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Aston Martyr?

FEATURE BY MAX NOBLE
26/11/2021

Mavericks have an uneasy relationship with teams.

Teams frequently meander, lost without the obsessive drive, and passionate vision of a maverick. Yet mavericks frequently find themselves alone, ruined, ideas in tatters, should they destroy their team before journey's end.

Praise be when that rare time is realised, with the team and the Maverick finding balance, generating more than enough glory to go round.

Enzo burned with passion, igniting and firing his drivers in equal measure over the years. A win? It was the engine! A loss? It was the driver. A crash? Is the car salvageable? A driver injured? Kindly bring another. (Famously, on hearing of Alberto Ascari's death while testing at Monza, Enzo replied (in Italian) "and the car?" - Ed). Passion and vision more than enough to enthral employees, drivers, a nation and motor fans globally, all swaying hypnotically to the obsessive rhythm of the grand dance on which Enzo led them all.

Jaguar cars are a delight fashioned with passion since the maverick days of William Lyons. Yet their Formula One adventure, albeit many decades after Mr. Lyons' days in the sun, was supposed to deliver "An English Ferrari" not the inordinately high driver salaries and weak results that eventuated. Let the sands of time drain a little further from the optic and we find Jaguar success eventually as the Red Bull Formula One team. So not exactly the "English Ferrari" of Jaguar dreams, but at least they now win races and delight race fans. Igniting fan's hearts with passion? Enflaming their souls with a vision as powerful as bottled midnight sun? Possibly not.

Toyota! 140 race starts over seven years for just seventeen podiums. For the world's largest car manufacturer, this was a result as dull as driving Pike's Peak in a base model Corolla... in first, with a 2,000 rpm rev limit... No inflamed passions, or anything else around here, other than the balance sheets smoking darkly from the first day to the last. Rather a sad adventure all told.

Which brings us neatly to the cool granite door step of Aston Martin. Where else did you think this meander was leading dear reader?

Founded on the 15 January 1913 by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford it has a story which contains more passion, spirit, and wild beating hearts than cool logic, rational investment, or indeed enough money to continue to function. Seven bankruptcies in 108 years being an average of one every 15 years or so. Ouch!

So far the soul-saving star of the story is David Brown, stepping in during 1947. Promptly applying leadership artfully blended with a large side-order of luck, thus commencing to turn out clean-lined, hand-built, modest handling, not terribly fast, but fast enough, grand-tourers that in short order became legend. The DB5 in the 1964 film Goldfinger being so tastefully piloted across Europe by one Mr. J. Bond helping in no small part to imbue spirit, delight, and adventure into the brand at a joyfully accelerated pace. Indeed the number of Astons in the latest Bond film is enough to make any sensibly minded GT-lover go very misty eyed.

Fast forward through a number of reworked Jaguar donor cars and some patchy interior build qualities, and one has a succession of glorious grand tourers and the occasional sports car that are a delight to the eye, while providing the humming of angels to ears of those that love a large capacity engine being driven with a robustly immodest intent. Old-school push-rod V8 madness, wrapped with finest leather, and a touch of hand polished wood, edged in fresh new-season woollen carpet? Right this way please Sir!

With these legends dancing in our mind we step softly onto the granite doorstep of Aston HQ to take stock of the latest chapter. A slow breath before placing both palms on the deep weathered racing green paint work of the oak door, easing it open with a firm, slow arm. This decade we find Mr Lawrence Stroll as the potential saviour in waiting, or, as yet to be determined by the rolling of the bones by Lady Luck, the fates, and the demons in the detail, is he in fact the next Aston Martyr about to be truly burned by the soul crushing experience of trying to navigate Aston down the path of glory, and not an eighth bankruptcy?

Most of the ghosts of Jaguar's past have been exorcised from the building. An angle here, a wheel-base there. With a respectful nod to ascetics, all graceful GT coupes are around the same size and there are only so many arcs of grace a designer can pull around 21 inch wheels.

