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They say it’s the journey and not the destination that matters, but why compromise on either?
And when your endpoint is the fantastic Goodwood Revival, it’s all about arriving in style, which is why we couldn’t turn down an invitation to drive three generations of classic Aston Martins to the Sussex circuit.
My journey starts at the marque’s Newport Pagnell headquarters, where a delectable trio of classics awaits me – and I’m thrilled to be handed the keys to a 1954 DB2/4 for the opening leg.
This is not an elegant car to enter, due to it requiring you to thread your limbs through the letterbox-esque space between seat and steering wheel, while minding the pointy end of the umbrella handbrake that’s poised to gouge your skin; and that’s once you’ve negotiated your way over the high, wide sill. Or perhaps I just have poor co-ordination.
It’s worth it, though. Uncomplicated and effortlessly stylish, the compact cabin is a delight. That the speedo is the dial furthest from the driver – “don’t worry, it’s not that accurate!” I’m told with a chuckle – is an immediate reminder that this is a 65-year-old car, as is the fact that the indicators are operated by a dash-mounted switch.
I’m also advised to take care because it has all-round drum brakes. However, that’s not the reason why it takes me a little longer than normal to acclimatise to my new environment – that culprit is under my left foot.
My diminutive stature doesn’t help, but with the seat as far forward as it can go, at least I can fully depress the clutch pedal. Which is just as well, because it offers an awkward combination of seemingly endless travel followed by a very high bite. On the plus side, at least engaging gears is a cinch.
With the turn of a key and the press of a button, the 2.6-litre ‘six’ fires easily. I reach for the fabric door pull and I’m cocooned, ready for the off.
There’s lots of play in the steering, the less said about body control the better and, yes, the brakes can require a good stab, but once on the road it’s all smiles from behind the DB2/4’s wheel.
Rather than snatching gears you have to take your time and deliberately select them, but, as with the rest of the driving experience, it’s a reminder to relax, sit back and enjoy the ride. Not the easiest when this is at odds with the hustle and bustle of Milton Keynes’ myriad roundabouts that populate the early stages of our route. But once on more open roads and up into fourth, the engine pulls freely and it’s happy to waft gently.
All of which couldn’t be more different from my next steed, the Aston Martin V8 Vantage V550. The changeover point is, naturally, Aston Hill Bike Park in Buckinghamshire. Of course I visit the plaque commemorating that this is where Lionel Martin successfully campaigned his tuned Singer, later combining the site’s name with his own … and the rest is history.
The next example of the breed roars into life, naughtily rocking at idle even before you’ve troubled the throttle, the pedals vibrating through the soles of your shoes.
Fast forward 41 years in the marque’s life and now instead of a 125bhp ‘six’, a 550bhp, twin-supercharged V8 lies beneath the bonnet, restrained ’50s elegance swapped for the kind of bold design that could only have been born in the ’90s.
Yes, this Aston Martin is a very different beast. I can’t say that its two-tone, tan-and-green-leather dash is to my taste, though – and having just stepped from a 2/4, it also feels as if it’s filled with an oversupply of dials, lights and switches.
Still, the tan-leather seats with green – sorry, Spruce – piping cushion and support you as you slot the square gearlever into first – and the moment it’s engaged you can’t escape the massive power of this engine.
Every gearchange is accompanied by supercharged whistles and without barely revving it or digging into its potential, you’re at the national limit. Just 280 were built and I dread to think what each owner spent on fuel if they regularly tested its claimed 4.6-sec 0-60mph time.
Like the DB2/4 it’s an easy, luxurious, slightly wallowy cruiser, but that’s where the similarities end. There’s none of its predecessor’s fragility or delicacy, instead a nonchalant opulence that it’s hard not to find reassuring.
It’s undemanding and decadent, and as I draw to our evening’s rest point I’ve developed more of an affection for it than I thought I would.
Instant attraction is more the order of the day with my final drive the following morning – because who doesn’t love a DB6?
The fact that this car’s history file states it was ‘sold new in RHD configuration to a respected spy novelist, who lived in London SE1’ only adds to its cachet and is a tantalising – although probably misleading – snippet.
This 1970 DB6 Mk2 Volante is one of just 38 built, is finished in Silver Birch – what else? – and oozes style and panache as only a classic Aston Martin can.
And what’s even better is that it’s so easy to drive, not requiring you to master any knack or make any allowances you’d not normally consider in a classic; that it looks fantastic is the icing on the cake.
It’s the most expensive of this trio by quite some margin – the others carry sub-£300k price-tags, whereas to take this DB6 off Aston Martin’s hands would cost you £950,000 – but it’s not intimidating to drive.
Release the fly-off handbrake to the right of the driver’s seat, select first (it has a five-speed manual, rather than the automatic it was originally supplied with) and it’s effortless.
With the roof lowered, the voice of the throaty 282bhp ‘six’ raises a smile and encourages you to press on, but not once do I feel tempted to see if its quoted 6.3-sec 0-60mph time or 144mph are achievable (not that the latter could be tested on our road route).
It’s a relaxing drive that makes you feel special and pulling into The Kennels, Goodwood’s clubhouse, I know that if I had to choose – and money was no object – of these three it’s the DB6’s keys I’d want to keep. If I’m being picky, I’d rather the (to my eyes) better-resolved shape of the coupé, but that’s splitting hairs.
From the DB2/4 with its arresting rear view to the stealthy supercharged Vantage and finally the sheer sophistication of the Volante, it’s been an unforgettable drive – and given me a taste for motoring I can’t possibly afford! Best get saving, then…
Images: Dominic Fraser