In this success story, we will share the biography of Lionel Martin, who founded Aston Martin, a British manufacturer of luxury sports cars. Enjoy reading a history of brilliant success, trials, and errors and how a British car manufacturer won the hearts of motorists in the United Kingdom and worldwide.
The Starting Point of the Aston Martin’s History
The Aston Martin company was officially founded in 1914. Still, its history begins in 1913, when Lionel Walker Birch Martin (1878 – October 14, 1945), a Cornishman entrepreneur, was enthusiastically in love with cars. Once, he took first place in the Aston Clinton race, sitting behind the wheel of the Singer 10. In 1914, Lionel Martin started running a small shop in London’s Kensington district. Sometime later, he decided to self-assemble cars. By putting together his surname, Martin, and a part of the name of that winning race, Aston, he came up with the company. This is how the Aston Martin name was created.
Though Lionel Martin had ambitious plans, he had little money, and it was challenging to start a car manufacturing company without the financial support of a partner. Lionel asked for help from Robert Bamford, who funded the manufacturing the first Aston Martin. The 15th of January 1913 marks the official incorporation of the company.
In 1914, they assembled their first Aston Martin. It was a 1.4-liter lightweight sports car with a Coventry-Simples engine mounted on the chassis of the Italian vehicle Isotta Fraschini. Unfortunately, the First World War temporarily prevented the work and delayed the release of new models until 1919, and their construction was restored only in 1920. Since the 1920s, new models were assembled in a new Abingdon Road, London studio. Nevertheless, Robert Bamford was disappointed in the deal with Lionel Martin and discontinued investing in Aston Martin manufacturing. Lionel went to get help from Count Louis Zborowski. He was also passionate about motorcars and racing and, therefore, willingly undertook to help Aston Martin and the company take part in competitions of the highest level, including Grand Prix motor racing.
The first Aston Martin car was built on the chassis of Isotta Fraschini. During the First World War, the company produced not more than 14 of these cars in a year.
It seemed it was a chance for the British company to embark on the path of success and development. The wealthy patron Louis Zborowski was generous in investments and continued to invest in Aston Martin, but that paradise lasted only until 1924. A tragedy occurred with Count Zborowski. He actively participated in car races as a racing driver and automobile engineer. He joined the Mercedes team in 1924, and during the Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza in Italy, he died after hitting a tree. It was a tremendous loss for the Aston Martin team. Lionel Martin even was ready to declare that his company had gone bankrupt. And it would have been so, yet Lady Charnwood saved the situation and purchased Aston Martin, appointing her son John Benson to the board. They renamed it Aston Martin Motors. Lionel Martin became the Technical Director. But this tandem lasted for two years only. The company was still unprofitable and sold again to engineer Bill Renwick and his partner Augustus (Bert) Bertelli, who immediately transferred car manufacturing to Feltham in Middlesex County. It was the end of Aston Martin’s history for Lionel Martin.
The History of Aston Martin without Lionel Martin
Renwick and Bertelli had their R&D center, where engineers designed a 1.5-liter engine with an overhead camshaft for Aston Martin. The unit has been so successful that it has been installed on all Aston Martin models for the next few years, including cars prepared for the Le Mans, Brooklands, and Mille Miglia competitions.
Perhaps the most famous Aston Martin model then was the International, two-seater sports car designed by Bertelli. And, of course, it was driven by that 1.5-liter engine, which since 1928 was produced with a dry sump. Three years later, Augustus Bertelli equipped the International with a new gearbox, and the worm gear was replaced with hypoid bevel one. In 1933, the engine power was increased to 85 horsepower, and this event marked the appearance of a new modification called the Mk-II, which was produced until 1939.
The Aston Martin International of 1931 was a creation of Augustus Bertelli and became a symbol of the brand in the late 1920s and was produced until the end of the 1930s.
It is worth mentioning the Aston Martin Atom, the incredible car prototype of those times. Designed by Claude Hill in 1939, it had an aluminum body, semi-automatic transmission, and many other innovative technologies that were installed on the car. The Atom was an outstanding prototype car far ahead of its time. It became a reference point for the whole European car industry. Because of World War II, Aston Martin was forced to shift to producing aircraft components. But despite the Atom remaining a car prototype, it played a significant role in Aston Martin’s history. This car currently belongs to Aston Martin enthusiast and collector Tom Rollason. He has owned it since 1985. All interested can see it at the Heritage Motor Centre, Gaydon.
