Aston Martin: history of a British icon
A successful car brand essentially embodies a nation’s cultural identity.
Think about it: it’s hard to imagine a more Italian brand than Ferrari. Or a more American one than Dodge or Chevrolet. And BMW, Audi and Mercedes have always been fundamentally – and very successfully – German.
The UK’s famously fragmented automotive legacy can’t match the scope and scale of some of its international counterparts, but it has nonetheless established several brands that are unquestionably, unmistakably British.
Perhaps the most culturally ubiquitous of those brands is Aston Martin, a manufacturer that, likes its peers Land Rover, Bentley and Rolls Royce, effortlessly embodies the style, value and qualities of Great Britain.
As Aston Martin prepares for its first foray into DTM – running under exclusive licence to Switzerland’s R-Motorsport – it’s the perfect time to take a quick look at the many strands that make up the brand’s story.
The name’s Bond…
Where else could we start? After all, the sleek, rakish, silver Aston Martin DB5 driven by suave British secret agent James Bond is perhaps the most recognisable British car of the last 100 years – only really matched by the Mini.
But it’s difficult to quantify just how significant that car really was.
Not only was it the first automobile to really take centre-stage in a blockbuster movie – paving the way for the likes of Steve ‘Bullitt’ McQueen’s Ford Mustang and a long list of licensed machines – but it was also the first car to enjoy spin-off fame as a toy. British manufacturer Corgi’s lovingly detailed die-cast miniature rightfully earned a place in millions of childhood bedrooms, and can still be bought to this day.
The Aston and Bond tie-up began with 1964’s ‘Goldfinger’, which starred Sean Connery and a silver DB5 unforgettably equipped with machine guns, wheel spikes and – most memorably – a passenger ejector seat. A DB5 would reappear in Thunderball, GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Casino Royale, Skyfall and Spectre, conclusively proving that you can never have too much of a good thing.
If Bond nailed Aston’s cultural relevance to the mast in the 1960s, the brand’s superior credentials were forged way back in the 1930s, when it took to the racetrack, competing at the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours for the first time in 1931.
A succession of Aston attempts on the enduro strengthened the marque’s hand until, by the mid 1950s. it had a works effort capable of making the continental competition sit up and take notice.
Bolstered by runner-up spots in 1955, ’56 and ’58, Aston Martin fielded a two-car entry for the 1959 running of the race. It marked the debut of the track-focusedDBR1, which was assisted by regulations that freed-up manufacturers from the requirement to run road-based chassis.
Driven by Maurice Trintignant and Paul Frere and the race-winning pairing of Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori, the British marque would claim its sole outright Le Mans victory, seeing off the combined challenge of Ferrari and Porsche.
The same year, the DBR1 also triumphed at the Nurburgring 1000km (with Stirling Moss behind the wheel) and the Tourist Trophy, held at Goodwood, helping the brand to secure the 1959 World Sportscar Championship.
Modern sportscar racing
After a couple of tentative forays, Aston Martin competitively returned to the racetrack in the mid 2000s in partnership with British motorsport preparation experts Prodrive.
In 2005, Aston’s evocative DBR9 made its GT1 debut at Le Mans, ensuring the evocative British Racing Green livery would once again grace La Sarthe. The brand has been a contender ever since, even entering a full prototype chassis, in conjunction with British independent manufacturer Lola, in 2009.
More recently, Aston has fielded its Vantage in the FIA’s World Endurance Championship, where it has won both the GT1 and GTE categories at La Sarthe, and has settled down to become a reliable mainstay of the international GT sports car scene.
A global luxury brand
Given its current cultural ubiquity, it’s hard to believe that Aston endured several decades in the relative wilderness.
Yes, that Bond car captured the zeitgeist, but the marque slowly faded from the public eye during the 1970s and ’80s as a series of big and boxy cars failed to capture the public’s imagination.
Automotive giant Ford bought a shareholding at the end of the 1980s, but it took until 1993’s DB7, which reintroduced elegant, refined contours to the marque, for the public to fall back in love with Aston Martin again.
The DB7 duly yielded the DB9, the Vantage and the Vanquish, all models that helped Aston re-establish itself as a British manufacturer of inimitable style and grace. Allied to a renewed push as James Bond’s car of choice (and the re-establishment of Bond himself as a modern British icon), and having turned a loss-making enterprise into a profitable one, Aston Martin has merely taken 50 years to become an overnight success…
Aston Martin’s current successes have given it confidence for the future. Following an ambitious branding partnership with Formula 1 team Red Bull Racing, the marque’s next step is a design partnership with ace aerodynamicist Adrian Newey, who helped pen the car manufacturer’s newest project, the valiantly named Valkyrie.
Featuring Newey’s trademark aero detailing, and a mighty 6.5-litre 1100bhp V12 engine, the Valkyrie is being touted s the world’s fastest street-legal car, with a projected top speed of around 250mph (400km/h) for the limited-edition track version.
Its arrival in the DTM may not be via a full works entry, but, by taking on the might of Audi and BMW, it is sending out a clear signal that it is willing to take on two of Germany’s biggest manufacturers in a straight fight.
We strongly advise you to come along for the ride!