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Aston Martin DB7

Aston Martin DB7

By Jack Nerad

Aston Martin DB7

If the marque were called Bamford Martin would it have the same panache?  How about if it were called simply Ford Martin?  Would the automotive cognoscenti find it equally appealing?  Truth be told, either name would be as apropos as the legendary Aston Martin moniker, just as the DB initials signify Aston Martin's significant debt to David Brown, the man who put a more distinctive stamp on the marque than even its founders.

Those founders, Robert Bamford and Lionel Martin, certainly didn't set out to create a legendary automobile brand.  In fact, most of the time it didn't seem as if they cared much about creating any kind of brand at all.  The duo completed their first car in 1914, but didn't register it with the British government until 1915.  After that, they didn't build a second car until 1920, not exactly a roaring start.

Of the two, Bamford was the engineer, while Martin was more the pure driver, and both men competed fairly successfully in hill climbs, which were the test of a vehicle's mettle in the World War I era.  After competing in Singers, the honchos at Bamford & Martin Ltd, as their desultory automotive enterprise was called, decided to build their own car to compete with the best of the breed. As Martin described it, what he wanted to build was "a quality car of good performance and appearance, a car for the discerning owner-driver with fast touring in mind."

The car that emanated from this vision, called unceremoniously "Coal Scuttle," was built on a modified Isotta-Fraschini chassis and was powered by a 1400cc Coventry Simplex engine hooked up to a four-speed gearbox. The vehicle's stout engine and light weight helped it achieve a top speed of about 70 mph and an enviable record in competition. But when Britain went to war Bamford & Martin quit making cars until Bamford retired.  That left Martin in control, and he renamed the company Aston Martin, taking part of its name from the then-famous Aston Clinton hill climb.

In the 1920's Aston Martin constructed a handful of dual overhead cam four-cylinder racing cars that garnered attention in Britain and on the Continent. One model, dubbed "Bunny," made a 16-and-a-half hour endurance run at Brooklands, setting a world record with an average speed of 76.2 miles per hour. Despite this little piece of notability, though, the company floundered from owner to owner like a stray dog.

In 1939, well into its fourth regime, Aston Martin developed a prototype that featured an independent front suspension and a Cotal electric pre-selector gearbox. But another World War got in the way, and Aston Martin again seemed one step from receivership. Then David Brown became the company's savior, and, eventually, its guiding light.

Under Brown's leadership an Aston Martin Two-Litre won the Spa 24-Hour Endurance race in 1948, which re-burnished the car's image. Then David Brown found more critical mass with the acquisition of Lagonda, making Aston Martin nearly relevant as the Fifties dawned.  Aston Martin thus gained access to the 2.6-liter six-cylinder Lagonda engine, which had been designed by the legendary W.O. Bentley, fitted it in a revised Two-Litre chassis. The car was dubbed the DB2 and introduced to the public in 1950.

The original DB2 was a pure two-seater sports car, but over the years, as the company chased more volume, it was built as a 2+2 "fixed head" (coupe) version as well. In 1958 Aston Martin produced what some would call the best all-around GT car of its era, the DB4. With a hand-made, all-aluminum body designed by Touring of Milan, the coupe was a lesson in classic tailoring. Its front end was dominated by a fender-to-fender grille flanked by two round headlights, and its understated style bespoke sophistication.

In keeping with its high-performance profile, the DB4's bodywork was as functional as it was beautiful.  Created by Aston Martin general manager John Wyer, chassis engineer Harold Beach and engine designer Tadek Marek, the model was built in the "superleggera" manner (Italian for super-light). Fitted on a rigid steel tube frame, the lightweight panels allowed its designers to keep the car's weight at a svelte 2800 pounds.

Pulsing under the long hood was an in-line six-cylinder engine displacing 3670 cubic centimeters (224 cubic inches). The Marek-designed power plant delivered 263 horsepower at a heady 5700 rpm, while peak torque of 245 pound-feet came at 4000 rpm. The sprint from zero to 60 miles per hour took some 8.5 seconds, not stellar in today's terms, but excellent for a long-legged tourer circa 1959.  Better yet the top speed was some 140 miles per hour.

In 1964 displacement climbed to four liters, enough to gain it the new designation DB5.  It was that model that fictitious spy and ladies' man James Bond piloted in the movies "Goldfinger" and "Thunderball." But while the Sixties were good to Aston Martin, the Seventies and Eighties were nearly disastrous.  Just as the marque switched to V-8 power, the first Oil Crisis hit, sending sales skittering.  Then right as recovery seemed to be taking place, a second Oil Crisis in 1979-80, sent Aston Martin reeling.

The company staggered into the 1990s when Ford Motor Company rode to the rescue.  The sudden influx of much-needed cash allowed Aston Martin to conceive a proper successor to the aging DB6, and the resulting model was introduced at the Geneva Motor Show in 1993.

Below the skin the new model bore a close resemblance to the Jaguar XJS, not surprising since the blue oval of Ford also reigned at Jaguar.  The exterior styling of the new DB7 also had some echoes of Jag, but the big difference lay under the shapely "bonnet."  TWR, a close relative of Jaguar, developed an all-new 3.2-liter (195 cubic inch) in-line six cylinder engine, armed with sequential fuel injection, four valves per cylinder and, topping it all, an Eaton supercharger.  All this - a perfect variation on the Aston Martin theme-resulted in 335 horsepower at 5,750 rpm and 400 pound-feet of torque available at just 3,000 rpm.  The DB7 was no lightweight at 3,800 pounds, but the supercharged powerplant could still pull the gentleman's coupe from zero to 60 miles per hour in less than five and a half seconds.  Top speed was reputed to be 160 miles per hour, which more than balanced the thirsty fuel consumption of 13.8 miles per gallon.

TWR design chief Ian Callum was largely responsible for the sleek if hardly leading-edge exterior shape, and he also penned the convertible "Volante" version that came to market soon after. Priced reasonably at about $80,000 in 1993, the new DB7 was immediately successful, and sent Aston Martin down a new road, one appropriate to a car company, as opposed to the amusing hobby that the marque had been for most of its varied life.

 

Autoswalk.com has partnered with Studio One Networks to provide you with the history of the world's greatest cars. All of the pictures and information are copyright of Studio One Networks and Autoswalk.com, and are brought to you by Jack Nerad for Driving Today.

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