PH stumbles on a pair of Aston prototypes on the way to the Nurburgring
It's not often you get to share a railway carriage with a couple of Aston Martin prototypes, so it was with some excitement that we steered our Jaguar XFR onto Le Shuttle at Folkestone yesterday morning, a few cars back from a pre-production Rapide and an accompanying DBS.
We were on the top deck, and the Astons were on the ground floor, so although it took a while to find them, we still had a good 15 minutes to study the cars 'in captivity'. Turns out they were both pretty interesting, too.
Like us, the drivers were heading for the Nurburgring, where Aston has a technical centre adjacent to the Jaguar facility that we are visiting today. (More on that soon.) It seems the Rapide and DBS were both on the way to Germany for aerodynamic testing of undertray elements - a number of aluminium panels were stacked inside the Rapide's hatchback rear load area - and tyre development work, to be carried out on the roads outside rather than on the circuit itself.
The Rapide prototypes have been photographed before and, just six months away from production, have dropped all disguise so it was interesting to be able to see how the rear body shape has changed from the original concept car - basically an extended DB9 that still used the coupe's rear quarter panels.
The production shape is subtly different with all-new rear panels, although the visual effect is initially similar to the concept. The car still shares the majority of its hidden platform architecture with the DB9 too, apart from the obvious wheelbase extension and a new rear subframe to accommodate the rear seats. These seats straddle the DB9's auto-shifting rear transaxle (no manual version of the Rapide is planned), so there's a wide centre tunnel between the rear passengers.
Aston has also designed the car with significant load space thanks to rear seats that fold fully flat, although the prototype's rear parcel shelf design appeared a bit unfinished. The full-length load area is compromised by the low tailgate and a floor that has to sit above the transaxle, but the car would have swallowed a good few champagne crates if this had been a booze cruise!
So what of the silver DBS that was accompanying the Rapide? Super-sleuth PHer TrackDemon (a.k.a. Steve Hall, on photographic duty for our own Nurburgring Jaguar story) reckons the Nurburgring grapevine is buzzing about a project to revitalise the DBS with an 'R' type package of suspension and performance mods to give the DBS a harder edge as a driver's car. The guys on the train weren't spilling the beans, so we can't confirm that yet - but if it happens you read it here first!
After disembarking the two Astons bolted, so we naturally gave chase in order to grab a couple of 'on the road' shots through the windscreen of our XFR. We were lucky to have 500bhp under the bonnet as the Aston drivers weren't hanging around for a photo call, but after a few minutes of hot pursuit Steve had a couple of shots in the bag so we allowed them to disappear gracefully over the horizon.