AMOC Racing, Brands Hatch, 12 August 2017

At 8:30 the day already promised to be a good one. The clouds were losing their greyness. Soon after the sun was smiling upon Brands Hatch.
The open practice session provided an easy start to this action packed day. After that the rest of the morning was dedicated to qualifying sessions.
I spent the morning exploring the track, trying to find various viewpoints for my photos. Brands Hatch is one of the most accessible tracks in that respect. There are many places you can access and usually you can see about 75% of the track. For spectators without cameras it is even better as the mesh surrounding the track is less of an obstacle.

The track parade during the lunch break was simply magnificent. There were so many cars on the track the first ones were right behind the last ones. Compared to last year there were more newer models, but I certainly spotted a few less common cars.

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The first race of the day was the Pre-War Challenge. It’s one of my favourite races. With one Talbot and several Bentleys and Aston Martins – all built in the 1920s and 1930s – it was nothing short of epic. They used the handicap format for this race: the slowest car started first and the rest were released at different times. These times were calculated with the aim of having all seven cars battling it out at the end. That didn’t quite work out, but it was a spectacle nonetheless.

Next up was the AMOC Intermarque Championship. Very early on there was drama when the #44 and #144 Porsches came into contact. The whole grid was very close together so for the cars nearby this was a near miss. The Porsches ended up in the gravel with damage that looked quite severe. They had to be recovered, so for some laps the rest of the field had to follow the safety car. Both Porsche drivers had by then walked off together, both unharmed.

The single Aston Martin in this race (the #007 V8 Vantage) had been next to the #44 when the Porsche lost control. It seemingly got away unscathed, but did retire from the race later on. I do not know why.
This left the race to the remaining BMWs, Porsches and Ferraris. The race was won by #170 BMW Evo M3 which was clearly going very fast and finished with a 40 second lead.

The #007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage in iconic Gulf livery.
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The AMOC ’50s Sports Cars race was no less spectacular. The yellow Turner Sports (#27) gave the #18 Cooper Monaco good chase, but could eventually not keep up. In turn he found himself under threat from the #26 Cooper T39 Bobtail. The Turner had to come in for an unscheduled stop, but later rejoined the race. The entire race was a wonderful battle until the end in a field with gorgeous cars. The #18 won the race.

More drama happened in the Aston Martin GT Challenge. The #007 Vantage GT4 (known as James) had one car less in front of him due to the #71 Ferrari not making the start. The Ferrari had trouble during the green flag lap and only managed to join the race after a few slow laps and two visits to the pit lane. James had lost quite a few positions at the start and was pushing hard to regain these. However, mere moments before the pit stop window closed it ended up in the gravel, which ended his race.

The #169 Ginetta seemingly had a bit of a misunderstanding with the #71 Ferrari which caused the Ginetta to momentarily try a career as a lawnmower – unsuccessfully. After an unscheduled stop it rejoined the race.
The #199 Lotus Evora was happily going around the track, apparently oblivious to the all the drama and eventually lapped the entire field. It drove off into the distance to victory. Aston Martin team mates #12 and #24 fought over second position as true sibling rivalry, but the #12 car kept his brother at bay and won the second spot trophy.

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The last race of the day was the Innes Ireland Cup. Unfortunately I only caught bits of this race as I was on my way to leave the track, but it was certainly good enough to stop here and there to appreciate the track action. There were only a few cars in this race, all lovely examples. The #85 Lotus Elan was the fastest and therefore the winner.
This fifth race concluded yet another brilliant day organised by the Aston Martin Owners Club.
I’ve been to quite a few race meetings now and I will continue to go, because the racing is superb, the cars on track are gorgeous, awesome or both and the atmosphere is always relaxed and welcoming. Bring on Silverstone in September!

AMOC Racing, Snetterton, 8 July 2017

The sun was blazing over Snetterton yesterday, the sky a beautiful blue and white blanket over the track filled with a large variety of cars, old and new.
Since I have now attended a number of AMOC race meetings, I being to recognise some of the cars out there. It just makes it all a bit more familiar. The turnout this time was absolutely amazing. This was possibly the largest number of Aston Martins (racing and attending) I have seen, apart from the Spring Concours, of course.

