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Old 02-26-2002, 09:00   #1 (permalink)
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New Aston Martin DB5 ?

Baby makes three: Aston Martin's “Affordable” Porsche 911 Carrera-fighter spied


By BOB GRITZINGE
Aston Martin is busily testing the first rolling prototype of its Porsche 911 Carrera-fighter, codenamed AM305 and scheduled for market in 2004 or 2005.
Company officials are mum on specifics, but acknowledge that an engineering mule recently spotted on public roads in Britain is testing a new platform created under the direction of Ulrich Bez. It will first appear under a “less expensive” Aston Martin sports car, touted as a direct competitor to Porsche’s 911 Carrera and the 390-hp, 4.2-liter V8 Maserati Coupe. AM305 is slotted below both the $150,000 DB7 and the flagship $220,000 Vanquish. The AM305 will likely make use of the bonded aluminum and composite chassis technology developed for Vanquish and DB7. The new platform is expected to form the basis of the future three-model range.

“That is a very early prototype,” said Tim Watson, Aston Martin spokesman, of the spied vehicle. Watson said the car, clearly front-engined, should end speculation that Aston was considering dabbling in a mid-engined configuration with AM305.

He wouldn’t confirm reports that the rear-drive platform employs a new 4.4-liter V8 (based on Jaguar’s AJV8), making 400 hp or more, targeting the performance of the Porsche Carrera GT3. Expect a choice of transmissions: six-speed manual with a paddle-shift option, and a five-speed automatic.

Watson cautioned against drawing conclusions about the AM305’s styling from the prototype beyond the expectation that the production model will carry the signature Aston Martin horizontal grille opening and side cooling vents. AM design chief Henrik Fisker, on the job only six months, is reportedly still working on the production design, which may owe more to David Brown-era DB4 and DB5 shapes than to more recent Aston Martin designs like Ian Callum’s DB7 and Vantage.

Engineers began testing the rakish coupe in January. Production awaits construction of a factory on the grounds of the Land Rover technical center in Gaydon, England (AW, Dec. 17, 2001). The plant will be dedicated to building AM305s; Aston Martin plans to build up to 1500 cars per year as early as 2004, priced at $90,000 to $100,000. With 1500 total worldwide Aston sales last year (1300 DB7s, 200 Vanquishes; 30 percent to U.S. buyers), the baby Aston would represent a doubling in production. The company is already working to increase its dealer network, especially in the United States, to prepare for the car.

Despite ambitious expansion forecasts, Watson assures that Aston Martin will stay a low-volume marque.

“Exclusivity is the key to Aston Martin,” said Watson. “We’ll never be a mass-producer. We’ll never build 10,000 cars.” —JULIAN RENDELL contributed
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