British Classic: Fascinating Facts About Legendary Automaker Aston Martin

British car manufacturer Aston Martin makes beautiful luxury sports cars that appeal to motor enthusiasts and those with deep pockets. The automaker designs and produces expensive grand touring cars but is also known for Aston Martin Racing. If you have the money and the desire, you too can own an Aston Martin.

Its models are quite beautiful and are popular among the rich and famous, including Prince Charles. They’re also permanently tied to fictional spy James Bond. Read on to learn some fascinating facts about the sports car manufacturer.

The Company Is Over A Century Old

Gold car
Michael Cole/Corbis via Getty Images
Michael Cole/Corbis via Getty Images

Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford founded Aston Martin in 1913, which makes it 106 years old as of 2020. The two men originally made cars for Singer and were known as “Bamford & Martin.” They shut down their office on Callow Street in London and moved to Henniker Mews in Kensignton to start their own car company.

Their new name, Aston Martin, was derived from Martin’s last name, while Aston came from Aston Hill, where motorsports events took place. Martin was an avid racer, and they test drove the vehicles at Aston Hill, building their first one in 1915.

All Aston Martin Vehicles Are Handmade

All Aston Martin Vehicles Are Handmade
John Keeble/Getty Images
John Keeble/Getty Images

One of the greatest things about Aston Martin is that its vehicles are made by hand. This results in a quality in manufacturing that’s hard to find anywhere else. Most automakers rely on production lines, so they can produce as many vehicles as possible. Aston Martin, however, has avoided such technology.

Handmade vehicles are an Aston Martin tradition. Employees make and assemble all of the components, including the stitching on the seats. This type of detail is why so many customers like the brand and are willing to pay top dollar for the vehicles.

Aston Martins Are Really, Really Fast

Blue Aston Martin
Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images
Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images

One of the defining characteristics of an Aston Martin is its speed. They are well known for being fast cars, which attracts many sports car enthusiasts. Most modern-day Aston Martins can reach speeds of 200 mph or more. As a matter of fact, their speedometers go to 220 mph.

However, one model does not go as fast as the others. The V8 Vantage is just a tiny bit slower. It has a top speed of “just” 190 mph, which really isn’t that slow.

James Bond Added To The Aston Martin Mystique

James Bond Added To The Aston Martin Mystique
Markus Cuff/Corbis via Getty Images
Markus Cuff/Corbis via Getty Images

A variety of sports cars have been used in Hollywood films over the years, but few are as intrinsically linked to a movie franchise as Aston Martin is to the 007 films. Ask just about anybody what type of car James Bond drives, and he or she will respond, “Aston Martin.”

An Aston Martin is featured in most James Bond films except for some of the earlier installments. An Aston Martin DB5 made a memorable appearance in Goldfinger and was customized by Q. Other Aston Martins have appeared in Goldeneye, On Her Majesty’s Service, Casino Royale, and Skyfall.

The 2015 Bond Edition Aston Martin Sold Out Within Days

2015 Bond Edition Aston Martin
TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP via Getty Images
TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP via Getty Images

In 2015, Sony Pictures released the film Spectre, which featured an Aston Martin DB9 GT Bond Edition. It was silver with 007 sill plaques, a rear seat divider, and elaborate embroidery, along with several other aesthetic enhancements. It sold for $237,007 in the United States.

If you bought the car, you also got an Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra watch (worth over $17,000) and a Globe-Trotter luggage case (worth over $1,000). The car sold out within days, which proved how popular the film franchise and automaker are.

Aston Martin’s Signature Logo Is Not The Original

Aston Martin's Signature Logo
Jens Kalaene/picture alliance via Getty Images
Jens Kalaene/picture alliance via Getty Images

Most people recognize the Aston Martin logo, but the current version isn’t the only one the automaker has used over the years. The first emblem came out in 1920 and featured the capital letters A and M interlocking inside a circle. The logo was altered in 1927 and featured a pair of wings, which the designer based on the Egyptian scarab beetle (and perhaps Bentley’s logo, whose wings represented speed).

