Aston Martin was founded in 1913 by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford. The two had joined forces as Bamford & Martin the previous year to sell cars made by Singer from premises in Callow Street, London where they also serviced GWK and Calthorpe vehicles. Martin raced specials at Aston Hill near Aston Clinton, and the pair decided to make their own vehicles. The first car to be named Aston Martin was created by Martin by fitting a four-cylinder Coventry-Simplex engine to the chassis of a 1908 Isotta-Fraschini.
They acquired premises at Henniker Mews in Kensington and produced their first car in March 1915. Production could not start because of the outbreak of World War I, and Martin joined the Admiralty and Bamford the Royal Army Service Corps. All machinery was sold to the Sopwith Aviation Company.
After the war, the company was refounded at Abingdon Road, Kensington and a new car designed to carry the Aston-Martin name. Bamford left in 1920 and the company was revitalised with funding from Count Louis Zborowski. In 1922, Bamford & Martin produced cars to compete in the French Grand Prix, which went on to set world speed and endurance records at Brooklands. Three works Team Cars with 16-valve twin cam engines were built for racing and record breaking: chassis number 1914, later developed as the Green Pea; chassis number 1915, the Razor Blade record car; and chassis number 1916, later developed as the Halford Special.
Approximately 55 cars were built for sale in two configurations, long chassis and short chassis. The company went bankrupt in 1924 and was bought by Lady Charnwood, who put her son John Benson on the board. The company failed again in 1925 and the factory closed in 1926, with Lionel Martin leaving.
Later that year, Bill Renwick, Augustus (Bert) Bertelli and investors which included Lady Charnwood took control of the company. They renamed it Aston Martin Motors and moved it to the former Whitehead Aircraft Limited works in Feltham. Renwick and Bertelli had been in partnership some years and had developed an overhead-cam four-cylinder engine using Renwick's patented combustion chamber design, which they had tested in an Enfield-Allday chassis. The only "Renwick and Bertelli" motor car made, it was known as "Buzzbox" and still survives.
The pair had planned to sell their engine to motor manufacturers, but having heard that the Aston Martin was no longer in production realised they could capitalise on its reputation to jump start the production of a completely new car.
Between 1926 and 1937 Bertelli was both technical director and designer of all new Aston Martins, since known as "Bertelli cars". They included the 1½-litre "T-type", "International", "Le Mans", "MKII" and its racing derivative, the "Ulster", and the 2-litre 15/98 and its racing derivative, the "Speed Model". Most were open two-seater sports cars bodied by Bert Bertelli's brother Enrico (Harry), with a small number of long-chassis four-seater tourers, dropheads and saloons also produced.
Bertelli was a competent driver keen to race his cars, one of few owner/manufacturer/drivers. The "LM" team cars were very successful in national and international motor racing including at Le Mans and the Mille Miglia.
Financial problems reappeared in 1932. The company was rescued for a year by L. Prideaux Brune before passing it on to Sir Arthur Sutherland. In 1936, Aston Martin decided to concentrate on road cars, producing just 700 until World War II halted work. Production shifted to aircraft components during the war.
In 1947, tractor manufacturer David Brown Limited bought the company under the leadership of managing director Sir David Brown—its "post-war saviour". The company also acquired Lagonda that year for its 2.6-litre W. O. Bentley-designed engine. Both companies shared resources and workshops, leading to the classic "DB" series of cars. In 1950, the company announced the DB2, followed by the DB2/4 in 1953, the DB2/4 MkII in 1955, the DB Mark III in 1957 and the Italian-styled 3.7 L DB4 in 1958.
While these models helped Aston Martin establish a good racing pedigree, the DB4 stood out and yielded the famous DB5 in 1963. The company stayed true to its emerging "grand touring" style with the DB6 (1965–70), and DBS (1967–1972).
The six-cylinder engines of these cars from 1954 up to 1965 were designed by Tadek Marek.
The Aston Martin company was often financially troubled. In 1972, the firm was sold to Company Developments, a Birmingham-based consortium chaired by William Wilson, MBE.
The company was resold in 1975 by its receiver following a further bankruptcy to North American businessmen Peter Sprague and George Minden for £1.05 million. A successful turn-around strategy led to the recruitment of 360 new employees and, by 1977, a trading profit of £750,000. The new owners pushed the company into modernising its line, producing the V8 Vantage in 1977, the convertible Volante in 1978, and the one-off William Towns-styled Bulldog in 1980. Towns also styled the futuristic new Lagonda saloon, based on the V8 model.
In 1980 Aston-Martin sought to buy MG, planning to design a new model and offering their take on an updated 1981 model MGB. The acquisition never developed, as the company was badly hit by the economic contraction of the early 1980s. Worldwide sales shrank to three cars per week, prompting chairman Alan Curtis, Sprague, and Minden to consider shutting down production to concentrate on service and restoration. At this point Curtis attended the 1980 Pace sponsored Stirling Moss benefit day at Brands Hatch, and met fellow Farnham resident Victor Gauntlett.
