Aston Martin’s DB11 V8 may not come with an ejector seat, tire-slashing hubcaps or an invisibility cloak, but even James Bond would be hard pressed to find fault with the newest model from the luxury British automaker.
The company, long synonymous with the fictional spy franchise, has been around since 1913 yet fewer than 100,000 Aston Martins have been produced. Of the 4,000 cars that Aston Martin hand builds at its Gaydon, England, factory each year, about a quarter – or roughly 1,000 – are shipped to U.S. customers.
It’s likely that the average American’s only interaction with an Aston Martin vehicle – whether it’s a DB11, Vantage or a Rapide S – happens every few years in a movie theater.
The exclusivity and rarity of an Aston Martin are part of the brand’s appeal, Laura Schwab, president of Aston Martin the Americas, told ABC News last month in California.
For the customers who can drop $200,000 (or more) on an Aston Martin, “it’s an achievement in their world to have this vehicle,” she said. “[Our customers] don’t want one on every street corner.”
There were no Aston Martins in Schwab’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, when she was growing up. There still aren’t.
The biggest U.S. markets for the brand are New York, Florida, Texas and California. When Schwab showed off the DB11 V8 to her parents, their reaction was unequivocal.
“My mom said, ‘Damn, that’s sexy,’” Schwab said with a laugh. “My dad was like, ‘Oh, hell yeah.’”
Schwab warned me that the DB11 V8 was an attention-getter, even though the brand’s customers tend not to be flashy with their wealth, according to Matt Clarke, Aston Martin’s general manager of marketing and communications. That seemed like a paradox -- many people drive rarefied vehicles to flaunt their status and induce envy.
The DB11 V8 marked my first time driving an Aston Martin. A stunner of a car, it drew stares wherever I went with it. One California surfer dude stopped in his tracks upon laying eyes on it, documenting the car with photo after photo.
On the freeway, a man in a Maserati crossed multiple lanes to get up close, snapping away on his iPhone at 85 mph. At one endlessly long red light, I caught a teen boy and his father in an Audi slack-jawed. “Do you like my ride?” I asked them. Both shook their heads in approval.
It was easy to lose sense of reality in the DB11 (and get points on my license). I rationalized the $220,000 sticker price: with its 5.2-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine, the DB11 delivered 503 bhp and 498 pounds of torque with a max speed of 187 mph.
The cowhide from Scotland was entirely hand-stitched by one seamstress, who would take 25 hours to complete the task. The paint on the car – seven coats – was an additional 50 hours.
All told, at least 200 hours were required to produce this exquisite specimen of a vehicle. Any shortcomings were quickly dismissed. No Apple CarPlay? No problem. Who needed a backseat anyway?
I zoomed along the deserted streets of Borrego Springs, California, remembering what Clarke had told me in our interview: “It’s not what the car does but how it makes you feel.”
Never had I been so happy to sit in traffic. Driving for miles up Palomar Mountain was awe-inspiring instead of nerve-racking. Mundane county roads became exhilarating. The DB11 V8 was transfixing.
The alliance between Aston Martin and James Bond may have introduced millions to the iconic brand, yet the company has bigger aspirations: an ambitious vehicle rollout that includes the much-anticipated DBX, Aston Martin’s first SUV.
“I want more people to get to fall in love with this brand and with these vehicles in addition to the relationship we have with Bond,” Schwab said. “We’re not out there chasing volume. We’re not going to change our process. It takes 250 hours to hand build one and that can never change for an Aston Martin.”
Clarke said he wants an Aston Martin poster taped to “every 7-year-old girl’s and boy’s bedroom wall.”
I could see that. The cars personify beauty, power, intrigue. James Bond would have it no other way.