Sir David Brown added his name to the emblem when he bought the company, but it was changed again when he sold it. The current logo has been in place since 2003, and it too features wings.

Celebrities Love Aston Martins

Celebrities Love Aston Martins
Christian Vierig/Getty Images
Christian Vierig/Getty Images

Many celebrities own sports cars and luxury vehicles because they are able to afford such expensive vehicles. The rich and famous love Aston Martins, which are essentially status symbols. Only the wealthy and famous can afford such vehicles because they are so expensive.

And there are many well-known men and women who own them. Actors such as Ben Affleck and Halle Berry have had Aston Martins, as have director Steven Spielberg, comedian Eddie Murphy, and supermodel Elle MacPherson. Soccer star David Beckham, pictured here, also owns an Aston Martin.

World War I Interfered With Aston Martin’s Production

WWI version
Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

World War I put a kink in Aston Martin’s production process. While it designed its first car in 1915, the war kept the company from moving forward on production. Bamford and Martin wound up waiting several years before they produced their second car. After the war ended in 1918, they got back on track.

The duo moved from Henniker Mews to Abingdon Road, which used to be the Henniker Stables. The pair finally built its second car and began producing it in 1920. Shortly afterward, Bamford retired.

The Company Went Bankrupt After Count Louis Zebrowski Died In A Racing Event

Count Louis Zebrowski
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

During the 1920s, Aston Martin started creating a name for itself in motorsports. Part of this was due to the generosity of Count Louis Zebrowski (pictured here), who financially backed the company and helped it enter a variety of racing events. It aimed to enter the Le Mans and Grand Prix events in Europe.

Unfortunately, in 1924 during the Italian Grand Prix, the count died while racing an Aston Martin in the event. The company was devastated both financially and emotionally. Aston Martin went bankrupt.

A Woman Bought Aston Martin And Got It Back On Track

GettyImages-2468377
Michel Dufour/WireImage
Michel Dufour/WireImage

Bankruptcy could have destroyed Aston Martin. However, Lady Dorothea Charnwood (not pictured) saved the company by purchasing the business and placing her son, John Benson, on the board. By 1926, Charnwood, along with Augustus Bertelli and Bill Renwick, took over the day-to-day running of Aston Martin.

Bertelli, the technical director, designed all Aston Martin vehicles from 1926 to 1937. He was very talented, and any vehicle produced in that period was known as a Bertelli car, including the International, MKII, Ulster, Le Mans, and T-Type.

The Aston Martin Atom Was One Of The Earliest Fully Running Concept Cars

Silver Aston Martin
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

One of the automaker’s earliest successes was the Aston Martin Atom. The company’s lead engineer, Claud Hill, designed the prototype in 1939. The four-wheel-drive vehicle had an aluminum body, many advanced features, and was one of the first concept cars that actually ran.

People were dazzled by the car when it went on display at the London Moto Show in 1940. However, war interfered again. World War II started in 1939, and the car never made it into production. However, the prototype is worth a ton of money today.

After World War II, The Company Became Very Profitable

After World War II, The Company Became Very Profitable
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Entrepreneur Sir David Brown bought Aston Martin in 1947. Brown reportedly decided to purchase the company after driving the infamous Atom. Brown was a hard worker who used to ride a bike to work at his family’s business David Brown & Sons (Huddersfield), at the age of 17.

Later in life, he became a tractor manufacturer. After he acquired Aston Martin (for £20,500 GBP or $26,000), he was responsible for making the famous DB models (the name of which was inspired by his initials). The company was very profitable under Brown’s leadership.

The Brand Was Initially Not Good Enough For Formula One Racing

Race car
Charles Coates/Getty Images
Charles Coates/Getty Images

While Aston Martin has a reputation for being a luxury sports car manufacturer, it wasn’t always successful when it comes to motorsports events. Over the years, the company has tried to showcase its speed and power through the racing circuit.

In 1959 it made its debut at Formula One. It was not successful. While executives hoped to make its mark in the industry, they were sorely disappointed. The reason is that the cars were simply not up to the task.

