Ask the experts: Aston Engineering

Ask the experts: Aston Engineering 15th November 2018

Few people know Aston Martins better than David Jack. During the 1970s, the former Rolls-Royce apprentice worked with Robin Hamilton to help build up his business, and was involved in both the RHAM/1 and Nimrod racing projects. In 1983, he branched out on his own, establishing Aston Engineering. Jack’s motorsport expertise would pay dividends in the early years.

“I’ve never been one to advertise as such,” he explains. “I felt that promoting the business through an involvement in motorsport – which was club racing in those days, and the Aston scene was very strong – was the best thing for me. The budget that I would have put into advertising, I could use in motorsport.”

It worked perfectly in terms of establishing the credentials of Aston Engineering, and when one of his customers asked about going FIA racing with his DB4 in the mid-1990s, Jack started to look closely at the Appendix K regulations. The result was that the company was well placed to benefit from the impending boom in historic motorsport.

And yet, while Jack (below, at the dyno) acknowledges that competition provides a lot of enjoyment and engineering challenges, it’s far from being the only string in the company’s bow. Everything from servicing, parts and upgrades to full rebuilds and car sales is available at its recently built bespoke premises in Derby.

“We always offered the full service, it’s just that we’ve now managed to put the whole thing under one roof. Steel work, aluminium work, paint work, engine testing, machining – it’s all done here. Pretty well nothing is farmed out. We do our own gearboxes, our own axles, our own engines, engine testing…”

Parts are supplied all over the world, too, as befitting Aston Engineering’s status as a founder member of the official Heritage Network: “We have access to the main computer database system for parts, we have a parts account, we order online, but our cut-off point is Vanquish. We try to supply from stock, though – we carry a big stock of parts.

“We’ve got our own engineering facility [where] we’ve got two CNC lathes, CNC mills and we’ve got fabrication facilities. So we can make things from fuel tanks to engine parts. We try to be as big a one-stop shop as we can – to our Heritage brief. Where that’s not possible, we look at remanufacturing.”

There’s always a good spread of cars on site, too. Over the years they’ve worked on everything from Works DB2 to Group C AMR-1, and they’ve just finished a three-year project to build – pretty much from scratch – a new DBR1 transmission inside an original casing.

“Service work for DB4, 5, 6 and the two-valve V8 is still significant,” adds Jack. “That keeps a couple of guys busy. Restorations, if you split it down, generate engine work, transmission work, and so on. That’s a fair chunk – possibly 50 per cent of what we do.”

Jack has seen the V8 models ebb and flow in terms of value, but acknowledges that they’ve come back into fashion of late: “We’ve always had a name for doing the fuel-injected V8s. Even when they were not worth a great deal, we’ve had people who, when they were kids, had a DBS V8 as a toy. When they got successful, they aspired to own one. Even though it wasn’t economically viable, we were doing a significant amount of work to DBS V8s 25 years ago. We’ve done several full restorations on those.

“There’s a model that’s in no man’s land, which I guess is the single-headlight, fuel-injected V8. Also the early carburettor cars – they’re a bit ‘in between’. You can’t make a case for them being quite so collectible as a four-headlight car.”

The company also has “a significant back catalogue” of DB4 and DB5 rebuilds, to the extent that Jack can instantly give a clear idea of the budget needed to restore the latter. “Without enhancements and without major trouble, and if everything’s there, a body-off restoration is about £220,000 plus VAT. And then on top of that would be whatever enhancements people want – hidden air-conditioning, engine upgrades… there’s a list as long as your arm.

“DB5s are very straightforward because there’s not a lot of difference between the first one in 1963 and the last one, whereas with DB4s there are five series and they’re completely different. They need a little more thought.”

The question of modifications can be a thorny one. While people do still ask for them, they’re far more discerning than perhaps they used to be.
“We can still do a lot of things, even for somebody who wants a concours car. We can make sure that the suspension angles are correct and make some adjustments to the roll centres, and we can still subtly upgrade the engines. Back in the 1980s and ’90s, if a guy wanted an upgrade to his DB6 to drive it every day, we’d suggest putting it onto Webers, because we’d have to change the camshafts to get the performance, and if you did that you couldn’t retain the idle quality. So the logic followed that you’d have to put Webers on it.

“Nowadays we go the other way. We can take it off Webers, put it back on SUs, increase the capacity, and with all the cylinder-head work and the other work we do, the engine’s actually better than it was on Webers – and it looks the same.

“So, enhancements are still there but they’ve got to be much less visible – certainly on DB4s, 5s and 6s, but really on V8s as well. And they’ve got to be reversible.”

Having started again from scratch after leaving Hamilton, Jack sounds pleasantly surprised that, 35 years later, the business is thriving. “When we started, I didn’t actually think we’d be doing Astons as a main business again. Obviously I set up to do Aston work, but I never imagined that we could regrow it to the level we were at.”

Photos by Aston Engineering
Photos by Aston Engineering