Robert Bamford and Lionel Martin finished their first car at their Kensington, London, and factory in 1913. It had a 1400cc Coventry Simplex engine in an Isotta-Fraschini chassis, a top speed of about 70mph and was intended to be a competitor to the successful Bugattis. Robert Bamford retired after World War I had intervened and Lionel Martin assumed sole control of the company that bore their names, although he needed extra financing from Count Zborowski, From then on the specter of financial collapse would haunt activities, with frequent changes of control and ownership typical rather than unusual.
Aston Martin Logo
The new name was chosen after Lionel Martin had reviewed the name of all the birds, flowers, fish and animals he could think of; eventually ho got round to place names and added his surname to the Aston Clinton hillclimb venue where he had experienced some considerable success, and Aston Martin was born. Taken over after near collapse by a syndicate including ace mechanic Augustus Berterelli, Aston Martin had considerable race success including a class win at Le Mans in 1932, but at the end of the year was acquired by R G Sutherland. He kept race involvement and success high, and continued to develop new models; under him designer Claud Hill produced a prototype road car called the Atom in early 1939.
After the end of World War II the company was again in financial difficulties; industrialist David Brown bought it after he saw an advert in The Times offering a sportscar company for sale. Months later he also bought Lagonda, founded in 1898 by Wilbur Gunn when he built his first motorcycle and named after Lagonda Creek in Springfield, Ohio. Progressing from motorcycles to cars, Lagonda established themselves as makers of innovative high-performance vehicles, including the 1937 V12 and a postwar 2.6-liter with the dual overhead-camshaft (ohc) engine designed by W O Bentley.
After coming under the control of ‘D B’, as he was known, both marques were assembled in Hanworth from engines made in Yorkshire and bodies by Mulliners at Birmingham. Then David Brown bought Tickfords at Newport Pagnell, where Ian Boswell had been building car bodies in the factory which had housed Salmon & Sons, coachmakers to the nobility since 1820. They had made fabric bodies for cars up until the outbreak of World War II in 1939, and Boswell had taken over in 1945.
It was from here that the DB series, a combination of the Atom and Lagonda’s postwar 2.6-liter engine, began, although the true merging of the different makes only occurred with the 1950 DB2. And as the DB series developed on the road Aston Martin continued with race involvement, quick to put the lessons of the track on to the street, and was the first to develop a disc-brake system for the road. But the racetrack was abandoned in 1963, the year that saw the arrival of the DB5.
By now the engine had grown through 3.6 to 4 liters, producing in excess of 280hp, and the DB5 was offered as a convertible and with an automatic gearbox option. Always expensive, Aston Martin was edging into the supercar league, and confirmation of this arrived from the unlikeliest of sources. The books of Ian Fleming had translated well on to the screen, and James Bond-played by Sean Connery with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek – was little short of a national hero. Gadgetry had already featured heavily in the Bond films and the fast car was an essential part of his equipment, but in Goldfinger the producers went totally overboard. The DB5 featured in the film was the single most famous car Aston Martin have ever made, probably one of the most famous anyone has ever built.
Rotating license plates, hydraulic rams, onboard radio direction finding, and machine guns built into the front fenders, bulletproof screen in the rear deck and a facility to eject nails or oil and lay a smokescreen were all built in, but it was the ejector seat – which disposed of unwanted passengers – that captured most people’s imagination.
As is customary in film production there wasn’t just one car; Aston Martin built four, two for use in the film and two replicas for publicity purposes. All were sold when filming of the second Bond epic in which they featured, Thunderball, was finished, although one had been stripped of the extras and returned to stock DB5 specification. When the new owner of this car discovered its history he went to the expense of restoring it to its former configuration before selling it on. When last heard of this car, like its three counterparts, was in a private collection in the United States.
David Brown sold Aston Martin in 1971 and the company changed hands again in 1974, when it seemed for a while that closure might be inevitable. It was under the control of Peter Sprague and George Minden (who subsequently sold their interest) that Aston, now well and truly established as makers of supercars, produced the two cars which have remained as the pinnacle of the firm’s development. The first evidence of this made its debut at the Earl’s Court Motor Show of 1976, when the futuristic Aston Martin Lagonda stole the show.
Styled by William Towns, the Lagonda was long, low and wide, featuring the wedge shape which has been the vogue among car stylists for some while. The engine was the 5.3-liter four-camshaft V8 which has no quoted power output but probably delivers between 400 and 450hp. Whatever the truth, it pushes the big 4500lb Lagonda to over 140mph with no apparent effort and can sustain it all day.
Extensive use of high-technology electronics and fiber optics was well ahead of its time in 1976 and, although initially troublesome, has now set a standard of control and instrumentation for others to follow. The dashboard is blank until the key is turned, and then lights up a digital display which covers every single function from speed, trip mileage and inside and outside temperature to battery voltage. As a complement to this array are no less than 20 touch-sensitive switches which control all the car’s functions from high beam to bi-level air conditioning. The dash is burr walnut, the trim is leather and the carpet Wilton; Motor Sport magazine called it ‘staggeringly opulent,’ as any car with a £65,000 pricetag should be.
Even more expensive, had it been designed for sale, was the next project on the list, which appeared in early 1980 just as the Lagonda was going into full production. Once again William Towns had styled the body, and Aston Martin described the Bulldog as the ultimate supercar. Gullwing doors were not only cosmetic and functional but vital; the Bulldog was a mere 43 inches high, only a fraction above Ford’s GT40 race car, and was originally designed as an Aston Martin/Jaguar hybrid which could have taken over from the XKE had the project not been shelved for a year.
Instrumentation was once again digital, air conditioning was fitted, and the Connolly leather trim was as usual applied around burr walnut dash and Wilton carpets. Despite the burden of this heavy load the Bulldog had an estimated top speed of around 190mph, although the basic 5.3-liter powerplant common to the other AML cars was mounted amidships. The extra speed came from a 60 percent power increase which lifted the output to over 600hp, thanks to dual Garrett AiResearch turbos.
Typically, the Bulldog featured independent front suspension and de Dion rear axle, the latter an unusual configuration in a mid-engine car. And, unusual for an AML road car, steering was unassisted rack and pinion for better feel. Built as one-off testbed, the Bulldog was not designed to go into production, although AML said they would sell it ‘if the price was right.’ Since there are no plans for a second Bulldog the ‘right’ price is likely to be astronomical.
Aston Martin All Car Models:-
Aston Martin V8 Vantage Reviews
Aston Martin DB5 Reviews
Aston Martin DB9 Reviews
Aston Martin DB7 Vantage Zagato Coupe Reviews