The Classic Car Trust’s “DB Cars exhibition” at Rétromobile 2017
As we wrote in a previous report, Retromobile 2017 was a huge success, both in terms of the public it attracted and the quality of the cars on show. What is more, for us at The Classic Car Trust, this year’s Retromobile exhibition was a particularly memorable one. Indeed, as a tribute to Sir David Brown, we organized a very special stand, devoted to Aston Martins from 1947 to 1971, the period he was at the company’s helm.
David Brown (1904–1993)
When wealthy industrialist David Brown bought the Aston Martin Company in 1947, he not only saved it from the bankruptcy, but also inaugurated what was to prove to be the most significant period in the firm’s history so far. The market position still enjoyed by Aston Martin cars today stems from the reputation they earned under his tenure, and the historic racing successes recorded by the company in the 1950s and 1960s are part of the reason the brand remains resplendent today. Brown’s interest in engines and mechanics spanned several different sectors. Tractor manufacturing (in partnership with Harry Ferguson) was one of his first lines of business, prior to embarking on the manufacturing of AM supercars. From the outset, Brown was keen to get Aston Martin involved in racing, and he was immediately successful in this intent: the DB1, of which only 15 road cars were built at the end of 1940s, was a direct result of his commitment and determination.
The DB2 followed in 1950 and was the first “modern” AM to be equipped with the, now legendary, six-cylinder Lagonda engine. David Brown actually went as far as buying the Lagonda company, precisely in order to have access to its new six-cylinder engine. The move to the Newport Pagnell site in 1955 and the arrival of the DB4 in 1958 were two events that marked the start of the golden era of AM, which saw the establishment of international partnerships and brought enormous success both on the sales front and on the racetrack. This was also the period that brought the DB5 (the evolution of the DB4), whose immortality is guaranteed thanks to its starring role as 007 James Bond’s car. Brown sold the company in 1972 — it was already clear that the 1970s were not going to be easy years for supercar manufacturers —, but he left the company with a great legacy: the DBS model, the new V8 engine, and a strong and structured corporate organization.
The cars on our stand
Aston Martin DB1, 1950. The eleventh of the only 15 cars built, painted in British Racing Green on beige interior, this car was originally delivered in Switzerland to Count Jacques de Wursemberger, who used it to race in the Rally des Alpes the same year. Restored some years ago, it has never changed hands and is therefore still in Switzerland with its first owner, who has made it a feature at the Hervé Foundation, his automotive museum in Aigle.
Aston Martin DB2/4 Mk II, 1956. One of the only 146 of this model built, this car, painted in red on black interior, was sold new in Switzerland, where it has remained ever since. It is believed to have had only three owners from new.
Aston Martin DB3S, 1955. The DB3S, which typifies the “racing Astons”, is one of the most revered sports cars of all times. This one was originally painted in white, with black seats, but was subsequently repainted in its current dark blue. It was sold new to a Mr Chan Lye Choon, and enjoyed a long and successful racing career in Macao, Hong Kong and Singapore, where it competed from 1955 to 1961. It has been in the same Swiss ownership for the past 25 years.
Aston Martin DB4 Drophead, 1960. One of the just 70 built, this specimen is painted in the striking Midnight Blue color. It still has its original red interior, in preserved condition, which shows a wonderful patina. It was originally delivered in the UK, before spending some decades in Belgium, and is now in Switzerland.
Aston Martin DB4 Vantage, 1963. This car, one of the 62 in the series built with left hand drive, is painted in Silver Birch on green interior. Today, it is an exhibit at the Emil Frey Museum in Switzerland.
Aston Martin DB4 GT, 1960. One of the only 30 DB4 GTs built in LHD configuration (out of the grand total of 75 pieces manufactured), this car was originally ordered by Hubert Patthey, the official Aston Martin dealer for the Swiss market, to be delivered to an American citizen. It was originally in black with beige interior, but is now upholstered in black. This DB4 GT spent its early years in the USA, where it was re-painted in red and the seat leather was replaced with the correct type, but in black. The car returned to Switzerland in 1995 where its paintwork was soon restored to the original color, while the black leather upholstery was retained. Not long ago, it entered a collection in Liechtenstein. It is interesting to note that for the past 22 years the maintenance of this car has been done by the same shop.
Aston Martin DB5 Saloon, 1965. This car was originally delivered to the Shah of Persia, in Silver Birch on blue interior. It was restored in 2004, but kept its original interior. It has been in its current Belgian ownership for the past10 years.
Aston Martin DB5 Drophead, 1965. Of the 123 DB5 Dropheads produced, only 19 were built with LHD and this car is one of them. It was originally painted in Primrose Yellow (a rare color that it still wears today even after restoration) on black interior. It is part of a Dutch collection.
Aston Martin DB5, 1965. Boasting chassis number #2008/R, this is one of the most famous cars in the world. Originally registered to the manufacturer, it was then sold to Eon Production Limited, which used it in some of the 007 movies, including the most famous one Goldfinger. It was subsequently sold to Sir Anthony Bamford. Today, still wearing its trademark color scheme of Silver Birch on olive green leather interior, it is in fully restored condition. Remarkably, James Bond’s famous car is still in working condition, with all the “utilities” installed by Q still functioning perfectly. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to test the machine guns and were also unable to find a volunteer willing to sit in the ejector seat! For many years now, this car has been part of a private Swiss collection.
