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Aston Martin history


 

For nearly 90 years the company has been shaped by many different owners, all sharing a common passion for power and performance. But the marque’s modern ethos has remained constant since it was instilled at the very beginning of the Aston Martin story. Lionel Martin, an early enthusiast of motor racing, set the scene when he laid out his vision 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.”

Martin turned his passion into a business in 1913, when he joined forces with Robert Bamford to sell Singer cars – adapting them for the tough up-hill challenges that formed an important part of early motorsport. The partners wanted to manufacture cars of their own – and a name was needed. Martin regularly competed in climbs at Aston Hill – and with the simple combination of a hill and a driver, the Aston Martin legend was born.?In 1914 Bamford & Martin Limited bought premises in Chelsea, London – and the following March, the very first Aston Martin car was registered. Fitted with a Coventry Simplex side-valve engine, built to his own specification, it became known as ‘Coal Scuttle’. By 1920 the company was operating from Abingdon Road in Kensington – and motoring pioneer Count Zborowski dug deep into his pockets to fund the construction of two Aston Martin racing cars, which competed in the 1922 French Grand Prix. Count Zborowski was famous for his Chitty Chitty Bang Bang race car (later Babs of Parry Thomas) and was also involved in miniature steam railways (Romney Hythe and Dymchurch). Now the marque rapidly established its racing credentials. On May 24 that year, an Aston Martin known as ‘Bunny’ broke ten world records at Brooklands, clocking an average speed of 76.04mph during a sixteen and a half hour run.

Lionel Martin left the company in 1925, by which time the Charnwood family had a major holding. In 1926 Lord Charnwood joined forces with Augustus Cesare Bertelli and William Somerville Renwick to form Aston Martin Motors at new premises in Victoria Road, Feltham, Middlesex. By 1929 the Aston Martin International model had evolved, establishing new standards for roadholding and handling. In racing guise it helped Bertelli sustain a successful competition programme – and in 1932 he and Pat Driscoll won the Biennial Cup in the Le Mans 24 hours race. Towards the end of that year the Company passed into the hands of Sir Arthur Sutherland and was managed by his son, Gordon.


International

Ulster

The International was succeeded by the Le Mans model, which in turn gave way to the Ulster. Then in 1936, it was decided to focus on a touring car, with the appearance of the 2.0 litre engine for the 15/98. Early in 1939, a prototype was built using independent front suspension and a Cotal electric gearbox, packaged in an early form of space frame. Known as the Atom, it ran throughout World War Two and although it never went into production, it formed the basis of the first generation of post-war Aston Martins. The next significant chapter in the Aston Martin story came in 1947, when David Brown bought the Feltham company – and the DB era dawned. Brown had a passion for high performance cars and wanted his new marque to win worldwide recognition.

That year he also bought the Lagonda Company, a natural stablemate. Though thoroughly British, the name reflected founder Wilbur Gunn's early life at Lagonda, Ohio. Lagonda had started life in 1898, when Gunn produced a small engine to power his bicycle. Motor cycles followed and in 1904, tricars appeared. Like Aston Martin, it had rapidly established a name in early motorsport. In 1921, a single-seater competition car set five records and covered 79.17 miles in one hour. The records were all lost to Aston Martin one week later. A Lagonda won the 1935 Le Mans 24 hours race and in 1938 a V12 saloon covered 101.5 miles in one hour, including a stop to change a tyre. The combined resources of Aston Martin and Lagonda under David Brown bought new dynamism – and great achievement on and off the track. In 1948 the 2.0 Litre Sports entered production and won that year's 24 hours sports car race at Spa.

In April 1950 the 2.6 litre DB2 was announced. It took equal first in the Index of Performance at that year’s Le Mans – and won the 3.0 litre class. Both Aston Martin and Lagonda cars were now built at Hanworth Park in Feltham, with engines, chassis and running gear assembled at David Brown’s factory at Farsley in Yorkshire. Then in 1954, Brown bought Tickford Motor Bodies in Newport Pagnell – where the offices and production facilities for the V12 Vanquish are now located. Established in 1820, the site had originally been occupied by Salmons & Sons, ‘Coachbuilders to the Nobility’, but by 1957 it was truly home to Aston Martin and Lagonda. Most components – including engines – were manufactured and assembled there.

That year saw the DB Mk III, one of the first production cars to feature disc brakes – a direct development of the company's racing experience. The company’s racing programme reached a peak with the phenomenal success of the DBR1/300, which won the World Sports Car Championship in 1959. During the late 1950s, four Works DBR1s won six World Championship races and set five lap records. The DB4, which represented a major leap forward in design, was introduced in 1958. Styled by Touring of Milan, it was equipped with a 3.7 litre aluminium alloy engine designed by Aston Martin. The rapidly rising cost of racing began to take its toll and by the end of 1963 it was decided to withdraw from motorsport and concentrate on refining the production cars.


the glorious DB 4 Zagato

It was a bold but enlightened decision – and heralded a new era for Aston Martin as the company’s production and reputation stepped up a gear. In October 1963, the legendary 4 litre DB5 was introduced. Production was doubled to meet world demand. The car owed some of its global esteem to a starring role in the James Bond films ‘Goldfinger’ and ‘Thunderball’ – where its ‘factory fitted options’ included machine guns, a passenger ejector seat, hydraulic over-rider rams and equipment for projecting oil, nails and smoke. The DB6 appeared in 1965 and remained in production until 1970. Its convertible equivalent, the Volante, was the first European car with a power-operated hood.

