It is quite an achievement to become 100 years old. If it is one of our senior citizens, then they can expect a telegram from the Queen and probably a birthday party with friends and family in attendance. A wonderful long established Royal tradition dating back over 100 years which was started by King George V in 1917. It doesn’t however recognise the 100th birthdays of motor cars, (even ones that are British nationals!) but the AMHT can certainly throw a good party and so a regal commemoration of our own was launched.
Back in 1921 Bamford and Martin Ltd. were working hard in their Abingdon Road workshops in Kensington on their third prototype Aston Martin and laid down chassis No.3. With a 1500cc 38hp side-valve engine, a two-seater sports body, artillery wheels and a mechanical specification which didn’t include front brakes. Chassis No.3 enjoyed a very active few years as factory prototype and achieved 86.2mph at Brooklands in the hands of Bertie Kensington-Moir to take several light car records and a 1922 win at the Kop Hill Climb. Sold off by the factory in 1923 the car was registered XN 2902 and given the chassis number 1918. It continued to be campaigned with enthusiasm before disappearing into obscurity as so many old cars do. According to the DVLA records there were plenty of owners in the next 80-odd years until obtained by the AMHT in 2002 and subsequently restored. Now commonly known as A3, the car is the jewel in the AMHT’s collection.
As a general idea, thinking about a birthday celebration for A3 began several years ago and planning in earnest began in the Autumn of 2019. Everyone has very positive memories of Ed Cunningham’s great Aston Martin Festival at Burleigh House in 2016 so the idea of a similar festival was hatched with A3 as the central attraction and with an ambitious target of 1000 Aston Martins in attendance.
Several venues were considered but a site visit to the beautiful Dallas Burston Polo Club in Warwickshire stood out head and shoulders above the others. Standing, looking out onto two polo pitches with a club house in between them, we realised a better site could not be imagined. A booking was promptly made and then Covid struck, and the world was turned on its head.
Ironically, in the meantime the health of A3 was also in some doubt. A short jaunt to Cornwall to unveil a plaque at Lionel Martin’s birthplace during 2018 indicated that A3 was making the wrong sort of mechanical noises and that performance was not very strong. The work was entrusted to Ecurie Bertelli, and investigation soon showed two bent half shafts that needed re-manufacturing. With the back end uncharacteristically quiet the noisy gearbox was discovered.to Two gears were cut very slightly off-centre and so new gears were manufactured and replaced. Finally, the engine was dismantled to show that the pistons were pocking up on the bores – particularly number 4. Fortunately honing the bores removed the foreign material and a new set of pistons purchased and refitted. The AMHT Treasurer took a deep breath and tightened his belt, after all Centenarians take a lot of looking after and 10 decades of motoring takes its toll.
The AMHT is a public educational charity so in addition to celebrating A3’s 100th anniversary it was important that the event raised funds (particularly given A3’s recent expenses) and that it met its charitable goals with an educational element. We wanted the Festival cars to be parked by era, so models with similar technology would be presented together and a physical account of the design and expertise of each era would be displayed. A guided walk-through Aston Martin’s history with information about how to understand the cars in each era carpark would provide the educational element, starting with A3 and ending with the latest products from Aston Martin. This timeline was given further provenance with displays from the Lagonda Club and Tickford Owners Club.
As an additional attraction various Aston Martin specialists were invited to take a trade stand and further strengthen the event showcasing their expertise in all areas from restoration, parts and servicing, accessories, and memorabilia.
Ticket sales began in the last week of December with a slow but steady trickle of tickets purchased each day throughout the coming year. There was definitely interest in the event but with a huge amount of caution and doubt that it would actually take place in an ever-changing world environment. Of course, organising an event isn’t just as simple as inviting people to attend, and during a global pandemic, this had added pressure. An abundance of bookings are required, from security, marshals, volunteers, food and drink vendors, paling fencing, hand sanitisers, etc, and not forgetting the vital toilet blocks. Costs soon outweighed income and we all became very nervous. Intent on holding our nerve that the event would proceed we were determined to make the best of it and persevered in good faith. When the Government announced a proposed lifting of all restrictions on June 21st ticket sales took off so quickly that we then began to panic that we hadn’t got enough toilets, refreshment stands, etc! We were delighted to be awarded the “We’re Good to Go” certificate from Visit Britain because of our hard work in ensuring government guidelines were adhered to and sales took yet another boost. Amazingly, 20% of ticket sales occurred in the week before the festival!
