Cash-Rich Ford to Buy Britain's Aston Martin

From Reuters

Ford Motor Co. said Monday that it plans to buy Britain's prestige auto maker Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd., whose fans include the heir to the British throne and fictional spy James Bond.

The purchase of Aston Martin, which specializes in hand-built, high-performance cars, gives Ford access to the thoroughbred car market. The purchase price was not disclosed.

"Ford involvement will allow this famous company to expand its production capabilities and pursue its individual product program," said Kenneth Whipple, chairman of Ford of Europe.

"Aston Martin Lagonda has a distinguished history filled with distinctive cars and motor racing victories. We certainly will gain from their experience as they will from our support," he added.

Ford, the second-largest U.S. auto maker, said the acquisition will give it the opportunity to enter the high-image specialty market. At the same time, it said, Aston Martin will gain access to Ford financial resources and manufacturing expertise.

Ford last year failed in its attempt to buy Italian sports car maker Alfa Romeo.

The Aston Martin deal follows the recent trend of U.S. auto makers to link up with European sports and luxury car companies such as the purchase by Chrysler Corp. of Italy's Lamborghini and Chrysler's 15% stake in Italian auto maker Maserati.

General Motors, the largest U.S. manufacturer, has the body of its $50,000 Cadillac Allante made by Italy's Pininfarina.

Dating back to 1914, Aston Martin has always had a glamorous reputation. In the 1950s, its racing cars constantly flashed past the checkered flags at big races such as Le Mans.

In the same class as Italy's Ferrari and Lamborghini, Aston Martins, with their leather seats and walnut dashboards, can only be afforded bought by the wealthy.

Bond Car Auctioned

Aston Martin's 400 craftsmen build five cars per week--fewer than 200 a year. Each car is in production for 16 weeks, as workers apply 20 coats of hand-rubbed paint. A single craftsman hand builds each engine.

The current model offerings in the United States include the V8 Volante and the Lagonda, with price tags of between $140,000 and $170,000. Aston Martin offers those models and the V8 Salon in Europe.

Last year, Aston Martin began producing the Vantage Zagato in a limited edition of 50 cars. The entire production run of the car, which has a top speed of 186 mph, was ordered before the first car was built.

Britain's Prince Charles is a devoted fan of his Aston Martin DB6, which is more than 15 years old. The Aston Martin driven by fictional spy hero James Bond in the film "Goldfinger" was sold at auction last year for $285,000.

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