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A hand-made heritage

Inside Aston Martin Lagonda Limited

Published

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In this age of automation, it’s now become common place for many of the things we use from day to day to be built by machine. Whether it’s a car, cellphone, or even some of our food, it’s likely there’s already an automated process behind them.

Then again, there the rare few that still believe in the beauty of something made by hand. Many luxury items, like jewelry, leather goods, and watches are still made by hand. The same can be said for Aston Martin automobiles which granted us a rare opportunity to see how one is made.

Facilitated by Aston Martin Asia Pacific and Aston Martin Manila, this trip would serve as my introduction to all things Aston; past, present and future. Having made inroads in emerging markets like Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, India, and the Philippines, the marque is keen to show what goes into creating one of these desirable machines and what is to come.

All Aston Martin cars the world are still made in the United Kingdom. There’s no outsourcing here. Each one is still 100 percent British made.

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Aston Martin Gaydon

One of its larger facilities is housed in Gaydon, just a short drive from London. The large complex houses both the offices and the factory.

The factory itself occupies a massive area, boasting of two production lines to build the Vantage, Rapide, DB11 and DBS models. Much like any manufacturing facility, many of the parts are outsourced, from the engine, to the panels, to the chassis components. All cars are built with a bonded aluminum chassis. As such, there is no welding area in the factory. Instead chassis components are cold-bonded with a quick-curing adhesive that can rival the effectivity of any modern weld.

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What’s truly unique to the Aston Martin factory is the lack of robots. Many of the parts are still fitted by hand, and while this is a slower process, is also much more thorough than any machine could be. An interesting example of this preference for hand-made is the interiors and fitment area. All interiors are made in-house with skilled craftsmen. This allows the marque to offer a broader range of interior options, as opposed to cookie-cutter seats and dashboards. So much of the interior can be customized, from the choice of perforations on the seats, dash, and ceiling, to the custom embroidered or embossed details.

Our hosts gladly provided some unique examples, like a full Alcantara dashboard or purple leather seats, which turned out to be not as appealing as they sound. The leather is stitched and fitted into the seat and ceiling by hand. Engines are also individually tested before receiving the seal of approval of the chief inspector. Finally, vehicles are run through a long list of quality control checks before receiving the badge. It finally rolls out the factory floor as one of the few hand-assembled vehicles still produced today.

Aston may be known for its more modern creations, yet few might be aware of the classics it still produces and maintains. For this, we took on a short drive to Newport Pagnell.

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Aston Martin Works

Aston Martin Works at Newport Pagnell is the oldest facility of the company. This is the very facility where the first Aston Martin cars were built, and continues to produce its limited continuation models today. The facility serves multiple roles as dealership, service center and factory. Pre-owned production and specialty vehicles can be acquired here. Current owners can opt to have their vehicles serviced and restored by the experienced mechanics here, and finally, this is also where continuations like the DB4 GT and DB5 Goldfinger are made.

The Gaydon facility may tend to stretch the definition of “hand-made,” but at Works, it truly lives up to it. These continuation cars are built from the exact blueprints of the originals from Aston’s archives. Thanks to today’s better materials, the cars are more rigid, lighter, and the engines more efficient and powerful.

Easily the most interesting aspect of it is how these new classics are made from straight cut sheet metal. Aluminum panels are cut and then shaped with an English wheel. They’re painstakingly bent and curved before being welded to the body. No assembly lines here. Parts are brought to the car, fitted by hand, and carefully inspected before proceeding to the next step.

Besides continuation cars, Works also restores older models, and can modify them if desired. Anything from old Lagonda sedans to early DB’s are accepted. They will even be restored right down to the original paint and interior fittings as indicated by the VIN and records. Modifications include manual transmission conversions or provisions for a battery tender.

Having seen both old and new aspects of Aston Martin Lagonda, one can’t help but fall in love with the brand that so closely guards its heritage yet also dares to innovate with its newer offerings.

By Iñigo S. Roces, Photos by Max Earey

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