The long-promised Government lifting of restrictions on June 21st didn’t happen in the end, but neither did they tighten or so it was with great relief that we could proceed as planned.
Set up on Friday went without a hitch and it was great to meet many of our trader friends bringing trailers and transporters with samples of cars currently for sale and examples of restoration skills and accessories to be purchased. The highlight of the day was the arrival of Aston Martin themselves. There had been a degree of elusiveness from AML about the models they were actually bringing, however, a long convoy of the current models arrived driven the short journey from Gaydon accompanied by some well covered trailers.
As Saturday mornings in June often do it started with a rain shower. Thankfully set up was completed so it didn’t do much to dampen the spirits with a hope from all that we had got the rain over with. We were all ready and the visitors started to arrive. Queues were kept to a minimum with some deft sorting into the right lanes on approach to the efficient ticket scanners. The “modern” pitch with Gaydon built cars nearly overflowed at one point, such were the numbers arriving.
It is hard to pick specific highlights but there was something for everyone to see, whatever your interest in Aston Martin. The pre-war era carpark featured a fabulous line up on the front row with side-valve 1926 sitting next to LM1, LM2 and LM3 all together – when did that last happen? Both Red Dragon and the Black Car Speed Models finished the pre-war line-up. The Feltham carpark featured every road car from Two Litre Sports to Mark II. This Two Litre Sports can officially be called a DB1 as it was built after DB2 production had begun and was always referred to as a DB1! The Newport Pagnell 6 Cylinder, V8 and the DB7 parking areas all featured Zagato bodied examples.
We were delighted to see great displays from our friends at both the Lagonda Club and the Tickford Owners Club whose cars form an important part of the wider Aston Martin story.
Across in the “modern field” almost every Gaydon era car could be found in a huge display of cars including two Cygnets. Limited edition cars abounded including Red Bull and Spitfire edition V12 Vantage S and Tag Heuer, 59 and OHMSS DBS Superleggera.
The special displays were fabulous. HWM Aston Martin brought a V12 Vantage V600, the Mr JWW Q Special Edition DBX and their flying technician service van. Prodrive brought their new club racer – the Vantage GT8R and the Le Mans 2020 #97 Vantage GTE Pro class winner, a car which few of us had ever seen as the race was run behind closed doors.
Aston Martin pulled out all the stops to display the F1 Safety & Medical Cars, a V12 Speesdster, DB5 Bond Recreation, Victor, and the incredible Valkyrie to accompany the current model range and bringing the displays right up to date.
A3 was proudly the centre display in the AMHT marquee accompanied by a very special brand new model. The spirit of A3 has been captured in a limited edition of just 3 cars. Q by Aston Martin, in collaboration with HWM Aston Martin and AMHT created and designed the Vantage Roadster A3 Edition. What better way to commemorate and continue the legacy of A3!
For the first time the AMHT created a pop-up museum with three cabinets showing A3 related items, a general Museum display and a tiny selection of our huge model collection. We also had a large shop showcasing our merchandise which was well received by all and gratefully the AMHT made record sales.
The weather did its part with a glorious afternoon of sunshine. With plenty of refreshments to choose from and long missed friends to catch up with amongst a backdrop of Aston Martins as far as the eye could see, it was all worth the months of hard work and uncertainty.
Later, when the display cars had all been counted and added to the trade stand cars and number of tickets scanned at the gate, we were delighted to announce that there were a fantastic 681 Astons in attendance. Over £10,000 was raised for the AMHT funds and a very enjoyable day was had by one and all.
Thank you to everyone who supported us by attending and for all your great feedback… watch this space, we are planning next year’s event!