Highlights of the Week
- Motor Manufacturer and Repairer
- Established in 1913
- Gaydon, Warwickshire, England
- Adeem Investment and Investment DAR
- Chief Exectuive: Dr. Ulrich Bez
Over the past century, Aston Martin has witnessed many changes. In a long and distinguished history, Aston Martin has seen some good times and some not so good times.
The fact that Aston Martin has survived is testament to the strength and resolve of everyone who has ever been involved with the company: customers and employees alike.
We are passionate about the cars we produce and we know this is a passion shared by our enthusiastic owners and the The Luxury Channel’s audience. All of our sports cars will continue to be hand-built and bespoke but using high technology processes in a very modern environment.
That ethos goes right back to 1913 and the very beginnings of the company. Our founders, Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford, believed that a sports car should have a distinctive and individual character. They felt it should be built to the highest standards and be exhilarating to drive and own – many things have changed over the ensuing ninety plus years, but those goals are still very relevant to us today.
An Aston Martin combines three important elements: power, beauty and soul. Aston Martins are truly special – they always have been and always will be.
A very special culture makes Aston Martin unique. It embraces the tension between creativity and manufacturing discipline; between technical vision and creative enthusiasm – inspirational opposites. It is in this harmony of apparent contradictions that the unique personality of the marque is formed. It is shaped through the ideas and vision of its designers and engineers who are united by a common goal and a common spirit: to build the most prestigious sports cars.
When company founder Lionel Martin first started building cars, the specification was for ‘a quality car of good performance and appearance: a car for the discerning owner-driver with fast touring in mind, designed, developed, engineered and built as an individual car’. It is a principle that exists to this day.
The initial objective of the partnership formed in 1913 between Robert Bamford and Lionel Martin was the sale and preparation of Singer cars, for hill climbing and racing. It was Martin’s own successful performances at the Aston Hill Climb in Buckinghamshire that was to give the cars he went on to produce their famous name: Aston Martin.
Following the acquisition of premises in Henniker Mews, South Kensington, London, plans to build a car were announced in 1914. Fitted with a Coventry Simplex side-valve engine, the first Bamford & Martin car – later known as ‘Coal Scuttle’ – appeared the following year.
After the 1914/18 War, work began again at new premises in Abingdon Road, Kensington. Count Zborowski agreed to provide finance for the company, which enabled the building of two Grand Prix cars to contest the French Grand Prix in 1922. In that same year, on 24 May, an Aston Martin, affectionately known as ‘Bunny’ broke 10 world records at Brooklands, during a run of 16 and a half hours, averaging 76.04 mph.
By 1924 the company was offering sports and touring models, which soon gained a reputation for long life and reliability. The Charnwood family held what remained of the company after the departure of Lionel Martin in 1925 and it was Lord Charnwood who, with Augustus Cesare Bertelli and William Somerville Renwick, was to form Aston Martin Motors in new premises at Victoria Road, Feltham, Middlesex, during 1926.
The famous International model had evolved by 1929 and this established new standards for road holding and handling. Bertelli sustained a vigorous and successful competition programme and in 1932 he and Pat Driscoll won the Biennial Cup in the Le Mans 24 Hour race. Martin & Brackenbury also won the Cup in 1935 when they finished third overall and established a 1.5-litre class record, which was not broken until 1950.
Towards the end of 1932, the company passed into the hands of Sir Arthur Sutherland, whose son, Gordon, took on its management. By this time, the International had been followed by the equally famous Le Mans model. A Mark II version appeared in 1934, from which was developed the famous Ulster model.
Early in 1939, a prototype was built using, for the first time on an Aston Martin, independent front suspension together with a Cotal electric gearbox. It was all packaged in an early form of spaceframe. This car, known as the Atom, was later to form the basis of the first generation of post-war Aston Martins.