A (presumably nearby) dealership brought in a ‘few’ Aston Martins for everyone to enjoy. Very cleverly, they also provided a marquee where you could ask about any of the cars for sale and a financial plan, if you require one. It was tempting…

This is the Aston Martin I really want, the DB11. I will keep on dreaming…
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The day was filled to the brim with track activity. Practice first thing in the morning, qualifying sessions immediately after, race 1 before lunch. The other 5 races were in the afternoon. It simply never stopped. Just how we like it, right?
The AMOC Intermarque Championship and GT Challenge were of course the main races, but the other races were certainly just as entertaining and enjoyable.

I have to admit that my favourite non-Aston race was the MRL Historic Touring Car Challenge. I have been car crazy since a very young age (approximately 4) and to see a few Ford Capris out on track absolutely made my day. The MKII Capri was my first car love and I still turn around in the car (only when I’m a passenger of course!) when I see one out and about. In addition there were some Rovers out there too. I remember a neighbour had a big Rover when I was about 8 and I loved it. Add a Mustang and an old Alfa Romeo and you have my attention. It was a wonderfully diverse grid with some astonishingly beautiful and well kept machines.

Another favourite is the 1954 Austin-Healy 100M, driven by Paul Kennelly. He races this car in the AMOC ’50s Sports Cars and it’s always a delight to watch. What a beauty!
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When you go to an AMOC race meeting you’d better skip lunch. Because lunch time is parade time!
I was lucky enough to be part of a parade as a passenger in a beautiful DB7 at Brands Hatch last year. There were about 70 cars on track that time. It seems there were more at Snetterton yesterday, but I honestly didn’t count them. They only got three laps, so I spent all my time enjoying the view and trying to photograph as many as I could.

I did just say that the Capris made my day, but the Capri is no longer my absolute favourite. Aston Martin has the largest part of my car loving heart.
One of the reasons I keep on attending AMOC race meetings is because of the DB4 Lightweight. I cannot express how much I love that car. For a long, long time the DB4 (series 1, I should add) was my favourite Aston Martin and this particular one is just that bit more beautiful.

A firm favourite: the DB4 Lightweight.
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Apart from all the wonderful cars, Aston Martins or otherwise, the races themselves are great fun to watch. I have said this before: it does not matter what level people are racing on, they take their racing seriously. It just makes it great for the spectators as well.
You can see a car lock under braking and the next time they come through the same corner they almost lose the car, just as if they did not already have a moment the lap before. These cars are all being pushed as hard as their drivers can push them.

There’s one more car I want to mention. I am not a big fan of the V8 Astons. Don’t dislike them, but their looks are just not my favourite. And then this one appeared:

The 1972 Aston Martin AMV8 driven by Simon Watts and Roberto Giordanelli.
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Now, is that car not absolutely stunning? I had never seen one of these as a race car before and I think it carries the racing look very well!

And this is another reason AMOC race meetings are the thing for me. In short: AMOC members bring their cars, the racing is amazing and some of the race cars are stunning. What more could you possibly want?

British GT, Oulton Park, 17 April 2017

After three days at Silverstone I decided another day trackside wouldn’t hurt and I travelled to Oulton Park for British GT’s race day.
British GT has some very nice supporting races, my favourite being the Ginettas. Call it luck if you will, it was raining. Somehow these cars just seem to enjoy a wet track. The action doesn’t stop at all. They’re all racing as if their lives depend on it (the drivers, of course, not the cars).

The Ginetta G40 of Jose Antonio Ledesma during the Ginetta GT5 Challenge
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Another support race is BRDC British F3 Championship which is also always good to see. With fewer cars on the track it seems a bit less tight, but the racing is equally passionate.

I always enjoy seeing the Volkswagens race. This year they were joined by two Audi TTs which makes a nice change too.
Quite frankly, there is so much going on on track it would take too long to write about every race in the action filled day. So let’s move on to British GT. After all, that was the reason I went.

