Thursday, 3 March 2016

A Living Legend: Huddersfield and the Aston Martin DB6

Sir David Brown and DB6
When most people think about Aston Martin, they think about a hand-made English sports car produced at Newport Pagnell. The more knowledgeable would know of their origins as Bamford & Martin in Kensington, followed by a period in Feltham. Others may know of the firm's association with Touring of Milan and of the wonderful and stylish cars that were produced as a consequence. Few however could imagine that without the small Yorkshire town of Huddersfield, none of this would have happened.

This is a blog relating to a Northern Powerhouse nestling in the Pennines.

In February 1947 the Huddersfield industrialist David Brown bought Aston Martin Ltd. from Gordon Sutherland and Claude Hill for the sum of £20,000. Later that year he also purchased Lagonda for the sum of £52,500, as he was interested in a new engine that had been designed for the company by W.O. Bentley.  He felt that this 2.6 litre DOHC engine would be ideal in his new sports car the DB2.  

In 1955 he bought Tickford, the coachbuilding company started by Salmons & Sons and based at Tickford Street, Newport Pagnell. David Brown was not just a wealthy and astute industrialist; he had both an appreciation of engineering in general and a keen eye for motor cars. It was his wish to produce the finest sports-car in the world.

His purchase of Aston Martin in 1947 heralded the dawning of a Golden Age for the marque and their continuing association until 1972 resulted in the finest hand-made cars to have ever passed through the factory gates. He also turned AM in to a winner on the race tracks, with a LeMans victory and the World Sports Car Championships in 1959.

In 1961 David Brown Industries employed a work-force of over 7000, with factories in Huddersfield, Coventry, Manchester, Salford and London. The company also bought a controlling share in shipbuilders Vosper Thorneycroft in 1964 and had factories and business interests throughout the world.

However Huddersfield was David Brown and David Brown was Huddersfield.

The Company badge of DB with a white and red rose says it all. This was a town at the sumit of the Pennines, with Lancashire to the west and Yorkshire to the east. From Farsley in the north to Peniston in the south, virtually the whole of the town and surrounding area came under his influence.

To list but a few:-
                 Lockwood                                            Head Office
                 Park Works – Swan Lane                 Heavy gears/boxes/heat treatment
                 Keighley Gears – Howarth Lane     Radicon/reduction units
                 Meltham Mills                                    Tractors
                 Peniston – Green Road                     Foundry/pumps
                 Aspley - St. Andrews Road               Forge/fabrication/chassis shop
                 Scholes                                                 TrainingSchool/AdvanceTraining/R&D              
                 Newlands Works – Farsley              Tractor/LB6 engines/DB2/4 assembly line

Forward thinking as ever, he also had his own private airfield at Crossland Moor, one of the slightly less hilly parts of the town from which he would fly his De Havilland Dove to business operations further afield. Invariably he would be accompanied by at least one glamorous assistant and this was well before the advent of the PA.

So to Huddersfield

Lockwood Head Office

I came across a very nice brochure relating to the DB6 the other day entitled ‘A Living Legend’.

I would like to share with you the contents of this publication, partly because it is a great period piece from Aston Martin but mostly because it shows just how much they cared about their product.

It was very pleasing to note that the chassis were transported to Newport Pagnell by road from David Brown Industries in Huddersfield. Indeed they were fabricated in the chassis shop at St. Andrews Road, Aspley situated between Broad Canal and the river Colne.

St. Andrews Road Works

 If you accept that the chassis is the bones of a car, it is certainly nice to know that it was made in Yorkshire. It also shows how committed Aston Martin was under David Brown to make the ‘complete car’. Even their great rivals Ferrari at that time had their chassis made by Vaccari in Modena.

Quote: 'The body is hand formed from 34 separate 16swg alloy panels, welded together to make the shell. A steel wire surround is lipped into the lower edges of all sections to give added strength. All dents and ripples are hand beaten out before being passed to the paint shop, where between 20 and 22 coats of primer and final colour are applied to each car'. Wonderful stuff.

