The news that Aston Martin is currently the world’s fastest-growing automotive brand has sent ripples through the car industry recently.
A report by Brand Finance has shown that Aston Martin’s brand value is up 268% resulting in the British luxury car icon leaping from #77 in the overall rankings to #24.
Aston Martin saw the highest percentage growth in its history during last year, with profits growing by a quarter of a billion pounds as unit sales exceeded 5,000 for the first time since 2008.
This growth is, in part, down the demand for some of their new models, including the Aston Martin DB11 and also specials including the Vanquish Zagato Coupe and the limited-production DB4 GT continuation car, which joins the ranks of iconic classic cars that have re-entered production alongside the likes of the Jaguar D Type, XKSS and Series 1 Range Rover, to name just a few.
It’s a phenomenal result for the company, especially when taken in context of its vast history littered, (like all British luxury car manufacturers) with many financial disasters, bankruptcies and mergers throughout its 104-year history. Indeed even in recent history, the company suffered six years of growing losses until the very latest turn around in it’s fortunes. So just how did they survive the last century?
Founding the company in 1913, Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford were initially set up to sell Singers from Callow Street in London. They were motorsport fans and competed at the Aston Clinton Hillclimb. In order to take on this event, they built their own car – based on aIsottaFraschini with a Coventry –Simplex engine. Despite moving premises to start production of the car in earnest in 1915 progress was dramatically halted by the advent of World War One. Both men were drafted into the forces and all the equipment was sold to Sopwith Aviation Company to help in the building of the Camel bi-fighter planes.
After the war, production restarted in Kensington with a new car. Bamford left in 1920 but Lionel Martin set to work, busily building cars to compete in the French Grand Prix before going on to set world speed records in Endurance races at Brooklands in 1922. Speed with beauty was the name of the game and Martin made around 55 cars for sale.However, despite this motor sport prowess, the company suffered bankruptcy in 1924. Lady Charnwood bought it, put her son in control and then saw the company go bankrupt again in 1926! The factory closed and Lionel Martin left.
The company was revived and renamed ‘Aston Martin’ with a nod to the early hillclimb’s the company’s founders enjoyed. Aston Martin built some of the most gorgeous cars of the 1930s, designed / raced and manufactured by Bert Bertell including the stunning ‘Ulster’ and the cars enjoyed successes in the Mille Miglia and at Le Mans.
Production stopped again for the Second World War. After peace was declared the company was bought by a Huddersfield based Tractor Group in 1947. The company was old, well established and also acquired Lagonda for its 2.6 litre engine of Bentley origin. The company was called David Brown, or just plain ‘DB’ for short.
Lagonda moved production to Newport Pagnell and Aston Martin began construction alongside, a period that was to produce some of the brands most iconic vehicles such as the DB5 that featured so heavily in the early James Bond films and of course Aston Martin’s outright win in the 24 hours of Le Mans in 1959. It was a heyday for the brand and it was at this time that engine designer TadekMarek, who had penned all of the six-cylinder engines from 1954 – 1965, specified Duckhams Oil be used in these very exclusive performance grand tourers.
In 1970, David Brown paid off over five million pounds worth of debts and passed the brand on to a bank consortium, chaired by William Wilson in Birmingham, for little more than £100. Unable to afford the development required for meeting the stringent US emissions regulations required for the export market, coupled with the effects of a world wide recession, Aston Martin closed in 1974.
The factory did re-open just six months later again under the new ownership of Sprague and Curtis plus other investors and stakeholders. Under this new stewardship, the brand modernised its models radically. There was even talk for some time of Aston Martin acquiring both Lamborghini and MG.For the ailing British Leyland brand, it would have been an exciting prospect, however, it was not meant to be.
Pace Petroleum and CH Industrials were the next owners and took the brand over during the effects of yet another global recession. However, the modernising continued and the engineering excellence developed yet further. Aston Martin was back in the Bond films as well. Pace Petroleum executive chairman Victor Gauntlett lent Cubby Brocolli his pre-production Vantage for use by Timothy Dalton
In 1987, Ford took a stake in the company, resulting in the first all-new Aston Martin for 20 years; the chunky brutishly styled Aston Martin Virage. Eventually Ford would take full ownership of Aston Martin and re-launch the DB line with the DB7 based on a design previously penned for Jaguar. The DB7 was the biggest selling of all the DB line of cars to date and eventually lead to a V12 Vanquish version in 2001.
2003 saw Aston Martin Racing take the brand headlong into motorsport. Under the leadership of Prodrive and David Richards, the DBR9 project enjoyed huge success both in GT championships and at Le Mans where they raced with the unmistakable ‘007’ numbers. 2004 saw production move from Newport Pagnell up the M1 to Gaydon, Warwickshire. Incidentally, the now hugely developed site, shared with Jaguar Land Rover is next door to the British Motor Heritage centre, which is home to the famous Duckhams motorised can, built on a mini of course!
Richards would eventually form a consortium to buy a majority share of Aston Martin in 2007 before another consortium, Investindustrial bought 37.5% of Aston Martin in 2012.
After six years of losses, Aston Martin entered profit in 2017. The more recent turn around in fortunes for this fellow iconic British brand is very welcome news indeed and the excitement generated by the concept Vulcan and demand for the newest DB11 is justly deserved.
David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance, commented this week that, “Aston Martin is roaring back into the top ranks of luxury car makers. The brand is famed for offering a high-end product, and respected for the quality they deliver. Exploiting one of the strongest and broadest series of planned model launches in the sector, Aston Martin is now a darling for investors and a brand that Britain should be proud of.”
The Aston Martin Vantage, the second car delivered via the company’s Second Century Plan, makes its motor show debut in Geneva this March, along with the DB11 Volante. The racing version of the new Vantage – the striking Vantage GTE – also debuts at Geneva 2018 with the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing F1TM show car in 2018 racing livery.