Bond For A Day

New York, May 2002. A hi-fi show at the Hilton. Smack in the middle of Linn’s room, a silver Aston-Martin Vanquish. Linn’s public relations officer, Brian Morris, asks me, ‘Ken, would you like to take the Vanquish for a week-end, to review the sound system?’

Trust me: it’s very, very hard to remain cool under such circumstances, despite the crowd of colleagues present. ‘Go on.’ I said, ‘Twist my arm.’

Six months later, I’m at Aston-Martin in Newport Pagnell to collect the very same silver Vanquish seen at the Birmingham Motor Show. Prior to being handed the keys, I get the factory tour, the familiarisation drive with Mr. Les Goble, the same treatment which I suppose a genuine customer would receive if he or she were curious enough to take the car-buying process beyond the dealer showroom. You don’t go to Newport Pagnell to buy or collect your Aston-Martin. You go there solely to learn about the cars and the marque.

It’s a lesson in ‘olde worlde’ customer relations. I noted that every single salesman in the show room was handsome, over 6ft tall and immaculately attired, able to answer every question and adept at making Sir feel most reassured by his choice of chariot over, say, some German or Italian pretender to the gran turismo crown. Once you’ve seen the anally-retentive inspection stage, where even microscopic flaws cannot pass the gaze of the staff, once you’re told that the seat can be shaped to your back should you suffer and spinal conditions, once you learn that Aston-Martin applies double the number of hand-rubbed coats of lacquer than even its more austere British luxury cousins, well, the thought of anything less for your ¬£164,000 seems downright indecorous.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to face the current delivery time of a year-and-half. Mr. Goble drove me around the back roads surrounding Newport Pagnell, explaining to me each operation, every manoeuvre. It’s not that I’m a virgin, having driven for 34 years and tasted one or two supercars along the way. Rather, it was a (forgive the choice of words) crash course in using the paddle shift gearbox fitted to all Aston-Martins. Despite rumours to the contrary, it’s so straightforward and logical that, once you’ve experience the way it renders this 190mph-plus car as docile as a Peugeot 106 in heavy traffic or queues at the Dartford Tunnel. More’s the pity, as there isn’t a single car in the world in my price range with paddle shift….

After mirroring Mr. Goble’s drive and demonstrating that I wouldn’t demolish the car with which I’d been entrusted for the weekend, I headed south to the M25 in pouring rain. The Vanquish offers enough in the way of traction options to ensure that I didn’t fishtail into the traffic on either side. Then again, the awareness that nearly 500 horsepower can be accessed by a prod of the right hand pedal makes one a bit circumspect at first. Hooligan behaviour could wait.

It was immediately apparent that, unlike other mega-dollar motors, the Vanquish does not invite shaking fists, screams of ‘T*****r!’ or other envy-riddled indications of Labour Party affiliation. People waved, rolled down their windows and shouted, ‘What’ll she do?’ Porsches pulled over to the slower lanes. My radar detector chirped merrily. And then I remembered the reason I was in the car.

Dr Ulrich Bez, Chief Executive Officer of Aston-Martin, explained that the company felt that ‘its customers should have the best of whatever is available. Therefore we actively looked for a company that only produced what is regarded as the best audio systems¬†but also fitted well with our brand. The result was an agreement with Linn.’ Linn fitted a dozen individual speakers, each with its own 75 watt amplifier, plus a massive, self-powered subwoofer on the rear deck, integrated with the existing Alpine ‘head unit’.

While some would argue convincingly that the best sounds issued from that car come from its tailpipes, the Linn system’s sweet sounds made a brace of three-hour motorway journeys pass too quickly. Even when accelerating with vigour, the system can be heard over the rasp of the Vanquish’s V-12. Fitted as a standard item after the public gave it a thumb’s up at the 2002 Geneva show, the Linn system suits the Vanquish to a ‘T’, as in the fourth letter in ‘British’.

Driving it? Aside from a constant awareness of its value, the car was as tractable as a family saloon, but one which drinks petrol with relish. It’s a big, heavy car that feels light and compact. Every surface is a tactile delight, and the biggest danger is taking one’s eyes off the road to look at its reflection it shop windows. I drew the line at pulling into the BMW dealership and thumbing my nose.

As luck would have it, the latest James Bond film opened the same weekend that I had the Vanquish. Driving it around Canterbury elicited smiles, oohs, and aahs. Women wanted to have my babies, their husbands wanted my friendship. I swear: I even lost an inch off my waistline and my hair stopped receding. No wonder Bond couldn’t stay away for three more films.

Linn speaker in Aston-Martin Vanquish door

Linn speaker in Aston-Martin Vanquish door

(English Homes, 2002)