There is some incredibly close racing in British GT.
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Last year Jonny Adam became the first driver to win back-to-back championships in British GT. At the start of the 2017 season he had WEC duties for Aston Martin Racing at Silverstone, which meant he missed the qualifying session for British GT. As a result of that TF Sport had to start from the back of the grid in their class – the 11th position overall. Sounds like the ingredients of something very exciting to me…
Together with teammate Derek Johnston Jonny managed to grab a podium spot in both races on Monday. Some start of the season!

This year will very much be about Jonny. As said, he’s racing in WEC and British GT, but he is also joining Oman Racing again in Blancpain GT Endurance Cup. I follow all three series, so I will be seeing quite a lot of Mr Adam, I reckon.

The Academy Motorsport Aston Martin lost its bonnet very early on in the race, but they – seemingly quite happily – carried on without it.
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To be honest, there are other Aston Martins in British GT, so I have more than just one reason to go. One of the main attractions I find the sheer variety of cars. The Bentleys are always a joy to watch and even more so to hear. I might not be a fan of Mercedes, but on track they look pretty awesome. The McLarens always look good and you can’t go wrong with Lamborghinis in race attire.
Oh, let’s not forget that British GT also has its fair share of Ginettas.

All these different cars with their different specifications in two different classes make for a spectacular and unpredictable race. Even without the Aston Martins I would probably follow this series anyway. Additional incentive not required…

AMOC Spring Concours 2017

In 2016 Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. told the world that they would open a new site which would become the factory for the DBX. The location was an old MOD site at St Athan, Wales.
In early 2017 the site is still mostly empty so the Aston Martin Owners Club took the opportunity to host their Spring Concours there. Let’s see: AMOC (very good at hosting ‘parties’), AML (very good at being at the right place at the right time) and AMHT (very good at displaying the best of Aston’s history) together at one location. Yes, that’s a must see.
So off to Wales we went.

AMOC hosts a Concours twice a year, once in spring and once in autumn. If, like me, you don’t know what that is: the club’s members bring their cars and these cars are judged. In short: there’s prizes up for grabs in several categories. One thing is for certain, you can expect the best examples to be there.
In this case reportedly around 700 Aston Martins were present. Considering several halls were in use, each of them huge, I believe that number to be accurate.

One of the halls was only beginning to fill up when this photo was taken. The entire hall is twice this big.
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The Aston Martin Heritage Trust was also there with, among others, a DBS display to celebrate this model has now been around for 50 years.
As if that wasn’t enough, there were several very special cars to be seen. There was the unveiling of the Red Arrows Edition Aston Martin Vanquish S, while previous special editions were on display nearby.

Red Arrows Edition Aston Martin Vanquish S
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I was very happy to see the Valkyrie. Even though I had already seen her in Geneva, I thought it was very good that people who may not have had the opportunity (or the wish!) to go to Geneva now had a chance to see her to. She got a lot of attention, which is not surprising. This car is something else.

My personal highlight was definitely the CC100. This car was created for the company’s centenary celebrations. Only two were made, so chances are very slim indeed to ever see this one anywhere other than in a magazine. But there it was.
An added bonus is that one of the designers involved in that project was at the Concours. It is a very welcome extra being able to talk to him for a while and get his perspective on the project and the car.

Aston Martin CC100
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And the list doesn’t end there: DBR1, Lola Aston Martin, One-77 and the Vulcan. All present and set up in such a way that everyone had a chance to have a good look. There were several Lagondas and I even spotted two Cygnets.
There was so much to see that after 4.5 hours I had to give up. Not only did I have quite a drive back home, but the sheer number of cars was a bit overwhelming. However, that drive (several hours) was very much worth it.

Just think: that very same evening they probably had to clear everything out, because the next day construction on the factory started. The Concours will very likely never be held here again.
It was an epic and unique event.

87th International Motor Show, Geneva

After a long break I went back to the Geneva International Motor Show last year. Aston Martin presented the DB11 and I thought I couldn’t be more excited. I was wrong.

