When you think of Aston Martin, the first car that comes to mind is probably the DB5, James Bond’s chariot of choice, a model that was released in 1963. As it is with many of the longstanding European marques, the most memorable vehicles are often those that debuted decades ago and have had plenty of time to build up their legacies. But when it comes to this particular British automaker, their beginning goes back to a time well before the DB5, and even before Ian Fleming dreamt up the DB5-driving spy.
Aston Martin was officially founded in 1913 by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford (the rest of the company name is derived from an English race won by Martin, the Aston Clinton Hill Climb) and produced its first car in 1915. According to the company, that debut vehicle and its follow-up have not survived to the present day; however, the third car — chassis No. 3, which has become to be known as “A3,” made in 1921 — has not only made it in one piece, but underwent a meticulous restoration in the 21st century courtesy of the Aston Martin Heritage Trust. That means this year, it’s the 100th anniversary of the oldest-surviving Aston.
To celebrate, the company recently announced a special commission: a super limited-edition Vantage Roadster (the convertible version of the brand’s 500-plus horsepower entry-level sports car) that pays homage to the A3 through a number of corresponding design elements. The builds — and there are only three of them available — were commissioned through the marque’s bespoke division, Q by Aston Martin.
Normally we wouldn’t spend too much time getting hung up on a marketing stunt like this. Automakers build anniversary cars all the time in bids to drum up press as well as excitement from buyers who wish they could go back to the glory days of motoring, when romantic design and thunderous engines took precedence over all those boring things like emissions and safety and practicality. But in this case, what we have is the rare chance to look at how much Aston Martin has changed in a century as embodied by two specific cars.
For similarities, the A3 and the Vantage Roadster both have four wheels, two seats, no top and an internal combustion engine. That’s more or less where it ends. In the differences department, the A3 is powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder side valve engine that puts out 11 horsepower, and its top speed is somewhere around 84.5 mph (if that sounds meager, I doubt many modern drivers would be willing to get anywhere near that speed in this ancient machine). Meanwhile, the Vantage Roadster packs a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 engine that puts out 503 horsepower, over 45 times the A3, and tops out at 190 mph, which most people would feel fairly comfortable doing, at least on a closed track (after all, this thing has a fabric top and air conditioning).
To bring these two ends of the Aston Martin timeline together, the Q branch didn’t simply opt for specialized trim and interior materials (though that’s certainly part of it); they actually designed a set of bronze brake calipers which evoke the detailing on the A3. As for the less crucial, but no less dashing, customizations, there’s a unique grille circled in aluminum and adorned with the marque’s heritage badge, unique side fender panels (finished by Ecurie Bertelli, the pre-war Aston Martin specialist who restored the A3), a “No 3” engraving matching the original, and embroidered script on the rear cubby lid that matches the 1921 design. And that’s just what caught our attention.
“It is only right that this great marque takes the opportunity to celebrate the centenary of its oldest surviving model and I am thrilled that my team, working with the AMHT and Aston Martin HWM, have been able to create this tasteful yet suitably exhilarating tribute to our historic forebear,” said Simon Lane, Director of Q and Special Project Sales at Aston Martin.
Aston Martin HWM, by the way, is a long-standing dealer that commissioned these three Vantage Roadsters in the first place. How long-standing? Their business goes back to 1938, so really, this is just an occasion for some good old fashioned British backslapping. Good on them for sticking it out for so long; let’s hope they all make it into the next century.
As for Aston Martin itself, they’ve got a plan to stay alive, and it has nothing to do with super limited-edition anniversary cars.
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