Many people thought that by the early 1990s Aston Martin had joined the hallowed list of dead British motorcar makes. Of course to the cognoscenti, the marque didn’t need resurrecting as it was still alive – just – with 42 cars built during 1992. By the start of the new Millennium AML had most defiantly been re-launched throughout the world. The DB7 was a resounding success, and with the DB7 V12 Vantage version new into the showrooms, sales were still growing.
Of course in the motor Industry, it’s just not possible to stand still and continue to reap the rewards. Being based on the ageing Jaguar XJ-S meant that developing the DB7 much further would have been impossible and a ‘clean sheet’ design and strategy would be needed. The sophisticated Vanquish of 2001 would partly fulfil this requirement, but only partly. The giant leap that was the Vanquish could only be built in relatively small numbers at the Tickford Works, Newport Pagnell, constrained by the size and age of the site and the labour intensive construction methods. The technology was fundamentally right but by simplifying the package and streamlining production, volumes could be increased and development costs spread over more units.
Almost as soon as Dr. Ulrich Bez was installed as CEO at AML in September 2000, the blueprint was fixed for the next era of Aston Martin. What was proposed and accepted was a new purpose built facility, the first in the history of the marque together with an adaptable bonded aluminium tub capable of becoming a whole range of different sportscars. The site chosen to achieve this was a former RAF airfield in Warwickshire, close to the main centres of British car production.
RAF Gaydon had been opened during World War 2 and was mostly used for the training of bomber crews. After the war, the site was developed to take the Vickers Valiant V bomber and eventually became home to No 2 Air Navigation School until 1970; the base eventually closed in 1974. In 1978 the airfield was bought by a far sighted British Leyland (later known as the Rover Group), and became a proving ground for its cars, especially the Land Rover. It then became home to Rover Group design and technology. In 1992, the Heritage Motor Museum had opened on the site to house its collection of historic British cars. In 1994, the site became the property of BMW with its acquisition of the Rover Group from British Aerospace. BMW sadly failed to turn around the fortunes of Rover and the group was split up in 2000: Land Rover, and with it the Gaydon site, being bought by the Ford Motor Company. In order to oversee the premium brands within Ford, the Premier Automotive Group (PAG) was formed and by 2000 this controlled Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln, Mercury and Volvo.
The new cars under development were to share a similar bonded aluminium tub, the most structurally efficient body frame in the car industry. The Aston Martin VH (Vertical/Horizontal) aluminium architecture gives immense benefits being both very light and enormously strong, aiding performance, handling, economy and durability. It is the car's skeleton on which all the mechanical components are either directly or indirectly mounted. Drawing on the experience and technology pioneered in the Vanquish, the VH body frame is made entirely from aluminium but dispenses with the carbon fibre parts of the Vanquish structure. Die-cast, extruded and pressed aluminium components are bonded using immensely strong adhesives, supplemented by mechanical fixing using self-piercing rivets.
Aluminium and composite body panels are fitted to the tub, again using adhesives, in the advanced body assembly area at Aston Martin's Gaydon facility. This adhesive is applied by a robot (affectionately known as ‘James Bonder’, the only robot within AML) with computer controlled hot-air curing to ensure the highest standard of accuracy and repeatability. Bonding also provides better stress distribution than welding, it is a process used in the aircraft industry and for Formula One cars.
Gaydon already housed Land Rover and Jaguar facilities, and with Aston Martin now part of PAG, it became an ideal site for the new purpose built facility. On the 12th September 2003, the Gaydon facility opened. Just a day later the AMOC was invited to an open day to view the site and the brand new 2+2 DB9, powered by a modified version of the V12 from the Vanquish. Built with full regard for environmental concerns, Gaydon houses every element needed for the design and manufacture of the car set behind an impressive sandstone-clad wall in a landscaped site.
Series production of the DB9 began in early 2004 with a rate of sale far greater than the outgoing DB7. As expected, the coupe was joined in the range by the convertible Volante during 2005. The car continued to evolve year on year with more optional equipment being fitted as standard. By 2008, the DB9 received a revised centre console and the engine was tuned to deliver more power. In 2010, the DB9 received a subtle restyle and also was fitted as standard with the highly valued Adaptive Damping System. Despite being the oldest car in production from Gaydon, the DB9 remains the greatest GT on the market today.
The DB9 has also been the basis for the highly impressive DBR9 GT1 and DBRS9 GT3 race cars which have been successful in competition around the world since 2005.
Cars emanating from Gaydon used a revised style of chassis number. The last 6 digits are still quite sufficient to identify the car but the first digit is a letter rather than a number. The DB9 coupe chassis number begins with an A followed by a five number sequence starting at 00001. The DB9 Volante starts with a B but shares the same number sequence as the coupe, as previously happened with the DB7. The V8 Vantage starts with a C, and Roadster D – again sharing the same number sequence.
There are some cars that appear in the Register with chassis numbers starting with an X followed by 5 numbers. These ‘X cars’ are prototype or works development cars, some built before series production, some built within normal production but always for internal use. A small number of ‘X’ cars have actually been sold after the factory no longer has a use for them, but most are probably destroyed at the end of their useful life. The Registrar is extremely grateful to AML for allowing us to publish this privileged information.