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The Aston Martin V-12 Zagata will compete this weekend in a four-hour enduro at the N�rburgring. (Aston Martin)
The Aston Martin V-12 Zagata will compete this weekend in a four-hour enduro at the N�rburgring. (Aston Martin)

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The Aston Martin V-12 Zagato - a race-ready concept - made its debut last weekend at a Concorso d'Eleganza at the renowned Villa d'Este on the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy; the unveiling highlights the increasing newsworthiness of this classic car show.

The Aston Martin concept is based on the V-12 Vantage - the smallest Aston stuffed with the firm's largest 510-horsepower, 12-cylinder engine - but with a totally unique body done in collaboration with Milan-based design firm Zagato.

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Although the car debuted as an endurance racer, and will compete this weekend in a four-hour enduro at the Nürburgring before a 24-hour race there next month, Aston Martin CEO Ulrich Bez says the company will produce a strictly limited run of road-going V-12 Zagato models.

The exquisitely rebodied V12 Zagato is meant as a celebration of a 50-year relationship of the two firms, after they first collaborated on the highly regarded Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato, from which this car takes its inspiration, with its double bubble roof and wide grille with supplementary air intakes directly beneath. The companies later came out with production versions of the Aston Martin V-8 Vantage and DB7. No firm timing on when the V-12 Zagato models will be available, or price, or if the car will be available in Canada.

The Superamerica 45 marks the 45th anniversary of Peter Kalikow becoming a Ferrari client.

Custom Ferrari a one-off

The Ferrari Superamerica 45, which also debuted at the Villa d'Este concorso, is destined to be even more rare than the Aston Martin V-12 Zagato. It is a one-off model based on 599 GTB Fiorano underpinnings, but with a folding carbon-fibre hardtop roof.

Produced specifically for long-time Ferrari client Peter Kalikow, a New York collector, it was styled, engineered and modified by Ferrari engineers, with a view to reduce drag and increase rear down-force around the new carbon-fibre trunk.

The top recalls other bespoke V-12 Superamerica Ferrari models that never officially became convertibles, but of which a few limited-edition models were produced for those wealthy clients who commissioned the car. This first 599-based model is dubbed Superamerica 45 because it marks the 45th anniversary of when Kalikow became a Ferrari client.

The car's Blu Antille colour, repeated in its diamond finish blue rims, was chosen to match the owner's 1961 400 Superamerica cabriolet. The car's usual carbon-fibre exterior accents (front splitter, side skirts and rear diffuser) are done in a special contrasting darker blue CF weave, a theme continued with the carbon-fibre accents inside.

It actually looks classier than it sounds, and much more so than the poor Ferrari Enzo that became the P4/5 Competizione one-off monstrosity, styled by Pininfarina, and commissioned by Ferrari collector James Glickenhaus. Then again, the stock Ferrari Enzo's looks were not universally admired either.

Both cars serve to highlight that if you have means, patience and clout, there aren't many limits to what you can order up for your multi-level garage.

Toyota safety panel reported

An "adversarial" view of U.S. regulators and a failure to adopt its quick-reacting "Toyota-way" manufacturing processes in complaints from its buyers were chief among the reasons that Toyota took too long to recall millions of its vehicles to address various safety issues, an independent safety advisory panel said in a final report released this week.

While U.S. regulators found no software issue in Toyota's vehicles that could cause unintended acceleration, more than 14 million vehicles globally were recalled over accelerator, brake pedal and floor mat issues. In the process, it has seriously dented Toyota's sterling quality reputation, judging by sales figures on this continent over the past 18 months, even while rising gas prices play to one of Toyota's traditional strengths in small and fuel-efficient vehicles.

Toyota seemed surprised and taken aback by the blunt safety assessment from the panel it has appointed - its own releases on the findings did not discuss the various issues found, but highlighted only where the company has acted has acted on the panel's recommendations. The entire report is available at toyotaqualityadvisorypanel.com.

Toyota centralized too much control over its American operations in Japan, the panel said, and should name a North American president that will oversee all corporate functions in the U.S., allowing it to more quickly and easily communicate its overall functions to head office in Japan, instead of the current separate "silos" that report directly to Japan in sales, marketing, manufacturing, quality and, as of April, safety.

The advisory panel is headed by former U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater and includes various former safety group heads, as well as Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management and a professor of strategic management at the University of Toronto's business school.

Saab to bring 9-5 wagon, reduce '12 prices

Saab will bring a wagon version of its new-for-2011 9-5 mid-size sedan to market by late fall, soon after the company plans to reduce prices on its entire lineup to reflect the continued strength in the Canadian dollar, a Saab North America executive said recently.

The current Canadian lineup is priced about 10 to 12 per cent higher than equivalent U.S. models, said John Libbos, product manager for Saab Cars North America at a media event previewing the upcoming 9-4X crossover, and he wants to reduce that discrepancy to four or five per cent.

Of course, just getting that 9-4X into Canada by October as planned will be a major task for the Swedish luxury auto maker, which is in the middle of a major cash crunch that shut down its only plant in Sweden for more than six weeks.

Saab announced early this month that it would receive a cash infusion from Chinese firm Hawtai to restart production and keep the firm afloat in the medium term, but that deal was suddenly scrapped a week later, after the small Chinese auto maker didn't receive all the necessary approvals from the Chinese government.

Saab has since received a pledge from Chinese car distributor Pangda that also promises to inject some much-needed funds into Saab's manufacturing operations, but that lifeline is still subject to other inspections and a further deal with an unnamed Chinese manufacturer to follow.

Long-time Canadian Saab dealer Chris Budd cautioned that price cuts in 2012 may be less dramatic than they looked even at the beginning of this month given all this corporate turmoil, when it was suggested to him that a five per cent increase over the 9-4X's American price would seriously undercut that of the Cadillac SRX built at the same Mexico plant (by about seven grand, if SRX prices remain the same).

Even with the shutdown, Budd had received enough cars before the shutdown to avoid a shortage through the end of 2011, he said in an e-mail. The 9-4X and the 9-5 SportCombi that will follow soon after will help, he said, but the real driver of the brand will be the all-new 9-3, scheduled for release next year.

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