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Taking off in a
British Sports Car

Aston Martin at night

Aston Martin DBS

David Brown had a fine business building some of the most capable tractors in the world when, in 1947, he bought fabled Aston Martin, and produced a series of sports cars famously driven by James Bond. Subsequent Aston Martins were marked by his initials, DB, and identified with a number.

AN ODE TO
BRITISH
SPORTS CARS

One lovely sunny day when I was a child, I was walking through a town parking lot with my father, and wishing I were somewhere else, preferrably a tree. I was uninterested in the cars all around me, particularly as I was not very tall and I was seeing them at wheel level.

Suddenly I stopped short, as if a tire had rolled over my foot, and pinned me to the ground. I was staring at the most interesting car wheels I had ever seen.

Old red Aston Martin racing into country

Aston Martin, DB # unknown

They were spoked wheels, and in retrospect undoubtedly attached to a British sports car. It's possible my delight in them merely reflected my father's pleasure in looking at the car, but I don't think so. The spoked wheels flashed like bike wheels, and spoke of adventure and sangfroid and the countryside, though I could not have named those feelings then. How I longed to drive off in that car.

Years later I would understand what I was seeing: "Most sports cars are rear-wheel drive, have two seats and two doors and are designed to provide excellent handling, acceleration, and good looks. . .Most early British sports cars lacked a powerful engine and did not accelerate as quickly as contemporary American muscle cars, but were known for having exceptional handling characteristics due to their combination of light weight, carefully engineered/balanced chassis, and innovative suspension designs (Wikipedia)."

In addition to the Aston Martin, fabled British sports cars and racing vehicles include the MG, Morgan, Jaguar, Austin Healey, AC, Caterham, Lotus, McLaren, TVR, and Triumph. Due to more relaxed safety regulations on the east side of the Atlantic, they are now more likely to be seen in Britain and Europe than in North America.

The first time I drove a British sports car I was in my 20s and low behind the wheel of a MGB. It was night in the country and a great owl, hunting, and flying low, flew straight toward the windshield. I held tightly to the leather-sheathed wheel as the great wings spread across my sight, and disappeared, and drove on without mishap, except, I feared, to the bird. The second time, driving the same red MGB, it was winter, and the hills were sheathed in black ice. I landed the MGB in a ditch, but we both emerged unscathed, and I have not driven a sports car since. Each of us discovers "among the things that are passing away" which ones to hold fast to, and I let go of sports cars.

For others, life is better with a sports cars. Handling is one reason men, and sometimes women, will spend more than £100,000 on the very fast Aston Martin DB9 coupe. Another is design and power. The DB9 features a "mouth-like grill", a wood, leather, and aluminum interior, and a powerful leap from 0 to 60 in 4.7 seconds. I suppose some people also like to turn heads while they drive a stylish car, but as for me, I just want to see the blur of those spoked silver wheels.

 

Morgan on the seafront

The 2002 Morgan Plus 8

There is a year-long waiting list for Aston Martins.
There is an equally long wait for the Morgan.

I was grown when t he Morgan stopped me right in my tracks one hot LA afternoon. I had never seen one before.

Andrew English writes that "Morgan's values encompass decency, craft, longevity, conservatism and, above all, shapes.” They also encompass the trademark leather belt tying down the bonnet (the hood, as we Americans persist in calling it).

The waiting list for a classic Morgan is about a year, and three months. Charles Morgan, only the third Morgan to own and run the firm, which was founded in 1909, wouldn’t mind if the wait were longer.

On the other hand, he has a futuristic project up his sleeve. British partners Morgan and QinetiQ, Europe's largest science and technology solutions company, are developing the world's first environmentally clean sports car powered by a fuel cell which converts hydrogen into electricity. (Cranfield and Oxford universities, BOC and OSCar are also partners.) The ultra quiet new vehicle, known as LIFECar, will produce only water vapour. The challenge will be finding a cost- and energy-effective way to produce the hydrogen fuel.

Futuristic Morgan with fuel cell engine

The fuel-cell powered LIFEcar built on a Morgan chassis.
William Grove invented the forerunner of the fuel cell.
Image: QinetiQ

More information about the Aston Martin and photo: WIKIPEDIA »

"Mouth-like grill" and other details provided by Alan Judd
of the Spectator UK

Image of Morgan:Morgan USA

 

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Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 David Abbott & Catherine Glass