But perhaps the greatest smiting to the male ego is delivered by a son. I know, because my son Fred taught me this lesson last weekend. His friend was dropped round by his dad in his new motor – an Aston Martin. And as my son’s look of wonder and excitement flickered into just the merest hint of envy, I felt like I had been hit where it hurts most (something young sons also enjoy doing to their dads, in the more literal sense). For this look then slumped into one of disappointment when Fred’s gaze moved from the throbbing bonnet of the Vanquish, to settle on the rather smaller package that is our family Mini.
You see, while Aston Dad had been transformed suddenly into a super-hero who could, at the touch of a button, no doubt shoot his enemies from guns fitted to his car, Fred’s look told me I was the kind of dad who puts up shelves that come down quicker than Charlie Sheen’s underpants. As for women, rather than coos of “Oh, James…”, I was surely more likely to be on the receiving end of a “why the bloody hell did I marry you, you inadequate man?” As I say, sons know how to hurt their fathers, especially when they aren’t aware they are doing so.
Imagine, then, when the call came through: “Fancy a spin in the new Aston? Oh, and run your eye over 007’s new wheels.” In I sauntered to Fred’s room: “Forget Minecraft. Put on your dinner jacket and grab your gun. We have an urgent appointment with Q.”
Chichester is burning with Bond fever as we pull into the Aston Martin dealership. A giant lorry is parked with a wrap-around advert for Spectre.
A well-heeled gent, on seeing the unloading of the film’s DB10, asks: “Is it for sale? I must have it.” There is a Champagne reception, photographers, fans. Surely there should be a red carpet, not tarmac, for It feels very much like a star has rolled into town. And in a way one has. Daniel Craig is the leading man, but the Aston is surely the best supporting actress. Bond girls come and go, but the Aston remains; Bond’s faithful mistress for half a century of celluloid, the only temptress the spy ever really loved. Well, bar one film and a quite unforgivable fumble with a BMW…
In the showroom is a silver DB5, identical to the Aston of the first flick. As much as Playboy, this car’s glamour – and ejector seat – transported a generation of boys into a world of adult possibilities.
And posing next to it on this automotive catwalk is the celebrity DB10. Only ten of these have been crafted, rendering it one of the rarest Astons of all time. All were used in the film. Two were so called “hero cars”, in which Craig was seen driving. The others were stripped down and customised for particular stunts.
Our guest star today is the car that spent much of the film skidding sideways. So much so that the speedo and rev counter are positioned in the passenger foot-well, so the driver could look through the passenger door as he slid. It has a gun that shoots from the boot (naturally), a massive hand-break (good for skidding), and an oxygen tank. This is after a stunt driver drowned when he spun into Lake Garda while filming Casino Royale.
This DB10 is a gorgeous, snorting, curling, posturing, purring work of engineering art. If Aston announces it is not going to mass-produce a similar road car it will be the most tragic happening since Take That came out of retirement. Until then the public can buy precisely one of these cars, when it is auctioned for charity; it is expected to raise as much as £2m.
Meanwhile the Astons are being sent around the globe for a round of celebrity interviews, like Spectre’s human stars. Indeed, with 007 and the DB range, it is hard to judge which brand has done more to intensify the mystique of the other over this past half a century of blissful marriage.
“Aston Martin is the only brand that doesn’t pay to appear in Bond films,” says James Parrett, senior manager at Chichester. “For Goldfinger, the makers of Bond actually wanted a Jaguar E Type. But Sir William Lyons, who owned Jaguar, said ‘why would I want to get involved in your useless project?’” Jaguar’s howler was the struggling Aston Martin’s making.
“Incredibly, Aston Martin even made the film company buy one of the cars. When BMW got Bond to drive a BMW, they had to pay £8m.” In early Bond films, the hero was still learning his trade – Ian Fleming even had Bond eat an avocado pear as a pudding, so rare and exotic were they in post-war Britain – but the Aston of 50 years ago was super-cool, and looks every inch as sexy today.
Before my spin in a DB9GT – the nearest road car to the Bond DB10 – I am given a lesson by Nick Padmore, historic car racer who recently broke a record, held for half a century by Jackie Stewart. A beaming Fred squeezes onto the tiny back seat.
As we rumble off the forecourt, I glance disdainfully at our parked Mini. “You and me,” I murmur “are so over.” If only the HP company agreed.
As we cruise through the lanes, enjoying the sleek hand-stitched leather, there is no great sense that this is powered by a 6 litre V12 that can nudge 80 mph in first gear. And this is not merely because intelligence is coming through that Sussex Constabulary, bless them, are hiding in bushes to catch us speeding today. It is because in “comfort mode” the Aston is as civilised as a Bentley. Sure, you can be shaken as violently as a Martini if you wish, but you can also arrive chilled as bottle of Dom Perignon ’53.
Now it is time for a little excitement. Pull the paddle to engage manual. Press sports mode. Don’t even bother with the accelerator. Then, wow. The boom from the exhaust sounds like a thunderball. By opening the exhaust valve the noise fills the cabin and you are catapulted against the horizon. No wonder owners take their cars to the Continent, to better test the machine’s potential (190mph, since you ask).
All is wonderful except two snags: the price (£150,000), and the lack of room in the back, where, incidentally, Fred has been clinging on for dear life.
Later, guests crowd into the showroom for a presentation by Bond’s stunt driver, Mark Higgins. They also play “Beat the Stunt Driver” challenge on a Sony Gran Turismo race simulator.
“Thank you for taking me, daddy,” says Fred. “I would love an Aston Martin, but at least the Mini doesn’t crush my legs.” He is tired as we pootle home, largely in silence. But it is a contented silence, contemplating the day. I had played in the places where I used to ache. And Fred, snoozing in the back now, had given me a quantum of solace.