Andy Palmer, President and CEO of Aston Martin, speaks in paragraphs, neatly worded and dense with information in a style equal parts friendly and professorial. In conversation, he demonstrates a transcendent mastery of the automotive business and beyond, effortlessly and transparently answering every question batted his way in a clear and proud manner. It’s really quite something to behold, and especially cool because Andy Palmer — wise, thorough, king-of-his-domain Andy Palmer — loves punk rock and collects crazy-cool cars.
Palmer has been a present at every Aston Martin media event I’ve attended, from a four-person experience of the outgoing Vanquish S Volante to global media launches of the inimitable DB11 variants to a static reveal of the new DB11 Volante. Most recently, at the launch of Aston Martin’s 2019 Vantage sports car, Palmer sat down with me to discuss topics near and dear to every Gear Patroller’s heart: vintage cars, watches, hi-fi and travel. – Nick Caruso
The Volkswagen Polo Mk1 is widely recognized as one the the first hot hatches.
Caruso: What was your first car?
Palmer: My first car was a Volkswagen Polo Mk1. Before that, I had two motorcycles. I left school at 15 and started working at 16. I had a 12-mile journey to work and my mom and dad weren’t going to get up every morning — but I needed transport, and it wasn’t going to be a push bike (bicycle). At sixteen I got a Yamaha RD50 and then a year later when I turned 17, the biggest bike I could get … was a 250cc. I got a Honda 250 Superdream. I’ve driven bikes ever since; I’ve always owned a bike.
My second car was a Vauxhall — a rear-wheel drive Vauxhall in a strange yellow color, actually. It wasn’t the Viva… Can’t remember, actually.
Then, I had two Volvos. What I liked about those Volvos [was that] they were both rear-wheel drive cars; I like rear-wheel drive cars. I think it was a 343 and a 345.
And then I got a first company car. I was working for Austin Rover. Rover were in a relationship with Honda, and created the Rover 800, which was based on the Honda Legend. The execs were getting these cars, and for whatever reason, they were cycling quite quickly. The first level of engineering was called Principal Management at that time, and [we had] the opportunity to have as a company car the second-hand executive cars. It was a 2.5-liter … what you might recall as a Rover Sterling; it was the Rover 800 in the UK. It was an executive car and I, to this day, distinctly remember driving into my mom and dad’s drive with this Cheshire smile: “I’ve made it.”
Then, after that, lots and lots of company cars.
Check Out Palmer’s Past Cars and Motorcycles
Volkswagen Polo Mk1: Learn more here; find one for sale here.
Yamaha RD50: Learn more here; find one for sale here.
Volvo 300 Series: Learn more here and here.
Rover 800 (Sterling): Learn more here and here; find one here.
This is Palmer’s actual GT8, which he regularly races in endurance and club events.\
Q: What are you driving now?
A: I have [a] green 1980 [Aston Martin] V8 Vantage … and a white [Aston Martin] GT8. And I’ve got on order the new Vantage. I suppose I can’t say it’s a modest collection because it’s not very modest, is it? Those three cars are my collectibles: three ages of Vantages. And then I own a BMW K1600 motorcycle. That’s my garage.
My daily drive is a [company car] DB11 V12. I’ve got about a 45-minute journey — I live quite close to Silverstone [F1 race track]. A 40-mile journey to work, and there isn’t anything better. I rather like a long journey because it gives me time to get my thoughts together, but there isn’t a better music track than having that V12 engine roaring away. The V8’s not bad either — it’s a 115-kilo (~250-pound) weight reduction. But, frankly, with the V12 you don’t buy it because you want to be the quickest guy down the country lane. It’s more to do with the relaxed, smooth, adequate performance…
Check Out Palmer’s Current Garage
1980 Aston Martin V8 Vantage: Read about Car and Driver’s take on his car here.
Aston Martin Vantage GT8: Read Autoguide’s story here.
2018 Aston Martin Vantage: My full review is forthcoming; read early coverage here.
BMW K1600: Read New Atlas’s review here.
Aston Martin DB11: Read my review of the V8 version here.
Thanks to Palmer, the original Mini stuck around a few extra years after emissions regulations nearly killed it off.
Q: What dream car would you add to the garage?
A: [These are] important cars to me personally. The original Mini. I was in charge of … cooling, fuel and exhausts, drive shafts and clutches. Mini was dead on Euro 1 because the catalytic [converters] wouldn’t fit.
[The first of the European Union’s mandatory emissions standards, known as Euro 1, were introduced in 1993 and required catalytic converters on all new cars.]
