Let me preface this with the disclaimer that I'm no motoring editor. My knowledge of automobiles span some hype EVs and that one time I test-drove a couple of Land Rovers in Seoul. I am, however, a fan of the Defender. With its boxy aesthetic yet smooth curves, the iconic silhouette is one any would recognise even if not a car expert. So there's understandably a level of excitement when the British brand announced a new one to be launched this year.

Defender. LAND ROVER

Defender OCTA

Slated to be "the toughest, most capable, and luxurious model in the line-up", the all-terrain luxury SUV will feature V8 Twin Turbo mild-hybrid petrol power. But what's a first for Defender is the 6D Dynamics air suspension.

The hydraulic interlinked technology essentially works on a pitch and roll control system. This enables the vehicle to maintain near-level stance whether during acceleration, braking and cornering on-road, while maximising independent wheel travel on demanding off-road surfaces.

Defender OCTA teaser. LAND ROVER

And if you're wondering about the name, it's taken from a diamond's octahedron shape; you know, diamonds being Earth's hardest, naturally occurring substance. This goes into a new encircled diamond visual designed for this flagship model, featured as a gloss black diamond within a machined and sandblasted titanium disc on each Signature Graphic panel.

But until we see the championing version, this high-performance rover is currently traversing the most exhaustive development regime in Defender history—across Sweden snow and Dubai desert, Nürburgring tarmac and Moab rock crawls.

Find more information on the Defender OCTA release here.

ASTON MARTIN

You know that moment when you emerge from a side road hoping to join a queue of traffic only to realise that, no matter how sweetly you smile, no one is going to let you out? It’s hard enough to appeal to your fellow driver’s good nature if you’re driving a battered Vauxhall Corsa, but if you’re in a gleaming supercar that does 14mpg with a private number plate and a carbon body pack, you may as well just switch the engine off and check your food supplies.

Simply put, people would rather drive into the car in front than acknowledge your existence. Eventually, desperate and possibly dehydrated, you’ll be forced to shove your oversized bonnet into the thoroughfare to a hail of horns, so cementing the pushy and entitled reputation that got you here in the first place. You could call it Bentley’s Law; the more expensive the vehicle, the longer the wait.

There is one strange exception, though. In an Aston Martin, I’ve experienced drivers almost eager to offer up space, and who cheerfully flash you to go ahead. The first time I thought it might be a trap. When I realised they were serious I was so surprised and grateful that I nearly caused an accident looking for the hazard lights to perform that winking thank you that has mysteriously superseded the waving human hand.

Why such goodwill for Aston? Perhaps people feel a sense of British loyalty, and the Bond connection must have broadened its appeal. It probably helps, too, that they look good, and are, less posey than some notable rivals.

There could be an underdog story at play here too. It’s famously been a volatile few years at Aston, with enough lawsuits and buy-outs to warrant at least a BBC three-parter. Aston hasn’t exactly been a stranger to turbulence throughout its 110-year history. You’d need two hands to count how many times it’s gone bust, for a start.

ASTON MARTIN

Its most influential owner was David Brown, a car nut who, while running his family’s Yorkshire tractor company, saw a notice in The Times in 1947 advertising the sale of a “High Class” motor company. Discovering it was Aston Martin, reeling after World War II, he bought it for £20,500, later acquiring Lagonda to make the engines.

Over the next decade he managed to take it from a failing low-volume sports-car maker to a Le Mans winner. The early cars in the DB line — named rather humbly from his own initials — set the standard for the modern Aston Martin brand.

The DB5, of course, driven by Sean Connery in Goldfinger, gave it global fame. Connery was originally set to be driving a Jaguar E-Type, but Jaguar felt the film’s producers should be covering the costs of providing cars. Aston got the call and wisely didn’t object to paying its own way. This symbiotic relationship, uncontracted, still stands today.

Brown sold the company in 1972 to focus on ship-building, and the DB line looked to have ended. After Ford took over during another downturn, Aston’s then-chairman asked Brown for permission to use his initials once more for the Ian Callum-designed DB7, which launched in 1994 and revived the DB line for the modern era. Now we have the unofficial first DB car of yet another new era under its current owner, the Canadian Lawrence Stroll. And the DB12 shows what some care and investment can do.

