Haute Voiture: the automotive specialist providing the last word in no-limit luxury

By Adam Hay-Nicholls | 06 Aug 2018 | Design, Speed

When does a supercar become truly bespoke? When it’s built by bespoke coachbuilding specialists Ares Design

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* Ares Design: When it comes to bespoke coachwork, the Italian industrial town of Modena is the automotive world’s Savile Row

When it comes to bespoke coachwork, the Italian industrial town of Modena is the automotive world’s Savile Row. It is here, a few miles from manufacturers Lamborghini, Pagani and Maserati, that new kid on the block Ares Design has established its factory. It’s a boutique personalisation production line staffed by 100 craftspeople that takes expensive cars and makes them a lot more expensive, not to mention one-of-a-kind. This is cosmetic surgery for supercars.

“Luxury doesn’t have a limit. Where it begins and ends is just a matter of personal taste,” says Dany Bahar, Ares’ CEO. He’s a marketing visionary who rose to become the number two man at Red Bull before overseeing Ferrari’s brand and, as chief executive, plotting what was a thrilling but ultimately still-born future for Lotus. Now, Bahar has founded an atelier to fulfil the dreams of the world’s most minted motorheads.

“Life isn’t one-size-fits-all, we live on a planet of seven billion individuals,” explains the Swiss 46-year-old, “yet when it comes to cars, we’re expected to just accept the choice the manufacturers give us. They offer a list of options but it’s all kept tightly controlled within a production process. You can’t say to BMW, ‘I want all-new seats, wood from my own forest, paint that matches my wife’s lipstick’. That is why I think there’s a market for high-end personalisation by outside firms, because manufacturers themselves aren’t in a position to exploit it.”

Who are these customers, I ask Bahar. Are they all sheiks, Russian mobsters and Chinese triads? “I wish! They’re lawyers, bankers, so boring. One third of our orders come from the US, a third from Europe and a third from the Middle East.” >>

Related: Fast & furious: Aston Martin's design director on the all new DBS Superleggera

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* Ares Design: It’s a boutique personalisation production line staffed by 100 craftspeople that takes expensive cars and makes them a lot more expensive, not to mention one-of-a-kind.

Ares takes the chassis, engines and electronics that have been developed by OEMs to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds and add their own skin. Ares’ X-Raid, for example, is a Mercedes G-Wagon underneath. A customer from the UAE wanted a “future G-wagon”, so Ares gave a G63 a compete styling overhaul and charged him £635,000, including the donor car.

Ares’ machinery starts at around £40,000 for a custom motorcycle up to £700,000 for a project that’s in the workshop right now, taking a chainsaw to a Ferrari GTC4Lusso and creating an all-new body and interior that is a modern interpretation of the angular and unloved Ferrari 400 2+2 coupe from the 1970s.

Another 1970s reimagining is the Ares Panther, which is styled to look like a 21st century De Tomaso Pantera. Bahar shows me around the full-size clay model, sat in the spotless studio. The real thing will contain the innards of a Lamborghini Huracán. 

Elvis Presley owned a De Tomaso Pantera and, when it wouldn’t start, he took a .44 and shot it full of holes. I can therefore very much see the appeal of owning a car that looks vintage but actually starts and stops. Sat in the factory’s permanent photographic studio, an addition Bahar describes as “unbelievably arrogant”, is a 1964 Corvette Stingray. It is stunning and looks utterly original. Yet under the metal it is all 2018. “Our clients love classic cars but they want the power windows to work, the lights to go on, the steering to go where they want it to. So here we have married an old body to completely state-of-the-art technology and Chevrolet’s latest 525bhp Corvette engine.” >>

Related: Get behind the wheel with JD Classics' Chris Ward

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* The main thrust of Ares’ philosophy is personalisation. These cars are personal stories for the demanding aesthetes and enthusiasts who specify them

With each original design that’s commissioned, the customer owns part of the intellectual property. Obsessed with low volume, Ares will never build more than 15 of any model, but if the customer gives them licence to make more than one car he or she will get some cash back on the original order.

Other projects are triggered by the firm themselves. Currently, they’re working on a Tesla Model S estate which will sell for a relatively modest £175,000. “Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t, but we wanted to test the market rather than wait for a customer to try it.”

Yet the main thrust of Ares’ philosophy is personalisation. These cars are personal stories for the demanding aesthetes and enthusiasts who specify them. “Bespoke and rarity is absolutely key to luxury,” confirms Bahar. “The key to personalisation is knowing it’s your product, it’s your personality, no one else has it. Imagine, if you spent £2m on a Bugatti only to park it in front of the Hotel de Paris next to an identical one”. Short changed, I guess.

One imagines the same feelings of embarrassment and resentment should two Oscar nominees find themselves wearing the same Versace dress on the red carpet. Ares offers a high-tech and sexy update on the century-old art of automotive coachbuilding because there is a demand once again for unique artistry and bespoke tailoring. This, essentially, is ‘haute voiture’.

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