The DB-4 Supercar Was A Massive Accomplishment

DB-4 Supercar
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

The automaker launched the DB-4 in 1959, the same year that it failed to impress on the Formula One circuit. The DB-4 was a genuine supercar, and it made huge waves in the industry among critics and consumers alike. The DB-4 had a 3.7 engine and could reach a speed of 155 mph.

The DB-4’s cylinder head and block were cast in aluminum alloy, and it also featured a double overhead cam straight-six. The DB-4 cemented Aston Martin as a top racing marque.

The DB Series Propelled Aston Martin To A Higher Level

DB Series
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Everyone loved the DB series, so it was no surprise that the automaker made several versions of the model, including the DB4 GT Zagato sports car. It included Italian modifications that boosted its performance. Only 19 cars were produced in a limited-edition series, and they’re still in existence.

Then came the DB5, which appeared in a James Bond film, making it very popular. It featured a four-liter engine with 282 horsepower. In order to compete with Maserati and Ferrari, Aston Martin went on to make the DBS and DBS Vantage.

The Aston Martin Lagonda Became One Of Its Longest-Running Models

The Aston Martin Lagonda Became One Of Its Longest-Running Models
Wikipedia Commons Public Domain
Wikipedia Commons Public Domain

One of the car maker’s most memorable models is the Aston Martin Lagonda, which was produced between 1974 and 1990. It became one of the company’s longest-standing models. It was known for its wedge shape, which was unusual at the time but later became a standard design for many sports cars.

The Lagonda had a 5.3-liter, V-8 engine that produced 290 horsepower. It was a luxury, four-door saloon with a Chrysler three-speed “torque fleet” automatic transmission.

Aston Martin Suffered Some Setbacks In The 1970s

Aston Martin Suffered Some Setbacks In The 1970s
Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Sir David Brown sold Aston Martin in 1972 to Company Development Ltd. One of the biggest changes was that the classic Aston Martin DB models were discontinued, marking a huge transition for the automaker. The problem was the new management had a hard time coping with the economic climate of the era.

Shortly after purchasing Aston Martin, the new buyers nearly put it into liquidation. The legendary British automaker was close to the brink for the following six years.

Despite The Economic Crisis, Aston Martin Produced Some Great Quality Cars

Prince Charles in Aston Martin
Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images
Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

The entire automotive industry suffered in the 1970s. And while it struggled financially alongside its rivals, Aston Martin continued to build sports cars. Its models included the Volante brand for cabriolet and the Vantage brand for its coupes.

These vehicles had 5.3-liter V-8 engines and 390 horsepower. They were also equipped with special features, including a direct injection system and an automatic gearbox. Even though Aston Martin produced high-quality cars, it struggled financially until the 1990s.

Aston Martin Thrived Under Ford Motor Company

Aston Martin Thrived Under Ford Motor Company
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

In the late 1980s, Ford Motor Company bought Aston Martin, and this time the change of ownership led to great success. During the seventies, Aston Martin focused on producing a limited run of luxury models because it simply lacked the funds to expand. When Ford intervened, its financial situation changed drastically.

By the mid-nineties, Aston Martin sold over 700 vehicles a year instead of 100. Ford bought the DB designation and in 1993 released the grand tourer DB-7, which had a V-6 engine with 335 horsepower. In 2007, Ford sold Aston Martin to a group of investors for a whopping $925 million.

Nobody Wanted The Aston Martin Sygnet

Aston Martin Sygnet
Wikipedia Commons Public Domain
Wikipedia Commons Public Domain

When European emission regulations became standard, Aston Martin recoiled a bit because it realized most of its vehicles would not be in compliance, which would affect its European sales. Company execs came up with an imaginative strategy to bypass the standards.

This led to the creation of the Aston Martin Sygnet, basically a Toyota iQ that was turned into a luxury supermini. It failed to catch on with consumers, who didn’t want to pay that much for a vehicle that was essentially a Toyota. Aston Martin wound up discontinuing the model after just 143 were sold.