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Aston Martin

ASTONISHING ASTON Published: 2nd Aug 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Classic Motoring celebrates a 100 and not out for Aston Martin

Back in 1987, when I wrote the “heritage paper” that helped Ford make up its mind when considering buying Aston Martin, it was presented under the heading “Chequered Flag – Chequered History”, for Britain’s most celebrated sports car manufacturer was, as on many occasions in its long history, in need of financial help…

The Aston Martin company had started in 1913 with a simple desire by Kensington garage proprietors Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford to produce a sporting light car with an exhilarating performance level.  A prototype was built in 1914, with a special 1.4-litre Coventry-Simplex engine in a 1908 Isotta-Fraschini voiturette chassis, and the fi rst true Aston Martin – its name derived from the Aston hillclimb where Martin had competed successfully with a specially-tuned Singer 10 – was completed in 1915.

But nothing more was built until 1920, when Aston Martin moved to new premises in Abingdon Road, Kensington, and two cars were made; two more followed in 1921. However, no sales were made, the company concentrating on competition, aided by a cash injection from Count Louis Zborowski.

There were no sales to the general public until 1923, when nine cars were built, followed by 26 in 1924 and 20 in 1925, but fi nance was tight after Zborowski’s death racing a Mercedes at Monza in 1924, and the company was wound up at the end of 1925.

It was revived in 1928 by William Renwick and A.C. ‘Bert’ Bertelli, whose partnership had previously built a single car, the R & B, with an overhead-cam 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine, which was the basis for the Bertelli-designed Aston Martins up to 1936.

The new model competed at Brooklands, Le Mans and in the Mille Miglia, establishing a distinguished sporting pedigree. Finance still remained a problem however, and after a brief liaison with Frazer Nash in 1931, then with help from dealer Lance Prideaux-Brune, the cash-strapped company was bought in 1933 by rich shipowner Sir Arthur Sutherland for his car-mad son Gordon to manage.

A period of comparative stability followed, with production peaking at 106 cars in 1933 and 104 built the next year, bolstered by a successful competition record.

But Bertelli resigned in 1937 after a difference in policy as Sutherland steered the company towards the production of a fast road car, the new 2-litre 15/98 model.

With enough completed cars in hand to cover projected sales, production ceased in 1938 and designer Claude Hill began developing a new model with a spaceframe chassis design.

The prototype “Atom” was completed in 1940 and attracted favourable press comment, but the company switched to war work making small components for aircraft and Gordon Sutherland used “Atom” for liaison work.

Realising that Aston Martin lacked the capital to develop a new postwar production model, Sutherland advertised the company for sale and it was bought by Yorkshire industrialist David Brown in 1947.

The fi rst post-war Aston Martin “DB1” was built under the new ownership, but only 15 were made. David Brown had also acquired Lagonda, and the twin-cam 2.6-litre six-cylinder engine was fi tted in the square-tube space frame, clothed with an aerodynamic body designed by Frank Feeley and entered for the 1949 Le Mans race. The car achieved production status as the DB2 and the DB name stuck.

Famously underwritten by David Brown to the extent that the “DB” cars were often sold at a considerable loss, the company was boosted by victory in the 1959 World Sports Car Championship and by the choice of the Aston DB5 as James Bond’s car in the 1964 fi lm Goldfi nger.

David Brown sold Aston Martin Lagonda to Company Developments Ltd in 1972 (the cars lost their DB badges as a result), and another change of ownership came two years later, when CH Industrials and Victor Gauntlett took over.

In 1983-84 the company came under the control of the American concern Automotive Investments after a three year spell of ownership by Pace Petroleum and CH Industrials. Pace Petroleum’s Victor Gauntlett was retained as Executive Chairman. In 1987, encouraged by his vice-chairman Walter Hayes, Henry Ford II decided to take over the – again cash-strapped – Aston Martin, and the development under Hayes of the DB7 proved the company’s salvation.

Aston Martin opened its fi rst purpose-built factory at Gaydon (Warwickshire) in 2003, and DB9 followed in 2004. The company was acquired in 2007 by a consortium led by David Richards and has recently received substantial investment from new partners for future security.

Classic Motoring

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