I was leading the team that said ‘we can find a solution to this’. We repackaged the whole of the engine bay and saved Mini for a few years. So I always had a soft spot for Mini.
[I also have a] big soft spot for the Nissan Leaf because that was mine. And it was a really hard project. My family had one when we lived in Japan for a few years, and I loved it.
[As an exec at Nissan for a decade, Palmer oversaw many seminal cars, including the all-electric Leaf. In addition to being one of the most popular cars in the world, it’s also one of the cheapest to own.]
Got a soft spot for the [Nissan] GT-R Nismo too. Again, one of my own. It’s such a rewarding car to drive … the electronics are taking care of you, so it’s really easy to drive as well. So I’d definitely have one of those.
And, a bit bizarre, but I’d have a motorhome because I like going racing. When you’re in the pits and things you’ve got nowhere to sit and stuff, the idea of going back to the motorhome — and not having to share it with Marek [Reichman, AML Chief Creative Officer] — would be good.
Check Out Palmer’s Dream Garage Here
Original Mini Cooper: Find your own here.
Nissan Leaf: Learn more about the Leaf here.
Nissan GT-R NISMO: We drove the non-NISMO GT-R — read about it here.
Motorhomes: We’d suggest upgrading to a badass off-road trailer — read about our picks here.
Aston Martin and TAG Heuer recently announced an official partnership; the watch brand has a profound motorsports history.
Q: Any favorite watches?
A: I love watches in general. I won’t say that I’m an absolute connoisseur. I’m in the process of building a workshop at home in preparation for retirement – it’s a long project. But I started in a company called Automotive Products — where my apprenticeship was — that was responsible for designing clutches and gearboxes. I’m in love with gearboxes, and a watch is just a little gearbox. In fact [my workshop] building is designed with a bell tower and a clock, and the first project will be making the clock. So I love watches, not because of the brand but because of the mechanism.
[I have] lots and lots of books at home, and birthday presents are usually a book on how a particular watch works. The mathematics are quite complex but quite amazing.
With a watch like this (points to his wrist), you can see the mechanism, which is why I chose it. But the fashion of it I don’t worry so much about. For as long as I can remember I’ve owned a mechanical watch.
Palmer’s Watch of Choice
TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre Heuer 02 ($5,400 – $12,500): Aston Martin just officially paired up with TAG Heuer; fittingly, Andy opted for the CEO-tier example.
Three Vintage-Style Chronographs, Perfect for Car Lovers: Read watch writer Andrew Connor’s story here.
“I can sit on an airplane and block out the world.” – Andy Palmer, Aston Martin CEO
Q: Go-to tech items?
A: I love music. I’m utterly unmusical, but I do love listening to good music. So the most important thing I carry in my briefcase is actually Bose noise-canceling earbuds because that means I can sit on an airplane and block out the world and listen to my particular brand of punk rock. Heavy rock. I like that era — I like heavy rock music and rock music, and sometimes others as well. But at home, I have a Linn hi-fi system, which is kind of nice.
Palmer’s Tech Picks
Bose Noise-Canceling Earbuds: Tech writer, Tucker Bowe, reviewed the truly wireless Bose SoundSport Free earbuds ($250) here.
Linn Hi-fi audio equipment: Last year, Linn released its Klimax 350 Speaker towers — we called them “insanely nice” in our write-up. Find out more here.
Q: You must have travel tips.
A: I travel all the time. I don’t like getting up in the morning — I always leave getting up in the morning until the last minute. In consequence, I used to always forget something. So my system is I’ve got two bags. One’s got my clothes and stuff in it, and one’s got all my work stuff in. I have learned the discipline of [keeping] everything I need to travel with in the bag. So I know whatever I do, I’ll always put my passport in there; I’ll always put my earphones in there; I’ll always have my computer in there. So my work life is in that bag.
And in the other bag, I’ve always got — towards the end [of a trip] I always get my shirts laundered, pressed and folded. They go into the bag at the end of the trip and they’ll stay there on my bedroom floor. Drives my wife crazy. But all I know is that I’ve only got to add my toothbrush and stuff. It’s got my training stuff and my sports stuff so I can run; it’s got the shirts, the socks… Even if I forget to put something in, I know that I can live out of that bag … indefinitely.
Caruso: We’d call that a “go-bag“: keep it by the door in case shit goes down.
Palmer: Right… Mine’s got more do with my inability to wake up in the morning.
Note: Mentions of products in this interview do not indicate personal endorsements by Mr. Palmer or Aston Martin; purchase links are meant to be supplementary only.