Somewhere in Wiltshire, Aston Martins are congregating for special attention; whether it’s repair, restoration or race-preparation, the enthusiasm is the same
Words: Rob Widdows. Photography: Phil Starling
Aston Martin — so very British. How right then to find Astons nesting in a perfect English village in a far corner of the Wiltshire cornfields. Anyone born between ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Let It Be’ will know that Aston Martin was the automobile of choice for secret agent James Bond. Only the best of British for our man in the firing line.
Goldsmith & Young discreetly gets on with the restoration and race preparation of these iconic cars at Mere, just south of Warminster, and unleashes them on the race tracks of Europe, often driven to their limit by the founder’s wife Gillian Goldsmith. At last month’s Silverstone Classic the handicappers got it wrong and Gillian embarrassed them with her speed in her beloved DB4GT while being chased by a DBR9 and a DBR1 for an Aston publicity shoot.
A quarter of a century ago John Goldsmith, a retired nuclear submarine navigator, set up shop to provide Aston owners with a professional service. At the time he was restoring, and then racing, his own Series Five DB4 Vantage, one of only six DB4 cars to be fitted with the GT engine from the factory. He’d learnt his trade as an apprentice with Vic Bass, under a railway arch in Battersea. “Vic was a technician at a nearby hospital and used to machine the odd cylinder head in the hospital workshop” remembers John.
David Brown bought Aston Martin for one pound in 1947, intending to revive the racing team and then sell the cars on the back of circuit success, in the same way as Enzo Ferrari built an empire on his motor racing team. In their different ways both marques have survived time and corporate mergers, with Aston now part of Ford and Ferrari owned by Fiat.
Goldsmith & Young, however, is not only about racing cars. The company searches for, and inspects, cars for new owners as well as restoring, repairing and servicing road cars. But you get the impression that, like Aston Martin’s original creators back in the ’30s, the passion lies in the competition department.
“We love Aston Martins,” says John Goldsmith. “And yes, we love to go racing. But we lavish the same amount of care on the road cars because that’s what the owner expects. Most people who own Astons wouldn’t have any other car and they know what they want. We’re often asked to inspect a car before purchase because buying the wrong car is an expensive mistake and we know what we’re looking at.”
In the workshop are various Astons in various states of repair, and disrepair. There’s something slightly odd about one DB5 perched on a ramp. “The owner wanted straight headlights, not the normal DB5 faired-in headlamp arrangement,” explains John. “Some of our owners are rich but they are all perfectionists. We don’t tend to get the pop stars and the footballers but we do get real Aston enthusiasts with a passion for the machinery and the history.”
There are two cars in for a full restoration. One, a DB6 MkI, arrived as a wreck while the other, a DB5, had been languishing in a barn for 20 years before being admitted as a patient at Goldsmith & Young.
In another workshop, just along the way, John is building a replica Zagato, the Italian body style which became such a famous shape on the racetracks of Europe. “We are building this to FIA regulations and we will take it to the very last letter of the rule book,” says John with a glint in his eye. “Many people frown on racing replicas but I don’t see the problem, unless they ruin the true sport of historic racing. True historics are one thing, replicas another, so we have to ensure that the sport knows where it’s going with two different approaches.”
The boss doesn’t get his hands dirty as often as he would like. The success of the business keeps him in his office, and he’s also on the board of the Aston Martin Owners Club. “You do lose ‘spanner sense’ if you’re not doing the job every day,” he explains, “but I can do all the work that I demand of my staff, and we have some very good people here. We are not, perhaps, as good at the marketing and PR as some of our rivals, but we love the work and we make friends with the people who bring us their precious cars.”
So what happened to the Young of Goldsmith & Young? There’s a pause and another glint in the eye. “He’s not here today. In fact he never was. When I started I’d bought a DB5 with the registration 73 GYL so I thought, I know, I’ll call the company Goldsmith & Young Ltd. And ever since, if someone’s unhappy, I blame Mr Young who is not here today.”
Not much has gone wrong these past 25 years. Gillian, a former Ford works driver and National Hunt champion jockey, races on with undiminished vigour while John keeps a watchful eye on the workshop and the club. Goldsmith & Young remains one of those very English companies which make up the huge motorsport and restoration industry of which the UK is so justifiably proud.