Magazine article The Spectator

The Aston Challenge

Magazine article The Spectator

The Aston Challenge

Article excerpt

We don't often get second chances.

Education, the direction of your career, first love, life itself -- they're none of them dress rehearsals, unless you're lucky with the first two. And if they were, would we do any better? Best not ask.

That's one reason why it's always so much more cheering to think about cars.

They're repeatable, easily obtained and easily disposed of provided you don't dwell upon the loss. If you can't quite recall what it felt like to drift-slide your first HispanoSuiza out of a tight right-hander, you can simply borrow, buy or pinch another. Or sometimes even get the old one back (that beats most first loves).

So when Aston Martin asked if I'd care to spend Easter with a V8 Vantage, I felt a simultaneous lightening of the heart and a deepening appreciation of life's motoring munificence. I was at the launch of this vehicle in Siena last year, where I fell in love with a beautiful septuagenarian baroness who thought Aston Martins were cigarettes (Arts, 24 September 2005). The car was unaccompanied this time but at least I would spend more time with it, revisiting first impressions, and I would have it to myself.

I was wrong about the last. So many friends I didn't know I had, so many I did know who just happened to pop round and suggest we might just nip out for a quick spin if I wasn't too busy over breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. Aston Martins must be one of the three or four most iconic cars on the planet. What is it about them?

They won only one Le Mans, so far as I recall (with a DBR1 in 1959, though they'd already three times come second), and it couldn't all be down to the cinematic James Bond's choice of a DB5 (the Bond of the books drove a Bentley). Nor do the Astons of recent decades -- before Ford ownership -- have the best of reputations for reliability. It must be something to do with the cars themselves. After all, in more than 90 years of production there have only ever been 27,000 and 75 per cent of them are still on the road. They must have been special from the start.

Despite being the £79,995 entry-level model, the Vantage soon shows you why.

'Feel' in a car is hard to define but there's no doubt that driving this one would bring a smile to the most car-weary face. It's a muscular beast, good-looking, with a refined pugnacity in its graceful but strong lines. The VH (vertical/horizontal) architecture of the chemically bonded, extruded aluminium underpinnings is as flexible in application as it is rigid in performance. …

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