A Brief History of Aston Martin

We look at the rich history of the classic British brand...
  • 10th November 2017

Aston Martin are one of the most luxurious car manufacturers in the world. Synonymous with style, luxury and James Bond, Aston Martin are one of the most well-known brands in the world. However, despite its huge success, it has seen some troubled times.

So where did it all begin?

In this article, we look at the history of Aston Martin, from its founding to James Bond.

 

When did Aston Martin start making cars?

Aston Martin was founded in 1913 by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford. They joined forces the previous year to sell cars made by Singer. Martin raced specials at Aston Hill, near Aston Clinton. The pair then decided to make their own vehicles.

The first car was to be called Aston Martin and was created by Martin by fitting a four-cylinder engine to the chassis of the 1908 Isotta-Fraschini.

They produced their first car in March 1915 after acquiring premises in Kensington at Henniker Mews. However, production could not start due to the First World War in which Martin joined the Admiralty and Bamford the Royal Army Service Corps. All the machinery was sold to the Sopwith Aviation Company.

What happened to Aston Martin after World War One?

Aston Martin moved to Abingdon Road after the First World War, and designed a new car.

Bamford left in 1920 and the company received funding from Count Louis Zborowski. In 1922, they produced cars to compete in the French Grand Prix. They went on to set world speed and endurance records at Brooklands. Vehicles created around this time were the Green Pea, the Razor Blade and the Halford Special.

About 55 cars were built for sale, a long chassis and a short chassis. Aston Martin went bankrupt in 1924 and was built by Dorothea, Lady Charnwood. She put her son, John Benson in charge but it failed again in 1925. The factory closed in 1926 and Lionel Martin left.

Later in 1926, Bill Renwick, Augustus Bertelli (Bert) and investors such as lady Charnwood, took control of the business. It was renamed Aston Martin Motors and moved it to the Whitehead Aircraft Limited Hanworth in Feltham. Bertelli and Renwick had already been in a partnership for some time and had developed an overhead-cam four-cylinder engine using a patented combustion chamber design. They tested it on a chassis and called it the Buzzbox. It was the only Renwick and Bertelli motor car made.

Cars during this period, 1926-1937, were called Bertelli cars and included the T-Type, the International, Le Mans, MKII, the Ulster and the Speed Model. Most of these vehicles were open two-seater sports cars and a small number were long-chassis models.

Robert Bamford, one of the founders of Aston Martin
Robert Bamford, one of the founders of Aston Martin

However, financial problems appeared again in 1932 and Aston Martin had to be rescued by Lance Prideaux Brune and then passed to Sir Arthur Sutherland. They switched to focusing on road cars, producing 700 until World War Two halted production. During the Second World War, they produced aircraft components.

When were the DB models created?

David Brown Limited bought Aston Martin in 1947. They were a privately owned Huddersfield gear and machine tools manufacturer, who had been around since 1860.

This put Aston Martin under the control of the Tractor Group, who also owned Lagonda. Lagonda and Aston Martin shared engines, resources and began to build the DB series of cars.

The DB2 was announced in April 1950, followed by the DB2/4 in 1953, the MkII in 1955 and the DB Mark III in 1957.

1968 Aston Martin DB6 Mk1 Volante in grey parked on a road

The DB5 was launched in 1963, the DB6 a few years later in 1965 and the DBS in 1967.

Despite the fact that these models are iconic, Aston Martin found themselves in financial trouble again in 1972. David Brown paid off its debts and handed it to Company Developments, a Birmingham-based investment bank. It was at this time that Aston Martin had to stop sales to the United States due to their failure to meet California’s exhaust emission requirements which again put Aston Martin into receivership at the end of 1974.

When was the V8 Vantage launched?

Aston Martin was bought by a North American businessman named Peter Sprague, a Toronto hotelier, George Minden and Jeremy Turner, a London businessman. Other investors included a British office property developer called Alan Curtis and retired Sheffield steel magnate George Flather.

The factory, which was previously shut down, re-opened under the name Aston Martin Lagonda Limited. The new owners pushed Aston Martin into modernisation, producing the V8 Vantage in 1977 and the convertible Volante in 1978. The Lagonda saloon was also based on the V8 model.

It was also around this time that the investors worked on moving the target market away from hardcore Aston Martin fanatics and more towards successful businessmen. Prices were also increased by 25%. There was talk of Aston Martin acquiring MG towards the end of the decade but the recession in 1980 meant this never materialised.

Interested in the Aston Martin Vantage? Head over to our ultimate review today

When did Aston Martin receive their Royal Appointment?

Alan Curtis and Peter Sprague announced they had no plans for a long term financial investment in the company and sold Aston Martin to Pace Petroleum’s Victor Gauntlett. At this point, worldwide sales of Aston Martin had shrunk to three cars per week.

