Aston Martin was depending on a blaze of good publicity when it launched the DB7 been no more crucial car to Aston Martin than the DB7.
If it had failed, Aston would’ve ceased to exist. Its press launch had to run smoothly.
At the time I was in charge of Auto car’s road test desk. I won’t forget the call. It was Aston’s PR chief Harry Calton, sounding almost flustered. A monthly magazine had broken a deal to publish the story at the same time as everyone else. “The car’s here. Come and get it.” It takes a week to test a car properly, recording performance figures, putting 1000 miles under its wheels, taking photos and writing the story. We had a day.
I drove to Wales to do the evaluation and pictures. I was met by fellow tester Gavin Conway, who took the car to the Millbrook Proving Ground to run tests while I fled to the office. He would phone the numbers through as I wrote.
I’d barely started when the call came. “Er, Andrew, we have a problem,” said Gavin, a master of understatement.
He’d been circulating the speed bowl at over 140mph when he saw a thin trail of smoke. This was not a rare development, usually caused by oil surging through the dipstick hole. Gavin slowed, but then saw a lot more smoke. At this stage most would have abandoned ship but Gavin figured on getting the car off track, near someone with an extinguisher. Except that by the time he’d cleared the facility, the back of the car was engulfed in flames.
He stood helplessly by, watching the car that was meant to save Aston cremate itself. Having heard Gavin relate his neardeath experience, I asked the one question I felt appropriate: “Yes, but did you get the figures first?” He had, and the test ran.
Examination of the wreck showed a prototype widget in the exhaust had failed on the banking. I was told not to mention the fire and after the shakiest of starts the launch went off without more drama and the DB7 was a runaway success.
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