English Thoroughbreds in Miniature: Aston Martin and Lagonda

by Brian Willoughby

1947 was an odd year for the rebirth of any small automobile company in England; in the troubled postwar economy, even some of Britain's oldest and most established car companies were struggling to survive. Bankrupt and in receivership, a tiny Buckinghamshire sports car producer named Aston Martin caught the eye of wealthy industrialist David Brown and largely based on his love of fast cars and Aston's past competition and engineering prowess, he purchased the little company and added it to his manufacturing empire. Better known for mass-producing gears and agricultural tractors, the Huddersfield-based David Brown Group bought another defunct automobile company one year later and, combined, the resulting new division became Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. For the 25 years he owned Aston Martin Lagonda, Sir David Brown was responsible for the company's resurrection and many triumphs due to his intimate involvement in its direction, operation and participation in competition. The cars that bore the initials of their benefactor represent the lasting essence of what was Aston Martin's golden age.

Although there was such a thing as the DB1, the first Aston Martin to be fully realized under the auspices of David Brown was the DB2. Fitted with a W. O. Bentley designed six-cylinder engine acquired through his purchase of the Lagonda works and constantly improved throughout its long production life, the DB2 and the variants which evolved from it epitomized the concept of a "gentleman's express" to a degree never equaled by its rather staid and home-grown competitors.
As one of Britain's crowning automotive stars, Lesney opted to add a very accurate model of the DB2 to its 1-75 lineup and over the years offered in only two colors (which were both very true to the prototype) and a few different wheel variations. As is appropriate for its subject, this model set a precedent for accuracy in miniature Aston Martins which has happily been upheld by most other manufacturers.

Beginning with the DB4, Aston Martins for several years wore two small chromed-script badges on either side of their bonnets that said "Superleggera". With its coachwork designed by Touring, the term was Italian for "super light", and referred to the car's combination of a lightweight tubular chassis clothed in hand-formed aluminum body panels. While the DB4 certainly received notice in automotive circles by being one of the fastest production cars in the world for several years, it was not until the arrival of its successor, the stunning DB5, that Aston Martin would truly become a household name. Selected to star as James Bond's gadget-equipped service car in the film "Goldfinger", a 1964 Aston Martin bearing the British registration of BMT 216A became perhaps the single most recognizable car in the world. Quick to seize a, pardon the pun, golden opportunity, Corgi released one of the most complicated and popular diecast toys ever in with its 1:46 version of James Bond's Aston. Surprisingly, no one ever offered a model of this famous car in 1:64 scale; now, after a 34 year absence, Johnny Lightning has recently issued a well-proportioned miniature of this most handsome of cars. A well-shaped casting that is clearly modeled after the Bond car, JL unfortunately chose to equip its DB5 with mag-style wheels rather than a more appropriate wheel design that would appear more like the original Dunlop chromed wires.

As the culmination of its series of "Superleggera" cars, Aston Martin introduced the somewhat controversial DB6, which, unlike its predecessors, had interior space for four adult passengers and, consequently, a larger overall profile and a heavier curb weight. While criticized upon its debut for being more of a gran turismo than pure sports car, the DB6 was still an elegant and refined piece of automotive art that could trace its thoroughbred lineage from the DB4 and DB5 more easily than the automotive press would have its audience believe. At Corgi, the DB6 must have been a favorite: their standard 1:64 scale model was produced for years in a confusing array variations. However, no one complained since this casting is one of Corgi's best ever and it is probably one of the most accurate 1:64 scale models of a car ever produced by anyone, anywhere.

