SEP 09th 2015

Aston Martin's design director turns racer for Revival ‑ exclusive interview

‘All car designers should have a go at racing,’ says Marek Reichman, gazing across the Goodwood pit lane towards the Aston Martin DB4 GT that he will race in the RAC TT Celebration at Revival.

Tom Kristensen double overtake Revival promo

Marek is well qualified to comment. As Aston’s chief creative officer and design director he swaps designer suit for race suit as often as he can. He is usually in an Aston (as at the Silverstone 24-hour and Le Mans this year) but also his own 1951 Emeryson-JAP F3 car that he has been campaigning, off and on, in historic racing since 1999 – and which will be lining up on the grid in the Earl of March Trophy race on Sunday morning.

‘Racing makes you understand what a car is for,’ Marek tells us. ‘It is fundamental to the development of the road car. Design balance is important in a car but through racing you get to understand the literal balance, the seat of the pants feel. We have all these electronic systems now but the fundamentals should still be there.

‘For Aston Martin driving must always be fun and driver engagement must always be there, even when we get to the point of autonomous driving. Maybe we will have an autonomous drift button…’

Aston Martin DB4 Marek Reichman

To hear a designer talk about drifting, braking points and heel-and-toeing, as Marek does, rather than just mood boards and DLOs (daylight openings, aka windows, doh! – ed) is refreshing indeed. And encouraging since this is the bloke half way through redesigning the entire current Aston Martin range (plus adding a lot of new ones besides).

He has already achieved a lot. A product of the vehicle design course at London’s Royal College of Art, like so many of the world’s top car designers, Marek already has on his design CV the Rolls-Royce Phantom, Lincoln MkX and Range Rover MkIII (the 2003 BMW-developed one), as well as Astons like the Rapide, Vanquish, One-77 and Vulcan. As design boss, he oversees everything that comes out of Aston’s Gaydon studio, including in the recent past the luxury Taraf, Vantage GT12 and DBX crossover concept.

Plenty to talk to him about then…

Aston Martin DB4 Marek Reichman

What is it about historic F3 cars you like?

For me these cars represent the basic foundations of motor racing. They are incredibly uncomplicated but also incredibly exciting. I like the fact that you need someone to push start you [it’s normally his brother], and that you have to lean into corners to keep the car stable. I weigh 98kg and the car is well under 300kg so I do plenty of leaning. I also love that my Emeryson was one of the first 500s to race at Goodwood – I have lots of pictures of it here – and for me as a designer that feeling of heritage is really important.

Car designers don’t usually race but you are up against another in the Earl of March Trophy

David (Woodhouse, design director at Lincoln in the US) will be racing his F3 car (the 1955 Cooper-Norton Mk9 that Ivor Bueb won with at Goodwood in 1955). We are both passionate about these F3 cars, and motor racing and the history of cars. David and I were at college together, shared a house together, have worked together and are best friends, and now we race each other.

Sounds like it might be a grudge race. Who’s quicker?

The only thing I know is that when we raced each other at Revival a few years ago I passed him on the start line – he was stationary. We have argued about that ever since.

Aston Martin DB4 Marek Reichman

How do you approach your historic racing?

I let the car do the work. If you don’t upset it and can strike up a relationship with it, you will get more out of it. But while you are looking for braking points, double-declutching and heel-and-toeing you have to remember to have fun. That is the most important thing and it’s something you must get in a road car as well, whether it’s a journey to the shops or a trip to the south of France.

Any connections between the DB4 GT you are driving in the TT race and the new cars you are designing now?

Grace and elegance. There is something very serene about the DB4 GT, and also the DB5 – they are the spiritual parents (of new cars like next year’s DB11 – ed). There is also a feeling, a sound and response that the car gives you. It’s to do with intimacy between driver and car. Racing car or road car, it makes you smile.

You have had a busy racing year already

We came fifth in the Vantage GT4 car in the 24 hours of Silverstone (with GRR’s Andrew Frankel on the team, read more about that here) and at the Le Mans Festival [a race for just Aston Martins that supported the 24 hours] we climbed from 28th place to eighth which was fantastic.

Aston Martin DB4 Marek Reichman

What would you like to do next? Have a go in the Vulcan?

I would love to. I haven’t driven it yet but with 850bhp and 1300kg it will be magical. I would also love to do the 24 hours of the Nurburgring. I got the bug at Silverstone and would just love to do the Green Hell next.

How important is ‘gentleman’ racing for the brand?

Aston Martin builds sports cars and it is important they are taken to the limits on racetracks. The ethos of Aston Martin from the beginning has been to compete. And endurance racing is part of our heritage. If you drive a car for 24 hours at g-max you find out a lot about its longevity.

You have been at Aston Martin 10 years now, what do the next 10 years hold?

I think the next 10 years will be even more exciting. I am blown away by the acceptance of ideas and what Andy Palmer (Aston’s go-ahead new boss) has brought on board in terms of a vision for where Aston Martin should be.

Aston Martin DB4 Marek Reichman

Do you know what all the new cars are going to look like?

I have got the next five years mapped out and next year when we launch our new car that will be the start of a new car launch every year. The DB9 replacement will be the most graceful and beautiful car we do. The DBX (hybrid crossover – ed) will be in production in 2019. It will be a true Aston Martin with true Aston Martin beauty and soul.

Before all that we will see the DB10 in the new Bond movie Spectre

The premiere is on November 6. I have seen parts of the film, and been on set a few times, but my involvement was more creating the car. Sam Mendes [the film’s director] saw a sketch out of the corner of his eye when he came to the studio. Five months later we had the first prototype. We made just 10 of them.

Aston Martin DB4 Marek Reichman

None of the DB10s will be for sale, but how will this model influence future Astons like the Vantage?

The DB10 was designed from the start as a Bond car [it is actually Marek’s second Bond car; he also did the DBS in Casino Royale]. But it does give a hint of what will come in the next generation of Aston’s sports car. That car will be much more predatory, more sports car like – great balance but a little menacing, like James Bond himself.

You drove down to Goodwood today in your company Vanquish, what else is in your garage at home?

A 996 Ducati, the Emeryson-JAP F3 car, a T56 Cooper, and a 1965 MGB roadster racecar. That’s it for now, but I need to grow the garage. Actually I need to get a garage. At the moment I am relying on my brother. What I really need is another four of him …

Photography by Ben Miles

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