It’s wider and stockier than the outgoing DB11. Its pinched and precise contours keeping it contemporary while remaining reassuringly familiar to its predecessors, and that feels like a good thing. Porsche has always managed to evolve the 911 at the right speed and, with the heritage of the DB line, Aston has something that may one day bear some comparison.

Aston is calling it the world’s first “Super Tourer”. A catchy way of saying it can be whatever you want it to be: a road-trip cruiser, supercar, even daily driver if you’re that way inclined. Such is its ability to marry refinement and power, it really can switch personalities.

ASTON MARTIN

And power it isn’t short of. There’s no V12-engine option this time round; just the existing AMG-sourced twin-turbo V8. Which, thanks to larger turbo chargers and improved cooling systems, produces 671hp — nearly 150hp more than the DB11. It translates to suitably eye-watering numbers, hitting 60mph in 3.5 seconds and promising a top speed of 202mph if you have access to an unused runway.

With a new suspension, faster gearbox and exceptional handling, it remains composed, precise and dignified — even when driven to its considerable limits.

It’s in the cabin, though, that the most welcome leaps have been made. The tech in previous Astons always felt a little underwhelming, even unbecoming, with all the intuitive charm of a Noughties laptop.

I wouldn’t have been the first to shove a finger at the screen of the otherwise stellar Aston Martin DBX 707 only to find it wasn’t a touchscreen at all. That’s a car that launched in 2022 and costs nearly £200,000.

So, for the first time, Aston has designed and built its screens in-house, which now sit seamlessly within the dashboard, affording far better feng shui and allowing the materials and analogue dials to shine. Owners can add personalised details via Aston’s bespoke team, which, naturally enough, is called “Q”.

With Porsche and Bentley as rivals, Aston needed to step up here. That it has comes as something of a relief. In a way, its previous clunkiness was emblematic of Aston’s travails — a little behind and underinvested. Perhaps this new standard indicates a rosier and more competitive future.

ASTON MARTIN

In the car business, there are few things as liable to produce hot sweats in the marketing department as a looming anniversary. In 2023, Aston has offered us three. 110 years since it was founded, 75 years since the start of its DB line and 60 years since the DB5. It could have added a fourth: it’s 30 years since David Brown died in Monaco aged 94. A speed freak till the last, he was heard complaining that his catamaran wouldn’t go faster than 34 knots at the age of 89.

It’s fair to assume he’d be pretty happy with the latest car to bear his initials. Accomplished, unflappable, phenomenally fast but with plenty in reserve. A grown-up Aston Martin inside and out that looks great from any angle, including the rear. Another good reason, if you see one on the road, to let it go in front of you.

Originally published on Esquire UK

Photo by Vacheron Constantin

A two-for-one deal is one of the little treats that can make a mundane day feel a little less so—whatever tax bracket you sit within. For most, that will likely be an extra Dairy Milk bar from your local Tesco. But for those taking home six figures, it's a bit more luxe. Think: a hand-made automative that comes with a unique watch as part of one astronomically large fee. Two mechanical masterpieces for the price of one, what a steal!

It was what caught the attention of petrolheads at this year’s Monterey Car Week, as Rolls-Royce unveiled the La Rose Noire Droptail. It's a coachbuild car—a bespoke service so exclusive the manufacturer's website describes it as “the automotive equivalent of haute couture”—that’s been fitted with pièce unique Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Split-Seconds Chronograph on its dashboard. It's estimated to be worth around $30 million.

As to be expected, this timepiece is as gobsmacking as the car’s price. Press a button on the left-hand side of the dashboard, and the 43mm titanium case will rise for the wearer to slip onto their wrist. AP artisans have hand-sculptured a solution to the bare holder, by way of a watch head fitted with a white-gold coin to put in place of the dashboard clock when it's out and about.

Inside the watch is an open-worked and self-winding calibre 4407, while custom red counters and a red inner bezel matches the car’s La Rose Noire colourway. Just like the original Concept that was launched earlier this year, the model comes with interchangeable straps that can be stored in its own leather pouch for when it’s not in use.