The Aston Martin Atom was far ahead of its time, but it remained a prototype in a single copy.
The business did not go smoothly for Aston Martin in the 1930s, and apparent success was delusive. Aston Martin was trying to find a stable way to grow and was fighting for survival. The lack of funds to cover the expenses drove Aston Martin to the frequent change of owners. In 1931, the company started working with the British company Frazer-Nash, founded by Archibald Frazer-Nash in 1922. They produced sports cars sports with a unique multi-chain transmission. But their cooperation lasted only for two years. Soon, Aston Martin was bought by Gordon Sutherland.
Gordon Sutherland fell in love with the Atom so much that personally traveled over 100,000 miles in the Atom. At the end of WWII, Aston Martin was on the verge of collapse. The Atom saved the company and helped to find a new investor, David Brown. He invested in the company just after making a trip riding in the Atom.
David Brown Era
David Brown was a quick-witted person. When he was 17 years old, he was in charge of the family business. They produced tractors and agricultural machinery.
The accumulated funds David invested in various types of business (e.g., stables, shipping industry, etc.) by building up a business empire with approximately 20,000 employees. In 1947, Brown decided to get involved in the car business and bought the Lagonda company and, after a few months – Aston Martin. The advent of David Brown turned the Aston Martin business into a truly successful story.
The first car of the new era was the DB1. It was the car with an aerodynamic body and a 2-liter 6-cylinder engine with dual overhead camshafts, created by engineers from Bentley for Lagonda. Fifteen of those cars were produced, and then it was time to debut the DB2 with a 2.6-liter engine and its modifications, the Aston Martin DB2 / 4 and Aston Martin DB2/4 Mk II Touring. The Italian company designed the latter. And yet Italians played a vital role in the fate of the landmark model DB4. Using his connections, David Brown ensured that the Aston Martin DB4 was approved as a vehicle of Secret Agent James Bond 007. Aston Martin made history not only in the automotive industry but also in cinema.
Did you know that an abbreviation for DB (name of the Aston Martin DB) stands for the initials of David Brown, who saved the company from bankruptcy after the Second World War.
The Aston Martin DB4 was equipped with an inline 6-cylinder engine with dual overhead camshafts and a cylinder capacity of 3669 cc. The framework of the car was made with welded steel plates with spar amplifiers. The front wheels were suspended on the wishbone and springs, and the rear bridge was sustained with longitudinal and short-wishbone coil springs. As we have said, a Milanese atelier Touring created the ultralight body Superleggera. Production of the car was set up at the newly opened facility in Newport, Buckinghamshire County.
In 1959, the sports-modified Aston Martin DB4 GT started to be assembled. It is worth underlining some of its specifications, such as two carburetors Weber, dual ignition, and a short wheelbase. At the same time, engineers made another sports version of the DB4 GTZ with an engine capacity of 300 hp and a more streamlined body designed by Zagato studio. Top speed of that version was 155 mph/h (250 km/h). All in all, 1185 cars of the DB4 series were released.
Aston Martin DB5, the first Aston Martin of James Bond (James Bond 007 – Goldfinger, 1964)
At the same time, Aston Martin continued to act in car races. The most successful model of the company was the DB3R. In 1959, one of those cars won the 24-hour race at Le Mans. Then, the company tried to enter the world of the Grand Prix, but the Aston Martin Formula 1 car was unsuccessful, and this project was closed.
In 1963, the company announced the debut of the DB5, which differed from its predecessor only by a 4L engine with 282 hp. This car also became “the hero” in one of James Bond films. But its life was short, as in 1965, the premiere model DB6 was announced. It was similar in appearance to the previous Aston Martin, but a new one could accommodate four passengers and could compete with the most prestigious cars from other manufacturers.
