Henry Ford created a monster.
The mastermind of mass production gave rise to the modern automobile industry by perfecting the art of building cars quickly and cheaply. In 2010, Ford's assembly line concept was responsible for the nearly 78 million vehicles that rolled out of the world's factories that year. That's more than 213,000 new cars produced each day - kinda makes your Camry feel a little less special, doesn't it?
Though Aston Martin's typical assembly process involves a "line," it doesn't exactly churn out cars ad infinitum. It took 70 years for the British firm to sell its first 10,000 vehicles. Even today its elegant creations remain handmade by a small army of workers at the company's headquarters in Gaydon, nestled on the edge of the idyllic Cotswolds region in the British countryside.
But when Aston set out to build its radical One-77 flagship, it stepped away from its main manufacturing facility and constructed a small structure where it turned the assembly line concept upside down. Rather than move the car along a line as it's constructed, there are seven workstations where craftsmen and parts revolve around each vehicle. The setup hews more closely to the golden age of bespoke coachbuilding than the brave new world of hyper-efficient mass-production.
Walk through the gallery above from Wired:Autopia to read and see how the magic happens. —Ed.
Above: Pretty in white, a finished One-77 awaits final testing. Photo: Nick Dimbleby
The One-77 is Aston Martin's ambitious campaign to simultaneously distill the company's purest essence into one vehicle and re-establish a stratospherically high standard for the nearly century-old brand.
"We had amassed all of this intellect and understanding, and really wanted to show our capabilities to the world," designer Marek Reichman said.
Chief engineer Chris Porritt adds that the project was intentionally executed before a rabid environmental lobby could make it even more difficult to produce so politically incorrect a vehicle.
"We wanted to give our best shot at delivering the most exclusive, the most exciting and highest performance Aston Martin we could ever build," Porritt said.
Yet, any Aston Martin exec - including CEO Dr. Ulrich Bez - will agree that the One-77 is hardly the quickest, fastest or best-handling supercar, despite the haunting exhaust note of its 750-horsepower V12 or its top speed north of of 220 mph.
On the other hand, it may just be the most gorgeous.
Above: Clamps hold an interior component together as glue dries. Photo: Basem Wasef
Above: A painted body and chassis setup awaits assembly. Photo: Basem Wasef
The One-77 runs 1,120,000 British pounds (around $1,750,000, depending on exchange rates), more than triple the cost of the next most expensive Aston, the V12 Zagato. To get an idea of where the range-topper sits on the Aston Martin pyramid, not only is it twice as rare as the already unattainable Zagato, it's also innumerably more exotic in both concept and execution.
The One-77 features the most powerful normally aspirated production engine in the world, a one-off interior that looks like it was plucked from a concept sketch and a seemingly endless array of personalized elements. A palette of unusual finishes and features like a laser-etched leather headliner are available, and the experience culminates with an engineer who flies to the customer's favorite track or stretch of road in order to calibrate the car's suspension to the owner's personal taste.
The car is so exclusive, so luxurious, that the only way to increase its sticker price is to order interior surfaces finished in real gold or ruthenium, a rare metal in the platinum family that's popular at the moment in the world of high-end wristwatches.
Above: Aston Martin workers will assume almost any position to access hard-to-reach areas during the assembly process. Photo: Basem Wasef
Above: Each One-77 seat is built to customer specification. Everything from stitch patterns to hide textures can be customized by the buyer. Photo: Nick Dimbleby
The One-77 moniker draws on the idea that each vehicle is a unique expression among the series of 77. Why 77? Numerology came into play here, with a nod to Special Agent 007 and the fact that the concept was conceived in 2007, along with a tip of the hat to Bez's birthday. There also was a "just right feeling" for the figure; 50 was too little, 100 too much and 75 too predictable.
"We never do anything too obvious at Aston Martin," Reichman said.
What is obvious within the walls of the One-77 build area? First, this strikingly stark white space has surgical levels of cleanliness and attention to detail. There's no clutter, no spilled transmission fluid, no surly robots. The small cadre of craftsmen represent the company's "A" team, as do the project leaders and engineers behind this outrageously expensive and exclusive project.
Above: Aston Martin One-77s in various states of assembly. On top of the time required to build the engine and chassis offsite, it takes around four weeks for a One-77 to come to fruition. Photo: Nick Dimbleby
Above: Vehicles are lifted or lowered to ergonomically accommodate workers, who work in a workshop so clean it borders on sterile. Photo: Nick Dimbleby
The One-77 build process starts once several key components coalesce at the assembly area, among them a carbon fiber monocoque fabricated by Toronto firm Multimatic and a 7.2-liter V12 powerplant built by Cosworth, a British outfit that has developed race engines for everything from Groupe B Rally cars to Formula 1.
The monocoque, which is worth roughly one half the value of the car, demands a maddeningly delicate manufacturing process that takes six workers three weeks to complete - that is, when every step is executed flawlessly. If someone flubs the cutting, laying, curing or autoclaving process at any point in the meticulous construction process, the entire structure is scrapped and the process begins again.