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The type of customer who has opted for such an extravagant car modification will be pleased to know that dashboard watches of such intricate detail are generally a rare addition. That was until last week, when Vacheron Constantin announced that they too had designed a ‘one-of-a-kind’ dashboard watch for another custom Rolls-Royce Droptail—this time, in Amethyst.

Of course, just because it’s being made for the same-but-different-colour car doesn’t mean it’s the same-but-different-colour dashboard watch. The Swiss marque has equipped the single-edition Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon with the calibre 1990, a hand-wound in-house complication movement incorporating certain technical features deriving from Reference 57260—the most complicated timepiece in the world, presented by the maison in 2015.

A bi-axil tourbillon nods to the work of 18th century French watchmaker Antide Janvier, who invented a moving sphere with a planetary gear known as an armillary. Visually, it mimics the interlocking circles and armillas (graduated metal discs) of the famous scientific instrument modelling the celestial sphere.

Marking Vacheron Constantin’s first dashboard watch since 1928, their engineers worked hard to build a holder that would fit into the fascia of the car. Unlike the AP, this has been designed to look more like a pocket watch when taken out of its wooden house. Still, its speedometer-esque minutes display reminds you that it belongs within your car instead of your suit trousers.

As two very expensive, very intricately made dashboard watches are released in close succession of each other, it's clearly a good time to be a collector of watches and cars. And if you're not, it's a good time to start—expect more watch and Roller pairings in the future, as this trend is only just beginning. They're a bit like busses for people who don’t have to take busses; you wait ages for one, then two come along at once.

Originally published on Esquire UK

Jumper and trousers, RALPH LAUREN PURPLE LABEL

This is not a promo for a TV show or film.

Features with actors are usually about film or TV projects but the current strikes in Hollywood may inevitably be putting the kibosh on many future cover stories. Daniel Wu can’t talk about his recent media productions but he can talk about everything else, even the strikes and why they’re occurring.

“It’s a repeat of what happened on Spotify several years ago,” Wu says. Just before he jumped onto our Zoom interview, he was organising his residual checks. For all the projects that he had worked on, the shows that are on streaming pay pennies on the dollar. “You put your music on Spotify and you get a penny for 1,000 plays. The creator gets almost nothing back for their content. Musicians can make that money back by touring but not actors. There are no other avenues for us to earn a living except when we make films or TV shows. That’s what is at stake at the moment, hence the strikes.”

It’s a complicated affair and it’ll take more than a cover story to break it all down but here it is, in a nutshell: the Writers Guild of America (WGA)—a union that represents screenwriters working in Hollywood—is striking because residual deals from streaming platforms (Netflix, Apple TV+, Disney+) are below acceptable living wages. There’s also the contention about the use of AI to replace writers.

The WGA strike coincided with the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) strike. Again, this is due to unfair streaming residuals and the replication of their likeness without compensation via AI. These combined strikes have postponed this year’s Emmys; productions for, both current and future projects, were shuttered; films and TV shows that were already made were adjourned to later dates. Todd Holmes, an entertainment industry management professor at Cal State Northridge, based his calculation on the last WGA strike in 2007 and estimated that it might cause a USD3 billion dent in California’s economy.

While Wu may not be vocal on his social media platform (“I don’t talk about too much about the strikes on IG because everyone else has already said what’s needed to be said.”) but he is very much a union man.

“I’m totally for the strike, even though it’s a bummer that we can’t work now. But this is too important for the whole industry to shape what the future is going to be for everyone.”

With the ongoing strikes, you’d think that Wu would have loads of downtime.

You’d be wrong.

Jacket, jumper and trousers, RALPH LAUREN PURPLE LABEL

Before the pandemic took a stranglehold on the world, the actor, Sung Kung—he of the resurrected Han from Fast and the Furious franchise—Brendan McGrath and Wu formed Student Driver. It’s a lifestyle brand that hypes all the positives of car culture; a tongue-in-cheek take on the student drivers in America—recognisable by the yellow caution sticker on the back of their cars. It’s a jab at the noob-ness of a tire tyro but it’s also the label’s philosophy that no matter how experienced or good you are, you’re always learning. That essentially, you are a student.

