday, November 16, 2009

The first Aston built outside UK


THIS is the first Aston Martin to be built outside the UK in the firm's 95-year history.

The Rapide model is also their first four-seat model since the Lagonda Rapide in 1961.

So why is the Rapide being built at a factory in Graz, Austria, instead of the firm's state-of-the-art HQ at Gaydon, Warwickshire?

When the Rapide was first planned three years ago there was no prediction of a global recession and Gaydon was working at full capacity.

New models were on the way and there was simply not enough production space at the factory to build the Rapide.

So Aston chose Magna Steyr, a specialist car plant in Graz which already builds models for BMW and Mercedes, with 240 Austrian workers preparing to build up to 2,000 Rapides a year from early 2010.


Aston have spent the past 16 months replicating their British production operation at their own dedicated factory in Graz, with a small team of Aston specialists training Magna staff, some of whom have travelled to Gaydon for first-hand experience.

The irony is that Aston, like every car firm, have been hit hard by the recession and production at Gaydon has been cut back.

So the Rapide could now have been built in the UK, but the firm had already invested heavily in setting up the Austrian operation.

And having become the first British journalist to have spent a day on the production lines in Graz, I can confirm the factory is an identical replica of the UK plant. The workers even wear Aston uniforms.


They follow the same meticulous quality control levels and attention to detail, taking a month to painstakingly hand-build each car.

It takes 40 man hours to produce the leather trim for each Rapide and nearly 50 to apply a car's nine different coats of paint. And workers like Wolfgang Mayer, a lead technician on the engine assembly, are clearly proud of the fact they are building an Aston Martin.

Wolfgang spent five months at Gaydon learning the "Aston way".

"We are all very proud of building the Rapide, it's a very beautiful car and the best we've ever built at Graz.

"And we all know that Aston is the favourite car of James Bond."

Helmut Wagner is in charge of Rapide production and he says the model has added some "glamour and excitement" to the production lines and the local community.

"Getting the Rapide model has been great news for Graz and there is a lot of excitement in the factory.

"And now we are testing the car on local roads it is also causing a stir in the city."

The first customers from across Europe have started flying in to the factory's special showroom to order and individualise their Rapide, as well as looking around the factory.

And when you see a row of Rapides on the production lines it is one of the best sights in motoring.

When you hear one of them starting up it is enough to make you wish you had the £150,000 to buy one.

I was so impressed I even volunteered to help and they did allow me to assist in building one of the first cars, even if I was strictly limited to the more menial tasks, like pulling the 6litre V12 engine across the shop floor using an electric trolley.

I did get to fit a section of the all-important new rear seat and rear door, and I got to put on the final inspection badge which is fitted next to the engine of every Aston Martin, after they have been thoroughly checked.

But what really made my day was when I got to ride in the back of one of the first Rapides to be completed at Graz, on a test drive.

Because wherever the Rapide is built, one thing is sure, this is without doubt the most glamorous four-door car in the world.

WANT to be the coolest dad on the planet? Buy an Aston Rapide.


The Rapide is the car that will impress the kids like no other car. Take them to school in this and you'll become Daddy Super Cool.

This is the Aston Martin for the whole family to enjoy. And if 007 ever settles down, this is the Aston to take Bond babies instead of Bond babes.

But whoever sits in the back seat will be impressed, because this is the quickest and most glamorous way for four people to travel in style, with the most intimate back seats around.

As you can see, I even got my own chauffeur for the Rapide experience. I normally don't like sitting in the back but with this car I was happy to make an exception.

The individually sculpted sports seats hug you like a tight suit. If you're over 6ft it's a squeeze on a long journey, and in truth it is best for children.

For adults and children it is like sitting low down in your own sports car and just as exciting - despite the four seats that's exactly what the Rapide is. Because under the bonnet is a 6-litre V12 engine with a deep thunderous roar that turns sitting in the back from a chore to sheer pleasure.

And even from the passenger seat you can tell the Rapide is a thoroughbred sporting machine which lives up to its name, 0-60 mph in 5.1 seconds and a top speed of 188mph is close to supercar performance.

The engine is super responsive and the F1 paddle gear change takes you through the gears in the blink of an eye. Despite being 16 foot long - nearly a foot longer than the DB9 - the Rapide doesn't handle like a big car, it feels like a fast, taut agile Aston sports car that just happens to have four seats.


What the Rapide also shares with the rest of the Aston range is a cabin that oozes class and craftsmanship, from the hand-stitched leather to the combination of wood and aluminium trim, giving it the feel of a luxury suite in a modern five-star hotel.

And the boot space is a pleasant surprise, with a useful 300litres which increases to an Ikea-friendly 750litres with rear seats folded flat.

The obvious rival for the Rapide is the Porsche Panamera, an excellent car with more room in the back.

With prices from £72,66 to £95,298, it's considerably cheaper than the Aston's expected £150,000 tag.

But the Aston leaves the Porsche for dead visually.

Where the Panamera looks awkward and bulky the Rapide looks sleek and sensational.

That's why Aston already have a waiting list.