Aston Martin’s service operation is extraordinary in its size and scope. However old or young your Aston, Works Service will perform any job – as long as it’s appropriate…
After-sales service is an overused term, but if there’s an outfit which truly qualifies, it’s Aston Martin Works Service. Most manufacturers rely on their dealers to maintain their product; not Aston. The firm runs its own service department, with a rather wide remit: whether your Aston is five weeks or 50 years old, they have it covered.
This summer sees the end of car production at Newport Pagnell, when the Vanquish line ends. The famous Bucks address will continue to harbour plenty of Aston activity, though, under the enthusiastic guidance of Kingsley Riding-Felce, Director of Works Service and Customer Relations. Passionate about cars, he has been part of Aston for many years. It’s this continuity which makes customers bring cars back to Newport Pagnell. “People like coming here because they’ve got to know the staff – I try to keep the same faces in the front line. And we’re no dearer than anyone else!”
Aston, as he points out, has always had a service facility, and there have been times when service and parts have been crucial to the firm’s revenue. But more than that, says Kingsley, Works Service has remained a constant for customers through many changes. He reels off all the companies which have owned the marque since David Brown’s time – it’s a long list, and it may increase soon…
Technically, this outfit is in competition with Aston’s own dealers; they, however, can’t offer all of these services. AMWS divides into four: maintenance, crash repair, heritage, which we’ll come back to, and Special Vehicles. Those who want more power, stiffer suspension, unusual interiors, or entertainment upgrades apply here. Kingsley shows us a DB9 having a touch-screen fitted which boasts TV and PlayStation as well as sat-nav and a hugely boosted hi-fi. Alongside is a Vanquish being converted from paddle-shift to gear lever. “Oh yes, we do quite a few,” says Kingsley. “Some owners prefer tradition.” As this means adding a clutch pedal and new centre console, it’s a job you want done here by the makers.
We move through the maintenance bay, and I gape. I’ve rarely seen this many cars worked on in one garage: two rows of cars on hoists vanish into the distance. In fact there can be 100 cars in at any one time. Round the corner is the crash repair section, where experts tackle the aluminium and bonded composites construction of modern Astons. Luckily for my sensibilities I can only see lightly biffed V8s and Vanquishes being stripped to their carbon-fibre underwear.
Further back lies the heritage shop. If you own any Aston from 1950 on, AMWS can do anything from a service to a bare-metal rebuild, with the benefit of original drawings to call on, and sometimes even the guys who built the car in the first place. They will also modify older cars, adding air-conditioning, replacing a clunky Borg-Warner with a modern autobox, or slyly inserting an MP3 player behind a period radio. “But some things we won’t do,” says Kingsley, “like inserting a V8 into a DB4...” Parts are no problem: “there’s nothing we can’t get. Either we have it or we know a supplier.”
Kingsley points out that with air-conditioning added and today’s endless traffic jams there’s more heat to dissipate, so one of the jobs they include in a restoration is extra heat insulation on the engine bulkhead. This is why they always ask what the customer will do with the car. Whether it is classic rallying, concours events or summer runs to the pub will affect the rebuild.
Beside us a DB4GT is being assembled in bare metal. “We always do a first-fit before painting so we can check fits and drill any holes needed,” says Kingsley. “And when we panel it, we put the car on its suspension so we know it sits right.”
Behind is a car I recognise even in its stripped state – the only survivor of the two Ogle Astons, styled by Tom Karen. With 22 rear lights and its sideways third seat, this raked in the headlines in 1972 and still looks impressive. One of the unique features of this concept vehicle was the huge glass panels with distinctive yellow stripes, and AMWS is currently having these copied for the restoration – an example of the one-off stuff this operation can undertake.
Opposite, a rare sight: a brace of the Bill Towns Lagondas, often reviled but staunchly defended by Kingsley. “Super cars, and very well built. They saved the company, too, bringing cash from the Middle East. I can remember driving prototypes through London – people stopped and applauded!” Looking at the car’s broad angularity now I can agree; it’s an amazing piece of packaging. Originality defers to practicality inside, however: AMWS normally replaces the tricksy fluorescent dash with real dials which work.
In a separate shop are the wheels, folders and guillotines on which aluminium body panels are made. Astons were always hand-built, which means that panels aren’t interchangeable; they must be made to fit. And as Kingsley adds, “frankly it’s much simpler to make a whole new body than to repair panels.” But if customers want a patch they can have a patch: there’s a DB5 here having some corrosion cut out ready for half a wing to be welded in.
The traditions of the company are ever-present as Kingsley talks. He recalls the ‘one family from new’ DB6 they restored: “as a surprise we recreated the original handover in front of Sunnyside [the house fronting the factory]”. The firm is close to both AMOC and the Aston Martin Heritage Trust; Kingsley is a trustee of that and of the Gaydon Heritage Trust. If there’s one lasting impression from a visit here, it’s continuity.
One intriguing statistic: up to the last of the old V8s, the firm had made 13,000 cars in total. This year Works Service aims to handle 2500 cars. It’s a strong commercial element in Aston Martin’s makeup, but remains a highly personalised service which keeps owners returning to Newport Pagnell.