Aston Martin DB6 Vantage, 1966. This car was delivered new in Paris to French writer Françoise Sagan, but formally registered, like all her cars, in the name of her brother, Jacques Quoirez. Françoise’s real name was, in fact, Quoirez; Sagan was her “nom de plume”. This Fiesta Red DB6, still with its original black interior, was discovered in the early 1970s with a broken gearbox and imported to Switzerland, where it was stored in Lausanne for 41 years. After this long “hibernation”, it was sold to its current Swiss owner, who recently restored it.
Aston Martin DBS FI, 1969. This six-cylinder DBS, originally fitted with fuel injection, is one of the very few cars that have not subsequently been converted to carburetor. This Midnight Blue with tan interior car is currently in the Emil Frey Museum.
Aston Martin DBS V8, 1971. This car, in Medium Blue on blue interior, is an export version of the first Aston Martin model equipped with a V8 engine. About 400 specimens of this car were built, and this is one of the 135 delivered in LHD configuration. It was sold new in the USA and is now part of a Swiss collection.
Many looked puzzled on spotting a Volvo P1800 on our stand celebrating Aston Martin’s David Brown years. There was, of course, a reason for this “alien” presence, and this brings us to one of the less well-known stories from the period. In late 1960, David Brown decided to have his technicians explore the opportunities offered by a smaller engine, the intention being, in the main, to create an engine to be offered to other manufacturers, nor for use on the smaller Aston Martins. Tadek Marek’s team came up with a four-cylinder, 2.5-liter, DOHC engine, capable of delivering around 150 HP, with the internal code number 208. Three units were manufactured for early tests, and one of them needed to be installed in a “real car” to simulate real usage. Any thoughts of using an Aston Martin as the test bed were soon discarded, the in-house cars being considered too big and heavy to test such an engine. In the end, the choice fell on a Jensen manufactured 1961 Volvo P1800. This choice had an added advantage: as well as giving the engineers a car to put the new unit in, it also made Volvo aware of the project, and the people at Aston Martin hoped that the Swedish company’s curiosity might be aroused. However, the project did not develop as hoped: Volvo soon declared that it was not interested, and the car was put in storage in an Aston Martin warehouse where it remained for years before finally being sold, still with its unique engine installed. This, in a nutshell, is the history of the restored Volvo P1800 exhibited by The Classic Car Trust in Paris. It is rumored that another P1800 received one of the three engines a few years ago, while the whereabouts of the third engine has remained a mystery ever since it was built.
Even allowing for the fact that its size was enhanced by its freshly restored white paintwork, we are talking big! It didn’t take us long to realize that the 1966 David Brown DB990 Selectamatic Tractor was the mascot of our stand, being almost as photographed as the cars. Unfortunately, it has so far proved impossible to establish where it worked before being purchased and restored by an Aston Martin collector. Despite this gap in its history, this model has far more than symbolic value. It worth remembering that, in total, 4600 of these “monsters” were built from 1961 to 1970, and that part of the Brown’s family fortune came from the tractors that David Brown himself started to manufacture in 1936, in partnership with Ferguson. Furthermore, as a result of the company’s wartime switch to the production of military vehicles, its production plant became one of the most important and advanced in the world. In 1961, a new model, the DB 990 Implematic, with a four-cylinder, 3.2-liter Diesel engine, went into production, followed a year later by the Selectamatic, equipped with an automatic transmission.
Looking at the stand from a certain angle, it was possible to see six cars perfectly lined up under the watchful eyes of Sir David Brown, pictured in a photograph. We hope he approved of our efforts and felt rightly proud of the remarkable results of his many years’ work at Aston Martin. Without visionary entrepreneurs like him, we motoring enthusiasts would have far less to feed our dreams, and for that alone we owe him a huge thank you! We feel proud to have been in the fortunate position of being able to bring together so many beautiful and historically important cars to represent us, and if one person alone has discovered a new interest in Aston Martin and David Brown after visiting our space at Rétromobile, then we achieved what we set out to do.
The success of any undertaking, but especially a rather “crazy” project like the one we came up with, obviously depends on the contribution, knowledge and expertise of many people.
For this reason, a special thank you goes to François Melcion and Eric Le Moine, and to the best “partner in crime” ever, Beat Ross of Aston Martin Heritage, for his always kind support and invaluable suggestions. Thank you, too, to Emil Frey Classic for its support, and to the Emil Frey Classic Car Museum for the loan of some of their most important and valuable pieces. Car Logistic took care of all the movement of the cars, offering not only their considerable experience, but also guaranteeing amazing care and attention to detail, which allowed us to be secure in the knowledge that these historical artifacts were in safe hands. Hagerty Insurance also helped a great deal, giving both us and the owners of the cars the peace of mind that we were always well “protected” should anything happen.
Marina Sitte and Maximilian Scheiff were the “The Classic Car Trust” faces at the stand and, their good-natured smiles, despite each day’s long hours, were noticed and admired by everyone passing by. Last but not least, we wish to thank all the collectors who entrusted us and Fritz Kaiser of Kaiser Partner with their “treasures”. Without Fritz, with his passion and love for classic cars, and Aston Martin of course, none of the above would have been possible.
All photos courtesy of Julien Mahiels, except group photo of Thierry Thomassin.