150 Aston Martins rumble into London
There is a wonderfully romantic narrative to the rise of Aston Martin, from inauspicious beginnings in a London depot where two friends decided to formalise the building of a small sportscar, to a company that now counts a Rs 10 crore, 750bhp bespoke hypercar as the pinnacle of its achievements.
This year, as you've probably worked out by now, is the 100th anniversary of Aston; 100 years since cycling chums Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford turned the Hesse & Savory automobile and marine engineers depot into a pantheon of power.
Well, a space to build their little lightweight cars that they'd race at the Aston Hill climb. The company was formally created on 15 January 1913, and thus, throughout 2013 so far, Aston has been throwing one helluva party, yesterday culminating in a mass gathering in Kensington Park Gardens, just down the road from the spiritual home of Aston.
And this was no ordinary mass gathering. It was - fact alert - the largest gathering of Aston Martins... in the world. In history. In ever. This was to be the beginning then, of a very loud and very auspicious day, marking the high point of a year dedicated to all things AM.
150 models were on display in the splendiferous Kensington grounds, with hundreds more descending on London in a swarm of noise and carbon fibre and power, documenting a very vivid, intriguing story. Founders Martin and Bamford originally started out building 10hp hill climb specials; today, the company builds the 565bhp V12 Vanquish; a car that emits a banshee howl of unspecified shoutiness capable of sending my dog scurrying for cover under the kitchen table. It's bloody loud.
‘Twas not always so, though. Legend has it Lionel owned a Rolls, but didn't like the fact it made the hill climb ‘effortless'. He wanted to graft for his reward, so set to work on a lightweight sportscar that demanded a bit more skill with the gearbox to extract maximum performance. A Coventry-Climax engine was slotted onto an Isotta Fraschini chassis and tested in 1914, and it wasn't until 1915 that the very first Aston Martin, the ‘Coal Scuttle', was revealed.
Of course, the story of Aston since inception is a spectacle worthy of the titular hero with which it has now become inextricably ingrained, full of drama, death-defying returns and heroic flourishes. For example, in 1922, as well as competing in the French GP for the first time, ‘Bunny' - an Aston prototype - broke ten world records when it averaged 122kph at Brooklands. Just three years later the company was close to insolvency, then rescued, renamed Aston Martin Motors, and relocated to Feltham. Lionel Martin was to leave the business he co-founded just a year later.
Le Mans success followed, preceded by another rescue of the company in 1932, but it wasn't until 1947 that we get to the ‘David Brown' era; the gentleman whose initials have adorned Astons since, all of which were on display in Kensington. Everything right up to the Bond DB5 (there was a special Bond section on show) and beyond, eliciting illuminating reactions from the crowd.
A young lady milling around noted how she "loved the early 1950s cars and the new ones", omitting a large chunk of Vantage, original DBS, Lagonda and Virage history. An elderly gentleman, out with his wife, told me how "they don't make them like the DB5 anymore", while Fred, a former Aston owner himself, now in his seventies, "loved the DB2 because of its aesthetic appeal. Nothing since has come close to it."
A DBS owner was admiring the Bertone Jet 2+2 - the very same Rs 10 crore one-off that TopGear drove a while back - and noted how it was "bloody lovely - why isn't Aston making that full time?" We posited the same question after driving it...
Elsewhere, a knowledgeable chap who brought down a classic V8 Volante to display couldn't be budged from the One-77. "Every Aston tells a unique story," he tells me, without removing his gaze from the 77. In fact, not many could, its presence far overshadowing everything else on display - including the roofless DBR1 tribute, the CC100. It almost felt like a cruel joke by Aston to sit a Cygnet next to it (though a chic young city couple waltzing by seemed very interested in the little iQ). And this was an exhibition that featured a special motorsport section dedicated to fallen Aston racer Allan Simonsen, a selection of James Bond cars, and a live band stringing out Bond anthems all afternoon, adding a touch of cinematic stardust to what was, overall, a thoroughly enjoyable, scorchingly hot and very TopGear kind of garden party. There was much horsepower on display. And a lot of class.
Have a click through the pics above and tell us your favourite Aston from the display. We'll have more from Aston's big centenary event later this week - including an interview with design chief Marek Reichman (he penned the One-77 and CC100 Speedster) - so check back for more.
(Words: Vijay Pattni, Photography: Aston Martin)