Then we come to the engine.

Well if the chassis is the bones of the car, then the engine is its heart.
The wonderful thing about Aston Martin at this time is that they truly made their own engines. From raw castings and forgings, everything was machined and assembled in-house. After all, how could a car manufacturer that did not make his engine be taken seriously? This was the failing of Jensen and Bristol for example, well made and stylish cars but with a bought-in and mass produced engine.

What is apparent from the brochure is the level of care and pride that went into the building of these engines at Newport Pagnell.

The seven main bearing bores within the crankcase are line-bored on a DIXI/Le Locle jig-boring machine to a tolerance of 0.0006 of an inch, impressive stuff indeed when you consider the length of this crankcase. These machines were hand operated and reliant entirely on the skill of the operator. The crankshaft is balanced statically and dynamically, initially on its own then with the flywheel attached. The con-rods are weighed and selected to make up a perfectly matched set of six. The same is done with the pistons and gudgeon pins, all to ensure a perfect balance throughout.
The engine is solely built by one fitter, the attention to detail so great, that the tester can tell who this individual was by the performance on the brake. All engines are run at varying speed up to a limit of 5,500 rpm for 4 ½ - 5 ½ hours using a Hennan & Froude dynamometer.


Of course David Brown had a long history of building engines at the Newlands Works, Farsley just north of Leeds. The tractor engines were built there as was the Lagonda designed LB6 fitted to the Aston Martin DB2 onwards. In fact a production line was introduced at the factory in 1953 for the new DB2/4 model. Almost all these cars were assembled in this factory before being driven to Feltham for final inspection. The factory closed in 1957 at the end of the model run and the car engine production with many of the engineers moved to Newport Pagnell.

DB2/4 assembly line Newlands Works

Not only did Aston Martin produce their engine in house, but David Brown Industries manufactured many of the machines and much of the tooling used in production. From gear planing machines to floating reamers, they made them all.

Newlands Works Farsley

Back to the brochure.

After the car is completed and has passed all its tests, it is driven for at least 100 miles of solid workout. It is then given a final coat of paint and the bumpers fitted, only then is it passed to Sales for distribution. A total of 1200 working hours or three months will have passed since the steel platform chassis arrived at the factory. This is how long it took to make an Aston Martin DB6.

So what have we learned from reading this period literature?

Well there was clearly no raiding of the corporate ‘parts bin’ here.  No use of a chassis/platform designed and used previously by another car maker. No use of an out-sourced engine produced in the factory of a mass car manufacturer. No these were hand made cars through and through.
That is not to say that specific parts were not sought elsewhere if they were considered to be the best available products of the time. Examples of this are the Salisbury back axle, 5 speed ZF gearbox and power steering components used on the DB6. Oh and the track-rod ends from a Coventry Climax fork lift truck.

As always perfection does not come cheap.

In 1965 the model was launched with a UK recommended retail price of £4,998, all Alternative Equipment being available within that cost. In July 1966 the Wilson government increased purchase tax and clamped down on hire-purchase tax concessions, which lifted the retail price to £5,085. This and the overall economic uncertainty of the time resulted in a distinct lack of orders. David Brown took the drastic decision to reduce the price of his cars and by 1967 a £1000 had been knocked off the original list price. There is an often repeated story that relates to the DB6, in that David Brown at a business lunch in London was approached by an old friend and asked if it would be possible as a favour, for him to purchase a car at cost. David Brown replied he would be delighted to oblige and several days later the friend received an invoice for a £1000 more than the published list price.
True or not, it is a lovely story and one any Yorkshireman would be proud of.

I would like to leave you with a few sentences from the front page of the brochure.

‘Each car is an individual achievement of dedicated men; hand-built with imagination, skill and superlative craftsmanship. The Aston Martin is a living legend – and the legend will continue as long as pride in workmanship, awareness of real distinction in design and appreciation of truly beautiful things persist’

What sentiment.
A living legend indeed.

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