Aston Martin mulling 3 & 4-cyl motors
Most prestige carmakers are part of a larger group, and are thus able to share the pain of ever-tightening emissions regulations with the smaller-engined cars of their sister brands.
Ferrari, for instance, can afford to laugh off the Brussels Bureaucracy because million of Puntos keep the Fiat group's average emissions low.
Bentley and Lamborghini are part of the Volkswagen group - and who ever thought we'd be glad to say that? - while Rolls Royce can rely on BMW stablemate Mini to balance the CO2 scales.
But stand-alone sports-car company Aston Martin, which makes only about 7000 big-engined V8 and V12 cars a year (plus a handful of Cygnets with 1.3-litre Toyota engines) has a real problem.
FIFTY TIMES A SECOND
Painstaking development and very tight tuning tolerances have reduced the emissions of Aston Martin's muscular big-inch lumps by 25 percent over the past six years, but there is only so much that can be done when six litres of fuel-air mixture go in and six litres of exhaust gasses come out with every revolution, nearly fifty times a second.
Aston Martin boss Ulrich Bez, himself an endurance racing driver of note, is well aware that his company is getting squeezed between the rock of Brussels and the hard place of global warming.
As long ago as 2008 he pointed out that the average Aston Martin covers about 10 000km a year, compared to the EU average of close to 20 000, and suggested that CO2 emissions be measured on a annual basis rather than per kilometre, which would of course put any exotic that's used only as a weekend playtoy in a better position vis-à-vis a budget hatch that gets commuted in every day.
But even then he was attacked on the basis of 'one law for the rich and another for the poor' and now he says he's open to the idea of using smaller engines in future Aston Martin models, as Bentley has just done with the V8 Continental.
He recently told Autocar magazine that “if the spirit of the times demands six cylinders, then it has to be looked at”, and that four or even three-cylinder engines were a possibility.
We can just hear the purists choking on their G & T's.
But wait a minute; the classic Aston Martins of the early David Brown era had a superlative 2.6-litre, twin-cam, straight-six engine originally designed for Lagonda by the legendary WO Bentley.
Brown had to buy Lagonda to get that engine, but that's another story.
Bez says that no matter what capacity the engines or the number of their cylinders, Aston Martin survives on exclusivity - the 'specialness' of its cars, if you will. And there are few things more special than the howl of a well-tuned straight-six engine (BMW, it has been noted, is going back to a six-pot for the next M3).
Aston Martin has already mastered the art of mixed-media aluminium construction, using forged bracketry where strength is required, extrusions for stiffness and sheet material of appropriate thicknesses elsewhere.
That could with advantage be adapted to a slightly smaller and much lighter Vantage 2.0 - about the same size and weight as an early-fifties BD2, in fact.
Then Bez could take the right-hand cylinder head from a six-litre DB9, put it on top of a lighter, short-stroke six-cylinder block tilted to the right at 30 degrees so all the plumbing will still work correctly (and to keep the bonnet height within the pedestrian-safety limits imposed by the Eurocrats), with a big Rootes-type supercharger in the empty space where the other half of the engine used to be.
What you'd get would be a barking-made 2.8-litre straight six.
It would make all the right noises and about 265kW at 7200rpm, in a serious driver's car with exclusivity to spare, producing about half the emissions of a current Aston Martin - and even less if you take a leaf out of the Bentley book and tweak the engine mapping to run on flex-fuel.
If necessary, it could take another leaf from the Chrysler book and run on three cylinders in heavy traffic, with idle-stop to spare a few more oxygen molecules.
But it would indeed be a classic Aston Martin, expensive, luxurious and beautifully trimmed in the finest leathers and veneers, and quick enough in the right hands to justify the term 'supercar'.