The Aston Martin story

If you can't afford the car, you may just be able to afford the definitive history of the marque. Roger Bell meets the publisher

JUST OVER 80 years ago, Robert Bamford and Lionel Martin produced a hybrid sports car billed rather grandly as a Bugatti substitute. The name chosen for what was to become Britain's most exotic and emotive marque was not, as logic would suggest, Bamford Martin. It was instead Aston Martin, a combination of the name of the dominant partner - a bit of a hotshot, by all accounts - and that of the Aston Clinton sprint hill climb near Tring, Hertford-shire. But what of Mr Bamford? Did he regret not being immortalised in chrome?

Searching in vain for the answer in Aston Martin, the Compleat Car, I learnt instead this nugget of motoring lore. "With marketing in mind, a name beginning with A was chosen so that it would be near the top of alphabetical lists." So there you have it. Business before sentiment. A before B.

You don't need to be a car buff to appreciate Palawan Press's first limited- edition title - but it helps. This definitive illustrated history of Aston Martin is even more exclusive than the cars it depicts - and, pound for pound, much more expensive. Even the "cheap" cloth-bound edition (1,500 printed, pounds 36 per pound weight) costs pounds 250. On the leatherbound cover of the pounds 600 version is a brass plaque (displaying the book's number - 001 to 150 - and the owner's name), produced by the people who "plate" for posterity Aston Martin's V8 engines. It's a nice bespoke touch that will appeal to gurus on the Antiques Roadshow a century hence.

This lavish, 336-page heavyweight says almost as much about its publisher, Simon Draper, as it does about its subject. "There were lots of books about Aston Martin, but none that did it justice," says Draper, who as Richard Branson's former business partner now has the means to indulge expensive hobbies. "I wanted to produce an authoritative reference work, not another anecdotal story about the marque. But the task was too big for one person." Five Aston Martin oracles race you through the glossy leaves. The splendid pictures mix archive material (from the collections of Louis Klementaski and Geoff Goddard) with specially taken still portraits by Richard Newton.

Four of Draper's passions - cars, art, books and exotic birds - are embraced by the Aston Martin tome. Birds? Palawan Press owes its name to a rare ornamental pheasant. "I've always been interested in wildlife since my boyhood in South Africa," says the affable Draper, who is in his mid-forties but looks younger. His prosperity, however, is rooted in music. "I'd just graduated and was intending to go to Oxford. Richard, my second cousin, had this mail-order business selling cut-price records called Virgin. I joined him for a few months in 1971." Draper never did get to Oxford. Instead, he built Virgin into the world's fifth-biggest record company before it was sold to Thorn EMI.

After owning a succession of fast, technically interesting business wheels - Saab 99 Turbo, Audi Quattro, Quattro Sport - Draper was persuaded by Roger Taylor (the drummer with Queen) to buy an Aston Martin Vantage. "When Virgin went public in 1986, the directors allowed themselves a bit more spending money. The Vantage was a good compromise. It took three kids and luggage, and went like a rocket." This much-loved Aston formed the nucleus of Draper's car collection.

Another drummer and a fellow car freak, Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, also encouraged Draper's Aston Martin habit. "Nick gave me a lot of advice," he says. "My interest in Astons is fuelled by their history. It's all here, in Britain. Astons of every era are unified by their individuality. They are cars of great character. If something goes wrong, you find yourself dealing with interested people." He describes the Aston Martin Owners Club, 60 this year, as "the finest one-make club in the world."

Draper's first old car was a DB4 convertible. "It was terrible, an old dog," he confesses. It was bought, though, when values were rising steeply in the late Eighties. "The boom encouraged collectors to go a bit bonkers," he says. "After expensive restoration, it was still worth more than I had paid out." His cars are not mothballed museum pieces, but pristine runners to be enjoyed on road and track - he will be racing his Aston Martins at the Goodwood Festival of Speed next weekend, and at the Coys Inter-national Historic Festival at Silverstone on 29-30 July. His collection also includes Bristols ("idiosyncratic cars of great appeal"), Lancias ("made to exacting standards and wonderful to drive") and a Lamborghini Miura ("because of the way it looks").

Draper is not a Porsche fan, but he still has three Ferraris, including a troublesome new 456 that vies as everyday wheels with an Aston DB7. "Ferraris have the better engines," he concedes. Hooked on historic racing in 1991, Palawan's founder no longer buys Astons indiscriminately, but concentrates on the competition classics. Although the set is incomplete - he's still missing a "team" DB2, for instance - there are samples of Aston's most prized models: the DBR1 (which fulfilled the late Sir David Brown's dream of winning at Le Mans, in 1959), and a DBR4 single-seater that stretched the great Roy Salvadori. Among Draper's other favourites is the LM20 that came third at Le Mans in 1935 on just 1.5 litres. "It's much quicker now than it was then - but Nick Mason's is even quicker," he says. "Pre-war Aston Martins were beautifully made."

Draper is now as keen on publishing books as he is on collecting cars. "I found doing Aston Martin, the Compleat Car tremendously exciting and satisfying, so I decided to do more. I knew it was possible to sell expensive books of very high quality by mail order." Forthcoming publications, on Ferrari racing cars and the Aston Martin DB3S, are even more narrowly focused than the Aston history. There's also a two-volume magnum opus in the offing, about every known species of pheasant - all 48 of them, including the Palawan. "This is my riskiest book yet," says Draper, relishing the challenge.

! `Aston Martin, the Compleat Car' is published by Palawan Press Ltd, 28 Holland Park Mews, London W11 3SX, at pounds 250 and pounds 600.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition