Picture Making

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Or an excuse for a fast run in an Aston Martin DBS

The idea of having a really topical, if touring, picture on the front cover of this issue of Motor Sport seemed a good one. All that was required was a good British car in the foreground (a Gilbern might have been tactless), pictures to meet the colour printing schedule, and a quick trip to conserve office time.

Having decided on, and obtained, an Aston Martin DBS, we left Standard House at 3.15 p.m. one Wednesday afternoon with a full tank of fuel, bound for Bangor in N. Wales. Traffic was heavy but by 4.15 we had put 55 miles behind us and, aided by the M1, the next hour saw 65 miles disposed of. The DBS we were using was the Automatic model with Borg-Warner No. 8 gearbox, which lagged a little in pick-up from the lower speeds and possessed a rather distressing pause before anything much happened after kick-down. Once into its stride, however, it proved a good road-burner, accelerating to a hard purposeful sound from its vintage 4-litre six-cylinder twin-cam engine. It was geared to do 120 m.p.h., indicated at 5,000 r.p.m., and as there was a warning mark on the tachometer dial at 5,500, it was approximately a 130-m.p.h. car, which is of only academic interest to we backward but State-protected British. Driving at more moderate speeds oil temperature showed 70º, oil pressure a remarkably high 100 to 120 lb./sq. in., and water temperature 80º. So we pressed-on, to the extent of 120 miles in two hours, 177 miles in 180 minutes. . . .

I remembered that Mr. Steve Heggie, Aston Martin’s Deputy Managing Director, had spoken to me of the modern Aston Martin as primarily a prestige car, like a Savile Row suit or his Rolex Oyster wristwatch. (I was fortunately wearing the right suit at the time, but a Breitling Navitimer instead of a solid gold Rolex! I recall him saying that if I drove down the King’s Road in an Aston Martin the girls would turn to look at me and my reply that I thought if I was in a Silver Shadow they might even get in, while a Lotus Elan might be more fun to drive, which is really, to my mind, the point and purpose of a high-performance car.) Now, here I was in an Aston Martin, able to sum it up. My driver was mumbling that he thought his Porsche 911 was quicker, A to B, I thought the passenger’s seat a bit slippery and less comfortable than some others in luxury cars a good deal older, but giving excellent support, and the fresh-air system with its many swivelling vents was adequate on this warm afternoon, although the paint job on those situated on the door pillars was poor for a £6,112 car.

Of course, it’s all very lavish inside, with some good ideas, like putting the ride control, wipers/washers control and fog/spot lamps/panel lighting switch on the r.h. door pillar, and labelling the row of press-buttons Hazard warning, Fuel reserve, Spare, Interior lighting, Rear window (heating), and Horn change. The controls for the electric window lifts are well placed, the heater knob has six labelled settings, and there is a Kienzle clock. The big lockable cubby has a map lamp, but its lid-pull could rip you in a crash. There is no vanity mirror but presumably Aston Martin girls do not make-up in public—or is it hidden somewhere? Wood trim is confined to the instrument panel, the central gear-lever is biased to the l.h.d. position but moves in a very effective quadrant, there is a nice very small wood-rim steering wheel and a very good fly-off handbrake, the roof is tailored in cloth, two shaped back seats provide for extra passengers and two stalks, r.h. and l.h., look after lamps dipping and lamps selection and horn blowing. But choke and rear window heating warning lights are at eye level. . . .

We did not have an altogether pleasant journey. Our route was up the M6 and for some time we had been troubled by an odd noise under the car and sensed that things were shedding themselves. A pause just before Newcastle to try to locate the reason for this intermittent racket revealed nothing. So we continued, getting lost on that town’s un-signposted ring road as we sought the way to Whitchurch; presumably they navigate by the sun in these parts. Luckily it was still shining and we took the narrow twisting road to Llangollen, and on along Telford’s Holyhead Road, the Avon Turbospeeds clinging well, with seldom any protest. We rated the road-holding of a high standard for such a big car, apart from the de Dion back-end hopping sideways a bit on bumps, and matched to a good ride; the steering is excellent, high-geared at three turns, lock-to-lock, light but very quick and precise, although vicious kick-back occurs as the wheels strike pot-holes. By engaging “L” and then flicking the gear lever into “D2” it was possible to send the needle more quickly over the calibrations of the 180-m.p.h. speedometer. Such enjoyment was marred by poor wipers, which meant driving into a setting sun with a smeared screen, and a feeling of sickness on the passenger’s part. The reason for the latter became apparent on arrival at our hotel in Bangor, for, on opening his door, heat was immediately felt—the exhaust system had been breaking up, probably at the flexible pipe between manifold and silencer, hence the odd noises we had heard, with bits of asbestos packing stripping off and flying backwards!

Shutting off the central cold-air vents stopped the fumes and a car which had put 271 miles into five minutes under five hours, out of London and with several stops, including refuelling, was otherwise regarded as satisfactory.

It had been a run which embraced Telford’s famous iron Waterloo Bridge at Bettws-y-Coed, and a glimpse of the dug-up “Babs” which O. Wyn Owen is restoring, through the door of his workshop in Capel Curig (and a glimpse of that gentleman and his dog when we went by next day), and much crawling in tourist traffic thereafter.

All that remained was to get up at 6 a.m. the next morning, motor to Caernarvon, pose the DBS against the background of the 3-acre Castle, or Y Gaer yn Arfon, built in 1285-1322, with walls seven to nine feet thick (it is the finest Castle in Britain), on the harbour where the shipping office was opened in 1840, and operate the Leicaflex.

The Editor then got behind the wheel and drove more or less nonstop (except for petrol and a soft drink) back to London, badly delayed of course in the region of Birmingham and Coventry, having come by way of slow roads via Shrewsbury, the Aston Martin giving no anxiety until it tended to stall in West End traffic. But the silencer was now rattling akin to old cans. . . . Doing some sums revealed that petrol consumption under these varied driving conditions had averaged 13.4 m.p.g. We encountered only one other car of the same make but near Coventry passed “Jumbo” Goddard in his XK120 Jaguar with the racing fuel filler. Now back to office work.—W. B.