Ares previews the future of coachbuilding

Guests at the official opening of Ares' Modena production facility were treated to a very warm welcome indeed this week, including factory tours, expensive meals and a lavish launch party; but then Dany Bahar has never been known for scrimping on luxuries.

Bear with us though, because while Bahar's name alone may be enough to make many a PHer click away, there is plenty about his latest venture to be intrigued by. So, having checked an oversized bag of scepticism into the hold of a Bologna-bound flight, we went to see what was going on for ourselves.

There is certainly a ring of Italian Jobbery about the Ares set up. A disarmingly charismatic foreigner, taking money from under the noses of the more established locals using his chosen medium; cars. However, while events at Lotus may have left our protagonist with a Charlie Croker-esque reputation in certain circles, it is important to remember that not only does every story have two sides, but also that Bahar and his Ares associates do have some unquestionably impressive credentials.

He was previously responsible for taking Red Bull into Formula 1 and NASCAR, before becoming the heir apparent to Luca di Montezemolo during two years as Senior Brand VP at Ferrari. Andrea Galletti, Ares' General Manager, was formerly director of R&D at Pagani, and Executive Production Manager Francesco Uguzzoni was chief mechanic for Ferrari's F1 team. Lead designer Mihai Panaitescu, meanwhile, has worked for Pininfarina, Toyota, Lotus and even Local Motors, the outfit responsible for the bonkers Rally Fighter.

So what're they up to now? Well, as they would tell it, traditional coach building. Sitting in Bahar's minimalist office - there certainly aren't £30k worth of books here - he tells me: "We have no brand identity... We will never have Ares cars, we want to be known as the company which has realised the dreams of the customer and he can brand the car and the product as he wants... We sell our work, our craftsmanship, not the car itself."

Having been in business for two years now, Ares' claims to have delivered over 200 examples of that work, from bodykits to completely bespoke redesigns. The company, founded with a €25m sum and bankrolled by a group of seven investors - including Bahar's long-term business partner, Ares chairman Waleed Al Ghafari - reported a turnover of €30m last year and currently employs 110 people, although that is projected to rise to over 200 by the end of this year.

Output varies from the sublime to the ridiculous, from two door Bentley Mulsanne conversions, via a modern interpretation of De Tomaso's Pantera, to the X-Raid, a G-Class based SUV with up to 830hp and 685lb ft of torque. All Ares projects are based on a donor vehicle, Bahar explaining, "We don't have the ego to say we need to make our own car. There are so many good car companies out there, so why would we want to go and fight the Ferraris and Lamborghinis?"

A lack of ego shouldn't be confused with a lack of ambition, though. For such a young company Ares' work is genuinely impressive in the metal. No, the finished products won't be to everyone's taste - Bahar even admitting that many are not to his - but the quality of craftsmanship should be, and he insists that enthusiasts shouldn't rush to judgement. "If you would look into the houses of all the car enthusiasts you would not go and say 'Well that's outrageous, the yellow sofa you have put in your living room', right? That's your right to choose to have your taste, we have to respect your taste, and so it is with the cars... It might not please everybody but it's something that we respect and also that other car enthusiasts should respect. I don't think there is right and wrong in design, there was never right and wrong, there is only I like it or I don't like it, that's pretty much it."

As design head Mihai Panaitescu puts it, "you have to place the car in its environment, what looks ridiculous in the UK might fit in Dubai." When I ask whether the opinions of petrolheads matter to him, he replies with a smile and a shrug, "I do care, and sometimes I am the person on the forums saying 'Jesus Christ!' But the people on the forums aren't the ones paying us."

Not all of Ares' projects are necessarily that hard to swallow. The firm's take on a GT3 RS Targa is genuinely stunning, as is the 575hp underfoot. Its monstrous Defender - available with between 282 and 475hp in either naturally aspirated or supercharged guise - has been built in partnership with the UK's JE Engineering, and comes with a 75mm lift kit, huge tyres and a price starting at €200,000. A sum which suddenly seems less absurd in a world of £150,000 anniversary editions.

Again, that word taste comes up, but every project that Ares works on is commissioned by a client and paid for before it leaves the factory, with the option for a limited production run if the client agrees and the demand is readily apparent. "Defenders have been modified for, I don't know, 30 or 40 years, but I don't think there is a product out there that has been modified in that detail, so we expect this to be a success as well for us", enthuses Bahar.

A motorbike based on BMW's R NineT has reached completion, with a speedboat and mysterious open-wheeled project coming soon as well. It was in classic cars that Ares found its biggest revenue driver last year, though, combining already timeless design with the convenience of modern technology. Case in point a 1966 Corvette Stingray with C7 chassis, electrics, brakes and a 525hp LS3 V8. And the Porsche 964 sitting on the production line, waiting to be similarly fused with 997 components including a PDK, air-con and the Panamera's super-wide nav screen. Purists might call it butchery, but Ares calls it big business.

On the horizon is a 20 car run of GTC4 Lussos, set to be rebodied in the style of a modern 412 at the end of the year. To these eyes the concept is stunning, and if executed to the expected standard it should be a fantastic project. It will all depend on the direction the client demands, because Ares' employees certainly seem more than up to the task.

Bags packed with significantly less pessimism than before, it's refreshing to leave knowing that, amongst the many companies willing to simply plaster cars with carbon fibre, Ares genuinely seems to be the real deal. Whether its creations have merit will be up to individuals to decide for themselves, but this is certainly no half-arsed cut and shut, rather a genuinely dedicated group of people, using state of the art technology and a great deal of skill to realise the far-reaching visions of their clients.

Before our conversation concludes, I have one final question; "Obviously a lot Brits will know you mainly from your time at Lotus, so what would you say to the people who write off Ares because of your involvement?" "My honest answer?" He replies, "I don't care. Not zero. We are doing something really cool here and if they have an issue with me, so be it."













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Comments (35) Join the discussion on the forum

  • V8 FOU 02 Feb 2018

    "lack of ego"? Bahar? Really?

    Sorry, I really do struggle with anything Danni Boy touches........

  • J4CKO 02 Feb 2018

    Ares, they named a company after a PHer ?

  • spikyone 02 Feb 2018

    Regardless of your opinions on Bahar, the 2-door Mulsanne looks far more like a proper Bentley coupe than the soap bar styling of the Conti GT and the re-bodied GTC4 Lusso looks a hundred times better than the bizarre Volvo 480 styling that Ferrari came up with.

    The usual pitfall of coachbuilders is that they take a nice looking design and turn it into something a bit awkward or vulgar. For the most part Ares seem to be doing the opposite, so I'll applaud them for that at least.

  • Ares 02 Feb 2018

    J4CKO said:
    Ares, they named a company after a PHer ?
    When you've got commercial clout.... wink

  • tomw2000 02 Feb 2018

    “. Its monstrous Defender - available with between 282 and 475hp in either naturally aspirated or supercharged guise - has been built in partnership with the UK's GE Engineering..”

    GE or JE?

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