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Aston Martin design chief stretches brand’s DNA

Form follows evolving function to revolutionise the look of future Astons: Reichman

3 Apr 2020

ASTON Martin Lagonda chief creative officer Marek Reichman has described how new models and electrified powertrains that are taking the British sports-luxury manufacturer into unchartered territory – from the Valkyrie hybrid hypercar to the DBX SUV – have allowed him to “stretch the DNA” and create a different design language.


Speaking to GoAuto in Melbourne recently, the man behind the look of new-millennial landmark models like the DBS and Rapide said the biggest clue to where Aston Martin is heading can be seen in Valkyrie – the limited-run, gullwing-doored, mid-engined hybrid hypercar developed with Red Bull Racing and which enters production this year.


“The next big break is obviously that the form factor changes because the function changes,” Mr Reichman said.


“The Valkyrie starts it. We move the engine from being front-mid to behind-mid, so your form factor changes, and that form factor in many ways means you can’t do what you would recognise as traditional Aston Martin values.


“Because it might be the front of the car needs to be low enough, and therefore you can’t have a traditional grille; we might need the aero underneath the car as much as through what would be cooling the engine and the radiator in the front of the car.


“And that allows you to stretch that DNA to a different place, which I had started to do anyway with the nature of, say, the (2018) Vantage and some of the other cars that I’ve been responsible for.


“But I think that’s the biggest fundamental change, and it’s not that the DNA changes, it’s just that you’re applying it over a different function.”


Mr Reichman, a 15-year veteran at Aston Martin whose previous credits include the BMW-developed L322 Range Rover and Rolls-Royce Phantom VII, added that balancing traditional Aston Martin design details within the confines of larger and boxier vehicles such as SUVs requires extreme precision, since these that are shaping up as the bread-and-butter models.


“It’s exactly the same with DBX,” he explained. “We’ve made a conscious decision with DBX to make it recognisable as an Aston Martin, because it may be the future of where DB (the core signature model nomenclature, as defined by today’s DB11) needs to go.


“Therefore, it does have a very traditional grille, a very traditional side strake, it does have a very traditional glasshouse-to-body relationship. And therefore it’s almost more of a caricature of an Aston Martin.


“But the form factor is completely different – obviously five doors, it accommodates myself five times, so you’re not able to use the techniques that you could with a coupe to define elegance, because when you put a coupe form on something, you are already reducing the masses in the rear and creating something very elegant, very sporting.


“So those two cars or form factors – mid-engine and DBX – allow a different language.”


Italian coachbuilder and design house Zagato, which has had a remarkable relationship with Aston Martin since the David Brown days of 1960 with the seminal DB4 GT Zagato, allows Mr Reichman and his small team of designers to be a bit more playful with the legacy, while still remaining respectful of the vaunted history of both brands.


“The continued association with Zagato is really important – and a lot of people miss this – because the Zagato relationship allows us to do Aston Martin things that we would never have done with a pure core Aston Martin,” he revealed.


“And the good thing about that relationship is that I design all the cars in my studio, and Andrea (Zagato, third generation CEO of the family business) comes to see them, and we work collaboratively then, but it starts in my studio and it’s created in my studio.


“So, we would never do an Aston Martin with a round tail-lamp, but Zagato allows us to have a round tail-lamp, and then, out of that round tail-lamp, we’ve created a finned round tail-lamp, and then we said: ‘Hold on a minute, if we just took the fins and flatten them, we could create a lamp for Vulcan, and that lamp becomes the language for the mid-engined car.


“So there is a kind of cross-fertilisation between the products, and it’s always for me about taking elements and moving and shifting the elements in time.”


Zagato chose Aston Martin to commemorate its 100th anniversary last year with the DBZ Centenary edition – the recreated DB4 GT Zagato and DBS GT Zagato that are only sold as a pair for £6 million ($A12m), and of which only 19 are to be delivered over the next year or so.


Mr Reichman believes that it is the collaboration between specific detailing and technology underneath that will help shape future Aston Martins and Lagondas, the latter part of the Aston stable since 1947 and which is set to return as an all-eV marque from 2025.


“If you throw a cover over an Aston Martin from 30 years ago, it’s hard to define its era,” he said.


“If you go back further, and you get a more upright screen and you can see that beauty still lays under the cover. But when you take the cover off, you’re really looking at the technology, the graphics, the lighting, the elements, and they’re the things you can evolve over time, and where technology will allow you to evolve it as well.


“There are no bulbs in headlamps anymore, no bulbs in tail-lamps anymore, so that gives you more freedom.


“I would say the next-generation – let’s call it DB12 as a theory – it might be that the grille might need to have a different function. Who knows where DB12 is – is it all electric, is it all hybridised? Does it need the same cooling?


“These things are what’s changing the definition of Aston Martin’s character.”

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