The design, development, politics and launch of the Aston Martin DB7, and beyond
Walter Hayes Memorial Lecture, hosted by the Aston Martin Heritage Trust
RAC Club, London, January 24th 2017
photo of Ian Callum courtesy of David Wright
photo of Ian Callum and Roger Carey courtesy of Ian Kendall
Thank you, and good evening. I do love speaking at 9.30 at night! It’s my bedtime, you know, really! Anyway, we’re here to talk about the DB7, but also, I’d like to take the opportunity to talk about other cars that I was involved with, two of which you’ve probably never seen before, never really saw the light of day, but they do have a nice story behind them.
First of all, let’s talk about DB7. These, incidentally, were sketches that I did for Bob Dover, for I think it was for his leaving-do, so Bob has the original ones – or maybe it was his birthday, I can’t remember, but he has the originals, but we’ll try and do something with them at some future date, we’ll see. Just to show that I can still draw Astons, they were a while ago.
So, there I am, 30-odd years ago, in the rain. This was taken because the Aston Martin people didn’t actually have a picture of me with the DB7 in any of the archives, and they decided to bring me round to Bloxham, to get a picture of me, pouring with rain, but I still had to have the picture. They’d paid for the photographer, so it had to be taken, so you can see, there I am, losing all my hair, getting wet.
But a lot was happening to lead up to the DB7. It’s quite a long and extraordinary story. I’ll try and make it as short as possible. I arrived at TWR, Tom Walkinshaw Racing. He wanted a new studio. He realised having a design studio would be the window, the shop-window to his business. He was absolutely right. He realised the design style could sell product. So, he brought me in from Ford. Peter Stevens was going to take the job, but he went off to McLaren to design something called the F1, whatever that was…and I got the job of TWR Design and we built it up. He promised me all sorts of things, which a lot of people said “Yeah, whatever, we’ll see”, and we started doing some fairly ordinary stuff, like body-kits and tractors and body-kits. Tractors were quite interesting actually, I quite enjoyed – Track Marshall, do you remember them? Track Marshall…didn’t last very long, but we did some stuff for them.
Anyway, he also was interested in Aston Martin. Tom wanted a car company of his own – this was the fact of it really, not many people know that, and he had his eyes on various companies, but Aston really was the one that he wanted. He realised that Ford hadn’t got much interest in Aston, and they didn’t really know what to do with it. They were building 30, 40 or 50 cars a year. I think it was the V8 Vantage at the time. It wasn’t making any money. It was labour-intensive. He saw an opportunity. So, he went to Aston. I think he spoke to Mr Gauntlett about a few things, but he actually came back with some ideas. I designed an Aston based on a Ford Thunderbird that Tom thought was a good idea. It wasn’t. It really wasn’t.
And then he had another brain scheme that said, well, we’ll take the Ford Granada Estate, very gentrified car, and we put an Aston front-end on the Ford Granada Estate car. It’s a little bit like putting a front-end on a Toyota, but anyway we won’t go there. It wasn’t really a good idea either. So, he kept kind of walking in and out of Aston to see if he could actually pick up a bit of business from them because they didn’t really have their own R&D centre.
Also, Aston, at the same time, were working on the idea of doing a small car, an affordable car, that would be small and more affordable and more effective and more efficient than the Vantage, which really was a fairly large piece of machinery that cost a lot of money to make. We discovered, by the way, when we actually did a cost analysis on the engine of that car, the cost of the car, the piece cost, the material cost, and maybe the build as well, was over £17,500. Now, Ford could build a car for about £7,000, so that tells you roughly what the scope of the opportunity was to get some cost out of the company.
So, he worked closely with Aston and then it kind of went quiet for a while, and in the meantime he’d asked me to do a car for Jaguar. Now, he also saw opportunity, as he does, to see – there was a car called XJ41, and it was a Jaguar-based new platform, all new drive, a straight six engine in the front. It became a very big car and it was a two-plus-two sportscar to replace the XJS. Through the years of developing this car, it grew and grew and grew, and then Bill Hayden – I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Bill Hayden, he was a rather formidable chap from Ford – walked into Jaguar one day when they bought the company and said “You’re going to stop that project,” broke everybody’s heart. He told them to scrap the car. I think two still exist actually. And so, Jaguar was left without the successor to the XJS, and really, the car wasn’t that great a car – it was overweight, it was oversized, and it was definitely over-cost, by a huge amount. So Tom then said, “Look, I’ve got an XJS platform – I know how to race them, I know how to develop them. I’ll put a sort of sports-car on that body, on that platform for you, you don’t have to pay for a new platform, it’s there for the taking, I’ll make it work.” “Mmm…alright, have a look.” And Tom, in those days, owned Jaguar Sport – he didn’t own it, he owned 51%, smart move, and Jaguar owned 49%, and so Tom decided what to do with Jaguar Sport, and this was one of the projects that he suggested, and he actually funded the first part of it himself.