In 1947 the company was taken over by David Brown, Chairman of the David Brown group of companies, and the 2-Litre Sports entered production the following year. It was decided to enter one of these cars in that year’s 24-hour sports car race at Spa. Driven single-handed by ‘Jock’ St John Horsfall, it scored an outright victory.
At the end of 1947 David Brown also acquired Lagonda. Despite its continental sounding name, Lagonda has always been a British car, the name being an echo of founder Wilbur Gunn’s early life at Lagonda, Springfield, Ohio.
In 1898, Gunn produced a small, single-cylinder engine to power his bicycle. It was built in the greenhouse of his house at Staines, the site that was eventually to become the Lagonda factory. Motorcycles followed and then, in 1904, came the first of his Tricars.
The famous V12 Lagonda, introduced in 1937 – two years after Lagonda had won Le Mans with a 4.5-litre, six-cylinder model – was a massively powerful model with independent front suspension and many other advanced features. A new, smaller Lagonda appeared in 1945 with a , 2.6-litre, twin overhead camshaft engine. This engine, designed under WO Bentley’s supervision, was to play an important part in the post-war history of both Aston Martin and Lagonda.
In April 1950 the DB2 was announced, fitted with the Lagonda-derived engine. At Le Mans a DB2 took equal first in the Index of Performance and won its class. Both marques were now being built at Hanworth Park in Feltham; in 1954, however, David Brown bought Tickford Motor Bodies in Newport Pagnell, which was to become home to Aston Martin Lagonda for almost half a century.
In 1957, the DB Mark III superseded the DB2/4 Mark II. It featured disc brakes – a direct development of the company’s racing experience. Since Aston Martin’s success at Spa in 1948, the racing team had continued under the direction of John Wyer. The culmination of this programme was the phenomenal success enjoyed by the DBR1 that won Le Mans and the World Sports Car Championship in 1959.
The DB4 was introduced in 1958 with a 3.7-litre, aluminium alloy engine designed by Tadek Marek and, to create a high level of torsional stiffness without excess weight, it featured a tubular ‘Superleggera’ frame inspired by Italian coachbuilder Touring. A variation of this platform chassis was also used for the Lagonda Rapide.
In October 1963, the DB5 was introduced, using a 4.0-litre version of the engine. Probably the most famous DB5 was the car converted for Ian Fleming’s fictional character, James Bond. Built for the film ‘Goldfinger’ and used, later, in ‘Thunderball’, it incorporated machine guns, a passenger ejector seat and hydraulic over-rider rams and had equipment for projecting oil, nails and smoke.
The DB6 appeared in 1965 and, with its Mk2 version, was to remain in production until 1970. The convertible version, known as the Volante, was the first European car to be manufactured with a power-operated hood.
The DBS, launched in 1967, was the biggest advance in GT styling and design since the DB4. Introduced with the 4.0-litre, six-cylinder engine, it later evolved into the DBSV8 when Tadek Marek’s 5.3-litre V8 engine went into production.
In 1971 the David Brown Corporation put Aston Martin Lagonda up for sale and, the following February, Company Developments, a Birmingham-based group of businessmen, took control. Sir David Brown became President of the company, while William Willson became the new Chairman.
Production of the DBS and DBSV8 continued until 1972 when modified versions of the cars appeared. These were re-named the Aston Martin Vantage and Aston Martin V8 – neither car bearing the familiar DB prefix.
In 1974 Company Developments was forced to put Aston Martin Lagonda into receivership and at the end of that year production was halted while a buyer was sought. In June 1975 possession was secured by North American Peter Sprague and Canadian George Minden, shortly to be joined by Englishmen Alan Curtis and Denis Flather. Immediate plans were put in hand to revitalise the company and a direct result of this was the appearance of a totally new Lagonda at the London Motor Show in 1976. With coachwork by William Towns, its strikingly modern appearance and very advanced specification made a considerable impact.
The following year saw the introduction of a very high performance version of the V8, called the Aston Martin V8 Vantage. In June 1978 a convertible version of the standard V8 was introduced and again called the Volante.