1955 Aston Martin DB2/4 by Matchbox - 1964 Aston Martin DB5 (Bond) by Johnny Lightning - 1968 Aston Martin DB6 by Corgi - 1968 Aston Martin DB6 (Bond) by Corgi

Despite the fact that Agent 007 never drove a DB6 in any of his cinematic escapades, Corgi apparently believed that no one would notice and preceded to rework its pre-existing model of the car into an incredibly complicated ejector-seat equipped miniature. While this model has largely lived in the shadow cast by its bigger sibling, it should be noted that installing such an intricate, working feature into such a small package was no less of an accomplishment for the Corgi engineers than their work on the original 1:45 scale James Bond DB5. Perhaps the triumph of this novel little model was recognized and honored by a production period that spanned the better part of two decades. As a direct consequence of its long life, the model underwent a baseplate wording change from Husky to Corgi Juniors at the beginning of the 1970s as well as multiple wheel variations that can make assembling a collection of these models quite a challenge.

In 1970, Corgi once again offered a miniature of Newport Pagnell's latest model with the introduction of a 1:64 scale DBS in the Corgi Juniors range. A scarce model produced for a very short period, the DBS was an early member of the "Whizzwheels" range, and, like its brethren, was painted in the uncharacteristically (at least for Aston Martin) loud color of lime green and equipped with an opening matte black bonnet. Somehow, however, the "Whizzwheels" look correct for the model and it is difficult to imagine it with one of the earlier Husky wheel styles. As with many other contemporary Juniors, the DBS was also offered in the "Corgi Rockets" line-up with a Hot Wheels look-alike vacuumized finish and a unique removable chassis. As with the regular Juniors issue, the Rockets version also had a short production life and today is probably an even rarer find.

Also interesting to note is that the DBS was the last Aston Martin employed by James Bond for a number of years; a metallic brown DBS is seen throughout "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" and a very brief glimpse of a red DBS-V8 can be caught in Q's laboratory in 1971's "Diamonds Are Forever". After "Diamonds", Roger Moore assumed the superspy's role and during his tenure as Bond, 007 was usually assigned a Lotus Esprit as his "company car". Strangely, Corgi never offered a "James Bond" version of the DBS even though it offered a wide selection of other cars and vehicles used in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service".

To keep pace with the competition it faced from Italy (Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati) and home (Jaguar, Jensen and Bristol), Aston's engineers commenced work on the development of a new and more powerful V8 engine to replace the classic in-line six that had served so well for so many years. Yet prior to placing its new engine into production cars, Aston fully proved its new V8 engine via competition by supplying the power plant to Lola for use in their domineering racing machines. This car, known as the Lola Aston Martin T70, went on to became the subject of a rare Aston Martin miniature by the Italian firm of Polistil (Politoys).

1970 Aston Martin DBS by Corgi - 1985 Aston Martin Vantage (Bond) by Johnny Lightning - 1994 Aston Martin DB7 by Matchbox - 1994 Aston Martin DB7 by Majorette

By 1972, Sir David Brown had lost control of his industrial empire and a board of directors intent of cutting losses quickly sold off Aston Martin and by 1975 the company found itself in receivership once again. It looked as if this was truly the end for Prince Charles' favorite automobile maker, though fortunately, a group of investors came to rescue Aston Martin and production of new cars was resumed within a year. By the end of the decade, Aston was once again secure enough to undertake the introduction of a completely new car with an old name; thus, the Lagonda was reborn. A bold and thoroughly unique design even by today's standards, the ultra-angular and very costly Lagonda was an immediate hit with wealthy people for whom a Rolls or Bentley was simply too common and mundane. Stunt man Evil Knievel purchased one and customized it to meet his needs: Johnny Lightning recently issued a model of Evil's car and it ranks as the only 1:64 scale model of this incarnation of Lagonda ever produced.

In 1987, after a far too long 16-year hiatus, Aston Martin was restored to a celluloid role of honor when a gadget-laden V8 Vantage was selected to support James Bond in "The Living Daylights". This time, however, there were no corresponding Corgi models and it was not until Johnny Lightning's issue late this year that this particular car would be depicted in miniature. A flawed design that fails to capture the graceful lines of the original, it is cast with solid, silver-painted quarter lights and fitted with gaudy mag-style wheels. Nevertheless, the model is a rare treat for Aston fans and, at least, better than nothing.