Initially I was not planning to go to Geneva, but then Aston Martin broke the news they were bringing three premieres to the show. I got the chance to go on Tuesday (press day), which meant I could not possibly resist.
I did mention last year that the show elements I had grown accustomed to have mostly disappeared. This is not the case for the first press day. Everything starts on Monday afternoon, as in the evening the Car of the Year is revealed. On Tuesday the day is filled with press conferences and these are shows! The manufacturers bring often more than one of their VIPs, promotional videos are shown and most don’t shy away from a light show.

The quiet before the storm, or – in this case – the Aston Martin stand before the press conference.
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It is impossible to see all conferences, because they follow each other in quick succession and you’d have to run from one hall to another at times. I managed to catch the conferences of Audi, Lamborghini, Porsche and Aston Martin.
Especially Lamborghini stood out for me. The actual presentation itself wasn’t that long (as in: not a lot of talking). They alternated between live presentation and a few videos and it was one of the videos that got my attention.

Video courtesy of Lamborghini

After leaving WEC at the end of last year’s season Audi Sport have now presented their DTM challenger: the new RS5. They presented the car simultaneously with its road going sibling. In addition they confirmed their manufacturer team entry for Formula E’s 2017/2018 season. There’s a lot going on at Audi.

Bentley presented the EXP 12 which is an electric car. Style wise it fits in perfectly with the Continental and the Mulsanne. It looks amazing and I hope we get to see and hear more about it soon. Between the BMW i8 and Bentley EXP 12 I think we can safely say electric cars are stepping away from looking boring.

I didn’t make it to the Volvo conference, but was right next door (at Aston) when their conference happened. I had already seen all the Volvos were wrapped up in cocoons (different, to say the least). The presentation seemed to focus mainly on how natural the car is, how great it feels, etc. Considering they were presenting the XC60 I think they totally missed the mark.
Having owned a Volvo 440 and test driven the S90 I am amazed at how horrible the XC60 is. However, I should take into account it’s an SUV and I’m not a fan of SUVs in general. There’s only a few I like, for example the Mazda CX-3 and CX-5. They at least prove that an SUV can still have nice lines and it doesn’t have to be massive.

Volkswagen Arteon
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Volkswagen and I are not really friends, but there are a few models I like. On trips to the Nürburgring I have driven an EOS and a convertible Golf. I fully believe they should have left the Scirocco alone. I also think the CC is one of the sexiest things on four wheels ever built. Safe to say I haven’t quite made my mind up about VW.
When strolling over their stand I was pleasantly surprised by the Arteon (pictured above). It has all the things I like about the CC while still being recognisably Volkswagen. Very nice indeed.

It was great to see so many race cars at the show. Ford brought their WEC racer, Rebellion brought their LMP1 car. Abt was there with their Formula E car. Toyota had their LMP1 car at the stand including a part-car display where you could have a better look at the cockpit.

A look inside the Toyota LMP1 car.
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Last year Aston Martin shook up the car world by presenting what was then called AM-RB 001. It’s low, it looks mean (yet smooth), its aerodynamic characteristics are created by Adrian Newey, it’s very fast and will be road legal (yes, really).
The day before Geneva they revealed the lady’s name: Valkyrie.

Not surprising then that it was very busy at the Aston Martin stand when the time for their conference came. Even though the car has been shown already and further details have been released in the past year, it still draws the crowd. Who wouldn’t want to see this with their own eyes?
Now I have seen the car for myself I can confirm she’s a sight to behold. I find it unbelievable that you can sit behind the car and look underneath it from rear to front. Especially the rear is quite high, despite the car being very low overall. It will be very interesting to see (and hear!) this car when a working prototype is completed.

Aston Martin Valkyrie
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Aston Martin also had a surprise for us: AMR.
They took the opportunity to launch a new brand which will be bringing racing technology directly to road cars. The Rapide AMR looks surprisingly sporty for such a big car and wears its makeover quite well. I understand the Vantage AMR Pro will be track only whereas the Rapide AMR will be a road car.
As if this wasn’t enough they also brought a special Q edition of the DB11 and a Vanquish S Volante. I am still drooling now…

Going to the Geneva International Motor Show on press day has been a privilege. It gave me the chance to have a much better look at the new cars and to hear the details from some pretty important people.
I can’t make any promises, but I will certainly try to get press passes to this show and other shows/events. It will allow me to get that just that little bit more to write about.

