From Bamford & Martin to Aston Martin Ltd
To understand better about Aston Martin we have to start not only talking about what happened before the brand name was created or even the visible products they made but also their founders and the tough times the brand suffered during the first two decades.
Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford (future founders of Aston Martin Ltd) partnered together to sell Singer vehicles and service GKW and Calthorpe machines from Callow st in London under the name of Bamford & Martin Engineers. The first car to be named Aston Martin was created by Martin by fitting a four-cylinder Coventry-Simplex engine to the chassis of a 1908 Isotta-Fraschini. The term Aston was due to expertise achieved in the Aston Hill climbing near Aston Clinton in Buckhinghamshire. Already in 1943 these Bamford & Martin Ltd were sought after as classics. As you can read on motorsportmagazine.com: “The earlier Aston-Martin cars, made by Messrs. Bamford & Martin, Ltd., of London, under Lionel Martin's supervision, before the present company came into being at Feltharn to build cars to Bertelli's designs, are now amongst the rarer of the vintage sports cars. Nevertheless, they still arouse much interest, and are of such exclusive design that we have no hesitation in publishing these notes about them, by that very staunch supporter of the type, F. W. Ellis” and continues: “The Bamford & Martin Aston is one of the most exclusive of all the vintage cars and I cannot help but think that many enthusiasts have missed something in motoring which very few cars can give. Therefore, these notes may prove or interest and help prospective and present owners of the type. Also, may I be forgiven for having a one track mind where these cars are concerned. as in all my experience of cars, amid it is a fairly wide one, I have yet, to find a more satisfactory and pleasant piece of machinery to handle?”.
Not a lot of people know the first use of the Aston Martin Machines though. The founders of Aston Martin Ltd bought some premises in (Henniker Mews, Royal Borough of Kensington) London in 1915 to start producing their own cars. Due to the outbreak of WWI they both had to leave and fight in the War, so they ended up selling the machinery to a British company producing planes for the army (Sopwith Aviation Company). So technically the first artefacts Aston Martin Ltd machines produced were planes!
After the war they found new premises at Abingdon Road, Kensington and designed a new car. Bamford left in 1920 and Aston Martin was revitalised with funding from Count Louis Zborowski (designer of the “Chitty Bang Bang”). In 1922, Bamford & Martin produced cars to compete in the French Grand Prix, which went on to set world speed and endurance records at Brooklands. Three works Team Cars with 16-valve twin cam engines were built for racing and record breaking: chassis number 1914, later developed as the Green Pea; chassis number 1915, the Razor Blade record car; and chassis number 1916, later developed as the Halford Special. This 1922 French GP finished with both cars retiring before the end, both with engine problems. Not a good start and also not a good sign of the bright future of the brand !
Between 1926 and 1937 Bertelli was both technical director and designer of all new Aston Martins, since known as "Bertelli cars". They included the 1½-litre "T-type", "International", "Le Mans", "MKII" and its racing derivative, the "Ulster", and the 2-litre 15/98 and its racing derivative, the "Speed Model". Most were open two-seater sports cars bodied by Bert Bertelli's brother Enrico (Harry), with a small number of long-chassis four-seater tourers, dropheads and saloons also produced.
Bertelli was a competent driver keen to race his cars, one of few owner/manufacturer/drivers. The "LM" team cars were very successful in national and international motor racing including at Le Mans and the Mille Miglia.
Financial problems reappeared in 1932 though. Aston Martin was rescued for a year by Lance Prideaux Brune before passing it on to Sir Arthur Sutherland. In 1936, Aston Martin decided to concentrate on road cars, producing just 700 until World War II halted work. Production shifted to aircraft components during the war again. Seems Aston Martin machinery was invented to make machine that could fly !
Sir David Drown and the DB models
Along the car history we find very well know "petrol heads", people with a clear vision and enough technical knowledge, endurance to change the way things were getting done and the commitment to write new pages on the automotive industry, some of them are know by many of us, like Henry Ford, Enzo Ferrari, Ettore Bugatti... but there are some forgotten ones, like Sir David Brown.
David Brown was born 1904 in Yorkshire and by 1931 he took over the family business, the "David Brown Gear Company Ltd", in the 30s he started a new company with Harry Fergusson building tractors. Because of some disagreement in the design they decided to split, with David Brown building his own tractors. The David Brown VAK1, this was a successful design and made Brown a wealthy man at the time. In 1947, Mr. Brown started his meteoric career in automobiles by acquiring Aston Martin for 20,500GBP. Not enough for him though, the following year he acquired Lagonda for 52,500GBP and also Tickford in 1955... The legendary Aston Martin models DB2, DB3, DB4, DB5,DB6 and DBS were named using his initials.
Mr. Brown was also a qualified pilot, racing driver of car and motorcycles, he died 1993 in Monte Carlo.
The Company has suffered a lot of financial troubles in the last decades after Sir David Brown left the company but the heritage and glory remains there.
Aston Martin a British icon
The brand, the shape of the car are certainly icons and much more. 007 made Aston Martin (and British gentlemen style) famous all over the world by appearing in their movies. In the times of Cold War it was time to show off about British engineering capabilities and the car had it all: performance and design. It was really the kind of product you wanted to show off and export too.
Loads of people can recognise the DB5 very quickly (Thanks to James Bond movies again) but Aston Martin Limited produced a lot of models before and after. In my eyes all the classic DB models were very beautiful cars, but other models like the Sports 1937, MK II or International were also amazing at their time. If I had to pick one car from all the ones they produced, I’d go for the Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato (designed by Zagato and Spada) in British racing green (of course) where only 20 of them were made due to the lack of demand (can anyone explain me that !!)