Aston Martin

THE ORIGINS OF ASTON MARTIN

Aston Martin is Britain's leading maker of fast grand touring sports cars. It had a chequered early history. Founded in 1913 by Lionel Martin, pictured right, and Robert Bamford, Aston Martin fizzled out at the beginning of the First World War, its machinery being sold to the Sopwith Aviation Company.

It was re-financed in 1920 by racing driver Count Louis Zborowski. Zborowski was the wealthy son of a Polish Count and an American mother. His father had been killed in 1903 when his cuff links became caught up in the hand throttle of his Mercedes during a hill climb. Zborowski lived at Higham Place, a large country house near Canterbury, where he and his engineer Captain Clive Gallop built three 23-litre aero-engined cars, all called Chitty Bang Bang. They also built a fourth monster known as the Higham Special in which Parry Thomas died at Pendine Sands during his final land speed record attempt in 1927.

ASTON MARTIN: THE EARLY HERITAGE





Count Zborowski was a considerable character. He is shown above at the wheel of one of his Chitty Bang Bang cars, and enjoying himself in New York with three other racing drivers in 1923. Zborowski is the second from the left.

For a musical flavour of 1923, we present Billy Murray singing 'Yes We Have No Bananas', his novelty hit song of that year. The Irish American Billy Murray was one of the most popular singers in the USA during the early decades of the 20th century. He is pictured right. Please click on the play button below:


Despite the infusion of Zborowski's money and enthusiasm, Aston Martin
went bankrupt in 1924. It was bought by Lady Charnwood, but failed again in 1926. With more money from Lady Charnwood, it survived through the 1920s, building open seater sports cars, four seater tourers, dropheads and saloons. The cars competed successfully in the Le Mans and Mille Miglia races. Financial crisis returned in 1932, with the company being rescued by L.Prideaux Brune, who passed it on to Sir Arthur Sutherland. Car production was suspended during the Second World War.

Count Zborowski and his Chitty Chitty Bang Bang cars provided the basis for the 1964 children's book 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car' written by James Bond author Ian Fleming for his son Caspar. The book was made into a musical film in 1968, with a script by Roald Dahl. It starred Dick Van Dyke, pictured right, as Caractacus Potts and Sally Ann Howes as Truly Scrumptious. To hear their hit song from the musical, please click on the play button below:




ASTON MARTIN: THE MODERN HERITAGE


 

The modern Aston Martin era began in 1947 with the intervention of David Brown, pictured right. After school, Brown started work as an apprentice in the family business, David Brown Gear Company Ltd. At the age of 27, on the death of his uncle Percy, he became Managing Director. With the help of Harry Ferguson he moved into building tractors, in which he built a successful business. More htan 7,000 of his heavy David Brown tractors be produced during the Second World War.

Wealthy and adventurous, he owned race horses, played polo, raced cars and motorcycles, and was a qualified pilot. In 1947 he saw a classified advertisement in The Times offering a 'High Class Motor Business' for sale. This was Aston Martin, which he bought for 20,500. The following year he bought Lagonda for 52,500. His early production cars were open two seater racing cars, such as that pictured above. 

For a musical flavour of 1947, the year in which David Brown bought Aston Martin, we present one of the hit songs of that year: 'Near You'. It is sung by the Andrews Sisters, pictured right in their morale-raising wartime get-up. Please click on the play button below:

 



In 1955 David Brown bought the coach builder Tickford, and embarked upon the production of the legendary DB series of grand touring sports cars, starting with the DB2 in 1950, the DB3 in 1957, the DB4 in 1958, and in 1963 the DB5, pictured above, which was famously driven by Sean Connery in the first James Bond films. There followed the Aston Martin DB6 in 1965, and the DBS in 1967. To hear Shirley Bassey, pictured right, sing the theme song from the James Bond film 'Goldfinger', please click on the play button below:

 

Despite the enormously glamorous reputation which Aston Martin had established, it fell into financial difficulties throughout the 1970s, and by the end of the 1970s production had shrunk to three cars a week. The company was rescued by Victor Gauntlett, an entrepreneur and car enthusiast who had built up Pace Petroleum as the largest independent petrol retailer in the UK. A qualified pilot from his time in the RAF, Gauntlett was keen on aeroplanes as well as fast cars. He owned a series of classic aircraft including a World War II Supermarine Spitfire, pictured above.

After further tortuous shifts in ownership, which involved the Kuwait Investment Office and Greek shipping tycoon Peter Livanos, a shareholding in Aston Martin was taken by the Ford Motor Company in 1987. In 1988 Aston Martin retired the ancient Vantage V8 and launched the Virage range - the first new Aston Martin model for 20 years.
 


Ford took full control of Aston Martin in 1992, and in 1993 launched the DB7, pictured above. The Aston Martin DB7 used many components from Jaguar, which Ford had also bought in 1990.
 


Ford ramped up the rate of production of Aston Martin cars, and by 2002 had produced more than 6,000 Aston Martin DB7s - more than the production of all previous DB models. In 2003 Aston Martin launched the DB9 coupe, pictured above. This was a completely new model, which replaced the ten year old DB7.


ASTON MARTIN TODAY

The DB9 Volante, a convertible version of the DB9, was launched in 2004. The DB9 remains in production in 2009. Aston Martin continues to manufacture its cars in the small village of Gaydon, Warwickshire. In 2007 Ford motor company sold control of Aston Martin, as part of a programme to divest itself of non-core brands. The purchasers were a joint venture company, co-owned by Investment Dar and Adeem Investment of Kuwait, and the English businessman John Sinders. Ford retained a minority stake.

 

 

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