Aston Martin factory tour no. 3…but why?

A few days ago I went to Gaydon for my third factory tour there. How much can you write about an experience you have just had for the third time? Not much.
So instead I decided to explore my fascination with Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd., because my love for the cars goes beyond just that. The company itself is of interest to me, which is why I have recently returned for another factory tour within a year after the previous visit.

Sometimes this discussion comes up: what is it about this company that keeps me interested and makes me want to visit it so often? Most people immediately assume it’s because ‘everyone loves an underdog’. Hold on! What is an underdog exactly? An underdog is a person or group of people with less power, money, etc. than the rest of society. Well, that is certainly not true for this company, is it?
I guess in the world of car manufacturers Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. (also known as AML) is a very small company. It’s also widely known they have yet to make a profit.
However, I would argue that they have a considerable status in this world (equals power?) and it probably requires quite a lot of money to manufacture the expensive cars they create (so no profit, does not equal no money).

The atrium at Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd., Gaydon
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The main thing that got me hooked on this small car manufacturer is the fact they are such a commanding presence in the car world, despite being small and not being able to make a profit (yet!).
Here is a company which has survived 100 years, because people believe in it. Because they don’t want to see this brand disappear. Because they want to see these cars on the road.
It used to be quite normal for several people from the same families to work for Aston Martins, therefore providing generations of workers with a passion for Aston Martin. So it is apparently more than a company, a factory. It’s a family too.

They used to produce only small numbers of cars. They even sold cars under production price. From an economic perspective that is unheard of. And AML did almost go bankrupt a few times in its history. Almost.
Because every time there was someone who would buy it or put money into it, so it could keep on going.
These guys just don’t give up.
That is probably the short and narrow of it. They simply do not give up.

The ceiling of the DB11.
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The people who put money into this company are probably not sentimental fools like me. They want something in return…or so I assume. There must be more appeal than just the company’s fighting spirit. Well, there is.
I have not met many people who do not at least like Aston Martins (there are a few, believe it or not). There is something about the cars that makes heads turn. They are desirable.
Even if you can’t afford one, you want one.

I think the combination of style and detail is the cause of this. Aston Martin has stayed true to their heritage. You can clearly see the older models (specifically DB4 onwards) in the new ones. And yet they manage to move on into a new age. Due to some automation they are able to create more intricate designs in the interior (see photo above). The number of items you can specify on the DB11 is huge.

The Aston Martin Vulcan. Even this beast has lots of typical Aston Martin features, yet it looks nothing like the classic models.
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It’s this same combination of old and new that draws in the more romantic among us. Yes, there are machines in the factory. Yes, there are robots. But most is still done by hand, by human beings. The atmosphere in the factory is calm, despite the noise. The people are happily (because there are quite a few smiles) going about their work.
Despite the more modern way of working the factory churns out in a year what other car manufacturers produce in a day.

Let’s face it: if you see two equal products and one was mass produced and the other by hand, you’d instinctively have more faith in the handmade one.
And there is no equal to an Aston Martin.

Aston Martin DB11
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The factory in Gaydon is a great place to be. It is that simple.
You get to ‘play’ with the cars in the atrium, you get told about the history, you get to see these wonderful cars being built by people who love building them.
I’ve been three times now and I will go again, simply because I can’t get enough of it. And I want to see what this second century will bring.
There have already been reports of a big turnover boost and several new models in coming years. There will be a new factory in Wales and the list of vacancies in Gaydon is ever growing.
It seems AML is doing well. Hopefully we’ll see them make a profit one day.

Bond in Motion

I was in London. I was on my way to the London Transport Museum. And then I almost passed the London Film Museum. Almost.
Because when I realised their current exhibition is ‘Bond in Motion’, I also realised there is a DB10 in there. I went in to have a look.

