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Aston Martin Newport Pagnell - End Of An Era

Last Aston Off The Line At Newport Pagnell
Last Aston Off The Line at Newport Pagnell (Photo courtesy of Aston Martin)

2007

On July 19th 2007 the very last car to be produced at Aston Martin’s Tickford Street works in Newport Pagnell rolled off the production line before a crowd of dignitaries, workers, reporters and photographers. This final masterpiece, a £180,000 Vanquish S Ultimate Edition (the last of only 50 produced), marked the end of a 50 year production run which created some of the world’s most desirable automotive icons. Production has now moved to a purpose built factory at Gaydon, Warwickshire for all current models, including the Vanquish replacement, the new DBS.

Full Aston production started at Tickford street in 1958 with the DB4, although it had been used for building Aston bodies for the previous four years since David Brown bought the site in 1954. Over the last 50 years the factory has been responsible for some of the greatest cars ever made inlcluding the DB4, DB5, DB6, DBS, V8, V8 Vantage, V8 Volante, Lagonda, Zagato, Virage, DB7 and Vanquish. In addition, a number of racing cars and specials have been given life in Newport Pagnell such as the Bulldog, the one-off 200mph, gullwing-door hypercar.

Whilst this was an historic day for everyone involved with Aston Martin, its association with Newport Pagnell doesn’t end here; the site will retain the world renowned Works Service Department, which offers servicing, restoration and enhancement of Aston Martins and sees more than 2000 current and historic cars through its doors every year. This is a good thing, and something I can relate to, as I’ve been to this Mecca of automotive engineering. I’ve been an Aston Martin aficionado ever since I was bowled over by the thunderous exhaust note of a V8 Vantage in the early 80s. Long before I was old enough to drive I was a member of the Aston Martin Young Supporters Club for a few years during the eighties and this brought me all kinds of literature, stickers and Aston related goodies, just the kind of stuff a growing petrolhead needed to nurture his addiction. The highlight of my membership came in 1984 with an invitation to the factory to see my beloved Astons being made.

1984

Wow, what a trip! To see the entire process from start to finish was amazing. It was quite a shock to the system. All I’d previously seen of car manufacture were the adverts on TV with bright clean environments, constantly moving production lines and robotic welding machines (they were the new thing back then). Not so here; it all looked decidedly low-tech - "a bit of a dump" according to my Dad. The cars started the process on cradles as the body was built then later, after the suspension/hubs were fitted, slave wheels were attached and the cars subsequently rolled around on those. And I do mean rolled around; the cars were moved around the factory from one section to the next by hand.

In fact "hand" was a common theme here; these cars were truly hand-crafted. The skill and craftsmanship that went into production was astonishing. Whilst in the panel shop my Dad, rather distastefully, asked one of the craftsmen "where are the body panel presses?". The poor guy nearly choked. "Panel presses?" he spluttered, "we don’t have panel presses, all our body parts are hand made". And boy, was he not joking. These guys took a sheet of aluminium and hand beat it on a shaped buck using a hammer - loud it was too! After being fitted to the car they were then hand finished to ensure the highest standards.

Next, the bodies were rolled into the paint shop. Here about a dozen coats of paint were applied, with hand finishing between each, and this process allegedly took in the region of 150 hours. 150 hours!!! That’s six and a quarter days non-stop. OK, so a fair chunk of this was drying/curing time but even so, it’s about 10 times longer than it now takes to build a complete Ford focus. Once complete, various protective sheets and bits of tape were applied to protect the bodywork during the rest of the assembly process. I also seem to remember the doors being removed and then re-attached later, after most of the final assembly had been done.

A very large percentage of the parts were made on site but it was still interesting looking around to spot the "bought-in" bits. Characteristic of many small-scale car manufacturers, some of the noticeable components could also be found on other vehicles; things like switchgear, steering column stalks, interior and exterior door handles, air vents and so on, were straight out of the British Leyland and Ford parts bins.

One major component made on site at the time was the V8 engine. Each engine was entirely built, from start to finish, by a single engineer, and for his trouble a plate bearing his name was attached to the engine for history to bear witness to his achievement. How proud must that make you feel? In fact, pride was one thing which was very evident in the people we met that day, and who can blame them? With the hand-beaten body panels, the exemplary paint finish, the beautifully crafted leather trim (10 Connelly hides per car - I can still smell that leather now), no wonder they were so expensive, but, I have to say, worth every penny.

All-in-all the visit to Newport Pagnell was a truly special experience, for which I feel incredibly privileged, and it would be interesting to visit the new factory at Gaydon to see how things are done now - I wonder if anyone from Aston is reading this...hint hint! The only thing that could have made the visit any better would have been a ride in one of the actual cars. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, and I haven’t won the lottery yet, but I did recently get a ride in a DB9 that our Nick borrowed from his mate (see the review here), and it was fantastic.

Whilst there I managed to take numerous photos showing some of the production process. I apologise for the quality of these photos but I was only young...it was the first time I had really used a camera! Anyway, here they are...enjoy!

Gav.

Aston Martin Newport Pagnell Factory 1984 Aston Martin Newport Pagnell Factory 1984
Aston Martin Newport Pagnell Factory 1984 Aston Martin Newport Pagnell Factory 1984
Aston Martin Newport Pagnell Factory 1984 Aston Martin Newport Pagnell Factory 1984
Aston Martin Newport Pagnell Factory 1984 Aston Martin Newport Pagnell Factory 1984
Aston Martin Newport Pagnell Factory 1984 Aston Martin Newport Pagnell Factory 1984
Aston Martin Newport Pagnell Factory 1984 Aston Martin Newport Pagnell Factory 1984
Aston Martin Newport Pagnell Factory 1984 Aston Martin Newport Pagnell Factory 1984
Aston Martin Newport Pagnell Factory 1984