Different Is Good—And Making a Comeback

What makes a car “different?”

On my last trip to Italy, Andrea Zagato, Marella Rivolta Zagato and I were hashing that out when discussing their one-off Aston Zagato DBS that was first seen at Aston’s Centenary in July. The Zagatos’ daily driver is a turbo diesel BMW Gran Coupe, and when Andrea mentioned that it was also “different” in terms of design, I had to disagree.

The character line along the side is a thing of beauty, especially the way it seems to “come off” of the taillight’s top radius.

“That roofline is low and the profile sleek,” I said, “but it has the general proportions and three-volume shape one expects to find in a sedan. Plus Mercedes’ CLS, Audi’s S7 and, to a much lesser extent, the Jaguar’s XJ are pretty much the same thing—fast, low roofed sedans.”

After agreeing with my reasoning, Andrea turned his attention to the inspiration for the DBS. “Our idea was to do a modern interpretation of the philosophy Aston had in the 1980s,” he said. “Back then, there were styling cues that linked the cars (like the traditionally Aston shaped grille) but the individual models had their own distinct character. That is what we wanted to do here.”

While “different” doesn’t always turn out well, Zagato took a familiar form (the fastback or berlinetta, in this case) and made into something to behold. They kept the DBS’s marvelous proportions but completely changed the look of the car—its side profile is nothing short of stunning, the best I’ve seen in ages. The hood appears to be a mile long compared to the low cabin, yet it doesn’t look awkward or out of place. The crisp beltline crests over the rear wheel haunch, then smoothly slopes downward so your eye effortlessly moves from the rear to the front. The chiseled character line just below the beltline flows in parallel, and the litheness of the body above the front wheelarch and the back end’s higher stance give the Aston a lean, taut look, much like a greyhound ready to spring out of a starting gate.

Not everything captivates my fancy, though. I’m not completely sold on the headlight treatment, or the grille, though I’m not sure what I would have done (and here is that word again) differently. And yes, the rear corners and decklid profile remind me a bit of a 1990s Camaro, but I don’t care; they work on the design.

Remarkably, Zagato didn’t have to go radical like BMW’s ultra cool i8 to pull off the “different is good” trick. The Aston’s roofline, proportions, and silhouette are unique in 2013, plus it has what may be the year’s sweetest bit of design jewelry—that super effective brushed aluminum trim that flows along the roof and B-pillar, comes sweeping across the edge of the door, and runs out to the front of the hood. The way it mimics the design’s rear-to-front movement is an inspired styling touch that had me trying to figure out ways to photograph it so anyone anywhere could share in its deliciousness. And, it is a subtle, innovative integration of Zagato’s trademark “Z” into the B-pillar.

This Aston also gets my award for the best piece of automotive jewelry with this spectacular aluminum accent, seen here highlighting Zagato’s traditional double bubble roof.

Another highlight is the color. Chosen by Marella Rivolta (who has an incredible sense for style and fashion), I’d never have thought of using that hue. But it shows how effective a proper (and different) color can bring out the best a car has to offer. The shape comes alive without jarring your eyes, and try as I might I couldn’t think of a color that would have shown it off better, or made the car look more contemporary.

All this makes the Zagato Aston the coolest car I’ve seen this year. That surprised me, for I wasn’t sold on the renderings and photos I’d viewed online. The DBSZ was done to celebrate Aston’s centenary, and it highlights an under-the-radar trend that is finding some traction in the upper echelons of the motoring world—that true custom coachwork, the desire to have something different, is making a comeback.

For enthusiasts everywhere, that may be the best news of all.

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