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Location Change - the Establishment Remains


 

The Bonhams Aston Martin sale, since the turn of the Century, has been held at the motor car company’s former factory in Newport Pagnell, still thought by many the marque’s traditional home and where a thriving Aston Martin ‘Works’ continues. But for 2018 the event moved to a picturesque rural setting of the Englefield estate in the Royal county of Berkshire.

The Aston Martin Owners Club ‘Spring’ Concours was to be held the following day on 3rd June, in front of the grand and stately home, Englefield House, much sought after by Film and Television production companies. ‘The King’s Speech’, ‘Great Expectations’, and Agatha Christie detectives with series named after them, ‘Miss Marple’ and ‘Poirot’, among those most familiar. So it was fitting, and made logical sense, for the Bonhams Auction to be held at the same venue.

On either side of the Bonhams front entrance, and in addition to the thirty-five cars being brought under the hammer, were two particular Aston icons. These were automotive stars in their own right, presented as highlights of, and overtures to, the Bonhams ‘Festival of Speed’ auction next month. With high profiles familiar to millions, worldwide, they being the DB4 GT Zagato, “2 VEV” and one of the silver DB5s used by Pierce Brosnan in the James Bond film, ‘GoldenEye’.

However, potential buyers were certainly not short of valuable and exciting Aston Martins to buy, on the day, at Englefield. They were headed by a quartet of highly desirable cabriolets made between the years of 1958 and 1970. These consisted of a DB MkIII (with a rarer, more potent, engine than usual), a pair of DB6 Volantes - in both original and Mk2 version - and the most valuable of all, a white DB5 convertible. Although a right hand drive and well cared for, it had not been registered in Britain since 1983. This, the penultimate example of the 123 made, was sold to a new custodian paying £886,300, including premium.

The English weather proved marvellous for once, and so it was highly appropriate that a further five other convertibles were on offer, ranging from a lefthand drive 1954 DB 2/4 MkII, in ‘Barn Find’ condition, brought over from the United States, plus three V8 Volantes and a DB7. By slight contrast, however, the second most valuable car sold on the day was another DB5, but this one had a metal roof, and went for £628,700 gross.

The most venerable car, and one that found a new home for £66,460, was a 1951 DB2. Again in barn find condition but, being one of the very first fifty (specifically number 29), a highly desirable example, well worth restoring to its former glory. No doubt eventually back to its original and recognisable three-piece ‘Washboard’ grille status, but the myriad tasks ahead would be enormous.

Much as I usually major upon examining the David Brown cars of the Newport Pagnell era, it was these Feltham built Astons which proved most interesting, for different reasons:

The aforementioned DB MkIII dhc, with its powerful DBD spec engine, I remember chasing back right across the Derbyshire Peak District from a race meeting at Oulton Park in the dwindling autumnal light, two decades ago. I could hardly keep up with the pace of, former owner and collector, the late David Holland at the controls. And I was driving a 5.3 litre V8, travelling quite a demanding, sometimes isolated, route I knew well. I trust the MkIII’s new owner exercises its spirited performance in similar fashion. HRH Prince Michael of Kent very much enjoyed his journeys behind the wheel, in later years, and for £393,500 it passed to another fortunate driver.

The previously Massachusetts based DB2/4 ‘Drophead’, reached a staggering £225.5k, considering it would need a similar amount, if not more, spent upon it before being in anyway drivable again, let alone matching the condition and speed capabilities of it slightly younger cousin. That said, if anyone would still like to experience exalted Aston open-air driving this summer, the Mk2 DB6 Volante fell short of its £700k lower estimate and, I believe, is still available to purchase. However, for those with a more modest budget, why not the DB7 Volante, again in blue, which also didn’t reach its lower estimate of £32,000?

