Whether you are looking to buy a new Aston Martin, or you just love the marque this article should help in understanding Aston Martin’s heritage. Aston Martin has a long and fascinating history stretching back to the formative years of motoring.
Founded in 1913 the company has changed hands several times on a ‘roller coaster’ ride of different levels of success until in 2017, more than a century after it was first formed, Aston Martin was floated on the London Stock Exchange as ‘Aston Martin Lagonda Global Holdings PLC’. Here we take a look in a little more detail at that history and the events that make Aston Martin such a uniquely significant British brand.
Aston Martins historic overview
The key to understanding Aston Martin’s heritage is perhaps largely found in its uncompromising dedication to hand-built quality and superior performance regardless of the prevailing socio-economic climate. During times of recession, or oil shortages, the company faced some tough times but, never willingly compromised on building some of the finest cars of their time. Although founded in 1913 there was little production until after the first world war.
Who started Aston Martin?
Aston Martin was started by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford who sold Singer cars in West London. Their company Bamford and Martin were incorporated in 1913. They also raced cars in the ‘Aston Hill Climb’ and a special car, built by Martin using an existing engine and chassis, raced in the event in 1914.
Lionel Martin (left) and Robert Bamford (right)
How did Aston Martin Begin?
The first Aston Martin was built and registered in 1915 and earned the nickname ‘Coal Scuttle’. Production then halted for the duration of the First World War, as Martin went to the Admiralty, and Bamford to the Army Service Corps.
The interwar years
Following the war, the first new Aston Martin was built in 1920 and the company continued to produce cars, mainly for racing but also for public use, building around 55 cars until 1924. The company changed ownership a number of times, as well as changing its name officially to Aston Martin, before the Second World War.
Why is Aston Martins called DB?
In 1947 the company was bought by tractor manufacturer, David Brown Limited. David Brown also acquired the business of another car manufacturer, Lagonda, which came with the services of engineer W.O. Bentley and the new V6 engine he had been working on. This gave rise to the ‘2 litre sports’ (subsequently dubbed the DB1) followed by a series of models sporting David Brown’s initials DB.
- DB2 410 cars built 1950 – 1953
- DB2/4 761 cars built 1953 – 1957
- DB MkIII 552 cars built 1957 – 1959
- DB4 1185 cars built 1958 – 1963
- DB4 Zagato 19 cars built 1960 – 1962
- DB5 1059 cars built 1963 – 1965
- DB6 1788 cars built 1965 – 1970
- DBS 1193 cars built 1967 – 1972
This was something of a golden era for Aston Martin. In particular, because the DB5 featured in the 1964 James Bond film ‘Goldfinger’, equipped with a series of gadgets, and helped to establish the marque’s desirability globally. In the 1969 film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, George Lazenby drove a DBS in his sole appearance as 007, and in 1970 the future Bond, Roger Moore, drove a Bahama yellow DBS in “The Persuaders” on the small screen. In 1972 David Brown sold the company to a banking consortium.
Aston Martin Vantage, V8, and Volante
In a difficult climate not helped by the global recession and the introduction to new emissions standards in the USA, an important market for Aston Martin, the new owners still produced a series of remarkable cars.
A V8 version of the DBS had been added to the range in 1969 and in 1972 Aston Martin unveiled the AMV8, followed a few years later by the extraordinary Aston Martin Lagonda with its radical wedge styling and futuristic digital dashboard and computer controls. The company changed hands again in 1975 and 1977 saw the new Aston Martin Vantage hailed as the first British supercar, or ‘musclecar’, with a top speed of 170 miles per hour, or a rather more leisurely 160 mph for the drop-top Volante version. In 1980 a concept car emerged named the Bulldog. It was even more futuristic than the Aston Martin Lagonda, but it was deemed too costly to produce commercially. The company was again sold in 1981 and continued to build the AMV8, Lagonda, and the V8 Vantage and Volante.
1980 Aston Martin Bulldog concept
The Prince of Wales’ Royal Warrant of Appointment was awarded in 1982 which further served to cement the status of the brand, as well as a welcome return of James Bond in 1987 where we saw Timothy Dalton driving a V8 Volante in “The Living Daylights”.
Despite the continually growing prestige and an army of adoring devotees, Aston Martin still needed investment to continue. Ford Motors took a substantial shareholding in 1987 and in 1988 a new model, the V8 Virage made its debut.
Ford Motor Company
Following on from the Virage was the new Vantage with sleeker styling, and then a revival of the DB name with the DB7. Under Ford’s, ownership production was increased although still respecting the marque’s unique reputation for quality.
Among the models produced were;
- V8 Virage 598 cars built 1988 – 1996
- V8 Vantage 288 cars built 1993 – 2000
- DB7 2,461 cars built 1994 – 1999
- V8 Coupe 101 cars built 1996 – 2000
- V8 Volante 64 cars built 1997 – 2000
- DB7 Vantage 4,431 cars built 1999 – 2003
- DB7 Vantage Volante 2,046 cars built 1999 – 2003
- V12 Vanquish 2,578 cars built 2001 – 2007
- DB7 Zagato 200 cars built in 2003
2001 V12 Vanquish
In 2007 Aston Martin changed hands again, being bought by a consortium headed up by David Richards, chairman of Prodrive. Nevertheless, as with every previous change of ownership Aston Martin continued to produce cars for which hyperbole begins to lose meaning. Cars like the DB9, DBS V12, the One-77 of which only 77 examples were built, and the V12 Virage and Zagato continued the Aston Martin tradition of building fast cars of uncompromising style and quality.
The strong association with James Bond continued throughout the Ford era with Aston Martin cars featuring in “Die Another Day”, “Casino Royale”, and “Quantum of Solace”, and this continued with the DB10 concept car built for the 2015 film “Spectre”.
2013 saw Aston Martin forge a partnership with Mercedes-AMG and the company’s fortunes were turned around by 2017 and it was floated on the London Stock Exchange becoming Aston Martin Lagonda Holdings PLC. After many years of changing fortunes and changing ownership there is a considerable reason for optimism in the marque which is once again unequivocally British, with new models of Aston Martin for sale UK wide, and in 50 countries on six continents.
The current model line-up is;
- Aston Martin V8 Vantage
- Aston Martin DB11 (V12 or V8)
- Aston Martin DB11 Volante
- Aston Martin Rapide S
- Aston Martin DBS Superleggera
A forthcoming car named “Valkyrie” is currently in production, in collaboration with Red Bull Racing, promising acceleration of 0-60mph in 2.5 secs and a top speed of 250 mph for the street-legal production version.
One hopes that Aston Martin can look forward to another century of building an automotive legend.