Back to the track. Le Mans 1959 saw the first racing win for David Brown with the DBR1 sports car. It had been pre-dated by the 1957 development of the DBR4 Formula One car, but for various reasons the sports car programme took priority over the Formula One effort. As a result, when the DBR4 debuted on track for the 1959 Dutch Grand Prix it was already two seasons old. The drivers, Carroll Shelby, and Roy Salvadori, qualified 10th and 13th, before suffering double retirement during the race. At the next race, the British Grand Prix, Salvadori managed to place the DBR4 second on the grid, somewhat to everyone's surprise. He managed to hold on to convert this to a sixth place, just outside the points, by the chequered flag, While Shelby again suffered a mechanical failure.

At the Italian Grand Prix it was Salvadori who suffered the mechanical failure, while Shelby managed to wrestle the car home to 10th place.

The DBR5 for the 1960 season was an evolved version of the DBR4, and as a result was still front-engined at a time when the fastest on the grid were the newly developed rear-engine cars. As a result it was another season of zero points, leading to their withdrawal from Formula One, to focus on sports car racing.

Yet these early racing odysseys still give a weight to the miasma in the building that, once you breath it in it will linger bitter-sweet in your motoring soul.

2006, and David Richards, he of Prodrive fame, looked to enter Formula One with Aston Martin, or at least the name, yet following several false starts nothing ever happened that resulted in a car making the start grid. Then, a full decade later, and the 2016 season saw Aston join the grid as a major sponsor of Red Bull Racing.

With the Martyr in waiting, Mr. Stroll, taking a controlling interest in Aston in January 2020, the 2021 season saw Aston return to the grid for the first time as a works team since 1960. A modest 61 year gap.

Yet what have all those years done to the legend that is Aston?

Those great cars of the David Brown era stalk the halls fogging the minds of all who enter. So now the more recent automotive art works of the DB7, DB9, DB11... each echoes with the reverberating memory of a hammering exhaust note bouncing wildly off Swiss Mountain granite, another daring alps run safely complete. Yet the modern reality of English suits pulled tight across muscular German chests. Is that the future fans are calling for?

The 2021 season race car appears to have a size 12 German body, awkwardly squeezed into a size nine English suit. Not really a good look, while providing only modest outcomes. The road cars are far finer looking works of mobile art. Yet they sell in a fraction of the numbers that Porsche manage. Ferrari is unique and sales comparisons, or even image comparisons, are a waste. Comparing Astons to Porsche and the more extreme offerings from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes is a far more reasonable comparison. Here in Australia dealers are still trying to shift 2019 Astons with mere inches on the odometer rather than furlong after furlong of furious flying miles.

Indeed, Sebastian Vettel has driven his Aston further than most of the demonstrator models available here in Australia combined. What does that say about the lust for Aston carbon and steel in the garage of the motorised-art appreciating public with the hefty wallet to match wonton desires?

Why does your scribe once more link on-track bravery with off-track sales? Because, like it or not, racing is, and always will remain expensive. A company backing a racing team needs excessively free flowing rivers of cash. Cascades of cash that in general is generated by selling a large number of cars at a healthy profit margin. Two keys points here. "Large numbers" and "Healthy Profit".

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Max Noble, 09/01/2022 13:02

"@Lapps - my thanks for noticing. PitPass under esteemed editor Balfe has always strived for excellence… Then they let me near a keyboard :-) A classic mix of intelligence, wit, painful extended metaphors, and sheer **** the likes of which has never been seen beyond… ummm… well the Gray havens is possibly a stretch. But here we are…"

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2. Posted by Lapps, 07/01/2022 9:00

"The latest news from the Markets seems to indicate that this Article was perspicacious indeed!"

