Aston Martin is one of the most iconic British brands, and not so iconic as in 2013 with the luxury sports car maker celebrating its centenary year. The last 12 months has seen the brand celebrate in its birthday in true British style, but how did it all start?
Delving into a rich history
The company was founded in 1913 by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford, and acquired its first premises in Kensington in 1915, but production failed to start due to the outbreak of World War One. Re-founded in 1920 post-war, the first 1922 model was entered into the French Grand Prix. It also set world speed records at the infamous Brooklands oval in Surrey; today home to Mercedes-Benz World Driving Experience Centre.
The following two decades were a bumpy ride, with the business failing financially again in 1926 with Lionel Martin exiting the business. However, it was then rescued by a group of investors- finally forming the name of Aston Martin Motors Ltd.
As a result, the business was on sound footing with a competitive range of sports cars and an increasing reputation for engineering and design, leading to the first entry of an Aston Martin into the Le Mans 24 Hour race in 1928.
Road car production numbers started to increase, with 140 produced in 1937 prior to World War Two. However, one of the significant periods in the business was the ‘David Brown era’. The English industrialist promoted expansion, so production moved to Middlesex and then on to Newport Pagnell as new premises were needed to cope with the continuing demand increases.
The racing pedigree of the business was further strengthened in 1959- winning at Le Mans and also at the famous Nürburgring circuit in Germany. The road cars were also receiving much development from this period, up until the 1980s, when ownership changed once more with Victor Gauntlett and Pace Petroleum taking control in 1981. However, even when a change of heads took place, there was always commitment to invest in new models to ensure the business had the best chance of future success.
Money’s too tight to mention
Just as the business was settling into its racing gloves, the ownership changed once again in 1987. Ford Motor Company bought a 75% stake in Aston Martin and the rest at a later date.
Although there was a good deal of investment for Aston Martin through the partnership, it was Ford’s own financial troubles in 2007 that saw them sold to the current owners- Investment DAR and ADEEM Investment. They still retain their current location at Gaydon, Warwickshire inside one of the most stylish headquarters in the motor industry, which opened in 2003.
To current employees, the unknown reputation and lack of brand image Aston Martin had in 1913 must seem a long way in the past. Once again in 2013, the brand has been voted as one of the coolest in the UK. This is, arguably, down to a 50/50 divide.
Fifty percent comes from the physical product, as the design team have created some iconic shapes over the years. One of the most famous models is the DB4 coupe produced in 1958. Six years later, however, along came the DB5 which was the significant other fifty percent of how Aston Martin developed their image.
Just another Aston?
The DB5 was launched in 1963- also the decade that saw the growth of the most famous spy to ever be created- James Bond. In the Goldfinger movie, a very special relationship was formed that left an indelible impression on popular culture. The DB5 was chosen to star alongside Sean Connery and was made famous as the ultimate spy accompaniment- with rotating number plates, ejector seat and bulletproof shield.
Aesthetics were key as new models came along, each with a unique presence on UK roads, with the V8 engine being introduced in the 1970s. The Volante convertible variant made it into the 1986 Bond film ‘The Living Daylights’, featuring in one of the epic car chase scenes of the decade. Again, this had a wealth of gadgets for 007 to use; starring alongside Timothy Dalton at the time.
However, not every film used an Aston Martin, with the next ‘new’ model not entering into the Bond scene until 2002 with Pierce Brosnan. The V12 Vanquish was developed whilst under the influence of Ford and also featured some smart gadgets for a chase scene around an ice hotel- certainly helping its ‘cool’ image.
At this time, the challenge was to uphold the individuality of Aston Martin, as the vehicles were starring along ‘soft spies’ and also making do with some interior parts from executive Swedish manufacturer, Volvo. The aim was for Ford to save money and Volvo is a quality brand, but too many parts used in Aston Martin products would surely hinder the unique product identity?
Therefore, the product should be made as special as possible. To achieve this and keep the brand interesting and strong, the DBS coupe which partnered with the latest Bond actor, Daniel Craig, was stripped back of its spy technology to fit with the more rugged appearance of the new Bond actor. The car’s purpose of being a smart, stylish and road-hugging coupe was also better portrayed by being part of a traditional and tough car chase scene.
Cool, or just another car?
The motoring press of the UK seem to support the fact of Aston Martin being British and developing a thorough product from technical expertise and design heritage. Famous journalists such as motoring enthusiast, Jeremy Clarkson, have always respected the efforts of Aston Martin in developing exciting models to be reviewed, with no other rival offering quite the same driving thrills.
The type of discerning Aston Martin customer may well have been influenced by the choice from the competition over the decades, as well as the brand’s presence within films, but no other car gives the impression of offering such a British thrill for a special Sunday morning country drive.
How do you summarise 100 years?
To see how Aston Martin has developed as a company is impressive and bewildering. Somehow, they pulled themselves back from financial troubles to face their problems. Whilst doing this, they have produced some of the fastest, best-looking, luxurious coupes and convertibles ever to grace the earth.
They have starred in one of the largest film franchises in the world, whilst developing a supercool image which brings its personality to life. A truly British story to be proud of, and here’s to the next century.