The Victor Gauntlett is pretty much what I’d design if left with a blank sheet of paper
There haven’t been many people in this industry to whom I warmed more immediately than Victor Gauntlett, whom I last saw in 2001, 10 years after he left Aston Martin’s chair and about 18 months before his death aged just 60.
Victor was many things, well-to-do, ebullient and funny among them, but so too was he modest, kind and had a brain sharper even than the cut of his tailor-made suits. His contribution to Aston Martin between taking the helm on January 5, 1981 having first dropped his wife at Guildford Hospital to give birth to their son Mark, and his departure a decade later is possibly the greatest of any individual save Augustus Bertelli and David Brown.
He got little credit for the 1980s, which was a period of survival for Aston, but by the time he left it was safe under the corporate wing of the Ford Motor Company and with the idea that became the DB7 ‘a fully written concept’.
So it was naturally to him that my mind turned when I drove the Aston Martin Victor a few weeks ago. Unlike the Speedster reviewed on page, which isn’t my kind of car at all, the Victor is pretty much what I’d design if left with a blank sheet of paper and an even blanker chequebook. Carbon tub, carbon body, carbon brakes. Monster 7.3-litre, normally aspirated V12 engine directing 836bhp to the rear wheels alone through a six-speed manual gearbox with no stability control.
Did I like it? More than I can say. Pity that it’s a one-off that will have cost its Belgian commissioner and owner around £4m. But at least it can carry Victor’s name with pride. Had he lived, he’d not even be 80 and I wondered what he’d have thought of it. And I know he’d have loved it, too. Indeed 20 years since I last heard it, I can almost hear the laugh from here.
But so too did I enjoy driving another sporting vehicle about as far removed from the concept of the Victor as it is possible to imagine. I went to visit the Little Car Company at Bicester Heritage where is has become rightly renowned for its three-quarter size Bugatti electric cars.
And rich boy’s toys though most will probably be, that doesn’t stop me admiring the excellence of their engineering, or enjoying whizzing around the site’s private roads in a Baby Bugatti II. It’s striking too that Bugatti itself recognises and sanctions these cars, even providing Chiron badging to go with them. And Ben Hedley who owns the business isn’t stopping there: he already has an official Aston DB5 Junior, has announced a full-sized Tamiya model for next year which will be able to be made road legal and after that I know of at least two other proper and prestigious car manufacturers whose more revered products are about be realised in pint-sized, electric form. Toys they are, but they are also lightweight and fun electric cars. Long may they continue.
There was something else to learn from these wildly disparate experiences and that is simply that the best cars are those that know what they are for, even if that is to do just one thing really, really well. When I think of my small and unimportant accumulation of old cars, it’s what links them all. My Series III Land Rover, Caterham Seven, ancient suicide door Fiat 500 and even older ripple bonnet 2CV are all cars of extraordinary focus, which also explains why they, or the concept behind them, lasted not just for years or decades, but generations. And surely there is something to be learned from this for manufacturers foisting upon the public ever more homogenised, blander than bland, beiger than beige anonymous crossover SUVs? There was a time when I, as a motoring journalist, would have been shocked by the idea that anyone in my trade could look at any car on any street and not know what it was, from whence it came and its precise purpose in life.
But today and every day I see cars and not only do I not know what they are, I don’t care either. This of course says a lot about the fact there are many more versions of more models of cars on sale today than there ever were in the past. It may well say something about me too – perhaps I’ve become jaded after 33 years in this job, though I’d like to think not. Most of all it says that with few eclectic exceptions, we live in an age of dead-end design where the imperative is not to create cars of such clearly thought out and innate excellence that they will still be influencing the world half a lifetime later, but to get a blob of clay, apply a few curves, slashes and cuts, knock it out as quick as you can and move to the next one. Do you think the impending electric revolution is going to slow or reverse this process? Me neither.
I was interested to see a rather elderly (it was written on a typewriter) official press release entitled The Plural of Lotus, in which we learn: “In the interest of standard grammar and understanding please note that in future all Lotus literature etc will feature the following: the plural of Lotus will be Lotus; the possessive of Lotus will be Lotus’. This, we hope, will eliminate the use of the horrible words: Loti and Lotuses.”
These rules remain current at Lotus today. Having had the rather dubious pleasure of a partly classical education, this informs me that Lotus is therefore a fourth declension noun like ‘Gradus’ and not a second declension noun such as ‘Dominus’. It therefore follows that the genitive plural ‘of Lotus’ is ‘Lotuum’. I look forward to using it at the earliest opportunity.
“I see cars and not only do I not know what they are, I don’t care”