Early in 1981 Aston Martin Lagonda changed hands, when Pace Petroleum – a private petroleum company led by Victor Gauntlett – and CH Industrials, a public company chaired by Tim Hearley, took control.
In 1983 Automotive Investments – distributor of Aston Martin and Lagonda cars in the United States – purchased 100 percent of the company, which it retained until October 1984, when the family of Peter Livanos took 75 percent and Victor Gauntlett took 25 percent.
Aston Martin Lagonda continued strengthening sales of the V8, V8 Vantage and Lagonda until they were joined by the 300 km/h Vantage Zagato in March 1986. A convertible version followed 12 months later.
In September 1987 it was announced that Ford was to purchase 75 percent of the shares; the remaining 25 percent were owned equally by the Livanos family and Victor Gauntlett, who was to remain as Executive Chairman and Chief Executive.
In October 1988, the Virage was introduced at the British Motor Show. Designed to take the company into the 21st century, it replaced the Aston Martin V8, which had been in production for 20 years. A new Group C racing team was formed to compete in the 1989 World Sports Car Championship. Its final placing was a most creditable eighth position.
In September 1991, long-serving Executive Chairman Victor Gauntlett resigned and was replaced by Walter Hayes CBE, a former Vice-Chairman of Ford of Europe.
At the 1993 Geneva Show, Aston Martin announced the return of a DB model to its range for the first time in more than 20 years. The Aston Martin DB7 was named ‘Car of the Show’.
In February 1994, Walter Hayes CBE retired as Executive Chairman of Aston Martin and was succeeded by John Oldfield. On his retirement, Walter Hayes was named an Honorary Life President in succession to Sir David Brown who had died in September 1993.
During the summer of 1994 Ford acquired 100 percent of the share capital and, to accommodate the DB7, a specialist paint and assembly plant at Bloxham in Oxfordshire was purchased. An all-time production and sales record was established in 1995 when Aston Martin Lagonda produced more than 700 new cars in a single year. Although the DB7 accounted for most of these sales, a series of powerful – often supercharged – V8 models were still being produced at Newport Pagnell. David Price succeeded John Oldfield as Executive Chairman in October 1995.
The world debut of the DB7 Volante at the Detroit and Los Angeles International Auto Shows in January 1996 signalled the marque’s return to the North American market. In December Bob Dover joined Aston Martin Lagonda as Chairman and Chief Executive. The success of Aston Martin in overseas markets was formally recognised with a Queen’s Award for Export
In July 1998 Ken Giles was named as Managing Director. Major product introductions in 1999 included the launch of the first ever 12-cylinder Aston Martins, the DB7 Vantage and DB7 Vantage Volante.
In July 2000 Dr Ulrich Bez joined the company as Chief Executive. Early the next year the V12 Vanquish was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show and production started soon afterwards at the revitalised Newport Pagnell factory. Two years later the DB9 was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show – it was to be produced at an all-new, purpose-built factory at Gaydon in Warwickshire, which was also to replace Newport Pagnell as the company’s new headquarters.
Gaydon spawned a second model with the introduction of the smaller V8 Vantage in 2005. In the same year, competition prepared DBR9s heralded Aston Martin’s return to top class GT racing. The new race car took top GT1 honours on its debut at the 12 Hours of Sebring and two years later achieved similar success at Le Mans. Indeed, 2007 was a hugely significant year for Aston Martin.
The prestigious sports car manufacturer was purchased by a private consortium comprising of David Richards, Investment Dar and Adeem Investment, ending almost 20 years as part of Ford Motor Company. The final Vanquish S rolled off the production line at Newport Pagnell in July, concluding over 50 years of Aston Martin production on the site. In August, the DBS, Aston Martin’s ultimate luxury sports car, was unveiled at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. 2007 culminated with the opening of the first purpose built Aston Martin Design Studio, helping (to) secure cutting edge designs long into the future.