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3. Posted by Max Noble, 04/12/2021 6:52

"@Spindoctor - quite! Mr Stroll is on record as saying… “I win at everything I do.” But the challenge for us the dear punter…. Is what does winning look like for Mr. Stroll in this instance? Having his palm crossed with a ton of Mercedes coin could well be “winning”… As Mercedes then remove their name from F1 (saving it for Formula E), and have an AMG-branded “Team formally known as Aston Martin” race in F1… who knows…
…and in the event anyone wishes to make my garage quiver a Rapide, DBX, and a DB11 I’m utterly open to that sweet corruption, noting I have nothing to offer in return but left-field opinion pieces… :-)"

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4. Posted by Spindoctor, 03/12/2021 16:40

"AML is sadly one of those nostalgia trips on which I am unwilling to journey. A pretty "typical" British automotive story of good, sometimes great Engineering & Design, badly let-down by incompetent & autocratic management.

Mr Stroll, whom I believe to be pretty good at this Capitalism stuff, is highly likely to have a profitable exit lined-up. Quite what that might be is beyond my pinko-liberal sensibilities to figure-out.
Like Mr Noble I wish him & the Team well for 2022 & hopefully beyond. We really do need the Mavericks & sometimes fairy-tales come true. Only RBR seem to think that their mere involvement in Sport entitles them to win....

I quite agree that Seb has re-blossomed this year, has often driven well & regained a lot of respect which he lost whilst driving the Red Cars."

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5. Posted by Max Noble, 02/12/2021 23:08

"@BrightonCorgi - With RR, and Bentley being owned by BMW, and VW I rather think polite caution all around is called for on that observation! :-) Maybach having built the original engines for the Zeppelin is a fine 100 year history.

Fully agree Stroll has the right partners in place to give AML every chance of success. Indications are the DBX is selling in strong numbers… but as I note, will enough people with the money, and desire to buy a new Aston actually do so? Time will tell!"

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6. Posted by BrightonCorgi, 02/12/2021 14:37

"I would not call Maybach a luxury marque like Rolls Royce or Bentley. It's basically just an option package for Mercedes. Not a distinct brand with its own factories and such.

I am pretty confident the plan is to get AML in a place where the bean counters at Mercedes say it's time to buy. I believe a good portion of Vettel's compensation is based on stock. Toto is invested in AML as well other Mercedes exec's. Seems pretty clear that this is the goal.

As a disclaimer, I too am invested in AML. I want them to be profitable, but I don't think selling to Mercedes is a mandate or necessary goal.
"

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7. Posted by Max Noble, 28/11/2021 23:12

"@BrightonCorgi - Quite agree. Dropping $500K+ (Aussie Dollars) on a car specified by someone else does come across as an expensive irritation. Let’s hope that going “more bespoke” is a success.
Quite so on the V12 - it still has it’s origins in “…two Ford V6 Duratec engines joined together”. Which is no bad thing, as Ford know how to make fine V6, and V8 engines.
The 6.5L V12 RA in the Valkyrie was a special commission for Adrian Newey by Cosworth… also no bad thing!
…I do however agree with @Superbird70 - With the S-Class, the SL coupes, the McLaren Super car team-up, Maybach, and the top-end AMG cars I’m not sure Mercedes are lacking in high-end luxury…?

…which is not to say that Mr. Stroll’s exit strategy is not to sell to Mercedes at the right time…"

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8. Posted by Superbird70, 28/11/2021 19:16

"@BrightonCorgi- Maybach??"

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9. Posted by BrightonCorgi, 28/11/2021 18:05

"AML will eventually be sold to Mercedes. Mercedes does not have a luxury marque under its umbrella like BMW and VW.

Stroll's plan is for dealers to have less cars on the lot and more custom ordered. Was bad for the brand to make dealership stock so many cars when most new car buyers want to order their own. Most Aston dealer just order grey or black to keep it safe.


The V12 is still Ford based."

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10. Posted by Greg, 26/11/2021 13:29

"And as always Max an interesting and thought wondering article.
"

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11. Posted by Greg, 26/11/2021 13:28

"Maybe Mercedes will leave leaving Aston Merc to enjoy the o factory hidden backing. Leaves Stroll to climb the mountain, with Merc help of course but hidden. Street powered engines highly modified for the track..... who knows. Maybe one day we will find out "

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