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Auto Hypnosis

If You're in the Market for the Planet's Priciest Production Cars, Look No Further
Joshua Shapiro
From the Print Edition:
Pierce Brosnan, Nov/Dec 97

(continued from page 3)

That the DB7 is such a lush motoring machine with archetypal sports car lines is completely due to Ian Callum, its Scottish, ex-Ghia of Turin designer. The Aston Martin DB7 is the true James Bond fantasy car. Upon getting into one, the immediate sensationof heading for a casino, wearing a tuxedo and sitting next to Honey Ryder (or Claudia) overcomes you.

The British know how to convey sophisticated luxury in their motorcars. Nobody does the wood, leather and carpeting number better. The cabin of the DB7 is simple and elegant. All the controls, warning lights (neatly color-coded for severity) and gauges (analogue white-on-black) are laid out so as to be accessible and unobtrusive. The Connolly leather seating, with contrasting piping, is heated and has inflatable lumbar support. Sitting in the car is like wearing a fine, fitted cashmere blazer--soft, warm and soothing.

The convertible DB7 Volante, with its winged Aston Martin logos on the C-pillar shining like blazer buttons, has a powered roof and a heated glass rear window. Although it is a tad less stiff than the coupe, the open-air joy of taking the top down while venturing through sunny countryside more than compensates for the occasional squeak. Both come with a four-piece set of matching luggage.

Driving it isn't bad, either. The perfectly balanced, dual overhead cam, 24-valve, in-line six-cylinder 3.2-liter engine, assisted by a belt-driven Eaton supercharger, delivers 335 hp and 361 foot-pounds of torque. Its four-speed automatic transmission can deliver the goods. Handling is crisp, although it is subject to noticeable oversteer during braking. Off the track, the DB7 can run comfortably with the Ferrari.

The Aston Martin Lagonda is an old marque, a bit like threadbare royalty. Established in 1913 by Lionel Martin to build race cars, the AML has struggled financially through many owners for most of its existence. In more than 80 years, it has produced only about 13,000 hand-built cars. In 1994, it was bought by Ford, which has kept it an exclusive and independent manufacturer. In this age of robotics, each DB7 takes 180 hours of handwork to build. Buyers are encouraged to customize everything.

As beautiful as it is, the DB-7 is really the baby of the Aston Martin litter. All the more expensive brethren, such as the $400,000 AM Shooting Brake (station wagon), are V8-powered, and none are exported to America. Designed and built by AML at the Newport Pagnell factory, the DB7s borrow a modified Jaguar XJS floor pan matched with an exclusive Aston Martin engine and a GM transmission. Wags in Britain call the DB7 a "Jag in drag." This derision is unfair except for the practical issue of price. A Jaguar XJR sells for $67,400, or about half the price of the DB7. But why not be a fool for a pretty face?

THE BENTLEY AZURE

The experience of driving my first Bentley in silver pearl lacked the spirit of ecstasy as much as its grille lacked the famous Rolls-Royce hood ornament. Here was a car that went for more than $300,000, more than just about any other car on the planet. Was it that great? Was it worth all that? Throughout my childhood, advertisements had conditioned me to expect a car so reliable that it was guaranteed for life and so quiet that, at 60 mph, the loudest cabin noise was the sound of the analogue clock.

Well, the analogue clock was there, as well as an analogue thermometer. Sure, the Azure had Connolly hides with contrasting piping, burr walnut veneer that didn't look like photo-grain, toe-wriggling deep lamb's wool rugs, heavy chromed air vents and dash switches, but so what? Couldn't you get cruise control, anti-lock brakes, traction assistance, suspension management and a tilt wheel on a Lexus?

Were we having fun yet?


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