Not sure how many people know this, but it is said that the first car manufacturer to be offered having their car featured in a James Bond film was Jaguar and that they turned that offer down. If true…ouch!
It is now well known that the Bond franchise has a very strong connection to Aston Martin for several decades, so it’s no surprise that at an exhibition about the James Bond films you will find several Astons.
Previously the films would feature a model of a car (not just Aston Martin) which you could buy, minus all the weaponry and toys, of course. For Spectre Aston Martin built the DB10. Two of the ten cars built have been used for promotion, so people have had a chance to see them. I would say not many people had that chance though, because these promotional events were usually in big cities etc. I live in the UK, but not in or near London, so no chance! This exhibition was possibly a once in a lifetime chance to see a DB10 for real. But let’s go back to where it started for a moment.

Aston Martin DB5 (Goldeneye)
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Say the name ‘James Bond’ and, if you’re after word association, a lot of people will say ‘DB5’. It has gotten to the point where people see a DB5 in the wild, point at it and say ‘That’s James Bond’s car!’. It could be an interesting discussion about how iconic the DB5 would have been without James Bond. Of course that’s impossible to say now, but the association is quite strong and I’m sure it has done the company a lot of good.

In the same vein I get the idea that the other models used in the films never were that well known to the general public. They still know they are Astons, but not which type.
And I shouldn’t forget to mention that other car manufacturers feature in the Bond films too, most noticeably Jaguar.
In that ever growing group of cars the DB10 may well be another game changer.

The exhibition features the vehicles of the James Bond films. Of course my main focus is the same as always, single-minded as I can be, but seeing other cars, boats, the cello case and motorbikes is a great feast of recognition. Because of course I have seen James Bond films; quite a few of them. When you see any of these vehicles/modes of transportation you get that deja vu feeling of being in the cinema again and watching the most memorable scene in which it featured.

The Aston Martin V8 which featured in The Living Daylights, with the cello case in the background.
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I remember visiting Aston Martin at Newport Pagnell (mere months before they closed the factory) and a ‘James Bond’ V12 Vanquish was on display at Works’ reception, rockets and all. Of course this car is part of the exhibition as well.
Unfortunately (because, oh, how that hurts to see!) there are also two ruined examples (both DBS). I hoped they were made to look like that, but according to the guide book the cars really sustained this damage during filming.

Now, what about that DB10? The exhibition shows two of them. One of them is a rig which allows them to film the actor(s) while ‘driving’ the car. It’s therefore incomplete and has no windscreen. It is insightful, because you do get to see how that works. There is a lot more involved than an incomplete car and the entire camera setup etc. is not included in the exhibition, but from the car alone you get an idea. It did make me wonder why the tail end of the car is complete…

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It really is a pity I can only offer video footage and some photos of the DB10.
The reason I say that is because I didn’t like it at all when I first saw it. The grille is much wider and lower than on any other Aston, the headlights are a lot smaller and there didn’t appear to be many outstanding features at all. I’ve changed my mind completely now I’ve seen the car.

There definitely are outstanding features. They are just more subtle than we are used to seeing. On the nose, for example, there are no slits/gaps with mesh, there are perforated holes.

Detail of the DB10’s nose.
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The lines on the nose continue on the roof, but this is not very visible on photos or film. The lines at the side of the car are quite sharp and guide the eyes beautifully from the front to the rear.
The parts of the car which are made of carbon fiber are also wonderful details that usually would remain unseen.

The thing that stood out to me first and foremost is the car’s width. I have seen many Aston Martins, old and new, and this one just seemed much wider. Predictably the internet is uncharacteristically quiet about the DB10’s details, but I managed to find out that the car is about as wide as the One-77. And the One-77 is 30cm wider than most modern Astons.
This is a big car. It looks mean (apologies to the sharks it resembles), it looks dangerous, but it is absolutely stunning.

The imposing glare of the DB10 in full force.
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The DB10 truly is the DB11’s forebear. I think the DB10 is uncompromised. With that I mean that the DB11 is a wonderful combination of the One-77, the Vulcan and the DB10; almost as if the most popular features were put in one car, ensuring its success. However, the DB11 has its main look from the DB10. The DB10 is raw and possibly an acquired taste.
If you ever get the chance, I suggest you go see one and decide for yourself.