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Car enthusiasts have a special bond with Aston Martin

08-Jan-2010 • Bond Style

Like many niche automakers with a long history, Aston Martin has had its ups and downs since it was formed in 1913. But every time disaster loomed, the iconic British roadster has been saved to live another day, explains Projo.

Its latest savior was David Richards, chairman of auto performance parts company Prodrive, who led a consortium to acquire Aston Martin from Ford in 2007 for about $850 million.

And despite its low profile compared with other super sports car companies like Ferrari and Lamborghini, Aston Martin has long maintained a strong brand recognition due in part to its success on the race track and in part to the iconic appearance of a silver DB5 in the 1964 James Bond movie “Goldfinger,” starring Sean Connery.

“The DB5 is the common denominator, you always start there” when talking about the history of the marque or its current lineup, said John Walton, former president of Aston Martin North America and current managing director of Aston Martin of New England & Lotus Motorsports. “It’s the most famous car in the world.”

Aston Martin’s current lineup includes the V8 Vantage (around $130,000), the V12 Vantage ($250,000), the DB9 ($170,000) and its top of the line DBS ($275,000). All models come in coupe and convertible versions.

In addition, Aston Martin is introducing its four-door Rapide this year. The sports sedan runs around $200,000.

While Aston Martin is clearly in the super sports car category, the company prides itself on being understated.

“New England is a great area for these cars,” said Walton. “They are subtly understated, not in your face.”

Modern day Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. was formed as Bamford & Martin in 1913 by engineer Robert Bamford and sporting motorist Lionel Martin. They named their first car after Aston Hill in Buckinghamshire, which was a favorite for competitive hill climbs, and Martin.

The company built a few prototypes but World War I intervened and it did not produce cars until after the war, in which both Martin and Bamford served.

In 1922, the company produced sports cars that set world speed and endurance records. But not for the last time, the company had financial problems and was bought out in 1926 and renamed Aston Martin Motors.

The company was repeatedly saved from bankruptcy, most notably by a group that included designer Bill Renwick and Bert Bertelli in 1926 and David Brown (as in DB) in 1947.

The company was resold again a number of times before being picked up by British entrepreneur Victor Gauntlett in 1980. It was Gauntlett who negotiated the return of Aston Martin to the James Bond movie franchise with a V8 Vantage in the 1987 movie “The Living Daylights,” starring Timothy Dalton

Needing more money, Gauntlett negotiated the sale of a 75 percent stake to Ford in 1987, which acquired 100 percent in 1994. Ford included Aston Martin in its ill-fated Premier Automotive Group, along with Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo.

In addition to selling Aston Martin, Ford sold Jaguar and Land Rover to Tata Motors of India and is negotiating to sell Volvo to Zhejiang Geely Holding Group of China.

Aston has had a storied career on the race track, staring in 1922 when it competed and set records in the French Grand Prix. It first raced at Le Mans in 1928.

David Brown had a passion for high performance sports cars and promoted Aston Martin on the race track. In 1951, Aston Martin DB2s came in first, second and third in the 3-liter class at Le Mans.

In 1959, Aston Martin won the World Championship with a DBR1 and Stirling Moss at the wheel. The highlight of the season was an outright win at Le Mans.

Aston Martin returned to racing in 2004 in a partnership with Prodrive with the DBR9, winning the GT1 class in 2007 and 2008.

But off the track, Aston Martin has benefited from what may be the most powerful product placement in history with its appearance in “Goldfinger.” Interestingly, the producers had wanted an E-Type Jaguar for the role, but Jaguar turned them down.

Indeed, the silver 1963 Aston Martin DB5 beat out stiff competition in the film, which also featured the new Ford Mustang — a white convertible with red interior — and a new Lincoln Continental, to say nothing of Auric Goldfinger’s black and yellow 1937 Rolls Royce Phantom III Sedanca de Ville.

After many years’ absence, Aston Martin returned to the James Bond franchise in 1987 and the 2006 James Bond movie “Casino Royale,” starring Daniel Craig, featured both the classic DB5 and also the new DBS.

New England Aston Martin sells both new and used Aston Martins and new Lotuses. President Stephen Serio said he is particularly excited about the new Lotus Evora, which is due out this year and which he described as “the most important car in [Lotus’s] modern era.”

In contrast to the sporty Elise and Exige, he said the Evora, which has rear seats, is more of a family car while still being very sporty.

The dealership, which moved from a much smaller location in downtown Boston in 2004, also trades in high-end classics. A recent visit found a number of exotic cars toward the rear of the showroom floor, including a 1970 Lamborghini Miura, a 1966 Ferrari 275 GTB/6C, a 1955 Gullwing Mercedes-Benz 300SL and a 1962 260/289 Factory Competition Cobra CSX 2026 that Walton said had a price tag of around $3 million.

Behind the showroom was a service and restoration shop. “If you sell these things you’ve got to be able to work on them,” said Walton.

He added that the dealership also serves as a meeting place for fans of high end sports cars, with many dropping round “on Saturday mornings for a chat.”

“What we produce no one needs,” Walton noted. “This is a reward for success.”

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