Gauntlett bought a 12.5% stake in Aston Martin for £500,000 via Pace Petroleum in 1980, with Tim Hearley of CH Industrials taking a similar share. Pace and CHI took over as joint 50/50 owners at the beginning of 1981, with Gauntlett as executive chairman. Gauntlett also led the sales team, and after some development and publicity when it became the world's fastest 4-seater production car, was able to sell the Aston Martin Lagonda in Oman, Kuwait, and Qatar.
In 1982, Aston Martin was granted a Royal Warrant of Appointment by the Prince of Wales. The company holds the warrant to this day.
Understanding that it would take some time to develop new Aston Martin products, they created an engineering service subsidiary to develop automotive products for other companies. It was decided to use the name of the coachbuilding company Tickford which Aston Martin had owned since 1955, the name being already associated with quality cars in the public perception. Products included a Tickford Austin Metro, a Tickford Ford Capri and even Tickford train interiors, particularly on the Jaguar XJS. Pace continued sponsoring racing events, and now sponsored all Aston Martin Owners Club events, taking a Tickford-engined Nimrod Group C car owned by AMOC President Viscount Downe, which came third in the Manufacturers Championship in both 1982 and 1983. It also finished seventh in the 1982 24 Hours of Le Mans race. However, sales of production cars were now at an all-time low of 30 cars produced in 1982.
As trading became tighter in the petroleum market, and Aston Martin was requiring more time and money, Gauntlett agreed to sell Hays/Pace to the Kuwait Investment Office in September 1983. As Aston Martin required greater investment, he also agreed to sell his share holding to American importer and Greek shipping tycoon Peter Livanos, who invested via his joint venture company with Nick and John Papanicolaou, ALL Inc. Gauntlett remained chairman of the AML company 55% owned by ALL, with Tickford a 50/50 venture between ALL and CHI. The uneasy relationship was ended when ALL exercised options to buy a larger share in AML; CHI's residual shares were exchanged for CHI's complete ownership of Tickford, which retained development of existing Aston Martin projects. In 1984, Titan the main shipping company of the Papanicolaou's was in trouble, so Livanos's father George bought out the Papanicolaou's shares in ALL, while Gauntlett again became a shareholder with a 25% holding in AML. The deal valued Aston Martin/AML at £2 million, the year it built its 10,000th car.
Although as a result Aston Martin had to make 60 members of the workforce redundant, Gauntlett bought a stake in Italian styling house Zagato, and resurrected its collaboration with Aston Martin.
In 1986, Gauntlett negotiated the return of fictional British secret agent James Bond to Aston Martin. Cubby Broccoli had chosen to recast the character using actor Timothy Dalton, in an attempt to re-root the Bond-brand back to a more Sean Connery-like feel. Gauntlett supplied his personal pre-production Vantage for use in the filming of The Living Daylights, and sold a Volante to Broccoli for use at his home in America. Gauntlett turned down the role of a KGB colonel in the film, however: "I would have loved to have done it but really could not afford the time."
The company needed funds to survive in the long term. In May 1987, Gauntlett and Prince Michael of Kent were staying at the home of Contessa Maggi, the wife of the founder of the original Mille Miglia, while watching the revival event. Another house guest was Walter Hayes, vice-President of Ford of Europe. Despite problems over the previous acquisition of AC Cars, Hayes saw the potential of the brand and the discussion resulted in Ford taking a share holding in September 1987. In 1988, having produced some 5,000 cars in 20 years, a revived economy and successful sales of limited edition Vantage, and 52 Volante Zagato coupes at £86,000 each; the company finally retired the ancient V8 and introduced the Virage range—the first new Aston launched in 20 years.
Although Gauntlett was contractually to stay as chairman for two years, his racing interests took Aston back into sports car racing in 1989 with limited European success. However, with engine rule changes for the 1990 season and the launch of the new Aston Martin Volante model, Ford provided the limited supply of Cosworth engines to the Jaguar cars racing team. As the "small Aston" DB7 would require a large engineering input, Ford agreed to take full control of Aston Martin, and Gauntlett handed over the company chairmanship to Hayes in 1991. In 1992, the Vantage version was announced, and the following year the company renewed the DB range by announcing the DB7.
Ford placed Aston in the Premier Automotive Group, invested in new manufacturing and ramped up production. In 1994, Ford opened a new factory at Banbury Road in Bloxham. In 1995, the company produced a record 700 vehicles. Until the Ford era, cars had been produced by hand coachbuilding craft methods, such as the English wheel. In 1998 the 2,000th DB7 was built, and in 2002 the 6,000th, exceeding production of all previous DB models. The DB7 range was boosted by the addition of V12 Vantage models in 1999, and in 2001 the company introduced the V12-engined Aston Martin Vanquish.
At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan in 2003, Aston Martin introduced the AMV8 Vantage concept car. Expected to have few changes before its introduction in 2005, the Vantage brought back the classic V8 engine to allow the company to compete in a larger market. 2003 also saw the opening of the Gaydon factory, the first purpose-built factory in Aston Martin's history. Also introduced in 2003 was the DB9 coupé, which replaced the ten-year-old DB7. A convertible version of the DB9, the DB9 Volante, was introduced at the 2004 Detroit Auto Show.
