/100 years of Aston Martin, from bankruptcy to the One-77

100 years of Aston Martin, from bankruptcy to the One-77

aston martin 100 years 600x146 at 100 years of Aston Martin, from bankruptcy to the One 77

Aston Martin, one of the carmakers that basically define British luxury, is turning 100 this year and we’re here to wish a big “Happy Birthday!” to James Bond’s favorite car brand. 100 years is a long time.

The automobile is a relatively recent invention, with a history of less than 130 years, however we’ve gotten so used to it and it’s such an important part of our lives that it seems like it’s been here forever. And among all car brands there are some with an impressive history behind them, one of the most recent members of the “100 year” club being one of the most important British carmakers, Aston Martin. A brand that is synonymous with “elegance”, “power” and “luxury” and which today identifies itself by the slogan “Power. Beauty. Soul”

Like many companies out there, the British brand had its ups and downs throughout its history, having an interesting career in motorsport and also becoming the favorite car of the world’s most famous spy, James Bond. So let’s take a look at how Aston Martin became the legend it is today.

The beginnings

It all started on January 15, 1913 when Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford became associates and created a company whose purpose was to sell automobiles built by Singer. The name they originally used was Bamford & Martin Ltd and after Lionel Martin successfully took part in the Aston Hill races in Buckinghamshire, the two decided to build their own car which they named Aston Martin.aston martin first cars 600x387 at 100 years of Aston Martin, from bankruptcy to the One 77

So in 1915 the first Aston Martin automobile was ready for sale. To build it, the two used a four-cylinder Coventry-Simplex engine that was mounted on an Isotta-Fraschini chassis. The car was quickly nicknamed “Coal Scuttle”, since many thought it resembled a household item that was very used at that time. But things were delayed by the World War I and, in 1920, production was moved to Kensington, with work starting on developing and manufacturing a new model. Robert Bamford left the struggling company in 1920 and the one to save it was Count Louis Zborowski. Around 55 units are built, but the company goes into financial difficulties again and went bankrupt in 1924.

Aston Martin is bought by Lady Charnwood, who tries to save it, but it goes bankrupt again in 1925, with the Kensington factory being closed in 1926. The same year, Lionel Martin leaves the company. However, towards the end of 1926, Aston Martin is saved by a group of investors led by Bill Renwick and Bert Bertelli. The two are the key people in the company’s rebirth, with Bertelli serving as the technical director and designer between 1926 and 1937. During this period, Aston Martin launched cars such as the T-Type, International, Le Mans or MkII. Most of these models were open two-seaters and many also spawned motorsport versions. Bertelli was also a good driver, so Aston Martin had some interesting results at Le Mans or Mille Miglia during that time, which helped promoting the brand.

However, financial troubles showed up again in 1932, and assistance is required again. The ones to save it this time were L. Prideaux Brune and Sir Arthur Sutherland. To assure financial stability, they decided to focus entirely on street cars, with more than 700 units being built until World War II stopped production. During the war, Aston Martin built parts for British planes.

David Brown and the birth of a famous name: “DB”

In 1947, David Brown Limited buys Aston Martin and the Lagonda brand, with Sir David Brown deciding to merge the two brands and use all resources to start creating a new line of models, called DB. The DB2 was announced in 1952, followed by the DB2/4, DB2/4 Mk2, DB Mk3 and, finally, the famous DB4, which was designed in Italy. Other DB models were introduced later, the DB5 in 1963, the DB6 in 1965 and the DBS in 1967.

Aston Martin DB2 600x450 at 100 years of Aston Martin, from bankruptcy to the One 77

Financial difficulties again

Aston Martin still didn’t manage to stay away from financial troubles and in 1970 the company changed owners again, when it was bought by Company Developments, a Brimingham based group of companies led by William Wilson. But this didn’t put an end to Aston Martin’s misery and in 1975 it is sold again, this time to American businessmen Peter Sprague and George Minden, for only £1 million. The company gets back on its feet for a while, with 360 new workers being hired to build new models such as the V8 Vantage (1977), the Volante convertible (1978) or the futuristic looking Lagonda.

