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The Civilized Beast: Aston Martin DBS Volante

20100410-dbsvolante01.jpgThe thing about buying a car like an Aston Martin is that you purchase not just the machine, but also its history, heritage and image.  And few cars in the world possess such extraordinary amounts of all three.  Named after the 'specials' raced up Aston Hill by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford, the first vehicle to bear the name was created in 1913 by bolting a four-cylinder Coventry-Simplex engine into a 1908 Isotta-Fraschini. 

The complexity of the company's history between then and now precludes any close examination, but suffice it to say that it involves World Wars, Counts and Ladies, bankruptcies, Grand Prix racing, world speed records and a parade of investors from England, France, Italy, Canada, the U.S. and the Middle East.  A man named Bond, James Bond, transformed Aston Martin from an automotive  legend into a pop culture icon.  The company became a division of Ford Motor Company in 1994 and was sold again to private investors in 2007. 

20100410-dbsvolante03.jpgAnd through it all, an Aston Martin remains a fast, stylish and instantly-recognizable testimonial to the power of the most elegant, evocative machines over the machinations of men. The company has developed sixteen new cars in fewer than 5 years, the most recent being the DBS Volante convertible ($285,000 est.), which made its debut at The Geneva Auto Show.

Like all Aston Martins, the DBS Volante is a four-wheeled oxymoron - built by hand at a state-of-the-art production facility in Gaydon, England.  Both coupe and convertible models are powered by a 510 horsepower 6.0-liter V-12 engine that produces the most viciously gorgeous exhaust sound you've ever hear along with 0 to 60 mph acceleration in 4.3 seconds and a top speed in excess of 190 mph... though you'll probably want to put the top up long before putting the pedal quite that firmly to the metal. 

And despite the snarling beast waiting to be unleashed with a twitch of your foot, the DBS is the perfect gentleman around town, a killer in an exquisitely-tailored tuxedo perfectly capable of leaving you both shaken and stirred.  Aiding and abetting the process is the new 'Touchtronic 2' 6-speed automatic transmission that offers you the option of putting it in 'Drive' or shifting for yourself - with a twitch of the fingers - via small levers mounted on the back side of the steering wheel.

20100410-dbsvolante02.jpgThe other great finger-activated transformation offered by the DBS Volante is the convertible top that retracts at the push of a single button.  The hand-stitched, triple-layer top is swiftly stowed beneath a hard tonneau cover that closes flush with the rear bodywork, mercifully preserving the car's classic muscularity; everybody wants to see James Bond with his shirt off, but not with his boxers all bunched up in the back.

No danger of that with the Volante.  With the top down, what stands revealed is an interior as stylish as a bespoke Saville Row suit.  Designed around the driver, every control is machined from polished aluminium that looks and feels like jewellery and, as they say, falls readily to hand. 

The iconic ejection seat is sadly lacking from the options list, but the Volante boasts technology aplenty, from the custom-engineered Band & Olufsen audio system to the satellite navigation system to the most unique ignition key you've ever seen, what the company calls an 'Emotion Control Unit' - a slab of crystal and metal about the size and twice the heft of a Zippo lighter that, when inserted into the dashboard, glows red, indicating that this most civilized of beasts is ready to be... awakened. 

The Elegant Menagerie

The DBS is far from the only noteworthy beast in Aston Martin's elegant menagerie; the V-12-engined, 470 horsepower DB9 ($186,400 - $199,950) and V8 Vantage, with a 420 horsepower V-8, ($123,500 - $136,500) are also offered in Coupe and Volante versions.  These are now established as the most successful Aston Martins of all time, both models having sold over 10,000 cars globally. For 2009 both have undergone a series of technical updates to increase power and performance and further enhance the driving experience.

Preparing to join the family in the coming year are two new siblings, the four-door Rapide and the ultra-exclusive One-77.  The Rapide is a high performance coupĂ© with a look so taut and poised it gives the appearance of motion even while standing still.  Features include a 480 horsepower V-12 engine, clear plolycarbonate roof and rear-seat DVD screens.

"A sports car is not simply characterized by the number of doors," says Dr. Ulrich Bez, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Aston Martin. "And the Rapide is certainly true to its name."

With a carbon-fiber chassis, 650 horsepower, 7.0-liter, V-12 engine under the hood, top speed of 220 mph and 0 to 60 mph acceleration in 3.5 seconds, there is no debate at all about the performance pedigree of the Aston Martin One-77 supercar.   So named because only 77 examples of the car will be built, with a price estimated at $2.3 million each, the One-77 also has the distinction of de-throning the Bugatti Veryon as the most expensive production car in the world.