Supercar Histories: Aston Martin

Aston Martin is one of the classiest supercar brands around today, with the name synonymous with style, class and prestige.

They don’t go in for the gaudy, bright colours of Lamborghini and Ferrari, but aren’t as understated as a Bentley or a Rolls Royce; coupling supercar style with an air of grace.

A Difficult Start

Aston Martin was founded in 1913 by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford under the name Bamford & Martin with the intention of making a vehicle that Martin could race at Aston Hill, which he had been doing previously. The first car to carry the Aston Martin name was a modified Isotta-Fraschini chassis to which Martin fitted a four-cylinder engine.

The pair acquired premises in Kensington where they produced the car in March 1915, but they were interrupted by the first world war where both Martin and Bamforth served.

In 1920 Bamford left the company, but it was saved when Count Louis Zebrowski – a feted racing driver and engineer – invested in the company and in 1922 Bamford & Martin began producing cars to compete in the French Grand Prix with their machines going on to set world speed and endurance records.

Despite this the company went bankrupt in 1924 and was bought by Lady Charnwood, but despite this backing the company failed again in 1925 which caused Lionel Martin to leave.

A number of investors kept the company alive including Lady Charnwood, Bill Renwick and Bert Bertelli; renaming it as Astone Martin Motors. Renwick and Bertelli had worked together for a number of years previously and were able to use the reputation Aston Martin already had to begin the production of a new car.

The company produced road cars and race cars which enjoyed success at Le Mans and the Mille Miglia; but financial problems came back once again with the company almost going bust in 1932 until it was recused by Lance Brune, who passed it on to Sir Arthur Sutherland. Sutherland shifted the company’s focus to road cars and they produced more than 700 models of tourers, saloons and dropheads before the second world war halted production.

DB To The Rescue

David Brown is commonly known as the saviour of Aston Martin, taking over from his father David Brown Senior after he bought the company in 1947.

David Brown acquired the Lagonda business for it’s Bentley engine, moving Lagonda to Aston Martin and sharing engines between the two. This was the beginning of the Aston Martin DB range which became iconic.

Brown’s early DB cars performed well in Le Mans races and helped to build the brand as a racing pedigree, but it was the DB4 and in 1963 the DB5 which stood out from the crown. James Bond helped with this with the 1964 film Goldfinger having Bond drive the DB5.

Brown was also responsible for saving the company once again by paying off all of it’s debts and selling it for a pittance to a business consortium. However this led to further trouble and in the midst of a recession, the company had to close its US factories and Aston Martin was once again in receivership.

Aston Martin Lagonda

In 1975 the company was bought by North American and Canadian businessmen Peter Sprague and George Minden they changed the branding to Aston Martin Lagonda, bringing in British property developer Alan Curtis.

Later in 1975 the factory reopened and before long had orders for cars from America, Japan and other international markets; with Curtis as MD pushing to develop more lines like the Vantage, Volante and Bulldog.

Despite enjoying success with Aston Martin, Sprague and Curtis sold it to petroleum magnate Victor Gauntlett in 1981 who was able to bring Aston Martin back onto the silver screen in another bond saga – The LIving Daylights, which saw him driving Gauntlett’s own pre-production Vantage.

A meeting between Gauntlett and Walter Hayes, VP of Ford Europe, in 1987 led to Ford eventually taking a leading stage in the company in 1991.

Ford immediately began work on revitalising the DB range, introducing the DB7 to the market in 1992. Ford modernised the production line of Aston Martin, with 4,000 DB7s being build within 4 years – a record production level for the company.

Ford would go on to develop more DB ranges including the DB9 to replace the DB7, introduce the AMV8 Vantage concept car and the V8 Vantage. They brought motor racing back into AML’s heritage in 2005 with Aston Martin Racing and a company called Prodrive responsible for design, development and management of the programme.

In 2007, a consortium led by David Richards – chairman od Prodrive – bought Aston Martin Lagonda for £475m, with Ford keeping a £40m stake in the company.


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