Wednesday, 26 January 2011
Aston Martin DB VII
An Aston Martin DB7 was just about right for a road car. Quick enough for most purposes, classic name and reputation, well made and exquisitely beautiful it remains an aspiration. It also has the virtue of not making its driver look absurd. Unless you are going to race, there doesn’t seem much point in a 600 horse power two hundred and something miles an hour monster. A DB7 is manageable, isn’t a lot faster than the 1960s icon the E-type Jaguar and doesn’t invite ridicule. Its real pedigree may not stand too close scrutiny. As the attached feature from The Times testifies, it was pretty much Jaguar XJ-S underneath but that rode well, handled not badly and by 1993 was well sorted. Ray Hutton, with whom I drove on the press launch, was a bit dismissive but I liked it from the start. Went to Chatsworth last year when there was an Aston Martin Owners’ Club event and thought how well DB7 looked still, even against later bloated Astons. You need a sense of proportion about cars. Goes back to when an E-type was perfectly appropriate for the road and a D-type was great to race but couldn’t be taken seriously for going to the shops.
Click to enlarge or read original copy attached.
Two Litres was once fine for a high quality sports car
The Times: Tuesday 19 October, 1993: ASTON MARTIN
There is an air of confidence at Aston Martin, which the company has scarcely known since the 1950s. When production of the DB7 starts in April, it will mark an astonishing come-back, after nearly two decades in which the rest of the motor industry virtually wrote it off.
Most of the 300 DB7s planned for the first year's production are already sold after the car's spectacular debut at the Geneva motor show this spring. Now, Aston Martin is expanding its sales network, confident that the North American market will enable it to double production to 600 a year.
It hardly matters that the car is essentially a design shelved by Jaguar; it has brought Aston Martin back into the automotive mainstream. It looks every inch a thoroughbred, and after development by a team which includes former world champion Jackie Stewart and formula 1 team taskmaster Tom Walkinshaw, it has brought Aston Martin back into the mainstream.
Stewart started his racing career thirty years ago in an Aston Martin DB4GT, but when Ford took over the company in September 1987, production Astons still bore it an uncomfortable resemblance. Ford invited Walter Hayes, one-time confidant of Henry Ford and a motor industry veteran, to bring Aston Martin up to date.
A first-class opportunist, Hayes identified a role for Aston Martin within the Ford empire, as well as one for himself running it after he stopped being a Ford vice-president.
He needed fresh minds, and hand-picked a new team. He also knew he could never create a new car in the old cramped works at Newport Pagnell. A key appointment to the board was Tom Walkinshaw, who had set up JaguarSport to make Jaguar XJ220s in a roomy, modern purpose-built plant with room for expansion at Bloxham near Oxford. XJ220 was planned with a limited life, Jaguar with a half-share in Bloxham was now owned by Ford, so the pieces of the jigsaw began to fit together. Aston Martin (Oxford) was formed, with Jackie Stewart on the board to ensure the DB7's sporting pedigree.
A consultant to Ford since his racing days, Stewart protested at first. 'I don't work for Aston Martin.'
Hayes's reply was succinct. 'You do now.'
The Times subbed this bit out and inserted 'Mr' before names.
Aston Martin's history was punctuated by financial crises and changes of ownership. Until Ford took over, its only consistent feature was the production of fine sports cars. Astons were always at a premium, highly priced, highly prized, and exquisitely made.
Lionel Martin made the first one in 1914 with Robert Bamford, and coined the name from a hill-climb course at Aston Clinton in Buckinghamshire. It had an undistinguished 1.4 litre side valve Coventry-Simplex engine, in a chassis copied from an Italian contemporary.
Production of a 1.5 litre car, plainly engineered but selling for a formidable £850 got under way in 1922, and by the mid 1920s the firm was making 20 cars a year. In 1924 a racing programme led to adventurous overhead cam engines and lightweight chassis. There was an optimistic showing of Aston Martins at the Olympia Motor Show in 1925, but within weeks the company was in trouble.
Aston Martin was unable to pay its way. It was wound up and had to be rescued by A C Bertelli, who restarted production at Feltham in 1927, and made racing versions in 1928/29. Success on the track, alas was not matched by sales. Following another financial crisis in the early 1930s, the Bertelli regime collapsed, and R G Sutherland took control.
He inaugurated sports cars such as the 80hp Ulster of 1935, and the 100mph Speed Model, as notable for their striking appearance as their stirring performance. Sutherland's Aston Martins were archetypal sports cars with cycle-type wings, pointed tails, and spartan open two-seater bodywork.
In 1947 Aston Martin, integrated with Lagonda, became part of the engineering empire of David Brown, the tractor manufacturer, once again leading to outstanding cars. W O Bentley supervised the design of a 2.5 litre overhead cam engine for a sporty coupe which came out in 1950, together with a luxury Lagonda.
After the new 2.0 litre sports, the proprietor applied his initials to the next, and DB for David Brown entered the motoring lexicon as a match for anything produced by Ferrari, Maserati, or Alfa Romeo. A vigorous racing programme brought Aston Martin the world sports car championship in 1959, and first and second in the 24 Hours race at Le Mans.
But in the 1970s the luxury car world was thrown into turmoil by successive oil crises, sales failed to cover the substantial cost of making quality cars largely by hand, and Aston had once again to be saved. This time the staunchly patriotic Victor Gauntlett re-established it, making Aston fit enough to attract the major shareholding by Ford.
At the headquarters of Benetton, his formula 1 racing team, Walkinshaw whose 40 companies have an annual turnover of £100 million and 750 employees worldwide told me, 'I was approached by Victor Gauntlett and Walter Hayes two years ago. Aston Martin had no new product programme and its future looked doubtful.' Together with Hayes and his team of engineers a new strategy was worked out, and a smaller Aston Martin (the current ones had grown to 5.3 litres) planned at an affordable price. The way forward was to see what common components could be obtained from within Ford, which included Jaguar.
The design for the DB7 was code-named NPX (Newport Pagnell eXperimental), with a Jaguar XJS floor pan and engine block. The aim was to develop a car in the £80,000 range. It emerged as the DB7, a classic 3.2 litre front-engined, rear-drive coupe still bearing the initials of Sir David Brown, honorary life president of Aston Martin Lagonda until his death last month September at the age of 89.
The old works at Newport Pagnell was left to carry on making new versions of the existing cars. It has been modernised, but by and large the cars are hand-finished much in the way they always were. The latest 5.4 litre Vantage has two superchargers and a top speed approaching 190mph.
Jackie Stewart has not forgotten the kind of car he raced in the early 1960s.
'Aston Martin customers will be fastidious', he says. 'The DB7 must have the grip and handling of a thoroughbred, it must feel like an Aston Martin.' It is in good hands.
Wood facia nothing new for an Aston Martin.