Yet the truly momentous news of 1987 would be the Ford Motor Company's acquisition of Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. Most purists had problems with this takeover: firstly, it meant that a beloved national treasure was no longer English-owned and secondly, all it guaranteed was financial stability as it was unclear what would it mean for Aston's future. Development of a replacement for the now aged V8 models that had already begun prior to the Ford takeover continued and eventually led to the impressive and all new Virage. Yet this traditional Aston Martin, like its forebears, would never be the kind of high-profit car Ford sought. In the meantime, Ford purchased Jaguar Cars Ltd. leading to a variety of new possibilities for a lower-cost and more "mass produced" Aston. Beginning with the discarded yet nearly completed Jaguar F-Type, Aston's engineers reworked the stillborn prototype into a true Aston Martin product that managed to strongly evoke the character of the David Brown cars. With Sir David's full blessing, the new car was christened the DB7 and Aston fans everywhere hoped that a new golden era had begun. Sadly, not long after the DB7's debut, the man who truly was Aston Martin, Sir David Brown, passed away.

Soon after its introduction, Matchbox introduced a scale model of the DB7 which bore little resemblance to the dignified original with its loud tampos and gold wheels. Curiously, in the U.S. market, the casting was withdrawn from the 1-75 range after only one season with little lament. Fortunately, the casting returned in the guise of World Class series member and the upgrade improved the model to a level appropriate for the real car it depicted. Majorette's lineup also includes a DB7 miniature that features opening doors; however, its suspension system allows it to sit too high in the front and too low in the rear which tends to ruin its otherwise well-sculpted shape.

1967 Lola Aston Martin by Politoys - 1947 Lagonda Drop-Head Coupe by SS - 1980 Aston Martin Lagonda (Knievel) by Johnny Lightning

Although not the most commonly modeled British car, there are a sufficient number of Aston Martin and Lagonda miniatures to assemble a quite nice collection that documents the marques' histories rather well. As always, some gaps exist: it is a true shame that not a single model of the DB3S, DB4, DB4 GT or DB4 Zagato exists in in 1:64. However, with such a high number of unusually well proportioned and accurate miniature Astons available, it really is difficult to lodge many worthwhile complaints. The following is a list of Aston Martin and Lagonda cars in 1:64 scale

Corgi Juniors/Husky 22 Aston Martin DB6
1.) "Husky" baseplate
2.) "interim" version which had the Husky name removed and was identified by a paper sticker on its baseplate reading "Corgi Juniors"
3.) Corgi Juniors version
4.) Rockets version
5.) Corgi Juniors "budget" version [found in multi-car sets in hideous colors with black window glazing and no interior]

Corgi Juniors 24 Aston Martin DBS
Corgi Juniors/Husky 40 James Bond Aston Martin DB6
Johnny Lightning 652 Aston Martin DB5 from "Thunderball"
Johnny Lightning 659 Aston Martin V8 Vantage from "The Living Daylights"
Johnny Lightning P908 Aston Martin Lagonda (black)
Majorette 229 Aston Martin DB7 (metallic blue)
Matchbox 53 Aston Martin DB2/4 (light metallic green)
Matchbox 53 Aston Martin DB2/4 (maroon)
Matchbox 59 Aston Martin DB7 (dark green)
Matchbox 59 Aston Martin DB7 (dark green with silver stripes and DB7 tampos)
Matchbox 59 Aston Martin DB7 (metallic blue/available only in gift set)
Matchbox World Class Aston Martin DB7 (dk. gray with "007" license plate)
Matchbox World Class Aston Martin DB7 (with "DB7" license plate)
Matchbox Premiere 34313-6 Aston Martin DB7 (white with clear window glazing)
Matchbox Premiere 34313-6 Aston Martin DB7 (burgundy with clear window glazing) sold in an eight car a set by J.C. Penny stores
Politoys Lola Aston Martin T70
SS Lagonda Drop Head Coupe