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Few companies have had as much trouble maintaining owners as Aston Martin. During the 1920s and `30s, and again in postwar years, the iconic British manufacturer of upper-end sports cars has gone through a bewildering series of ownership changes.
Aston Martin was founded in 1913 by Robert Bamford and Lionel Martin. After operating a dealership for Singer motorcars, the pair wanted to build a sophisticated racing car. Named for the Aston hillclimb event, joined by one partner's surname, their racecar sat upon a 1908 Isotta-Fraschini chassis, designed by Bugatti.
Not until 1919 was the first for-sale product finished, powered by a Coventry-Simplex engine, and it didn't reach a customer until two years later. During the early 1920s, Astons broke 10 World racing records, but the company then endured years of periodic ownership changes. Saloon (sedan) and sports tourer models were sold through the Thirties.
After World War II, in 1947, industrialist David Brown bought the Aston firm. His initials (DB) would be used on sports cars for the next six decades and beyond. First postwar model was in fact the DB1, based on a 1937 "Atom" model, but only a handful were sold. Succeeding it was the aerodynamically-styled DB2, with a Lagonda dual-overhead-camshaft engine and a multi-tube chassis.
Next in the series was the DB3 racing car, joined by a few DB3S editions that could be road-driven. Soon, a DB2-4 replaced the DB2, with 2+2 seating and a hatchback rear end. Racing still occupied Aston, and the DB4, with an enlarged six-cylinder engine, competed against Ferraris and Maseratis.
Aston Martin gained fame outside the sports-car world when the fictional spy James Bond, portrayed by Sean Connery, drove a DB5 in the movie Goldfinger. Then came a four-passenger DB6, lasting through the 1960s, followed by a wider DBS model. After 1969, a new 5.3-liter four-cam V-8 engine edged aside six-cylinder power.
David Brown lasted far longer than his predecessors, but in 1972, Aston Martin was taken over by a series of corporations, eventually winding up in the hands of Ford Motor Company. A Virage model debuted in 1988 and reached the U.S. in 1990. Two years later, a Volante convertible joined the Virage. Ever since 1976, Aston Martin also had been issuing something completely different: a big, opulent Lagonda saloon.
At the 1999 Geneva (Switzerland) auto show, Aston Martin unveiled the V8-powered DB7, reaching America as a 2000 model. A year later, Aston released a new Vanquish from its factory at Newport Pagnell, England. Both a two-passenger coupe and a 2+2 companion with a small back seat went on sale in the U.S.
Early in 2002, Aston Martin became part of Ford's new Aston Martin Jaguar Land Rover North America organization. At the Frankfurt (Germany) Motor Show in autumn 2003, Aston Martin revealed the latest member of the "DB" family: the DB9 coupe with 2+2 seating, a 450-horsepower V-12 engine, and an aluminum-bonded body/frame. A companion DB9 Volante convertible appeared at Detroit's North American International Auto Show in January 2004. These were the first Aston Martins to be hand-built at a new factory in Gaydon, Warwickshire, England.
Aston Martin continues to produce the latest in the "DB" series, the DB9, as well as a more potent DBS edition and a V8 Vantage. In 2007, Aston Martin separated from Ford, being sold to an investment group. Latest addition is the four-door Rapide saloon.
Through the years, most Astons have been sold in the U.S. and Great Britain. Still today, plenty of enthusiasts around the world consider the elegant Aston to be the pinnacle of British sports-car manufacturing.