Kang and Wu realised that they could leverage their celebrity to promote Student Driver. “It wasn’t for any narcissistic reason,” Wu quickly adds. “If you look at our IG accounts, we’re trying to show what we’re into and what we’re passionate about. We wanted to inspire people and use Student Driver as a place to gather like-minded people.

"You put your music on Spotify and you get a penny for 1,000 plays. The creator gets almost nothing back for their content. Musicians can make that money back by touring but not actors. There are no
other avenues for us to earn a living except when we make films or TV shows. That's what is at stake at the moment, hence the strikes."

It became a meeting place for car enthusiasts from all over; a crossroads where racers mingle with designers, mechanics and the like. “Student Driver became much bigger than just selling stuff,” Wu says. “It became a community where we are learning from one another.”

Wu always wanted to have his own line of merch but there was never a compelling reason for him to do so. He didn’t want to see things happen for the sake of it happening.

Take his only directorial project. Titled, The Heavenly Kings, it was a mockumentary about the Cantopop industry in Hong Kong. But it wasn’t enough to cover a fictional band for the film, it had to feel real. So, Wu created a fake boyband called ALIVE with Terence Yin, Andrew Lin and Conroy Chan. For the next 18 months, Wu orchestrated press tours, live shows and even released an EP, all the while directing the film.

No one, aside from the main cast and close collaborators, knew about the project. Not even the press, a majority that felt betrayed when the truth was disclosed after the film’s release. For their efforts, The Heavenly Kings garnered Wu a Best New Director award at the 26th Hong Kong Film Awards.

“I think directing is one of my strengths,” says Wu. “I think that came from my architecture background; I look at the bigger picture instead of just focusing on one part as an actor.”

Jacket, polo jumper and trousers, RALPH LAUREN PURPLE LABEL

Celebrity and being an actor are often mistakenly conflated. One can lead to the other but each occupies their own space. Wu never set out to be a celebrity but he never set out to be an actor either. In 1997, he travelled to Hong Kong, wanting to witness the country’s handover to China. At his sister’s suggestion, Wu took up modelling and months later, the director Yonfan saw Wu in a clothing ad and wanted him to star in his film, Bishonen.

Have you ever loved something so much that you don’t want to ruin it by interacting with it? That was Wu’s reasoning for turning down the role. “I love movies so much that I don’t want to screw it up with my acting.” 

But Yonfa pursued and eroded Wu’s apprehension. Bishonen afforded many liberties to Wu in film and TV. With an impressive oeuvre of films under his belt, Wu still finds the fame that comes with being an actor strange. 

That’s why he still keeps in touch with his best friend Ian Urban. Since 12, Wu and Urban have been thick as thieves. “He was a big part of my formative years,” Wu says. “Keeping him and people like him in my life, helps me stay grounded. Reminds me of where I came from.”

Urban and Wu lived in the same area so they carpooled to school. They took Spanish (and were failing it as well). They were heavily into the arts. Urban was the reason why Wu got into cars and racing. 

That love for cars abated when Wu moved to Hong Kong. The country was never conducive to racing and vehicles were expensive to begin with. “Can you imagine modifying them on top of it?” Wu asks. “And modding is technically illegal there.”

When he returned to the US, the first thing Wu did was tap on Urban, who was a driving coach for the Audi Club, and another family friend, who was an instructor for another track day events group. 

They would head to track day events, where Wu would learn how to race on the track. He adapted to it quickly. For the five years that he was back in the States, he did as many track days as he could. Eventually, he climbed to the top 10 per cent of fastest racers on the track.

Suit and polo jumper, RALPH LAUREN PURPLE LABEL

In the Bay Area, Wu shared a garage with Urban where they built and worked on cars. Down from where they are, is Patrick Ottis Co. that restores vintage Ferraris. Wu and Urban would pass by the garage all the time but they were afraid to enter, “because the cars in there are worth millions, right?” Wu says.

“One day, we were walking by their garage and Tazio [Patrick’s son] was out front and said hi.” They started talking and he gave them a tour of the place. A friendship bloomed over their shared interest in building cars and endless hours at the race track. That soon morphed into a mentorship when Wu learnt to race professionally. Eventually, they embarked on their first endurance racing programme. Committed to a whole season, their first race was a two-hour race at Sonoma Raceway. The next was a night race at Buttonwillow Raceway Park. As soon as darkness blanketed the sky, Wu freaked out. But as he acclimated to the conditions, Wu managed to place third. “The moment I stepped out, I felt this happiness of finishing and not crashing.”

