CAR interviews Aston Martin design director Marek Reichman (2009)

Published: 19 October 2009

CAR: The new Aston Martin Rapide looks great, as did the 2006 concept. We just wished it had arrived sooner. How much has changed from the concept to the production version?

Marek Reichman: We’ve spent the time on driving dynamics, the package and constructing the car correctly. The car has grown taller (by 25mm) and fractionally longer (under 10mm) – but with the same wheelbase, wheel and tyre sizes and V12 engine placement. We’ve improved the interior package’s rear seat ingress and egress, its usable and perceived space while maintaining that elegant exterior appearance. In my opinion, that has actually improved the exterior. Although it is taller it doesn’t appear that much taller and doesn’t have a feeling of just being a stretched car. It’s got its own character.

Who do you see as the Rapide’s rivals?

I don’t think there are any other four-seat, four-door sports cars - and this is a sports car, it’s not a limousine or a sedan. It’s only 13mm taller than a DB9 or DBS, has a low centre of gravity and lots of practicality. You could argue the Porsche Panamera is a very sporting sedan, but it’s not a sports car.

Were you tempted to make a bigger rear space to appeal – for instance – to the Asian businessman market?

No, it’s all about what is right for our product and brand. It was about ‘what is a more usable four-door Aston Martin’?

So you’re relaunching the Lagonda brand for your more practical cars?

Exactly, if we need something that will venture into those markets, or is more oriented to the rear of the cabin, then it becomes a Lagonda – because a Lagonda is about the journey, an Aston Martin is all about the driving, even if you are sitting in the back. There’s something great about being in the back seat as you’re so close to what the driver’s doing.

What about the Aston Martin Cygnet city car based on the Toyota iQ? It’s shocked many people. Was it on the cards when you joined in mid-2005?

It wasn’t, but I think it shows how quickly we can react as a company to world changes. I’m a great believer in Darwinism, and Darwin said you need to adapt to survive and that you need to collaborate to survive. The Cygnet is an adaptation of the brand and a collaboration with someone who does things very successfully in Toyota.

You’ve talked passionately before about the necessity of various design details – like the extra vents on the Vantage V12 – but you don’t need any vents on a Cygnet do you?

It’s a concept thing. But part of the fun of this car is being able to personalise it infinitely. They’re not strictly necessary; in fact they’re not necessary at all. You could delete the vents if you wish, but… [chuckling] I’d keep them!

The new Aston Martin One-77 also has a vast potential for customization, but is there a palette you want to steer customers towards?

There is. The interior uses a lot of carbonfibre, so we try to steer people towards a combination of materials that fits with its glossy warm-toned weave. Representing the brand, you want to help people with the correct decision because almost every detail can be changed.

It’s a far cry from the car you had in college then?

Indeed! Back in 1988 I had an awful orangey-red Metro 1.0. I always parked it a long way away, even when I went to Asda.

Your first car was more exciting though?

Yes, a 1966 Austin Healey Sprite I shared with my brother. I failed my driving test in it, as an indicator wasn’t working. I can still remember the number plate: 979 LAB. The story goes that it used to be owned by a Labour MP who only gained that many votes in an election.

Which car do you wish you’d designed and which car are you glad you didn’t?

The W154 Mercedes race car is one of the most beautiful body forms in existence. The one I’m glad I didn’t would still be the Pontiac Aztek.

Finally, what’s your worst driving habit?

That I think I’m the best driver in the world!

By Guy Bird

Contributor, cultural curator, design commentator