Road cars

New from Newport Pagnell

Aston to build 25 new DB4GT lightweights

Aston Martin is to produce a series of 25 brand-new ‘continuation’ DB4GTs at a cost of £1.5 million each. By the time the news of the cars was made public, all had already been bought. Each car will be sold for track use only because of the impossibility of a major manufacturer gaining type approval for such a car. Individual owners, however, may well be able to register the car with a third-party supplied modifications under the Single Vehicle Approval scheme. This is how, for instance, Lanzante Motorsport was able to produce road-legal versions of the track-only McLaren P1 GTR.

The new DB4GTs will all be built in Newport Pagnell, the first time entire cars will have been built on the site since the original Aston Martin Vanquish S ceased production in 2007.

All 25 cars will be to the lightweight specification enjoyed by just eight of the original production run of 75 units and will have chassis numbers that carry on directly in sequence from the originals. The lightweights featured some steel chassis components being replaced by aluminium units and the deletion of much of the equipment of the
‘standard’ DB4GT.

The new cars will be visually indistinguishable from the originals, though their bodies will be made to digitised templates to ensure a far more accurate fit than would have been possible in the day. All cars will then be finished and built by hand. The new GTs will be powered by a 340bhp version of the classic Tadek Marek 3.7-litre straight six, making them a little stronger than the 302bhp claimed for the originals. All cars will naturally feature a tubular spaceframe chassis clothed with correct-specification thin-gauge aluminium bodywork.

The original DB4GT was introduced at the end of 1959, the season in which Aston Martin won both Le Mans and the World Sports Car Championship. Although beautiful and fast by road car standards, they were too heavy to offer serious competition to the likes of the 3-litre V12 Ferrari 250SWB in competition, as a result of which Zagato produced a famous series of still lighter rebodied cars that also failed to stay the pace of the super-swift and usually faultlessly reliable Maranello cars. The ultimate development of the DB4GT were the so called ‘Project’ cars, DPs 212, 214 and 215, which showed some promise (DP212 briefly led at Le Mans) but were again overwhelmed by Ferraris, this time the iconic 250GTOs.

In 1988 a series of four ‘Sanction II’ DB4GT Zagatos was produced by RS Williams, featuring uprated engines and chassis components. The most recent to be sold at public auction raised £1.2 million in 2012, suggesting they’d be considerably more valuable today.

VW’s magic minibus

It’s not often a new car brand is launched by a major manufacturer. It happens occasionally when existing names don’t suit existing markets, hence Toyota, Nissan and Honda launching Lexus, Infiniti and Acura chiefly to scoop up luxury sales in the US, but among large European manufacturers it’s unprecedented. Even so, adding to a stable that already includes Porsche, Audi, Volkswagen Cars, Bentley, Lamborghini, Bugatti, Seat, Skoda and Ducati, the VW Group now includes Moia.

For those few of you who are not scholars of the languages of ancient India, ‘moia’ means ‘magic’ in Sanskrit. And given that it is VW’s stated aim that its Moia fleet will one day be self-driving, magic to some it might well appear.

In fact it’s the first sign of the major makers getting to grips with the way people will increasingly use cars. Normal car sales will continue indefinitely of course, but at the same time a huge market in what is excruciatingly described as ‘mobility solutions’ and which may be better understood as ‘smart taxis’ is already opening up. And it is this Moia seeks to exploit.

The start point is little further advanced than where Uber and its rivals – one of which, Gett, has already received heavy investment from VW – stand today. You have an app on your telephone that summons a car – likely to be a Moia-badged VW Microbus – to take you where you want to go. 

The ultimate goal is for purpose-built autonomous Moia vehicles configured to hold up to eight people to spend their lives shuttling around the major cities of the world, pooling common journeys wherever possible to reduce emissions, congestion and cost. Indeed it is Moia’s aim that it should in time be able to provide something close to taxi convenience for little or no more than a bus fare. And you don’t need to be a master of emergent technology to see the appeal of that.

How far away is what many will consider a dream and just a few an utter nightmare? It is VW’s stated aim to have fleet of autonomous Moias operational by 2021, just four years from now. And it will likely find the technology is the easy bit. Gaining the approval of city councils, with extant public transport networks to support, and persuading governments to enact the legislation required to allow genuinely autonomous cars could prove a considerably harder nut to crack.

Alpine taster released

Alpine has opened the order books for its new sports car and released images (right) of camouflaged prototypes, apparently during testing. The new Alpine, rumoured to be called A120, goes on sale next year but 1955 ‘Première Edition’ models have been made available in certain European countries including the UK, the number referring to the year in which Alpine was originally founded. The car will cost from £46,000–£52,000 and owners will be able to choose the number of their car subject to its availability.

Details of the A120’s precise mechanical make-up remain closely guarded, though it’s clear the car is a mid-engined two-seater and is likely to be powered by a four-cylinder turbocharged engine related to that already fitted to the RenaultSport Clio, but with substantially upgraded outputs. But given its price and configuration, something close to 300bhp will be required if it is to offer convincing opposition to its two key rivals, the Porsche 718 Cayman at the more civilised end of the scale and the Alfa Romeo 4C for those preferring the back to basics approach. The claimed 0-62mph time of 4.5sec matches that of the Alfa to the tenth. Transmission is certain to be via a paddle-shift double-clutch gearbox and, like the Porsche and Alfa, it will in time be offered with both closed and open body styles.

The most recent Alpines such as the GTA and A610 struggled to find customers despite being broadly well received, leading to the brand being abandoned by Renault for more than 20 years, so it will be interesting to see what new talents Alpine is able to bring to the table. The new car was originally going to be designed and engineered in conjunction with Caterham, but the joint venture fell apart early in the car’s operation.

Stations action

Presumably bored at the on-going inaction of Government, four of Europe’s biggest car producers have joined forces to establish a network of fast-charging stations across the continent. Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Ford and BMW will start work on the project this year and will build an initial 400 stations, but with a stated ambition of expanding the network to ‘thousands’ before the end of the decade when punitive fines will be imposed on those manufacturers that have failed to reduce sufficiently their CO2 emissions. The Financial Times has reported the likely cost of the scheme to exceed €1 billion.

The new stations will have a charging capacity of 350kW, more than double that of existing fast-charge stations, meaning most pure electric cars should be able to receive an 80 per cent charge in the time it takes its driver to have a cup of coffee. This is seen by some as a critical measure, representing the point where range anxiety will be sufficiently overcome to make all-electric cars viable mainstream every day transport rather than the unquestionably niche products they remain today.

How the firms aim to recoup their investment, other than by selling cars equipped with charging sockets unique to their products and then charging customers for the electricity, is not clear. But with diesel sales now starting to fall and as mayors of cities as big as Paris, Athens, Madrid and Mexico City have pledged to ban all diesel transport by 2025, it seem the at least partially electrified future promised by so many for so long may soon be upon us.