The problem with motor shows,” said the jaded hack, “is they’ve lost their ability to spring a surprise.” He should have been on the Aston Martin stand on the second press day of the Geneva Motor Show when its mercurial boss, Dr Ulrich Bez, whipped the covers off the concept car with which the Lagonda brand has been relaunched. Sadly, I was already on a plane back to Britain, so I received the news via a deluge of calls that greeted me upon landing at Heathrow, though I understand the gasps were so loud at the time that it’s a surprise I didn’t hear them at 35,000ft.
Since then I’ve spoken to a lot of people in the industry about this new Lagonda and, so far, have yet to find anyone who has laid eyes on it with anything positive to say about it. So let me be the first. Everybody in the industry is talking about it. Ugly, tasteless and supersonically out of touch with the world in which we must live though it appears to be, if its job was to get people talking about Lagonda again, then it has succeeded in spades. When the story was posted on Autocar’s website, it attracted more comments than those about the new Ferrari 599XX, Lamborghini Murcielago SV, RenaultSport Mégane 250 and the European version of the Tata Nano combined. True, few of the contributions were less than withering but that won’t bother Aston Martin much. They’ll be pleased to become the talk of the show with a concept car – an almost impossible feat these days – and know that whatever they produce next can only look good by comparison. The production car must be three years away at least, by which time this concept will be a distant memory and, with luck, the market will be in better health.
Not that the market’s health in any way dampened the mood of the show, or indeed the dazzling irrelevance of the most headline-grabbing cars on display. It would be nice to think this was gallows humour at its darkest and best, but the simple truth is the cars being launched today were designed when the world was a different place, while those that hold the secret to a sustainable future are still struggling to find their ways off the drawing board.
In the meantime, admire with me Ferrari’s ability to charge its customers €1.1 million plus local taxes (about £1.2m all told) for a track day version of the 599GTB, and pre-sell all 35 of them despite the fact Ferrari not only ensures they cannot be homologated for either road use or racing purposes, but holds just three track days per year for owners to use them. The 599XX is an amazing looking thing, with a V12 engine that develops 700bhp at 9000rpm and fans in the boot that suck air out from under the car. But at roughly a million pounds more than the road car upon which it is based, you’d need first to be quite astonishingly wealthy and then want one really badly to see the value in it.
Meanwhile Aston Martin has pre-sold not a single one of its similarly priced One-77 carbon-tubbed supercars but, according to its staff at least, only because it refused to take any customer money before having a car to show them. This Aston now has. It looks beautiful and it seems to be exquisitely engineered. The pushrod front suspension and the oil tank for the dry sump engine would not look out of place in the Saatchi Gallery. But time alone will tell in this market how many of the hundred-plus ‘expressions of interest’ it is able to convert into actual sales. Aston hopes it will be 77, the number it is committed to producing.
Other British manufacturers attempting to share the spotlight were Bentley with the ‘Supersports’ version of the Continental GT, and Rolls-Royce with the 200EX, an alleged ‘concept’ version of the new smaller Rolls that will go on sale this year. Though, in reality, it’s so close to the real thing you’d need a PhD in forensics to tell the difference. Both looked good, the Rolls in particular, and I don’t think anyone is going to worry too much about its 20 per cent BMW content: after all, the rather greater proportion of VW engineering in the Continental didn’t stop that becoming the best seller in Bentley history.
But the Supersports is interesting, not just for its 630bhp and the cap-doff to the green-labelled 3-litre of 1925 that first used the name, but also because it will run on E85 biofuel. True, there are only a couple of dozen stations in the UK that sell it, but it’s slowly rolling out across Europe. In the meantime, owners can fill it with unleaded in the normal way while claiming the car has the ability to drop well-to-wheel CO2 emissions by up to 70 per cent, which is good for personal PR, if not the planet.
There was also an interesting return to the international limelight for Frazer-Nash, with an electric car designed by Giugiaro. On paper it all seems rather wonderful: an 814cc engine drives a generator that charges a battery pack that supplies a brace of electric motors on each axle to propel it to 60mph in 3.5sec, and on to around 190mph with total CO2 emissions of around 60g/km. Too good to be true? Well, perhaps. I’ve seen one too many old British names exhumed only to come to little – ERA, BRM, Jensen and Lea-Francis to name just those that leap most readily to mind. But KamKorp, the Swiss company that owns the rights to the Frazer-Nash name, insists it will go into production this year.
Overall, then, it was a show where many manufacturers appeared untroubled by the cold light of day. The show halls were studded with gorgeous supercars suggesting that somehow the greatest global economic crisis of our lifetimes somehow didn’t apply to them. Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed it so much.