Rapide response

Aston Martin’s new design studio should speed up the development of prototypes, but natural light and traditional craft skills are still crucial to this company’s sculptural approach to designing cars, says John Stones

Once upon a time Aston Martin was known for a certain aristocratic brutishness, a characteristic that cemented an enduring identification with James Bond. But the stunning DB7, introduced in 1994 and styled by Ian Callum (now at Jaguar), introduced beauty into the equation and saved the company from extinction.

To match its centrality in the slogan ‘power, beauty, soul’, Aston Martin has recently opened a dedicated design studio in Gaydon. Marek Reichman, design director since 2005, is clearly chuffed to bits about the state-of-the-art facility and it’s where he is currently working on the Rapide, the eagerly awaited four-door Aston Martin due to launch next year. It is his second design for the marque after the DBS flagship, launched last year.

Reichman has a very focused vision of his task. ‘It is to make a one-off sculpture that we can then make a few thousand of,’ he says. As such, modelling and prototyping is not a process of translation, but intrinsic to the design process.

This sculptural approach means Aston Martin progresses designs as quickly as possible to the three-dimensional stage, and much earlier than a mainstream car manufacturer would. While Aston Martin is all about a balance between traditional craftsmanship and modern technology, when it comes to the design process, craft skills are clearly in the ascendant.

‘Even with the most sophisticated tools, on a computer you don’t get the full form language,’ says Reichman. ‘Nothing compares to a really good clay model. These are very dramatic, emotional, dynamic surfaces – you really need to see them and be able to touch them.’

Eight of the 26-strong design team are clay modellers, with backgrounds from pattern-making to sculpture, and they’re responsible for translating 2D sketches into 1:40 scale models, and then the full-sized model. ‘Already the first models have to be beautiful sculptural objects,’ says Reichman.

For the Rapide, two full-sized clay models were created. The master model was then split down the middle so the two sides could be worked differently. For the DBS, even though it is a development of the DB9, Reichman’s team started afresh as most of the panels are different.

‘Clay allows us to make alterations to the surface. It is a quick way of seeing what happens when we add a bit of headroom or legroom,’ Reichman says. ‘We have been thinking about foam modelling but the disadvantage is that, unlike clay, it is very difficult to add back on.’

The clay is treated with Dynoc, so the model simulates the painted surface of a production car, and again, like other car design studios, Aston Martin uses stereolithography so that some parts, such as the headlamps, can be created out of resin and incorporated into the clay model. The full-sized model of the interior adds hand-milled parts to the mix.

Given the hyper-sculptural approach, it is not surprising that Reichman stresses the role that lighting has to play in the modelling process. Apart from sophisticated artificial lighting, the new studio has a glass wall for natural light. It also allows models to be wheeled into the walled garden. ‘It is important to see the car in daylight and it can look very different under an infinite sky from under a roof,’ says Reichman.

However, the models have to be kept from prying eyes, and a detailed security process is in place. ‘We even have lockable covers, no matter how crazy that sounds,’ says Reichman.

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