So, he came to me and he said, “Look, I want to get the feeling of this Jaguar, this XJ41, onto the XJ platform – what do we have to do?” I said, “Well, you have to change the whole visual architecture. You have to move the screen forward, you have to take length off the tail…” and so on and so forth, and I took him through the various issues of proportion. Any car designer will tell you the first thing in any car design is about proportion, the stance, and we had to change it on the XJS to get the right design, for whatever car it might be, your modern sportscar. And so, we set about on this, and we got some good engineering done: we moved the cowl forward, we took a lot of length off the tail, restructured the back of the car, and so it went on, as this Jaguar, potential Jaguar, and the guys at Jag were…okay about it. They weren’t quite sure. I had visitors in the design studio. We were trying to put a clay model together. “No, it’s got to be this way” and “It’s got to be that way”, and if any of you have been working for other companies, you know how painful it can be if you’re a creative working for somebody else’s creation – it’s quite hard work. But I bit my tongue and we got on with it. This was quite a painful process because Tom really started to realise that Jaguar didn’t want this car. They didn’t feel the XJS platform was going to be good enough, although he felt it should be and could be because he raced them. He won the championship in them.
So, we moved forward with this car a little bit in a bit of a vacuum, and then one day Walter Hayes walked in with Tom. I knew Walter from days of old – I’d never met him but I knew who he was, a fantastic man, he turned out to be, puffing his pipe, and he said to me, he said, “Hello, Ian! This is quite interesting what you’re doing here.” This was really an unmade car. There was nothing there to be seen, other than just the basic blocked proportions of a sportscar. He said, “Do you think you can make an Aston out of this?” I said, “Oh yes, please, absolutely!” And, really, that was the start of the conversation between myself and Walter, and clearly he’d been talking to Tom and Tom had sold him the idea of building an affordable Aston off the XJS platform, which is what we did and what we started.
Of course, what Walter saw this as was effectively a replacement for the DBs, so I’ll put the DB5 up there because really it’s the most beautiful of them all, really, a gorgeous car, made famous of course by that Bond character, but it was a beautiful car, and this was the car really we were kind of looking towards to replace. The reality was really replacing the DB6, which wasn’t such a beautiful car – and sorry to anybody who’s got one. It’s a beautiful car, but not as beautiful as the DB5 and DB4, and it’s a shame what physics do to cars sometimes, isn’t it, what aerodynamics can do to cars – they can really spoil the beauty or purity. The DB7 has got a bit of that compromise in terms of not allowing aero to spoil it. But certainly, this was the car, effectively, in our own minds, we were replacing in an affordable Aston.
Walter also, in his sort of coaching to me, and I quite liked coaching from Walter – it was always in good spirit and well-intended, and anybody who knew him, he was always great company. But he loved this prototype Aston. You probably recognise this – there were one or two prototypes built. I can’t remember the name, but he’d probably remember the name of it, but it was…and I think one of them sold fairly recently for an extortionate amount of money. But this is a car he really liked, and he loved the voluptuousness of it and the roundness of it, and he kept showing me pictures of this and how he felt he wanted some of this car to evolve into the new car, which was, by this time, called NP, Newport Pagnell, XX, NPXX – that was the codename for the car.
I’ve shown some drawings of what we were up to. This is one of my early sketches. This is the only sketch I actually have left. I gave all the others away, didn’t I, Richard?
Richard Hayes: Yes! Thank you.
I’m always giving away my sketches. I’ve got a drawer in the office which is full of other people’s sketches except mine for some reason. So, don’t ask me for a sketch – you’re not going to get one. But I still have this one, and this is one of the early sketches for the DB7 to try and capture the car that we wanted.
Now, we started the clay model, we’d worked it up, and here’s the real catch here: as we were working it up, the Jag guys still thought they were going to get Jag out of this, but they weren’t, because Tom and I knew it was going to be an Aston Martin. He was actually funding it at this time, in case anybody thinks there’s some evil bit in here, but he was funding it at this time. We had the guys come in, and we didn’t show them the front-end or anything. We just said this is the car. I got a lot of help from them to say this wasn’t the right car for them, and the further we got into the plan of this car, the more advice I got from Jaguar it was not a Jaguar, it was…it was something else, and actually, they were quite right, it was something else.