David Brown was once asked by a friend if he would sell a new Aston to him 'at cost'. He agreed and send the invoice which was considerably more than list cost!


DB5

It was followed by the DBS in 1967, the biggest advance in Grand Touring styling and design since the DB4. Completely designed at Newport Pagnell, it came with a 4.0 litre engine and later evolved into the DBSV8. In 1972 Aston Martin Lagonda entered another new era – in which ownership was to change several times. First it was acquired by Company Developments, a Birmingham-based group of businessmen, with Sir David Brown retaining a seat on the board and becoming President.


DBS

Production of the DBS and DBSV8 continued until May 1972 when modified versions appeared under the new name of Aston Martin Vantage and AM V8. The company again changed hands again in 1975, when it was taken over by North American Peter Sprague and Canadian George Minden. There were immediate moves to inject new vitality and a direct result was the appearance of a totally new Lagonda in 1976. With coachwork by William Towns, who had previously styled the DBS, its strikingly modern appearance and very advanced specification made a considerable impact. The following year saw the introduction of the Aston Martin V8 Vantage and a year later a convertible version, the Volante, was unveiled. A revolutionary mid-engined two-seater called Bulldog appeared in 1980. With ultra-high performance, and styled by William Towns, it had gull wings 5.3 V8 fuel injection engine with twin turbochargers. In 1981 Aston Martin Lagonda was again taken over, this time by petrol company Pace Petroleum and CH Industrials. Two years later Automotive Investments took control and in 1984 the company changed hands when the family of Peter Livanos took 75 per cent, and Victor Gauntlett 25 per cent.

In 1986 Aston Martin Lagonda partnered with an Italian style house to create the 180mph Vantage Zagato – an exclusive model of which just 50 were built. The following year the company again teamed up with James Bond in ‘The Living Daylights’ – and Ford purchased 75 per cent of the company's shares. In October 1988, the Virage was unveiled. Designed to take the Company into the 21st century, this 155mph, two-door 2+2 replaced the V8, which had been in production for 20 years.

With Ford’s involvement there was investment in design, production and the sourcing of components and materials. 1992 saw an extension of the Virage model range – with a 6.3 litre engine conversion, and the debut of the first production model of the Virage Volante Convertible. The 550 horsepowered twin supercharged Vantage was also previewed. At the 1993 Geneva Show, Aston Martin announced the return of a DB model for the first time in more than 20 years. The Aston Martin DB7 was named ‘ Car of the Show’.


Virage

That summer Ford took complete ownership of Aston Martin Lagonda, having invested £65 million in the company for the design, development and provision of manufacturing facilities for the DB7. To accommodate the DB7, the company bought a specialist paint and assembly plant at Bloxham in Oxfordshire from JaguarSport. A record was established in 1995 when more than 700 new cars were produced and delivered in a single year for the first time in the company’s history.

In addition to the spectacular success of the DB7, production of the Vantage passed the 100 mark and preparations were made for the introduction of the DB7 Volante model to the United States. The world debut of the DB7 Volante at the Detroit and Los Angeles International Auto Shows in 1996 signalled the return of Aston Martin to North America. Meanwhile the DB7 rapidly developed into the most successful car ever built by Aston Martin Lagonda. The 1,000th DB7 was completed in October 1996 and the 2,000th in July 1998.

Major introductions in 1999 included the launch of the first ever 12 cylinder Aston Martin DB7 Vantage and Vantage Volante, powered by a 6.0 litre 420 horsepower Aston Martin V12 engines designed and developed in close cooperation with Ford RVT and Cosworth. In July 2000 Dr Ulrich Bez joined the company as Chief Executive – and October saw the end of an era with the last delivery of an Aston Martin V8 engined model.

Since the DBS began production in 1970, Aston Martin constructed 5,016 V8 models at Newport Pagnell – and 30 years of continuous refinement and improvement saw the engine’s output double from 300 to 600 horsepower. In February 2001 the V12 Vanquish, the most sophisticated and technologically advanced new model ever to be designed, developed and built by Aston Martin, was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show. This totally new Aston Martin built at Newport Pagnell, and became Aston Martin's new flagship model.

In September 2002 the DB7 maintained its position as the most successful and popular Aston Martin model of all-time when the 6,000th model - a Vantage Coupe – was completed. Total DB7 production now exceeds the combined total of the world famous DB4, DB5 and DB6 models. In nearly 90 years the marque has seen many changes. But with subtle understatement it has retained the reputation that is now so cherished by a growing army of the world over: “ 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.“