No mercy for my Aston Martin DB5 in London’s streets
Above: The Aston Martin DB5 on arrival at Stanhope Mews in 1984. A proud moment.
In the late summer of 1984, I was sitting in my tiny flat in Stanhope Mews, South Kensington, reading a very inspiring novel by Ian Fleming.
The book was Goldfinger, and I read it in its original 1959 Glidrose hardback edition, that I bought for a few quid somewhere in Covent Garden. A great book.
Above: The original 1959 Glidrose edition of Goldfinger that was my inspiration. In the book, James Bond drove an Aston Martin DB III.
I was intrigued not only by the amazing narrative, but also by the battleship-grey “Aston Martin DB III”, that James Bond was driving.
There was even a whole chapter devoted to the car, called “Thoughts in a DB III” musing about the Aston as a car from the Q-branch pool – suited to James Bond’s cover as a well-to-do, rather adventurous young man with a taste for the good things in life.
That sounded very good to me and it was an interesting inspiration. I was a young man of 24 and a real car guy. Needless to say, I wanted a piece of the promised James Bond land, and the Aston Martin DB Mark III seemed just the right kit. I always liked the shape.
Meandering through the adjacent car showrooms in Queen’s Gate Place Mews in search of a good example, I talked to some mechanics, but no such luck. They said a good DB Mark III was as rare as hen’s teeth, and would cost north of £7,000, with little chance of anything cheaper.
Clearly, that was too much money for me. I only had around £5,000 left from the sale of my trusted old Porsche 356 Abarth Coupe, which accompanied me faithfully through the snowy European winter of 1983, rear-wheel drive proving a blessing.
In the summer 1984, walking along Queen’s Gate Place Mews was an exceptional experience. On a good day you could see all manner of exciting cars parked outside, from a Mercedes-Benz 540K Spezial Roadster to an Alfa 8C. Isotta Fraschini, plus Silver Ghosts, Hispanos, Bugattis, the odd Maserati 250F or Jaguar D-type, even a Ferrari Testarossa TR250 out for testing. It was a living and breathing automobile museum, with a light-hearted air to it – a truly magic part of London. (Today, only Gregor Fisken remains, flying the flag in the old mews).
However, there was not a single DB Mark III in sight or anything else in my price bracket. There was a fascinating green Bentley R-Type Continental Fastback that could have tempted me, but that was £10k all-in, and therefore far out of my reach.
Looking through the Exchange & Mart ads, I decided to take the bus up to Paradise Garage in Heathmans Road, Parsons Green, to have a good look around their yard.
Paradise Garage was another unique spot and a preferred hunting ground for many. They had cheap Ferraris, Bentleys, Rolls-Royces, Jaguars and Lambos galore. I can remember seeing four unloved Miuras sitting outside for months, as if in a scrapyard. The ex-rock-star favourites were so awful to drive, and I overheard a mechanic cursing one example. Paradise was clearly catering for a different market compared to Queen’s Gate Place Mews.
Rethinking my financial situation, I started looking for a cheaper car, but wanted to keep that Ian Fleming connection. So, I settled for the next best thing, an Aston Martin DB5.
Superleggera Astons were pretty numerous everywhere. You have to remember those were the final days when gentleman wore bowler hats, and bankers were chauffeured majestically in the back of their Rolls-Royce Phantom VIs. Lesser managers were driven in grey or black Daimler DS420s, sheikhs were seen in Aston Martin Lagonda saloons, and Silver Clouds and R-Types were common in daily traffic.
I viewed literally all the Astons parked in the London streets, but liked none of them. They were mostly parked up in front of antique shops in Chelsea’s King’s Road, or waiting patiently next to posh cafes in South Kensington, as were E-types. Many seemed a bit worn out though – they were still daily drivers, and nobody restored an Aston in 1984.
Walking through my neighbourhood on a lovely sunny day in October, I eventually found a nice 1965 Aston Martin DB5 peeking around the corner in Petersham Mews, just being polished up by a Mr. Kwolek, who was a real old-school salesman. I walked up to him and we started chatting about Jaguars (… yes, never open the conversation talking about the car you really want!).
He was the owner of a company called DCM Cars, and amazingly he also had a genuine C-type sitting in his garage. That to me signalled immediate competence. Mr. Kwolek told me he’d sold the C-Type Jag and had taken the DB5 in part exchange.
“Fine car, that Aston” (registration HYP 590) I said. Seeing the passion in my eyes, Mr. Kwolek responded that he was expecting at least £6,000 for it, in a quick deal.
I inspected the car and it looked glorious with its gleaming Warwick Grey paintwork and original grey leather. I loved that colour combination and the rich smell of the interior. It was fabulous.
I offered him £5,000, and we finally agreed on £5,750 with a handshake. He was a good salesman and I bought myself an Aston in under 15 minutes. After writing a hand-written contract invoice and handing over a small deposit, I took the Aston home, promising to return the following day with the balance (those were the days!).
Above: A handwritten receipt for £5,750 – enough to buy you a DB5 in 1984. Prices were soon rising though.
When my initial adrenalin rush was over, I discovered that I had no parking space in London. The mews had been painted with double yellow lines recently and so there was no parking available anywhere. So, I left the car in a rather shady underground garage in Bayswater for a while, which cost me a fortune.
It was all worth it though, as the DB5 was heaven to drive – really sorted. It had a fairly new engine and a rare five-speed ZF gearbox. The ride was firm and smooth, and it ran cool even in the severest London traffic. A dream come true.
Above: HYP 59C in all its glory. A week later it was severely vandalised in the mews.
One Saturday night, I got home very late from Oxford and didn‘t want to park the car in that underground spot in Bayswater. I was too tired to walk all the way back home through Hyde Park, so I left the Aston in the mews and hoped it would be safe and secure for the night. What a terrible mistake!
The DB5 got thoroughly smashed up by some hooligans. The attack lasted only minutes, but the damage was huge. Most windows gone, two holes in the bonnet and one big hole in the roof above the windscreen. The thin, Touring Superleggera aluminium bodywork was so severely beaten up that the paint flaked off. The idiots used heavy iron sticks from a Victorian garden fence. Every panel was bent – it was a true horror – and I was on my knees.
Because I couldn‘t leave the Aston anywhere in London with smashed windows, I was forced to sell it pretty much right away. I had no money to repair it, as I had invested everything in buying the car. Via telephone, I placed an ad in Exchange & Mart, and my beloved Aston went the next day for a meagre £2,500, to a repair shop. It was tragic, but I had learned my lesson.
After 12 months, it reappeared completely repaired, at Paradise garage (of all places) for £15,000. It took them a long time to sell it, but I heard that they made a good profit. Prices were rising fast, and a couple of years later I saw it again, advertised in Classic & Sports Car for £70,000. I could have shot myself. Today it would be worth nearer to £800,000.
Above: A year later the Aston was offered for sale for £15,000 by Paradise Garage. It took them six months to sell.
Other articles written by Michael Kliebenstein