And I, of all people, would never know what a Jaguar would be.
And maybe they’re right! Maybe they’re right!
So, we continued with this, and it was the first car I’d designed. That surprises a lot of people when I tell them that. I’d been in Ford for about 11 or 12 years. I’d done mainly steering-wheels and wing-mirrors. I’d work at Ghia for a while with my brother, Moray, and we did a car together, but really he did most of the design work. I’d never really done a car before. I’d waited all this time for this moment to design a car, ever since I was probably about five years old. I didn’t tell Tom that, mind you.
But I knew this was going to be a make or break car for me personally, and if it was going to be a disaster, I would probably never work again, but if it was going to be successful, it might actually take me on to other projects, so it meant everything to me. It was going to be, for me, a hit record or nothing else – it had to be a number one. And I can’t express the amount of intensity and effort that went into getting this car right. Every line – the headlamp, for instance, took me about two weeks to get right, and every time I came in in the morning and looked at it, I thought it was wrong, and I’d go back and do it again and do it again until we had the shape. In fact, I have to admit to you that, in terms of intensity of work, it’s probably the most in-depth car I’ve personally ever done in terms of its shape and its graphics and everything else. So, it personally means a lot to me, for that reason. It really was a huge learning curve.
For those of you who don’t know, this is a clay model. We still do cars in clay models. We sculpt them in clay. What was interesting about this car of course is we were basing it on a platform called the XJS. There’s remnants of an XJS sitting in front which we used for the interior buck. Don’t worry about the XJS bit because I’ll get to that toward the end. We were working digitally by this time. We’d do a clay model and we’d digitise it. It would go onto a computer of sorts – they were about that size in these days, not the little things that we use nowadays. But we had no digital information for the XJS – it was all hand-drawn, the whole car was drawn up, nobody had the original drawings left. So, we had to digitise the whole car to get original drawings in place and start from there, so we really were the first people to digitise the Jaguar XJS and engineer it from there on up.
Now, as we know, the platforms would eventually come off at a certain stage, through the prototype form of the Jaguar line, we’d taken them off the Jaguar line and we’d used it to build the prototypes. I can’t remember if we ever used them as one piece coming off the Jaguar line. I think we probably still came off, as a platform, off the Jaguar line when we went into production – I’m pretty sure we did, in its modified form. So, the digitised information was crucial to us, and so, then, of course, we’d build the clay models and we’d sculpt the clay models by hand, and the guy that really got me through this, a guy called Andrew Miles, who is one of the best clay-modellers, probably the best clay-modeller in the world. He’s no longer working with me. I tried to get him into Jaguar with me, but he’s gone off to make millions in Germany somewhere, so he’s now a rich clay-modeller, but he’s still hands-on. He was a brilliant man, and he still is a brilliant man, and we’re still very good friends, but he really saw me through the project, probably more than anybody else did.
When we had the clay done, we cover it in this thing called dynoc– actually, what we do now is we paint the cars, the clay, and they look like real cars, but we used this stuff called dynoc. And, remember, this is a fairly makeshift studio that I’d put together with Tom back in 1990, and this was happening probably about 1991, or 1992 by that stage, early-1992, and, you know, it was a basic studio. We didn’t have the facilities of the Ford Motor Company I’d come from, so we were really working in a fairly rudimentary way.
This rear three-quarters of the car, I had an idea of how this should look, and I could not get it to work, and I agonised over it, I lost sleep over it, and I was hugely aware of the fact that the world would be watching me and this car and what would come out the other end. There were times I thought this isn’t going to happen, this is not going to work, I can’t do this, you know, and it’s that sort of wall moment where you really have to push your way through it, in any discipline, to try and get out the other end, and I can’t express how much…how difficult this was for me at this stage.
So, we sat looking at this clay model – this is absolutely true – it was fairly rough. The front-end was right, the roof-lines were right, we were meeting all the hard points, the feasibility was good, but I could not get this rear three-quarter, and I knew in my own mind what I was trying to get and it wasn’t working. So, it got to about six o’clock one evening. I was feeling a bit low, and Andy came up, he saw that, and he said “What’s wrong?” and I said, “Andy, I just cannot…I can’t see what’s happening here, and we need to just take a few days off.” He went off to the local Spar shop around the corner – it was a pretty rudimentary industrial estate we were in – and he brought back a bottle of gin…and a big bottle of tonic. Actually, he bought two bottles of tonic – he was fairly optimistic.
