Given that Aston Martin chief Dr Ulrich Bez once spent many months of his life painstakingly developing and building making a small batch of ultra-lightweight racing bikes of his own design, you’d expect him to love the art component of great engineering.
Since taking the controls of Aston Martin in 2000, he has continued to talk fervently of cars as art, insisting that the Aston models he has created are appreciated for their fine detail, and photographed with loving care.
However, this new venture, the One-77, values the art component of a car more highly than anyone has ever done before. What he’s offering is, essentially, a beautiful and very expensive development of the cars Aston builds now – yes, with a new carbon chassis, hand-beaten aluminium panels and hugely powerful version of the well-known V12 - but he wants to charge six times as much for it as he does for a DBS.
On the face of it, that’s a rather poor deal for the squillionaire who can afford to take the proposition seriously, and I’ve always been told that rich people are that way because they’re rather better than the rest of us at judging what makes good value.
Aston promises its One-77 owners unprecedented input into their cars. If someone wants it to be a two-plus-two, he’ll get his car that way. If another wants it to be a convertible, that’ll be fine, sir. If the owner wants to take part in his own tyre tests or suspension development programme, he’s welcome.
It’s an enticing idea. The question is whether it’s worth all that extra money. And by the way, should Aston Martin choose this moment to appeal to the super-rich when many are affected adversely by the credit crunch and those who aren't are reluctant to flaunt their wealth? It’s also true that Aston dealers in the developed world are having a struggle to sell existing models, and to keep residual values firm, and could probably do with some better targeted help from mission control.
Whether One-77 works boils down to whether Bez understands wealthy people better than the rest of us. And whether this kind of ‘secret’ car is something they want. So far, his record has been immaculate. But if a product is so exclusive that ordinary people will never know enough about it to have an opinion about its quality, performance and specification, maybe it’s not as desirable as something everyone loves.
We won’t see a finished car until the year-end, and first production cars won’t be delivered until the end of 2009, so there’s plenty of time to cogitate. But if One-77 works, as far as I'm concerned it will take Bez’s reputation for making amazingly effective instinctive judgements about the car market right up to genius level.