With this in mind, it should be noted that Aston Martin motoring is available to many more people than readers might expect. For the price of a modern hatchback, a ‘well bought’ 1991 Virage came down from the hammer for just £24,000 net. That's one hell of a lot of car for the money and last of the grouping of truly hand-built Astons. Its more powerful brothers, the Vantage 550s and 600s, not to mention the ultimate and rarer Vantage ‘Le Mans’, may be even faster but have essentially the same bespoke V8 engine.

However, one of these will set you back a significant six-figure sum (up to half a million for a Le Mans) for the pleasure of a potential 200 miles per hour ultimate top speed. The eight cylinder hand-built engine in a Virage will still enable you to attain a more than adequate 150mph down a German autobahn. I honestly wonder how many road-going modern supercar owners (of any manufacturer) ever get near these speeds in today's world, let alone utilise the full potential of the 160-220 mph bracket, for which most of them believe is essential before considering a purchase. So, a bespoke and highly luxurious ‘cooking’ Virage is something of a bargain for the prudent, and the knowledgeably discerning.

And talking of more usable, yet spirited, performance, back to the Felthams on offer. Another was a very sporty looking DB2/4 in grey, with contrasting red stripe, radiator and wire wheels. It came ready to race at historic meetings, as fitted with an FIA approved roll cage, roundels and racing seats. Its pedigree already included a class win in the ‘Circuit of Ireland’ rally and forays at Brands Hatch and Silverstone. With full restoration only completed this year, FIA papers and eligible for Mille Miglia, Tour Auto, RAC Woodcote Trophy, etc. there appeared to be zero downsides, if you had a budget around £130,000, in principal. Still less than £150k, even with Bonhams’ premium.

The best of the quintet, however, and another extremely ‘well-bought’ car, was a 1956 DB2/4. Like the DHC, this was a MkII, but a very rare ‘Fixed-Head-Coupé’, with a ‘notchback’ body and even more desirable as a Lhd. It was now in its original two tone green paintwork and back on Bonhams books from the last time they sold it in 2014, during the same month. Since then, when it still looked good in dual tone silver and black, it had benefited from a ‘Factory’ restoration. If that wasn’t enough, what truly made it unique was an Aston Martin Lagonda fitted 3.7 litre DB4 engine. And, reassuringly, now converted to disc brakes (replacing a standard car’s drums), it would stop as impressively as it would go!

Again, the Mille Miglia Retrospective beckons, and undoubtedly so thought the visiting Dutch dealers who bought it, a garage which specialises in MM eligible cars. For quarter of a million pounds net (incidentally only £5k more than in 2014), I bet they could not believe their luck and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if at least another £100k is pure profit for them, when a wealthy European snaps it up in the coming months.

By the close of proceedings, 20 of the 35 available cars had been sold. A few, within the DBS/DBSV8/AMV8 era, remaining as not reaching reserve, though word from some ‘in the know trade’, considered an occasional vendors’ perceived value just a touch optimistic. But some lovely cars - both restored and ‘good, highly useable’ - ready to be enjoyed for much less than any DB4/5/6. More space, comfort and performance for your money, too. Contact Bonhams or look for similar cars currently advertised and available right now. I can personally vouch that the William Towns design, and later Tadek Merek engine combined, is an absolute joy. These big Astons are much admired everywhere you go, even by non-car people, and rightly so. They have such a commanding presence, from both inside and out. Like thoroughbred horses pulling luxurious carriages of old, the powerhouse of an Aston Martin is always perfectly positioned in front of you.

But is wasn’t just the cars for sale which contributed to making the whole day a really memorable motoring event. In the sunshine were dozens of Astons brought along by potential buyers and marque enthusiasts, a few from overseas, too. A scattering of originals with visible signs of patina, but most of them positively gleaming, even though the majority were non participants or registered entrants in the following day’s Concours. In the fields around Englefield, picnic hampers emerged from the boots of many, old friends meeting for the first time since prior to winter, Aston news and gossip exchanged among the marque connoisseurs. A very English day out in the countryside for all, whether or not you arrived in or, in some cases, departed for home with a newly purchased AML built motor car.

Report & Photos:
Classique Car Conduits