And I was sitting on the floor looking at this car, and he opened a packet of crisps – this is the reality of the car world – and he said “Have that”, and he poured me what I call a “domestic gin-and-tonic”, which is usually two to one, you know, one tonic, two gins, and he said, “Drink that.” We sat down and we looked at it. He said, “What are you thinking?” I said, “I want that surface to create that.” So he said, “Why don’t we try it this way and try it that way?” Anyway, in the morning, we had fixed it. We didn’t drink the whole bottle of gin, but we had two or three glasses – I had two or three glasses. I don’t think he had any – he was too conscientious for that. In the morning, we had changed the whole back-end of this car and it was working, and the rest of the team came in and they were absolutely flabbergasted – we’d been there all night to fix it. So, the rear three-quarter of the Aston is probably the nicest part of the car. That’s how it came about…over a bottle of gin!
The other aspect of the DB7 of course is that we couldn’t afford things like our own headlamps and tail lamps. The headlamps were fairly straightforward to make, were standard round lamps, high-tech at the time, with a lens holder. In fact, it really was one of the first modern cars to put lamps inside behind the lenses, if you think about it. Nobody else was doing it. The old Fifties cars did it for a while, but then that idea disappeared and it became one homogenous piece of glass with bulbs inside. So, we went back to the idea of putting lamps inside the lenses, and if you look now, every car does that, doesn’t it, really, has got the lamps inside the global lens. The way we made the front was fairly straightforward. The tail lamps, we couldn’t afford. At the time, a tail lamp would cost at least £350,000 – £450,000 for a taillamp. Now, they’re about a million and a half, by the way, in case you wondered. So, we had to go to the parts bin. We had Mazda, we had Ford, we had Jaguar, and right through the whole car, we’ve got a scattering of parts spin, unashamedly – we weren’t able to afford to put anything other than other people’s components in this car. The taillamps, in case anybody has got a DB7 and getting charged a huge amount of money from Aston for a new one, they’re actually off the Mazda 323F.
You take the corner off them, take the frame off, and you can put the old Mazda ones back in – that’s if you can find the Mazda 323F of course. I think they went out of production about 20 years ago.
The other interesting thing about it was the door handles. They’re pull-up door handles and they’re chrome, and they’re off the Mazda 323 estate-wagon, not a saloon car or a hatchback but a wagon, and the reason we chose those handles was because I wanted them as flush as possible. Walter wanted chrome door handles – he insisted on it. I said, “No, you don’t want to do that.” No, he wanted chrome door handles, and the only chrome door handle in the whole of the Ford parts bin worldwide were from a Mazda estate car, so that’s where the door handles came from.
The front indicators – now, I wanted lots of plan view in this car because what I want to do is shrink the car visually as much as possible over the line, and because I had the opportunity to take metal off underneath where I could and wanted to – we took quite a lot off the corners because the XJS was quite square underneath. We modified a lot of the sheet metal. We got a lot erased and honestly it really did shrink the car, and that’s why it’s got this wonderful homogenous look – it just goes on round, round, forever, and that’s really a philosophy I’ve always held onto since.
Sadly, these lovely soft, round shapes are terrible for aero, by the way. The best aero cars are square like a brick, which is rather unfortunate, the law of physics, a terrible thing. In fact, on this car, the read-end should have been another two inches higher, and if you look at the last version of it, of course we grew the rear-spoiler to that height to get the best aero, something I did not want to do at the time, and Tom said, “Well, don’t do it then!” so we didn’t. But the aero is not brilliant – who cares?! It looks better!
The front-lamps, incidentally, were off the Mazda Miata MX5 because they were the only ones I could find that didn’t have radius, and when you take a lamp off one car and put it in another, they have to be the exactly the same orientation – you can’t move them around, you know, XYZ, they have to be exactly the same place to be homologated. They’ve got an E number on them and they have to be the same.
So, quite a tricky set of components to deal with.
And of course, we worked up an interior. This is an old XJ platform, XJS platform – I think it was old race-car actually, funnily enough, and we started to build the interior up on this, knowing that, if we could make it fit this platform and fit the car, and it seemed a bit rudimentary, but it worked. Jaguar XJS-style, we re-draft them of course. And a lot of people say, “Oh, it’s all Ford parts.” There’s no Ford parts on this – they’re all Jaguar parts, actually, except the vents are from a Ford Granada, Ford Scorpion, whatever it’s called. The rotary control, the control for the door mirrors, is off a Ford. I think these are the only parts that came off a Ford. The door handles were off a Miata MX5 because we liked the look of them and they worked and that’s where they came from. So, the car was full of these components that we found off the Ford parts-shelf, and it was great of course because Ford had all these companies to choose from, at that point, so we had quite a lot of choice.
