The History Behind Aston Martin

Background

Aston Martin is a British luxury sports car manufacturer with a long and eventful history that has stood witness to the ups and downs of the company until it became one of the most famous and successful car brands of this day. Founded in 1913 by Robert Bamford and Lionel Martin, the company has produced some of the most elegant and strongest cars in the world. They are responsible for bringing to life some of the most iconic sports cars including the Aston Martin DB5, which was featured in the James Bond film “Goldfinger,” as well as the Aston Martin Vantage of the 1990s.

Aside from building cars, Aston Martin has also shown its prowess in various racing competitions through the years including the 24 Hours  Le Mans. Today, Aston Martin continues to be in the lead for producing some of the world’s high-performance sports cars as they commit  to innovation and engineering excellence.

Let us take a look back at the rich history of Aston Martin and what they contributed to the motor racing and the automotive industry through the years.

It All Started With A Race

Robert Bamford and Lionel Martin were two friends who both had a passion and talent for engines, cars, machines, and racing. This passion eventually fueled their interest to hand build cars, so they experimented on a car and Lionel Martin entered the Aston Clinton Hill Climb in Buckinghamshire, England where he won first place.[1] This then became the inspiration for naming the Aston Martin car brand as it is today. After their first success, Bamford and Martin established their company in 1913 and produced the Aston Martin Coal Scuttle in 1915, the first car named under the Aston Martin marque. [2] The car was a two-seater model powered by a 1389cc 4 cylinder engine with a sporting body and a  resemblance to the coal scuttle, which was a common household item back in the day.   

After the first World War, the company produced more cars including the Bamford and Martin Side Valve. During this time, they mainly focused on producing sports cars for racing where they debuted in the French Grand Prix in 1922 and launched around 55 cars during these years. Although this was the case, the company underwent difficulties with their financial bankruptcy and the departure of Bamford. [1] This eventually convinced Martin to sell the company.

How David Brown Became Aston Martin’s Savior 

After Martin was forced to sell the company, Aston Martin still changed ownership numerous times until it finally fell into the hands of David Brown , an English industrialist who owned David Brown Limited, a machine tools manufacturer, as well as Huddersfield gear. He officially bought and took control of the company in 1947 which expanded and developed under his leadership. In the same year, he also bought Lagonda, another car manufacturing company that was famous for making sports cars and limousines fit for royalty. By combining the style and expertise of these two companies, they were able to produce the Aston Martin Lagonda, a full-size luxury four-door saloon. [2] 

The DB Series

 

Under David Brown, the first Aston Martin to carry the “DB” nameplate was the DB2 in 1950 which became famous for winning 2nd and 3rd place at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1951. The DB2 was a grand tourer made available as a 2-seat coupe and convertible with a top speed of 116.4 mph. After further experimentations they were able to produce the DB3 and DB3S sports cars, followed by the DB4 and the DB4GT. [3]

Another model that performed well in competitive racing was the DBR1 that competed and won in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959. The design of the car’s body evolved from the DB3S, and it featured a full body work and a large triangular vent on the side. The victory at Le Mans became the only World sportscar championship won by Aston Martin. [3]

 

While all the models in the DB series proved themselves to be great on the race track, the DB5 was the most famous and successful of them. Its beauty and elegance graced the cinemas after being featured in the James Bond film, “Goldfinger” in 1964. Because of its style and performance, it reappeared in many more James Bond films and became the iconic car of the movie franchise. In fact it was even included in the Guiness Book of World Records in 2001 after being the highest-priced item paid for a James Bond memorabilia. The DB5 was available as a two-door coupe, convertible, or shooting-brake and featured a magnesium-alloy body with an all-aluminum engine that helped generate the car’s top speed of 145 mph. [4]

New ownership, New Era of Aston Martins

 

Although Aston Martin enjoyed and benefited from its previous successes, it still faced many risks especially with the global recession at the time and the implementation of new emission standards in the United States. After paying all of the car company’s debts in 1972, David Brown eventually handed Aston Martin to William Wilson, an accountant who owned an investment bank consortium. Then in 1975  it was sold to Northern American businessman, Peter Sprague who brought in investors such as the property developer Alan Curtis, and retired steel magnate, George Flather. [1]