In October 2004, the company set up the dedicated 12,500 square metres (135,000 sq ft) AMEP engine production plant within the Ford Germany Niehl, Cologne plant. With capacity to produce up to 5,000 engines a year by 100 specially trained personnel, like traditional Aston Martin engine production from Newport Pagnell, assembly of each unit is entrusted to a single technician from a pool of 30, with V8 and V12 variants assembled in under 20 hours. By bringing engine production back to within the company, the promise was that Aston Martin would be able to produce small runs of higher performance variants engines. This expanded engine capacity allowed in 2006, the V8 Vantage sports car to enter production at the Gaydon factory, joining the DB9 and DB9 Volante.
In December 2003 Aston Martin announced it would return to motor racing in 2005. A new division was created, called Aston Martin Racing, which became responsible, together with Prodrive, for the design, development, and management of the DBR9 program. The DBR9 competes in the GT class in sports car races, including the world-famous 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In 2006, an internal audit led Ford to consider divesting itself of parts of its Premier Automotive Group. After suggestions of selling Jaguar Cars, Land Rover, or Volvo Cars were weighed, Ford announced in August 2006 it had engaged UBS AG to sell all or part of Aston Martin at auction.
On 12 March 2007, a consortium led by Prodrive chairman David Richards purchased Aston Martin for £475m (US$848m). The group included American investment banker John Singers and two Kuwaiti companies, Investment Dar and Adeem Investment; Prodrive had no financial involvement in the deal. Ford kept a stake in the company valued at £40m (US$70m).
To demonstrate the V8 Vantage's durability across hazardous terrain and promote the car in China, the first east-west crossing of the Asian Highway was undertaken between June and August 2007. A pair of Britons drove 12,089 km (7,512 miles) from Tokyo to Istanbul before joining the European motorway network for another 3,259 km (2,025 miles) to London. The promotion was so successful the company opened dealerships in Shanghai and Beijing within three months.
On 19 July 2007, the Newport Pagnell plant rolled out the last of nearly 13,000 cars made there since 1955, a Vanquish S. The Tickford Street facility was converted to Aston Martin's service and restoration department. UK production is now concentrated at Gaydon on the former RAF V-bomber airfield. In March 2008 the company announced a partnership with Magna Steyr to outsource manufacture of over 2,000 cars annually to Graz, Austria, reassuringly stating: "The continuing growth and success of the company is based upon Gaydon as the focal point and heart of the business, with the design and engineering of all Aston Martin products continuing to be carried out there."
More dealers in Europe and the new pair in China brought the total to 120 in 28 countries.
On 1 September 2008, Aston Martin announced the revival of the Lagonda marque, proposing a concept to be shown in 2009 to coincide with the brand's 100th anniversary. The first production cars are slated for 2012.
In December 2008, Aston Martin announced it would cut its workforce from 1,850 to 1,250.
The first four-door Aston Martin Rapide sports cars rolled out of the Magna Steyr factory in Graz, Austria in 2010. The contract manufacturer provides dedicated facilities to ensure compliance with the exacting standards of Aston Martin and other marques, including Mercedes-Benz. Ulrich Bez has publicly speculated about outsourcing all of Aston Martin's operations with the exception of marketing. In September 2011 it was announced Rapide production would be returned to Gaydon in the second half of 2012, restoring all manufacture there.
In late 2012, Investment Dar reviewed its stake, with Mahindra & Mahindra emerging as a potential bidder for as much as half of Aston Martin. Instead, Italian private equity fund Investindustrial signed a deal on 6 December 2012 to buy 37.5% of Aston Martin, investing £150 million as a capital increase. This was confirmed by Aston Martin in a press release on 7 December 2012. In April 2013 it was reported that Dr Ulrich Bez would be leaving his role as chief executive officer to take up a more ambassadorial position widely seen as the first move by the new shareholders in reviewing the leadership and strategy of the company. On 2 September 2014, Aston Martin announced they had appointed the Nissan executive Andy Palmer as their new CEO with Ulrich Bez retaining a position as Non-Executive Chairman. As sales had been declining, from 2015 Aston Martin sought new customers (particularly wealthy female buyers) with cars like Lagonda and DBX while releasing concepts cars like the Vulcan.
It is reported that Aston Martin's pre-tax losses for 2016 increased by 27 percent to £ 162.8 million, the sixth year it continued to suffer a loss.
In 2013 Aston Martin signed a deal with Daimler AG to supply the next generation Aston Martin cars with new Mercedes-AMG engines. Daimler AG now owns 5% of Aston Martin. Mercedes-AMG will also supply Aston Martin with electrical systems. This technical partnership will support Aston Martin’s launch of a new generation of models that will incorporate new technology and V8s. The first model to sport Mercedes technology is the DB11, announced at the 2016 Geneva Motor, sporting Mercedes electronics for the entertainment, navigation and other systems.
Aston Martin sponsors 2. Bundesliga club 1860 Munich.