The tough financial climate of the early ‘80s again bring problems to Aston Martin, especially with the failed attempt to buy MG. Even though the transaction never went through, it was an uninspired attempt since bankruptcy was again threatening the carmaker.

And the one to save the brand was Victor Gauntlett who has a major contribution in Pace Petroleum and CH Industrials buying an important share in the company. But that’s not all Gauntlett did for Aston Martin, because he was also actively involved in promoting the brand. He marketed the Lagonda as the fastest four-seater in the world, achieving impressive sales in countries like Oman, Kuwait or Qatar. He also drew new funds to support the company and negotiated for the brand to get back in the James Bond movies next to Timothy Dalton. He even went as far as sending his own personal car on set, a pre-production Vantage.

The Ford era

But the company needed a more long-term approach and the one who was able to offer that was Ford. In 1991, the American carmaker becomes Aston Martin’s new owner as part of what would later be known as the Premier Automotive Group division. Throughout its history, this division was responsible for brands like Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo.

Aston Martin DB7 600x450 at 100 years of Aston Martin, from bankruptcy to the One 77

In 1993, Aston Martin launches the new DB7, which was designed by Ian Callum and marked the legendary name’s comeback. In 2000, Dr. Ulrich Bez joins Aston Martin and becomes one of the most important names in the company’s recent history. He became and still is its CEO and successfully managed to bring Aston Martin back on the map. Under his leadership, plenty of new cars were launched, such as the V12 Vantage, and the brand again returned to James Bond movies, Aston Martin cars being driven by Pierce Brosnan in “Die Another Day” and Daniel Craig in “Casino Royale”.

However, the first signs of the upcoming financial crisis forced Ford to dissolve its Premier Automotive Group division and all brands were sold.

David Richards and the company’s rebirth

And so, in 2007, the David Richards era starts for Aston Martin. Car enthusiasts probably know Richards for his involvement in motorsport. He is the owner of the Prodrive group that was in charge with the Subaru and then Mini World Rally Championship teams. He was also involved in Formula One, assisting teams such as BAR and Benetton, so he was a pretty important name in the British car industry. Using this, he managed to “recruit” a group of businessmen from the United States and Kuwait which bought Aston Martin from Ford for £475 million.

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Things turned out extremely well for Aston Martin and today the company is going through one of the best periods of its life. Its cars are amazing and attract a lot of wealthy customers, while extremely exclusive editions such as the Aston Martin One-77 fascinate car enthusiasts all over the world. And even though the company also went into new territories, such as the Rapide luxury limousines or the Cygnet small city car (which is actually a rebadged Toyota IQ), its main lineup still consists of beautiful coupes such as the Vantage, DB9, Vanquish or Zagato.

Aston Martin and James Bond

We couldn’t have finished this article without mentioning a partnership that heavily influenced Aston Martin’s history. For a lot of people, Aston Martin has always been known as that beautiful car driven by James Bond and this helped the British carmaker’s image a lot.

aston martin db5 james bond daniel craig 600x365 at 100 years of Aston Martin, from bankruptcy to the One 77

Even though the first James Bond car was a Sunbeam Alpine, Aston Martin made its screen debut in the third movie of the series, when Sean Connery drives the famous DB5. Soon, the DB5 basically became synonymous with James Bond after being used in five more movies, including the most recent one, “Skyfall”. Other Aston Martins driven by James Bond were the DBS in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, the V8 Vantage Volante in “The Living Daylights”, while modern times saw the V12 Vanquish in “Die Another Day” and the DBS V12 in “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace”.

So “Happy Centennial!” again Aston Martin and we’re looking forward for more amazing things from you.

(Journalist) – Vlad Balan is an automotive journalist from Eastern Europe and he has been blogging about cars, reporting from auto shows, taking interviews or test driving cars since 2007.