Sprague, Curtis, and the Aston Martin V8 Vantage

As business-minded individuals, the new owners were committed to modernizing the lineup of the company’s cars. This resulted into the creation of the Aston Martin V8 Vantage in 1977 which was successful in both the showrooms and the race track, and was even hailed as “Britain’s First Supercar” for having a  top speed of 170 mph, due to its powerful V8 and V12 engines. Not only was it fast, but the Vantage was also designed well with a luxurious wooden dashboard, and other premium materials.[1] After the Vantage, this was followed by the launching of the “Bulldog” which was a futuristic concept car launched in 1980 but was not produced commercially because of the costly production. [4]

Victor Gauntlett, the Aston Martin Lagonda, and other highlights

An Aston Martin V8 Vantage from the James Bond movie “Living Daylights”, parked outside

By 1981, Sprague and Curtis sold Aston Martin to Victor Gauntlett, owner of Pace Petroleum. Under his leadership, he focused on the development and publicity of the Aston Martin Lagonda which became the world’s fastest four-seater production car, and was able to successfully sell it abroad in Oman, Kuwait, and Qatar.[1] In 1982, the company was granted the Prince of Wales’ Royal Warrant of Appointment which heightened the status of the car brand. This also paved the way for the return of Aston Martin cars to cinema after Timothy Dalton was seen driving a V8 Volante in the James Bond film, “Living Daylights”. [4]

Ford takes over Aston Martin

 

In 1987, Ford acquired 75% shares of the company and later on bought the whole company in 1993. Here, they were also able to revive and sell limited edition cars like Aston Martin Vantage, and Volante Zagatos.[1] By this time, they also launched their new model, the Virage, which was meant to replace the V8 models after production was permanently discontinued. But on the bright side, Ford managed to revive the DB name after announcing the launch of the DB7 which became the most produced Aston Martin model until that time before the DB9 took its place in 2004. [1]

The models produced under Ford’s management are the following: 

  1. V8 Virage (1988 – 1996)
  2. V8 Vantage (1993 – 2000)
  3. DB7 (1994 – 1999)
  4. V8 Coupe (1996 – 2000)
  5. V8 Volante (1997 – 2000)
  6. DB7 Vantage (1999 – 2003)
  7. DB7 Vantage Volante (1999 – 2003)
  8. DB7 Zagato (2003)
  9. V12 Vanquish (2001 – 2007)

By 2007, Aston Martin changed ownership again after it was bought by David Richards, chairman of Prodrive. By 2013, a partnership was forged with Mercedes-AMG which impacted the company’s economy after it was placed in the London Stock Exchange, thus becoming Aston Martin Lagonda Holdings PLC. [4]

As of now the company’s model lineup are the following:

  1. Aston Martin Rapide S (2013)
  2. Aston Martin DB11 (2016)
  3. Aston Martin DB11 Volante (2018)
  4. Aston Martin Rapide AMR (2018)
  5. Aston Martin DBS Superleggera (2018)
  6. Aston Martin Rapide E (2019)
  7. Aston Martin V8 Vantage (2019)
  8. Aston Martin Valkyrie (2021)

References

[1] Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, February 25). Aston Martin. Wikipedia. Retrieved February 10, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aston_Martin

[2] Heritage: Aston Martin Lagonda. Heritage | Aston Martin Lagonda. (n.d.). Retrieved February 10, 2023, from https://www.astonmartinlagonda.com/about-us/heritage

[3] Wikimedia Foundation. (2022, November 8). Aston Martin DB2. Wikipedia. Retrieved February 10, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aston_Martin_DB2

[4] A guide to understanding Aston Martin’s heritage. Dick Lovett. (n.d.). Retrieved February 10, 2023, from https://www.dicklovett.co.uk/aston-martin/news/a-guide-to-understanding-aston-martins-heritage#:~:text=Aston%20Martin%20was%20started%20by,in%20the%20event%20in%201914