Aston Martin Lagonda Limited is a British manufacturer of luxury cars founded in 1913 by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford. The company name is derived from the Aston Clinton hill climb – due to Lionel Martin's successful performance at the Aston Hill climb - and the one of company’s founders, Lionel Martin.
In 1913, Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford teamed up as Bamford & Martin Ltd and began selling Singer cars.
In 1914, Bamford and Martin Ltd bought its first property in Chelsea, London and decided to start manufacturing their own cars.
The first Aston Martin race car was registered in 1915. This first model was a modified 1908 Isotta-Fraschini, fitted with a four-cylinder Coventry-Simplex engine.
Not long after the production of the first Aston Martin race car, the onset of the First World War meant that Aston Martin had to close down for the duration of the war and production was put on hold until 1920. In 1920, Aston Martin moved to Abingdon Road, South Kensington with the financial backing of Count Louis Zborowski, an automobile engineer and racing driver. This financial backing enabled Aston Martin to build two racing cars which competed in the 1922 French Grand Prix. On May 24th, 1922, one of the cars – known as ‘Bunny’ - broke 10 world records at the Brooklands track.
In 1922, Robert Bamford sold his share of the company to Lionel Martin. Though money was tight, the company was kept afloat with financial support by Count Louis Zborowski. However, Zborowski’s death in 1924 meant the future of the company was uncertain.
Lionel Martin left the company in 1925. By this time, the major shareholders in the company were the Charnwood family. In 1926, Lord Charnwood joined forces with Augustus Cesare Bertelli and William Somerville Renwick to form Aston Martin Motors at a new location in Feltham, Middlesex.
Renwick and Bertelli had been working together for several years and they had developed an overhead cam 4 engine and tested it in an Enfield Allday chassis. This first and only car produced by Renwick and Bertelli was known as ‘Buzzbox’ and survives to this day. The engine was initially meant to be sold to other car manufacturers but Renwick and Bertelli soon realised they could use the Aston Martin brand to give themselves a head start in the production of a completely new car. Renwick and Bertelli incorporated their engine into the existing side valve Aston Martin which gave way to an entirely new design which appeared at the 1927 Olympia Motor Show.
In 1928, Aston Martin entered two cars for Le Mans, though both retired. These cars were lighter than the production prototypes and are notable for being the first models to bear the familiar winged badge.
In 1932, the company was once again hit with financial difficulty and was rescued by L. Prideaux Brune who took over for a year before the company was passed on to Sir Arthur Sutherland.
From 1926 to 1936 the technical director of the company was Augustus Bertelli and the cars produced in this time have become known as the ‘Bertelli cars’. During this time, Aston Martin mainly produced racing cars and it wasn’t until 1936 that the focus shifted to road cars. However, only 700 cars were produced before the beginning of the Second World War. During the war years, the company was kept alive by manufacturing aircraft components.
In 1947, Aston Martin was bought by David Brown -an established manufacturer of tractors - who, at the same time, also bought Lagonda. Models produced under Brown’s ownership took on his initials and the DB era of Aston Martin began. By this time both Aston Martin and Lagonda automobiles were manufactured in the Feltham factory.
In April 1950, the 2.6 litre Aston Martin DB2 was announced. It took equal first in the Index of Performance at that year’s Le Mans as well as winning the 3.0 litre class.
The Aston Martin DB4 was introduced in 1958 with styling by Touring of Milan. At this time, Brown looked to build more specialised racing cars to compete in the World Sports Car Championship. In 1959, Aston Martin won this championship with the Aston Martin DBR1 which also claimed victory at that year’s Le Mans.
The 1960s saw the introduction of the DB4, DB5, DB6 and the DB6 Volante convertible. In spite of this, it is believed that it was the use of an Aston Martin DB5 in the 1964 James Bond film ‘Goldfinger’ that was responsible for the company’s rise to fame as opposed to its completion victories. James Bond’s Aston Martin had machine guns, revolving licence plates, armour plating, smoke screen and even an ejector seat. Suddenly everyone knew about Aston Martin and sale increased significantly.
The 1970s saw more financial struggle for Aston Martin and David Brown sold the company in 1972. The company was bought by a group led by Peter Sprague in 1972 and changed hands again in 1981 when it was taken over by petrol company Pace Petroleum and CH Industrials. Two years later Automotive Investments took control and in 1984 the company changed hands when the family of Peter Livanos took 75%, and Victor Gauntlett 25%.
As well as the company changing owners several times, the 1980s saw Aston Martin’s disappointing return to the racetrack with the Aston Martin Nimrod. The company was saved once again in 1987, this time by Ford Motor Company.
1992 saw an extension of the Virage range with a 6.3 litre conversion and the debut of the first production model of the Virage Volante Convertible. The 1993 Geneva Motor Show saw the return of a DB model for the first time in over 20 years. The Aston Martin DB7 was named ‘Car of the Show’.
In 1994, Ford Motors bought the remaining 25% share in Aston Martin from Victor Gauntlet.
In 2007, Ford sold 92% of its stake in Aston Martin to David Richards, CEO of Prodrive – the automotive technology and racing company behind Aston’s racing program - and Aston Martin enthusiast. John Sinders and two Kuwaiti investment firms were also part of the deal, which went down just as Aston Martin began to turn a profit. The company now was 100 worldwide dealerships and sell around 6500 vehicles per year.
Aston Martin in the movies
Aston Martins have been widely used in films and TV programmes for years, particularly in James Bond films. Examples of films Aston Martins have featured in are:
- The Fast and the Furious (1955) – Aston Martin DB2
- The Italian Job (1969) – Aston Martin DB4
- Withnail and I (1987) – Aston Martin DB4
- Goldfinger (1964) – Aston Martin DB5
- Goldeneye (1995) – Aston Martin DB5
- Casino Royale (2006) – Aston Martin DB5
- Die Another Day (2002) – Aston Martin Vanquish
- The Boat that Rocked (2006) – Aston Martin DB6
- Johnny English (2003) – Aston Martin Vantage
- Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) – Aston Martin DBS
In 2009, Aston Martin’s chief executive, David Richards, said that he was considering entering a team in Formula 1 in 2010. Late in 2009, Autocar Magazine claimed that Aston Martin had confirmed that they will enter into Formula 1 but have plans to defer entry until 2012. Between 2010 and 2012 they intend to compete as Prodrive.