But we gave it a distinctive interior. I have to say, I didn’t really want to put wood into it. I felt the modern sports-car shouldn’t have wood. Walter insisted. At the end of the day, it was his car, so I bowed to that and said we’ll put wood in it, and I think by the time we created them out of wood we had, I think he was perfectly happy with that, and we got just enough of it to keep it modern, without becoming overly-lavish, where previous Astons, certainly the Vantage, had a lot of wood in it I believe.
And so, the interior evolved, the exterior evolved, and we ended up with the DB7. This is our final clay model. I’m sure there are lots of things I’m going to forget to tell you, but I’ll try and remember them as I go through it.
The vent in the side was a great piece of fun because this was a piece of artistry we could pick up and apply to this car, with a huge amount of pride. Here I am actually putting an Aston vent onto an Aston – imagine how that felt. I mean, I never dreamt of such things when I was growing up! You know, I thought I’ll just end up designing steering wheels and door mirrors, but there you go, there I was, designing a vent for an Aston Martin, and this was the first Aston Martin after the DB6 of this ilk.
By the way, we didn’t know it was going to be called DB7. We had no idea. It didn’t even occur to me, frankly, and we didn’t discuss it. It was just going to be a new, affordable, or more affordable, Aston.
The original car, there’s a feature line that goes down the side of it, with the rubber moulding on it, and that is there to hide a joint line because the original car, in the first quota that was built, had a flip-up front which was…encompassed the whole of the wings, or the fenders, whatever they’re called, that front part where the vent is. They were actually part of the bonnet. The top of it didn’t have a shut line. If you see that model there, I don’t think it’s got one, so that whole bonnet lifted up in one piece, and that was the intention to do that. It proved to be very difficult, in reality, but…
And the other thing was…the wheels are an interesting story. Tom said to me, he said he wanted flat wheels because he knew from experience they were better for aero, and I said, “No, you don’t want these big and heavy, lumpy big wheels”, because you put them on the XJS race-cars, these great big flat disc wheels, but they weighed a ton! I mean, these alloy wheels don’t weigh a lot anyway, but these things really weighed a lot. So, I said, “Okay, I’ll come up with an idea.” So, we designed a wheel and put a hub-cap on it, plastic hub-cap, and that’s what the car downstairs has. But I designed the wheel knowing that, one day, the hub-cap would probably come off…if I had anything to do with it.
Today people actually like that hub-cap, which is quite interesting. I never really liked it. It was more of a Frisbee to me – we called it the Frisbee. But, eventually, it did come off, and lo and behold, underneath, there was a perfectly designed wheel…
…which Tom only found out about later. He said, “You’re a cunning wee lad!” Anyway! And of course, we got to the final car. I think that’s the car downstairs actually. This is the first photoshoot we did of the car. The car that went to Geneva.
Now, there’s another interesting thing. Now, all this time, while we’re developing this car, the anguish for Ford, TWR, Aston, Walter, was really stirring around. You know, Walter and Tom wanted this car to happen. Tom wanted to own it himself, if truth be known. He created the car company called Aston Martin Oxford Ltd, where this car would be built, and he had 51% share of that, or a 50% share of that company, and it was his intention, because Ford wasn’t the slightest interested in Aston Martin – the CFO used to call it the Austin Martin Car Company, that’s true.