Gauntlett bought a 12.5% stake in Aston Martin for £500,000, with Tim Hearley of CH Industrials taking a similar share. After development and publicity, they were able to sell the Aston Martin Lagonda in Oman, Kuwait and Qatar.

In 1982, Aston Martin were granted a Royal Warrant of Appointment by the Prince of Wales, a warrant they still hold to this day.

Aston Martin and James Bond

Aston Martin and James Bond are pretty synonymous, even though 007 didn’t start driving Aston Martins until Goldfinger. This was the DB Mark III, which had a homing device.

Bond has driven a number of the vehicles over the years including the V8 Vantage (1980s), V12 Vanquish and DBS (2000s).

However, it’s the DB5 that is the most famous of all the Bond vehicles. It first appeared in Goldfinger and since featured in Thunderball, GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, Casino Royale, Skyfall and Spectre.

Aston Martin DB5 in white parked outside a manor house on a driveway

Several Aston Martins were used during filming and one of the vehicles used was sold in January 2006 for $2,090,000 to an unnamed European collector.

It was Gauntlett who negotiated Bond’s return to Aston Martin in 1986. He even supplied his personal pre-production Vantage for The Living Daylights, the first Bond film to feature Timothy Dalton. Interestingly, Gauntlett was offered the role of a KGB colonel in the film, but turned it down.

While James Bond was defending Queen and Country in an Aston Martin, sales were back up in the real world. A revived economy and successful sales of the limited edition Vantage and 52 Volante Zagato saw Aston Martin on the up. The V8 was retired and they introduced the first new model in 20 years, the Virage.

Aston Martin and Ford Motor Company

Despite rising success, Aston Martin still needed money to survive in the long term. Walter Hayes was vice-president of Ford of Europe and saw the potential of the British brand. A discussion ensued and Ford took a share holding 1987.

Placed in the Premier Automotive Group, Ford invested in new manufacturing and increased production. In 1995 Aston Martin produced 700 vehicles, a record for the company. By 1998, the 2,000th DB7 was built. In 2002, the 6,000th was produced, exceeding production of all previous DB models.

Aston Martin DB9 GT in black parked on a road with the sun setting behind it

In 2001, Aston Martin introduced the Vanquish. The Gaydon factory was opened in 2003 and this was the first purpose-built factory in Aston Martin’s history. The same year, they launched the DB9 Coupe, replacing the DB7.

An internal audit in 2006 led to Ford to consider selling parts of its Premier Automotive Group. Brands in this group included Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo. After consideration, Ford announced it will sell all or part of Aston Martin at auction.

Who bought Aston Martin from Ford?

David Richards purchased Aston martin for £475 million. Richards was part of a consortium that also included an American investment banker and two Kuwaiti companies. Ford maintained a stake in Aston Martin, valued at £40 million.

Between June and August 2007, the V8 Vantage took part in the first east-west crossing of the Asian Highway. Two Britons drove from Tokyo to Istanbul (7,512 miles) before joining the European motorway network for 2,025 miles to London. This was to promote the V8 Vantage in China and was so successful that dealerships in Shanghai and Beijing were opened within three months.

In 2008, Aston Martin announced they were reviving the Lagonda marque with a concept to be shown to coincide with 100 years of Aston Martin.

The Rapide was launched in 2010, initially manufactured in Graz, Austria, but later moved to Gaydon in the second half of 2012.

In 2013, Aston Martin signed a deal with Daimler AG which meant that the next generation of Aston Martin vehicles will have Mercedes-AMG engines, and that Daimler AG owns 5% of Aston Martin. This also included fitting Aston Martin with new electrical systems, part of a plan to launch a new generation that incorporated new technology and V8s. The first model to have this new technology is the DB11 which was announced at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show. This model had Mercedes electronics for entertainment and navigation.

And that pretty much brings us to the present day. They have recently launched the 2018 Vanquish S and also, quite interestingly, teamed up with property developer G&G Business Developments to create Aston Martin Residences in Miami. They also launched an AM37 powerboat with Quintessence Yachts. The apartments will be in Downtown Miami and will be made up of 391 condos. Aston Martin still remain one of the most prestigious brands in the world, and despite running into more financial trouble than most, are still producing some of the greatest cars ever built.

Picture of an aston martin in silver driving around race track
Holly Martin

Holly Martin

Content Co-ordinator at OSV Ltd
Holly enjoys: Reading, music and spending time with friends.

Within a week of Holly starting work at OSV she became an indispensable part of the marketing team. She's very intuitive and gets on with the whole office effortlessly.
Holly Martin

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