Occupying a niche, Aston Martin, however, could not accept the fact that their cars did not cause such a delightful impression as Ferrari or Maserati. Therefore, the engineers and designers were tasked to develop similar impressive vehicles. After a while, they designed the Aston Martin DBS and Aston Martin DBS Vantage with a 6-cylinder engine. Later, the cars were improved with a new aluminum 5.3-liter V8 engine with 340 – 450 horsepower. The Aston Martin DBS V8 with a 5.3L engine was designed to compete with Ferrari and Maserati.
Calm Before the Storm
As it used to happen in the history of Aston Martin, the period of rise sooner or later gave way to recession. The company was once again in debt by creating a range of great cars.
In 1972, David sold the Aston Martin and Lagonda companies. The new owners, Company Development, decided to put an end to the DB car series and put a lot of effort into overcoming the effects of a severe economic crisis. But they could not tackle everything, and in 1975, Aston Martin once again found itself on the brink for the next six years.
In the 70s, Aston Martin produced a range of minor sports cars with difficulties named Vantage for coupe cars and Volante for convertibles. All the cars were offered in the most expensive versions with the same 5.3L V8 engine with 340 and 390 hp. They were equipped with the first direct injection system and American automatic transmissions.
The seventies also launched a series of unusual luxury sedan classes that received the symbolic name Lagonda. Wealthy clients, particularly from the Middle East, immediately fell in love with the new Aston Martin Lagonda. The car was manually assembled, had a powerful V8 carbureted engine, and a couple of innovations such as a digital instrument panel, touchpad, and the world’s first onboard computer. The Aston Martin Lagonda cost 33,000 GBP and was one of the most expensive premium sedans. It was a lot of money at that time. Considering manual assembly and exclusivity of the model, only 645 of these cars are available. A contemporary version of this model became the Aston Martin Rapide.
Aston Martin Lagonda was the favorite car of oil sheiks.
The Ford Era
In the 1980s, the financial future of Aston Martin became even more uncertain. During the next seven years, it was bought by British and American industrial and financial groups several times, but this did not lead the company to significant changes. The relative stability occurred only in 1987 when Ford placed Aston Martin in the Premier Automotive Group and bought 75% of the shares in the company. And it worked! Earlier, Aston Martin sold around 100 cars each year, but in 1995, that amount increased to a record mark of 700 pieces. The Vantage, Volante, and Virage, equipped with the upgraded V8 engine with four valves per cylinder and bulk blowers, brought profit. Best of all is that in 1993, Ford revived the DB series, presenting the sports DB7 with a 3.2-liter inline 6-cylinder Jaguar engine that had 335 hp. Along with the manual transmission, buyers were offered automatic transmission. The leather interior trim, lacquered wood panels, and other luxury elements trimmed the sports Aston Martin DB7.
The Richards Era
On March 12, 2007, David Richards bought Aston Martin for £475m (US$848m). Ford saved a stake in the company valued at £40m (US$70m). Aston Martin V8 and V12 engines continued to be manufactured by Ford in Cologne, Germany, until 2013. Ford had little benefit from the collaboration with Aston Martin as they did not use Aston Martin engines in their vehicles. On July 25, 2013, Aston Martin and Mercedes-AMG signed a partnership agreement. Aston Martin will supply new components and power plants for the next-generation lineup.
Now, Aston Martin is going through the best of times. Aston Martin has returned to the sport, acquired a new plant, and released several unique vehicles such as DB9, One-77, Rapide, and Zagato, and has developed a new engine, including the V12. Over a century of existence, Aston Martin has experienced ups and downs. The Aston Martin founder, Lionel Martin, would have probably been proud of his creation. But one thing has always remained the same: from the first day until now, every single Aston Martin car was manually assembled. Even Ford could not impose a conveyor to Aston Aston. Hopefully, this century-old tradition will continue for many decades ahead, and the eternal struggle for survival is left for Aston Martin in the past.
One of our most beautiful and perfect cars is Aston Martin One-77, a 7.3-liter V12 engine with 750 hp.
In 2013, Aston Martin, the legendary British car manufacturer, celebrated its 100th Anniversary. Aston Martin has prepared a fascinating list of centenary events.
We hope you have enjoyed reading Lionel Martin’s biography and the stunning success story of Aston Martin.
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