And Tom thought here’s the opportunity, once I get this car off the ground, I can start to pull this into my environment and call it Aston Martin, or even Austin Martin, whatever, and really, there was a lot of indifference towards the car, and here’s the pull, Walter worked tirelessly in Detroit, going over there, selling the idea, saying we’ve got to build this – and actually, I’ve jumped the gun a bit here. That prototype that we built – I don’t have a picture of it, with the flip-up front. We got to a gateway called PA, programme approval. That’s a point where Ford Motor Company would actually hand out cash, their cash, to develop the car further, but it’s a crucial point in every programme. It meant commitment. And I was looking at – you can see I make this up as I go along – I was looking at this clay model, and Tom came in and he said we’re going to… He asked me what PA meant, and I said “How significant is it?” and I remembered vaguely from my Ford days what it meant. He said, “So, if we get through PA, the project…” I said, “Not necessarily, but you’re a big step ahead.” He said, “Right, we’ve got to impress them, haven’t we?” I said, “Oh yeah, Tom, got to impress them.” He said, “So, what’s better than a clay model? What do you normally do?” I said, “We do a clay model, do a clay model of the interior, and we present it, with the business case, to the Board of Directors of Ford Motor Company”, a very high-powered bunch of guys. He said, “Well, what’s better than a clay model?” I said, “Well, you could a fibreglass model and paint it up beautifully, see-through windows, it looks authentic, has more flash, but you wouldn’t normally have to.” “No, that’s not what we’ll do.” Tom was like that – he would always go the next step to get what he had to get to make it happen, and he was formidable in that way and I’ve got great admiration for this intent that he had. So, right, okay, so he’s bouncing out of the studio, going down the corridor, and I had this feeling in my mind, because I just knew him well enough, and he walked down the corridor, he got halfway down and he stopped, and I thought “Oh dear…here we go…” and he looked round and he said, “Right, what’s better than a fibreglass model?” and his eyes are glittering, glinting. I said, “Well…build a real car…” This is three months away. “That’s what we’ll do!” I swear, we built a real car in three months. We took an XJS platform, we did what we had to do to it, we put an engine in it. It was a V12 at this time, by the way. It was one of his V12s that he could sell back to Aston of course – a 48-valve V12, or maybe a 12-valve V12 at that point, turned into 48 valves later. And we built the car. We took the measurements off the clay. We went to Motor Panels I think, and got them, built the car up, and we produced it, with perspex/flexiglass windows, no real glass, and we build the car.
So, we turned up, three months later, with a running car. It’s not this one because this is the first production one or third prototype in production, but it looked just like this. We went to the Kensington or Knightsbridge showroom of Aston Martin, and Red Poling was there. Alex Trotman was not there – he was the next leader-to-be, but Red Poling was certainly there…I remember that name, he was one of the top men in Ford. All the big chiefs were in from Detroit. They obviously had a meeting at Dunton or somewhere or Warley, and there they were. We had the interior buck and Tom went through the business case, and they said, “Well, where’s the car?” Anyway, this lift came up out of the basement and we drove the car into the showroom, and they’d never seen anything like this, and he got the money! Showman to the end! So, that’s really what kicked it off. Walter was there, giving advice as to, you know, how good Tom was, he’s going to do the job, but Walter was there was all the time to make sure this car would happen.
So, eventually, we built the car, and we weren’t quite through all the hurdles. We built this one and we started to build a number of prototypes. It was a very exciting moment, as you can imagine. It was a wonderful time. Walter said… This was about three months…this was about January ’93, and Walter came in and said “We’re going to Geneva, Geneva Motor Show.” I said “That’s in March.” He said, “Yeah, yeah, we’ll get one of the first cars and we’ll…” I said, “But you haven’t got full approval from Ford yet, have you?” “Don’t you worry about that!” So, I didn’t, and I don’t think Tom did either actually. We turned up at Geneva with this car. It wasn’t actually signed off!
He (Walter) was shrewd, bloody shrewd… But of course, this car got so much attention and so… In fact, he got orders! He got orders written out, and after that, the rest is history. He went back to Detroit, he got the papers signed, and off we went into production with the Aston Martin DB7. But at that point, he said to me “We’re going to call it the DB7.” He spoke to David Brown and he said “Can we use your name?” the DB letters, and he gave it his blessing, and so the car became DB7. When I heard that, I thought, wow, that really is something…DB7…the wee boy from Dumfries has designed an Aston Martin DB7 – that was a big moment for me, probably one of the biggest.
Just some pictures of the cars… This was number two car, this, in the dark red, and the rear three-quarters of course is one of the nicest parts of the car, with the shape and the voluptuousness of it, and the gentility. All I wanted out of this car was a simple gentility out of it, with elegance, and it had to be handsome as well as beautiful, and I wanted it to be timeless, as Astons should be. You know, every Aston should be timeless. You should be able to look at an Aston in 20 years’ time and think, yes, it’s of an era, but it’s still a beautiful car, and I think…I sort of think this is passing the test of time reasonably well, even with its massive taillamps.
By the way, the mirrors are from the Citroen CX…
If you look at the mirrors, they’re what every small manufacturer, car manufacturer used, almost throughout the world, because they were lovely mirrors, they fitted to the side of the door, they required no extra work, and they were the choice of all the kit-cars around the world as well [laughing], unfortunately. We decided to use them because they were handsome mirrors, they worked well, and they were legally compliant, which is always a big deal with these things.
