profile; Behind the wheel of a dream

Aston Martin's new boss is being paid to turn a car he loves into a winner in the US. And he has the industry mileage to pull it off, Paul Farrelly reports

JAMES BOND could not lay his hands on one this time, and neither can you until early next year - even then only if you have around pounds 90,000 to spare. The new open-top Aston Martin DB7 Volante is sleek with more than a hint of menace, growls from 0-60mph in just 5.7sec, and will devour the road at a top speed of around 165mph.

Unveiled 10 days ago in Detroit and Los Angeles, the convertible is the latest and most technologically advanced Aston Martin to bear the famous DB marque, the spiritual successor to the DB4, DB5 and DB6s of the 1960s. The DB5, you will remember, sped Sean Connery dangerously through Goldfinger and Thunderball, with machine- guns, ejector seats and all.

DB, by the way, stands for David Brown, the engineering entrepreneur who united the Aston Martin and Lagonda names after the Second World War and dominated motor racing with the talents of Stirling Moss, Jim Clark and Jack Brabham.

For Aston Martin Lagonda today, though, the latest Volante is much more than just another car to die for. After a three-year gap, it spearheads the company's return to the US, the largest car market in the world. With target sales of 600 a year, the DB7 Volante and its Coupe stablemate also practically amount to mass production against the 100 or so hand-built "V cars" - Virage, Vantage and original Volante - the company otherwise sells at prices of up to pounds 180,000 apiece. It might be heresy, but with lower cost, higher volumes, modern production and Ford technology, the new Volante throws a lifeline to an endangered species.

"It's make or break for us ... this was not just launching a new product, it was relaunching the whole company as well," says the company's executive chairman, David Price, fresh back from an exhausting tour of the US.

Just 10 weeks into the job, it falls to Price, a former Ford man, to nearly double the US network to more than 20 and take dealerships worldwide close to 100 by the end of this year, from around 70 now. For this giant, 6ft 4in and nearly as broad, as befits a former rugby second-row, has cars in his blood.

Aged 52, he is also an ordinary bloke made good and now lapping up a fantasy: "What do you do for a living?" "I'm the boss of Aston Martin" - any boy's dream job. Naturally Price drives one- the pick of the bunch, with transferrable AML1 number-plate - but only on company business. They are simply too expensive to throw around the road on the one-and-a-half- hour journey each day from his Cambridge home, an old rectory complete with swimming-pool.

He was born in Chigwell, Essex, where his father - Welsh, hence Price's lifelong rugby support for London Welsh - was in insurance, his mother a housewife. He joined Ford's Dagenham factory in 1964 at 21 after A-levels and, "please don't print this, after travelling around a bit." The Ford work ethic shows through.

Missing out on university still brings slight regrets, but mainly in case his three young children, Richard, Kathryn, and Graham, aged 11, 9 and 7 respectively, chirp that Daddy didn't go, so why should they?

His career since has taken him from accounts clerk in Dagenham to engineering Escorts and Cortinas and programme manager in the late 1980s for Ford's ambitious world car, the Mondeo. Stints in the US and India came in between and, just before Aston Martin came up trumps, Mr Price found himself trouble- shooting in South America, supervising Ford's break-up of its Autolatina joint venture with Volkswagen.

"It was 5.30am in a hotel in Brazil when the call came. Friday, October 20th. You can imagine, I had to come down off the ceiling," Price says.

"I thought I was in the running. There's no company policy that says the job has to be occupied by a Brit, but it helps. Aston Martin is a wonderful job," he beams.

Ford bought the company in 1987 after more collapses and changes of owner in its 80-year history than most of its long-serving craftsmen care to remember.

Aston Martin has been building cars in Newport Pagnell - known to most of us, and to Price until recently, as just another M1 service station - since its foundation by two Oxbridge graduates, Robert Bamford and Lionel Martin, in 1913. Bamford lost out straight away to commercial reality: A comes before B in the alpahabet and all-important car listings, so Aston - taken from a Berkshire hill sprint climb - plus Martin it was to be.

The "V cars", right up to the 1993 two-ton, 5.3 litre Vantage, are still painstakingly hand-engineered at Newport Pagnell using processes pre-dating Henry Ford's earliest mass production. Each piece of the aluminium bodywork is bent and welded by craftsmen on to a steel chassis. Each engine is hand-built and comes complete with the engineer's personal nameplate. Nine hides of finest Connolly leather are cut and stitched for each car and 12 coats of paint - any colour the customer likes - perfect the finish. A labour of love taking 1,500 hours goes into each.

The latest Vantage was already in the works when Ford took over. The Prince of Wales, whose signed portrait takes pride of place in Price's office, is still driving an L-registered V8 convertible. By the frugal 1990s, the product range was looking expensive and dated, however.

In a break with tradition, the DB7 is built by 200 employees at Bloxham, near Banbury Oxfordshire, in the factory that produced Jaguar's XJ220 supercar. Conceived in 1991, it uses stamped, mainly steel panels and houses a 3.2-litre modified engine from Jaguar, also now owned by Ford.

Price is at pains, however, to assuage the concerns of Aston Martin's other 200 staff at Newport Pagnell. That site is now profitable for the first time in many years, he says, and the town - which boasts "Home of Aston Martin Lagonda" on its welcome signs - has an indelible place in the company's future.

"This business is about 50 per cent head and 50 per cent heart," Price says.

"My key plan is to establish the company as a twin-site, self-financing, fully viable operation. If I can achieve that, it will be a great thing to leave to the people of Aston Martin."

He has far more ambitions for his new charge, too. Launching a new Lagonda, a sporty four-seater to the Aston Martin's two, is just one. But Ford's pockets are by no means bottomless, so all in good time, once the DB7 delivers the goods and provides a sure footing for the future.

Sadly no Lagondas are now built, but for any buyers out there, six of the last - the pointy-nosed, 1986 William Towns Lagonda - remain in stock. The latest prototype, the Lagonda Vignale unveiled two years ago, remains for now just that, a one-off.

Still, there's a DB8 in concept, but the next James Bond film will be long gone before that hits the showroom. So what about Goldeneye, where the new Bond had to plump for a BMW Z3 convertible?

"We were asked a couple of years ago and of course we'd like to be in. But they wanted an open top, and sadly we didn't have the new Volante," Price says.

"Still, we've almost got more publicity by not having a new model in there. We have had more footage than a certain well-known competitor."

And what about the ultimate enthusiast's dream? Ford is back in Formula One with the Benetton team, but Aston Martin has been out of the circuit since 1959. "If that happened, it would be under the Aston Martin name, but if I started talking about things like that, I think I'd get into a lot of trouble," Price says.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
businessHow bosses are inventing unusual ways of making us work harder
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
news
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

DevOps Engineer - Linux, Shell, Bash, Solaris, UNIX, Salt-Stack

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: A fast growing Financial Services organisation b...

Trade Desk FIX Analyst - (FIX, SQL, Equities, Support)

£50000 - £60000 per annum + excellent benefits: Harrington Starr: An award-win...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?