At various times in the previous
century, Rapide—an exotic and evocative word—has denoted a fabric and plywood
airliner (in the 1930s), a cycle-fendered roadster (also in the ’30s), and a
European fast ferry (’90s).
Now the name Rapide has returned, raised from the
dust by British carmaker Aston Martin, keeper of the flame and files of Lagonda,
the company that built the original Rapide tourers (1934–1937), the Lagonda
Rapide (1961–1964), and the four-door Aston Martin Lagondas (1976–1989). Aston,
which until earlier this year was owned by the Ford Motor Co., will begin
producing a new Rapide for 2009, three years after the vehicle’s premiere as the
premier concept car (pictured) of the 2006 North American International Auto
Show in Detroit.
In the last two-plus years, Aston has launched five new cars—a
magnificent and well-received miscellany of coupes and convertibles, V-8s, and
V-12s. The company has whelped more cars in the past five years than it had in
its previous eight decades, and all have embodied the business gospel according
to CEO Ulrich Bez, who insisted that the brand remain politely independent of
Ford when building engines, transmissions, technology, and major parts, because,
he says, an Aston is “not just another chunk of metal.”
Aston will build the Rapide upon the same platform and with
nearly the same dimensions—but for its 10-inch-longer wheelbase—as the DB9.
Power has been improved from 450 hp to 480 hp, and top speed will be a whisker
away from 200 mph, courtesy of a 6-liter V-12. The V-12 is the same engine
configuration as that of the original Lagonda Rapide. Also worth noting is that
even chief designer W.O. Bentley—yes, that W.O. Bentley—could squeeze only 175
hp and a top speed of 105 mph from his V-12s.
More significant than its history or its muscle is the new
Rapide’s configuration; it will be a four-door, four-seater priced at more than
$200,000 and presented as Aston Martin’s challenge to Bentley’s Flying Spur and
Maserati’s Quattroporte (and Porsche’s Panamera, which will arrive within the
next two years). “We see it as our flagship car,” says Aston spokesman Tim
Watson. “It is strikingly different but still shows the Aston Martin traditions.
And a trust. It’s not a Ferrari and it’s not a Porsche. It’s an Aston.”
Aston Martin, www.astonmartin.com