The interior evolved. The XJS seats were taken, re-designed. The frame was the same. There was no point in re-designing the frame. I can’t remember the story behind the wheel… I think we did do our own wheel. We had to get it homologated and it was very expensive, but basically the carcass of it was…was still the Jaguar carcass.
Now, back to the chassis, before we get too far away from the XJS. When we were developing the car, two fundamental things happened. We had a V12 in it, which is quite a low engine, and then Walter came in one day and he told Tom it had to be a six-cylinder, and he had decided at this point it was going to be a DB7 and therefore it had to be a straight- six, that was it, end of story. Tom wasn’t too happy. He could clearly see his V12 disappearing off into the background. So, Tom said, “Well, I want you to put in the six-cylinder – here are the measurements.” We took the clay model, and the six was higher than the 12, by about 25 or 30 millimetres, and I said, “We’re going to lift the bonnet”, and he wasn’t happy. He really understood the sensitivity of style, Tom – that’s one thing I’ll say for him. I said, “Well, I’ll model it in – come back tomorrow and we’ll have a look at it.” I was always reasonably compliant with Tom, but you kind of had to be really [laughing]. So, he came in and he looked at this and he said, “Do you like it?” and I said “Mmm…” [sounding unsure]. I said “Do you like it?!” because he didn’t like it and he wanted to hear from me was it any good, so he got quite abrupt about it. I said, “No, I don’t like it at all.” “Right, come with me!” and he dragged me to the Engineering Department and he got Pete Dodd, who sadly is no longer with us, Chief Engineer, and he said to Pete, in front of all his team, “This boy doesn’t like the new bonnet!” which is the way Tom worked.
He used to call me a boy. And he said, “So, what do you want to do with it, Ian?” I said, “I need to drop the engine at least 25 or 30 millimetres.” Well, the sub-frame is designed, engineered… You know, the engine was engineered – it was the Jag supercharged engine. We did a lot of stuff to the headwork on the cylinder head, but basically it was what it was. And Pete said, “Well, what do you want to do?” and so Tom said, “Well, redesign the bloody sub-frame – make it fit!” were his exact words. So, Tom went off. Pete took one look at me [laughing] and I won’t tell you what he called me, but it wasn’t very complimentary. But, within three weeks, we’d re-engineered the whole sub-frame of that car to take a six-cylinder engine 30 millimetres lower to get it under the bonnet of the car we styled.
I wish my people at Jaguar would do that…I really do!
Unfortunately, you know, we’ve got steering ramps and God knows what underneath our bloody engines. Anyway! Stop swearing about it!
So, the whole sub-frame was re-engineered, and in the process, we re-engineered the sub-frame to be a better sub-frame than its donor, so the front-end of the car was made better as a result of this.
When we first produced the prototypes, I walked into the workshop, and it came off the ramp, and Pete Dodd was there, and I said, “Pete, the back-end looks like it’s sitting in the air – it’s too high!” “Oh, it’ll settle!” “Yeah, I know, whatever…” And so, I came back the next time, and the teak had dried around it – it was one of the early prototypes, and I thought I’ll give it, you know, give it a bit of time. Two days later, it’s still sitting high. So, I knew the game, I went to see Tom, and I said, “Tom, the car’s sitting too high at the back”, and he came and he said, “You’re right. Pete, new sub-frame and worked with the back as well.” So, we re-engineered the rear sub-frame…
…and we made it better, from the XJS, to settle the back of the car down at least another 35 to 40 millimetres. So, underneath your DB7, it’s not an XJS really. The bits that join the bits maybe are, but the bits that the wheels hang onto are really quite unique in a way, and the car, when you drive it, really shows that up to its best.
So, we went to Geneva, and lo and behold, in Geneva, I bumped into my brother. Now, I’d been at Ghia for a while, he actually ended up working for me there, but I went on to TWR and worked with Aston Martin, and, unbeknown to me, and he didn’t…we didn’t know this, he was working with Ghia, and Walter had instigated another project with Ghia – he didn’t tell me anything about this, working with the Ghia design studio, and my brother was designing a car… I call it the Mark 2 Jag so…
He took it in good humour. But he was designing this Lagonda because he wanted to bring the Lagonda name back, and we built this… He’d built, at Ghia, this Lagonda Vignale. I found out a week before the Geneva show. So…and on the show-stand where we showed the DB7, which in itself for me was an enormous occasion – I was overwhelmed! I just thought, please, don’t let me have to speak, please, please, please, because I couldn’t speak publicly in these days. I mean, some people say I still can’t, but I really could not speak publicly, and I was just praying that nobody would ask me to stand up and say a few words, which fortunately they didn’t. I mean, talking to a journalist for the first time was terrifying enough – I tell you, it really was! But it was a big occasion. But what was really good for me is, up on the Ghia stand, the hall upstairs, only within eye’s distance was this Lagonda Vignale that my brother designed, and there was a model of it behind my car, and that lovely picture of myself and my brother, with the DB7 and the model of the Vignale behind it, which of course we framed and gave to my mother. Autocar took that. Unfortunately, I can’t find a copy. It’s somewhere in my archives, which I’ll have to dig it out again. So, that was a great momentous moment for me, one of the best days of my life, and little did I know it then, but it was a day that changed my life forever, in so many ways, in so many ways.
