In this extract from his Introduction to Salmons & Sons and Aston Martin,
Chris Nelson asks
………….How on earth could the little market town of Newport Pagnell have had such a significant role in the evolution of the British transport industry and nurtured the rise of one of the most stylish sportscar marques in the world, and yet have manifestly failed to receive the recognition it so richly deserves?
This booklet seeks to shine a light on the remarkable story of Newport Pagnell and its proud – although frequently wobbly - steps from the manufacture of horse-led carriages and wooden coach-works (the Salmons family) to body parts for new-fangled horseless carriages (Tickford Ltd) and eventually to the legendary Aston Martin sports and racing cars.
In 2007, after 49 years of hand-built manufacture, production of Aston Martins ceased at their Tickford Works site in London Road, but if the town’s full contribution to the transport industry is counted, then it has been punching way above its weight for the best part of two centuries.
In that time, it has produced everything from horse-drawn Victorian dogcarts, to mail and passenger coaches on the London to Edinburgh route, bodywork conversions for big brand names in an emerging motor industry, to the sleekest, most sought-after sportscars for royalty and the famous - plus limited editions and even one-off models for the very few who can afford them.
Perhaps the most celebrated of all Astons – the DB5s driven by Sean Connery as Ian Fleming’s fictional spy James Bond in Goldfinger (1964) – were built at Newport Pagnell, and helped to cement the brand as the car of choice for the rich, sophisticated and discerning.
But with every step along the way of a low-volume, hand-built car maker – fiercely independent of the major manufacturers, except for one short period – comes a parallel story of how Aston Martin has survived the spectacular ups and downs of its hugely volatile business.
Victor Gauntlett summed it up well in his time as chairman and part-owner in the 1980s when he was asked: “How can you make a small fortune out of Aston Martin?” He replied: “Start with a big one”1
Aston Martin has certainly seen some financial storms (it’s been rescued from administration seven times2), and profitability is a spectre that continues to haunt it even today.
Nevertheless, the marque continues to be considered the UK’s most stylish automotive brand and it came tenth globally, against the likes of giants like Apple and Nike3. Not bad considering most people continue to think of Newport Pagnell only as a motorway services station.
Today, …… manufacturing has moved to Gaydon, Warwickshire, nearer to the Midlands centres of car-making, and a factory is being built in Wales for their new electric-powered DBX model.
But the iconic Tickford Works building still stands (in the town), busier than ever. Refurbished as a new international showroom and servicing centre, it sees many of the 13,000 hand-built Astons that began their life in Newport Pagnell return from all corners of the globe for servicing and restoration work – some probably using the same tools that built them.
This booklet aims to give an overview of the stories of the companies that have made Newport Pagnell the spiritual home of the world’s coolest car marque, and some belated recognition of all those artisans and craftsmen who helped to create its unique pedigree. ……………