"When I first met him, he was 48 or 49. That was 22 years ago. And now he's 70. To me, the time that my wife and I have been together doesn't seem that long. It zips by. The last 10 years that my daughter has grown, that has gone real fast too."

He credits it to his martial arts training, which he still practises three days a week. Wu likens racing to being on a film set. “The director could be screaming at somebody, things are going slow, they are losing light... You can’t pay attention to that.” He frames it as “finding that calm”. When night falls and the dust kicks up to obstruct your vision, stick to the technique, stay calm and trust yourself to get through the chaos.

For the NASA (National Auto Sport Association) Utah Sunchaser race, Wu had to compete in an LMP3 model, a car that he hadn’t raced the night before. Starting at 6pm, the six-hour race runs until midnight. When Wu was in the driver’s seat, he discovered the headlights were aimed to the right... but all their turns were to the left. He couldn’t see the bends so sometimes he’d swerve too late or too early; driving his car off the track.

It’s almost enough for anyone to throw in the towel but Wu knew his team depended on him. Win or lose, he needed to shake to do better.

Hoodie, STUDENT DRIVER. Trousers, RALPH LAUREN PURPLE LABEL

If racing on the track is fast, living a life is quicker. Especially, when death is present at the periphery. Wu’s near-death experience with a burst appendix in 2019 was a “wake-up call to live in the moment”. Years later, when he was at his father-in-law’s 70th birthday party, “I did a mental calculation,” Wu says, “when I first met him, he was 48 or 49. That was 22 years ago. And now he’s 70. To me, the time that my wife and I have been together doesn’t seem that long. It zips by. The last 10 years that my daughter has grown, that has gone real fast too.”

That’s why he’s not working as much as he used to. He allocates a certain amount of time per year for work and spends the rest of his time on the things that matter.

Both his parents have passed. Wu posted an image of his father, opining that he would have been 94 this year. I mentioned that he’s almost a spitting image of his dad. “Hopefully my hair stays longer than his,” Wu says jokingly. “I think he went bald in his 20s, so right now, I think I’m doing okay in that department.”

Other than their looks, they also shared a common passion for a fancy family car.

In 1988, Wu’s dad retired and as a gift to himself, decided to purchase a Porsche 911. This felt truly odd to the 14-year-old Wu, as his dad had never been interested in cars and for the frugal family living in Berkeley suburbs, that was an absolute extravagance.

At the car dealership, his dad gave Wu carte blanche to pick out a hue for the exterior (“I picked the weirdest colour because that’s the kind of person I am.”) and Wu asked if they could add a whale-tail spoiler (“A regular 911 doesn’t come with a tail but a 911 Turbo does.”). His dad acquiesced to both suggestions.

The Porsche became a thing that father and son would talk about often. While his dad rarely drove it—and if he did, it was only on the weekends and within speed limits, the car rides spent with him were moments to connect. This experience also cemented his passion for cars.

Currently, the Porsche sits in the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA to coincide with Porsche’s 75th anniversary exhibition. “He kept the car really clean,” Wu says. “Even when I took it over 10 years ago, it still looked brand new.” But the automobile on display will be far better purposed when Wu takes it back and takes it out for a drive. “It’s a nice way to memorialise and think about my dad.”

Overshirt and jumper, RALPH LAUREN PURPLE LABEL

During Covid, when his daughter, Raven, was in primary one, Wu had to oversee her home distance learning. She was enrolled in a Chinese immersion class and Wu underestimated how little she had absorbed from the module than he originally hoped. “I got a little angry and said, how come you don’t know that? As the words came out of my mouth, I could hear my dad’s voice.”

Wu had to pull back, assess the situation with Raven and figure out the right way to go about it. “Having a kid made me re-evaluate how to strike a balance between how I was raised and how I need to raise her. I’m still stern but I usually edit the first thing that comes to mind and try to say them in a better way.

“I don’t want my kid to be scared of me. I don’t want her to be afraid to talk to me, to ask me for advice. My relationship with my dad was better later in life but in my younger days, I’ve never confided in him about anything.”

It’s being judged by his father’s standards that halted Wu from being open. He didn’t think he would understand. Even when Wu started acting, his dad would ask when was he going to get a real job.

"I'm not an expert and I've never tried to present otherwise, which is why I have an issue with people saying, oh, your life is perfect, blah blah… No, I make mistakes everyday. Things that I could be better at and that includes being a father. I'm trying my best. You're not successful all the time but you try to be better."

It wasn’t until many years later that his dad visited and stayed at a 12-hour shoot where Wu was. At the end of his set, his dad patted Wu on the shoulder and simply said, “You work really hard.”

“That was huge to me,” Wu says. “He was finally accepting what I do.” For Wu, parenthood is a progression. “I’d do what my dad never did: apologise. I’ll tell my daughter what I just said was a little too much. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you upset.” His kid might not grow into the person he expects her to be but that’s something that Wu says he has to deal with.

“I’m not an expert and I’ve never tried to present otherwise, which is why I have an issue with people saying, oh, your life is perfect, blah blah… No, I make mistakes every day. Things that I could be better at and that includes being a father. I’m trying my best. You’re not successful all the time but you try to be better.”

Which is such a refreshing thing to hear from a celebrity or actor, whatever. That as a parent, I’m painted less of a monster, and that the world is more forgiving. We have no idea where the finish line is. All of us, on this road of life, trying to get to our destinations; headlights in the dust and darkness.

We may never reach that stage of enlightenment. But we are alive and there is always the prospect of learning from our pasts.

Hoodie, STUDENT DRIVER

Photography: Kigon Kwak
Fashion Direction: Asri Jasman
Art Direction: Joan Tai
Styling: Jungle Lin

Producer: Yu Guoran at APEX Communications
Production Assistant: Lu Jiang
Executive Producer / Casting Director: Even Yu at APEX Communications
Grooming: David Cox
Lighting Assistant: Kim Minju

There are few greater displays of conspicuous consumption than at Monterey Car Week where Bugattis and McLarens and Porsches are more ubiquitous in parking lots than Toyota Camrys and Kia Souls. The owners of these vehicles frequently come here to spend more money on additional vehicles to add to their collections. But there was perhaps no sign of greater excess this past week than the purchase of the crashed and burned remnants of a 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider for a whopping USD1.9 million dollars at the RM Sotheby’s auction. To put things in perspective, a Ferrari Mondial from that era fetched USD4 million in 2019. Alternatively, the price of a crashed 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider could buy you seven brand-new Ferrari Romas—one for every day of the week.

USD1.825 million was the exact sale price, which was well above the USD1.2 million dollar estimate. Why so much? It's due to the provenance and the story behind it. Inside a barn in Florida in 2004, 20 Ferraris were discovered, including this specific Ferrari 500 Mondial Spide. It’s an ultra-rare care–only 13 are in existence and this was the second one ever built.

In 1954, Enzo Ferrari sold this Mondial to Franco Cornacchia, a car dealer in Milan, who raced this car under his own team with one of Ferrari's first factory drivers, Franco Cortese. Cornacchia sold the car in 1955. It spent time racing for a few years before it reached the US in 1958 where it would continue to be raced. In 1963, the inline 4-cylinder would be replaced by a good ol’ American V8 then it crashed and burned. The remnants of the car along with several other Ferraris was then resold in 1970s and eventually ended up in the barn of Walter Medlin, a real estate agent who had issues with the IRS, some of which were seized by the IRS, while the remainder were auctioned off by RM Sotheby’s over the course of the weekend

Perhaps more significant than this story is that this wreck still includes the actual VIN, meaning that, at an enormous cost, it could be rebuilt by Ferrari. And if it does, it will instantly be eligible to compete in the renowned Mille Miglia race, which has stiffer requirements for entry throughout the years and focuses mostly on vehicles from the time when it was a really competitive race.

Will the owner choose to fully restore it? Or preserve it in its current state? Either way, there’s no doubt that it will still be desirable in any form it may take, as long as you’ve got the spare millions.

From: Esquire Us

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