So, the Aston Martin DB7, I call it my “happy car”. I always say to journalists you can tell whether a car is built out of angst, politics or happiness, and this car was probably built during the best years of my life, working at TWR, and the friends I had there, I had wonderful experiences and I think it really showed in the way the car came out.
So, that was really the way the coupe evolved. I’m sure there’s a million other things I should have told you, but we’ll get on with the story. We went back then and we created the convertible. I have to tell you, it’s easier to do the convertible first and do a coupe afterwards, which I’ve found out since, but to do a coupe off a convertible without really much forethought was very, very hard indeed, in both engineering terms and aesthetically as well, but we managed to create what I think is quite a handsome convertible. I never think convertibles are quite as good-looking as the coupes, in any car, and it beats me why the E-type roadsters cost more than the coupes but…I don’t know, that’s the way it is. So, we evolved the car off the…obviously off the DB7. The unfortunate thing is we had to carry over a lot of the makings of the XJ boot mechanism. The mechanism is all new by the way, but the principles of it and the joints and everything are directly off the XJS and the Jaguar system, which I think was Escher was making them, amongst the best hood builders in the world and we still use them, and so it’s a very, very good boot system.
However, this does bring to light a couple of things which frustrated me in the car and that was some of the detailing at this point is not up to the sort of par that I would like. Some of the rubber mouldings around the windows and some of the door-seal mouldings in early cars were actually far from being what they should have been. We put, I think, a bill of £100,000 into the mouldings of the door rubbers, and they were not particulary good for I think the first six months of production, and they clearly weren’t suitable for the car and they didn’t work, but this was what the penny-pinching was all about. It got to the point where we really had spent the money and we had to go into the finite detail of such boring things like door-rubbers and not pay the money for it, and I really wish we had, but then, ultimately, we did pay the money, so we went from that to £1.5 million investment, which Ford managed to put in.
The other unfortunate thing for Tom was Ford suddenly took an interest in this car, and not of course, least of all, because Jacques Nasser was now involved, and Jacques Nasser instigated the Vignale as well, and he was very close to Walter, and Jacques really took a huge interest. Being Australian, he understood what an Aston Martin was, and knew it wasn’t an Austin Martin, and he got very, very annoyed actually when he tried to explain it to his friends in Dearborn that an Aston Martin was a brand worth saving, and he convinced them. Much to the annoyance of Tom, he convinced Ford that we should hold onto Aston and continue it. And here’s an irony: the CFO, who used to call it the Austin Martin, I can’t remember his name and he’s quite a well-known guy, bought one with his own money – he bought a DB7. Hope he bought an early one!
So, there were lots of flaws with the car, but you have to remember, we did this car for £30 million. Now, okay, £30 million is a lot of money to many of us, I’m sure, but to build a car for £30 million is unheard-of, even back in 1993. I can’t do a facelift now, just cosmetically, for less than probably £25-£30 million, if I’m lucky, and that doesn’t include an engine, any electronics. We’re currently doing a facelift at the moment and it’s well over £50 million, easily. So, to build a car for £30 million is just nothing short of miraculous, and Ford fundamentally found it incredible. But it wasn’t without its issues, which we eventually resolved through time.
(This transcript and the attached recording cover the first 45 minutes of Ian’s speech, concerning his involvement with the DB7.)
The Walter Hayes Memorial Lecture was established by the Aston Martin Heritage Trust in 2003, and is held every year in January at the RAC Club in London. Previous speakers are: Andy Palmer, Chris Porritt, Darren Turner, David Brabham, David King, David Richards, George Howard-Chappell, Henrik Fisker, Ian Minards, Jeremy Mains, Maitland Cook, Marek Reichman, Nicholas Mee, Sir Stirling Moss and Tony Brookes.