Above: Workers prepare the 750-horsepower V12 engine for installation into a One-77. Photo: Nick Dimbleby
Above: The One-77's bonded aluminum front structure, which cradles the engine, is mated to the body of the car. Photo: Nick Dimbleby
Once the car's chassis is assembled and passes final inspection in Canada, it's shipped to Coventry Prototype in nearby Thetford. There, the car's aluminum skin is hand-formed into muscular, organic shapes that include menacingly flared haunches, artfully sliced front air intakes and side mirrors that appear to sprout directly from the doors - all of which Reichman penned. The skin is eventually bonded and bolted to the main structure, and the two-week process ends with a layer of black e-coating. The chassis and bodywork is then shipped to Aston Martin HQ where it receives a nine-layer paint job that can be matched to any color - perhaps the walls of a Florentine villa, or a favorite shade of lipstick.
But no matter how deep its lustrous paint or how rakish its lines, an exotic is nothing without its mechanical underpinnings. And that's where the seven stations come in.
Above: A team installs a headliner into a One-77. Photo: Basem Wasef
Above: A worker integrates the "waterfall" wood center console into the dashboard. Photo: Basem Wasef
The first station sees the installation of unglamorous but essential components including the maze of wiring harnesses and fuel lines. Once the plumbing's in place, it's time for station number two, where parts like the fuel filler and heat shields (some of which are finished in gold, for maximum reflectivity) are fastened.
The chassis becomes more visually interesting at stage three, where the instrument panel gets bolted onto the sub-assembly, along with the myriad switches, dials, and stretches of upholstery that constitute the interior.
The One-77 gets its monster motor in step number five, a careful marriage in which the hulking powerplant is mated to a cannon-like torque tube via twelve crucial bolts. The rest of the cockpit is assembled in stage six, while the fully adjustable inboard suspension components are installed, as well as the subassembly for the front fenders and various parts like grilles, latches, and hinges for what Brits call the "bonnet," or hood.
Above: The One-77's inboard suspension components are completely adjustable; though their setup suits roughly 90 percent of driving styles, an Aston Martin employee will fly out to each customer to setup the suspension to his or her specifications. Photo: Nick Dimbleby
Above: A section of the carbon fiber monocoque is visible through the headlamp opening. Photo: Basem Wasef
At the final point of assembly, everything comes together when four 20-inch wheels - shod with 235mm front and 335mm rear Pirelli P Zero Corsa rubber - are bolted on, millimeters away from the hulking carbon ceramic discs and six-piston front, four-piston rear calipers.
Finally, the One-77 can move on its own steam, and it's driven to an area where the wheels and suspension are aligned using a laser before the body panels are scrutinized for fit and finish beneath a tunnel of light.
A rolling simulation of a road test guarantees that everything from ABS and traction control to drivetrain components are functioning normally, and a battery of checklists are ticked off. Additional indoor simulations ensure that water and air won't leak into the cabin.
Above: Brembo supplies the One-77's massive carbon ceramic brakes, which measure 398 mm up front and 360 mm at the rear. Photo: Nick Dimbleby
Above: A completed One-77 drives past others under construction. Photo: Nick Dimbleby
When customers make the pilgrimage to Aston Martin headquarters to take delivery of their One-77s, each is treated to an unveiling experience that's nothing short of theatrical. Seated in a satin black room, a uniquely composed musical sequence fills the space from a Bang & Olufsen sound system. Five hundred organic LED lights hanging like tiny chandeliers start pulsing over the vehicle with a heartbeat, creating wave-like movements across the roofline and evolving into a choreographed shimmer that grows in intensity, finally shedding full light on the sheet metal below. The tease culminates with a musical crescendo, a sea of photons and the reveal of an impossibly sexy supercar.
Above: A completed One-77 sits on the turntable where its paint will be inspected for fit and finish. Photo: Nick Dimbleby
Above: This is what a buyer first sees when taking delivery of a One-77 at the factory. Merely handing over the keys simply would not do. Buyers are treated to An Experience. Photo: Nick Dimbleby
To date, all but 10 One-77s have been delivered to owners who span the globe from Asia to the Middle East. The remainder of the run will be completed in 2012. American buyers will have limited ability to drive the car on public roads since the One-77 was never crash tested for the U.S. market and thus receives NHTSA's limiting Show or Display classification - all of which further begs the question: Is a car like the Aston Martin One-77 worth its astronomical price?
If you've never slipped on a Savile Row suit or a perfect pair of handmade Oxfords, the idea of an off-the-rack exotic may seem perfectly passable, maybe even desirable. But for the slender slice of the population whose garage is already populated with Ferraris, McLarens, Lamborghinis, and maybe the odd Porsche, nothing will quite round out a collection of übercars like Aston Martin's deliciously rare and undeniably beautiful One-77.
Above: One of the final steps in the assembly process involves attaching the enameled Aston Martin badge to the One-77's hood. Photo: Nick Dimbleby
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