“The entire world is about individualization, you personalize your complete life. It starts with your cup of coffee: you take it the way you want it, you put your clothes on the way you like, you furnish your house the way you like, you choose the car the way you like. Everything is personalized and individualized,” muses Ares Design CEO Dany Bahar, his passion for the subject palpable.
“But when it comes to your car you always have the risk that others may have the same; they may choose the same black color and the same white leather and the same rims and the same carbon fiber. So it’s personalized but it’s not individualized, and we thought we needed to go one step further and offer the very high-end of luxury automotive buyers the opportunity to design their own one-off cars, to design a car for themselves that no one else has… or maybe just a lucky few have.”
The veteran automotive executive—formerly CEO of British marque Lotus, following stints at Ferrari and Red Bull—is sharing the genesis of his latest venture, purposely named after the Greek god of war and courage.
The luxury Italian coachbuilder was founded on the mission to envision, design and execute one-off totems of lust for the über-wealthy, and has quickly grown into a promising startup with 150 employees, some $70-million in investments and a modern headquarters in the heart of Modena—arguably the most important swathe of automotive earth.
“It’s not a new segment, we’re not inventing anything. It’s called coachbuilding, it’s been here for 100 years,” he explains. “We just try to make it, I don’t want to say affordable, because it’s still a lot of money that you have to spend for such a car, but accessible.”
The first vehicle that put Ares Design on the radar of hardcore enthusiasts worldwide was the Panther ProgettoUno, a stunning homage to the beloved De Tomaso Pantera. Built on the frame of a Lamborghini Huracán, the ’70s/’80s bedroom-poster staple was updated to the 21st century with not only cutting-edge V10s and Brembo brakes, but a loin-tugging shell that struck all the right notes between past and future.
Several other Ares-enhanced vehicles followed, including Land Rover Defenders, 1964 Corvette Stingrays, and air-cooled Porsche 964s; but unlike the Panther ProgettoUno, which started as a current Lambo supercar, these were all original donor cars which were then modernized with advanced tech like turbocharged engines, air suspension, performance brakes, and world-class sound systems. A classic restomod as it’s understood in America, a craft Bahar claims is much more common here than in Europe.
So these restomods technically underwent the inverse process from the ProgettoUno: whereas the latter took a contemporary Lamborghini and cosmetically reshaped it to be retro, the former started with vintage vehicles and updated their entire biology. Yet the Swiss businessman sees them as spiritually the same: Legends Reborn, as Ares dubs them.
“They’re all Legends Reborn because they take something already existing and modify it to adapt it to today’s world,” he explains. “But always knowing where their roots come from. In the end, they’re all modern reinterpretations of vintage design.” In November the Italians unveiled their next Legend Reborn, a partnership with renowned French crystal house Lalique. The Wami Lalique Spyder evokes the nostalgic wonder of 1950s British and Italian roadsters like the Austin Healey 3000 and Alfa Romeo Spider, with the added flourish of jeweled-crystal detailing not only throughout the interior, but also in unexpected places like wheel hubs. Built on a BMW Z4 platform, the chic two-seater will be limited to only 12 units.
While the Legends Reborn series will remain a foundational pillar of Ares, the Italian brand has now shifted into an entirely new realm: as 2020 hit, the boutique coachbuilder showed its hand by unveiling a new spoke of its growing business model. “Making a product that combines legendary design and modern approach is one thing, and we should keep [doing] it because that’s very, very successful at the moment,” Bahar reveals. “But why not try to do something different where you don’t have a predecessor, like an iconic style from the past? Maybe it’s also interesting to give your brand identity for the future.”
And that futuristic design is the S1 Project. The ground-hugging sled features hand-crafted carbon fiber body panels, a naturally-aspirated V8 mated to an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, forged aluminum axles, and double wishbone suspension outfitted with adaptive Magnetic Ride Control. The modified high-revving Corvette-sourced powerplant generates 715 horsepower and revs to 8,800-rpms, slingshotting the S1 Project to 62-mph from standstill in only 2.7 seconds while unleashing an F1-like rip from the hood-mounted exhaust ports.
When asked about speculation that his heavily-modded powerplant is sourced from the upcoming halo Z06 ’Vette, the Swiss businessman demurs. “Maybe, maybe. I don’t know,” he chuckles. “I can’t comment on that. Let’s leave it on speculation.” Only 24 of the Coupés will be built, although there will be two other S1 body types coming soon—including the Spyder revealed in October (the third in the S1 trifecta remains under wraps). The gorgeous Spyder takes the already lusty S1 Coupé and slices the roof clean off. Similar to the recent Ferrari Monza, the sleek windshield-free profile creates an even more eye-catching machine.
A new project coming after the trio of S1s is already well underway. Bahar promises running prototypes of this second model will be unveiled later this year with cars on the road by 2022. He hints at a third model as well, but “we are still fiddling around with that one,” he readily admits. “We still did not find the right solution to it.”
Despite the S1’s otherworldly looks and hypercar motifs, the vehicle is surprisingly analog. Its rear-wheel-drive platform is shockingly free of electric motors and hybrid doodads. Look all day and you won’t find augmented reality (AR) gauges, rear-wheel steering or “five turbos and seven of this and eight whatever,” Bahar sighs humorously. Ares’ ideals are to make the S1 a driver’s machine, with performance limits aimed at enthusiasts not professional F1 drivers. The overarching goal is to combine three normally distinct and disparate elements: hypercar design plus supercar performance plus sportscar pricing.
“I believe the future is in electric cars and one day it will come, for sure. But today it’s not for us.” Because of Ares’ extremely limited production runs, the CEO doesn’t feel the need to follow the “Electric Or Die” ethos of the major conglomerates who have an avalanche of legislative, economic, social and ethical pressure to segue into zero emissions. He sees a time coming in ten to 20 years when Ares will move on to electric powertrains, but he prophesies first: “Electric cars will have to be slowed down because they’re very, very quick. And they’re very, very dangerous.”
Instead, “Emotion that’s purely in the stomach region, that’s what it’s all about; that’s what our customers are seeking,” he declares. “If you can combine that [visceral] driving element with the stylish design of today’s cars, like we did with the S1, that’s a perfect combination. And then if you don’t have to spend millions to get a rather simple car? That’s the cherry on the cake.”